Notes and Comment Blog

A whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise

Nov 6th, 2014 11:07 am | By

I’m re-reading Frederic Douglass’s Narrative. It’s available at Project Gutenberg, so it’s easy to share passages for discussion or admiration.

There’s the early paragraph about his relationship with his mother…

I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journeys to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day’s work.

She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary—a permission which they seldom get, and one that gives to him that gives it the proud name of being a kind master. I do not recollect of ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us. Death soon ended what little we could have while she lived, and with it her hardships and suffering. She died when I was about seven years old, on one of my master’s farms, near Lee’s Mill. I was not allowed to be present during her illness, at her death, or burial. She was gone long before I knew any thing about it. Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.

Short, and heart-breaking. Imagine being that mother. Imagine those journeys to be with her little boy: twelve miles, over bad roads or rough ground, after a hard day of labor, and then twelve hours back having to start hours before dawn.

In chapter 7 there is a passage on his early reading and how it affected him.

I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.

In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.

He got out, but he was the exception, not the rule.

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

A visit to the adult table

Nov 5th, 2014 5:50 pm | By

PZ listened to all of that conversation between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Boghossian. I managed only about twenty minutes, because it’s so gross and also so tedious, and I plan to go back to it, but PZ did it in one gulp. He took some notes – not a transcript, because he was doing other work at the time, which is the only way listening to the whole thing could be tolerable – not a transcript but just some notes.

Curiously, Boghossian is having a conversation with Molyneux, who is notorious for his misogynist remarks. Not just the mild, unthinking sexism that so many Atheist Thinky Leaders engage in, but outright contempt for women. This is the guy who claims that women are the root of all evil, because Women have to be held accountable for choosing assholes. They have sex with assholes and have little baby assholes, none of which is the father’s fault, but entirely due to women’s evil choices.

You might be wondering who these “they” are — they refer to “them” constantly through the video. But there’s only one place where anyone is mentioned by name.

5:00 (PB) PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, and Greta Christina.

Interesting. We’re the enemy, and they get to make clumsy elisions, accusing “them” of making bomb threats, death threats, and shouting down people with bullhorns. But the only people they name don’t do any of that. Drawing lazy equivalences is just something philosophers do, I guess.

Well they have to, they’re fighting for justice. No wait, I thought we were the social justice warriors. So they’re fighting for…doing nothing? Is that it?

Seriously though, one reason I could take only 20 minutes or so was how empty the conversation was. It really was just a lot of very familiar banalities tossed back and forth, with a lot of repetition. It wasn’t impressive.

Also, where did this idea that being totally free of any ideological framework is a virtue come from? It’s not. It’s a lie. It’s part of the rhetorical strategy of declaring that I have an accurate representation of the world, you have an ideology.

17:10 (PB) they can’t even present the evidence in a rational way

18:30 (PB) these cultures of being offended

19:00 (SM) Thought-crime!

20:10 (PB) This fringe have hijacked a narrative…these cultures of offense; they conflate disagreement with harassment.

Christ, this is annoying. Of course we present rational arguments, with evidence. When we say that Sam Harris said something sexist, we quote the words he said in context. We make these arguments over and over, and these wackos with an authoritarian ideology simply shut down at the thought that we’d disagree with an Atheist Thinky Leader.

We might be offended — Molyneux in particular is an expert at saying grossly offensive things — but what’s at the heart of what we say is principled disagreement.

Yes but…offended…Stephen Fry…so fucking what…beep beep boop

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

A kind of proxy blasphemy code

Nov 5th, 2014 5:21 pm | By

The ExMuslims Forum (i.e. someone from the forum, writing under that name) has an excellent comment on a wrong-headed piece by Andrew Brown at Comment is Free. Brown’s claim in his piece is that people who criticize Islam in fact hate Muslims. I saw progressive liberal Muslim friends venting huge irritation with Brown and his article. It’s a myth that liberal Muslims also hold the view that people who criticize Islam in fact hate Muslims; they don’t.

As Exmuslims, we critique Islam because there are many aspects of Islam that need to be critiqued. In particular, we seek to oppose Islam’s apostasy codes, which are oppressive and lead to persecution.

We have found it is quite difficult to get some people to listen to our stories because they fear that acknowledging these issues will contribute to a critical view towards Islam.

The idea is that particularly reactionary teachings and aspects of belief that lead to critical judgements of Islam are in and of themselves prejudiced. The resulting logic of this is that Islam should have special privileges, in as much as basic human conscience and ethical critical judgement of people living in a secular culture should not apply, or be expressed, towards Islam.

The fact that criticism exists, is the offence.

Effectively, this is to propose a kind of proxy blasphemy code and apostasy code, wherein the liberal secular space defers to Islamic taboos. Dissenting Muslims and Exmuslims have to conform to these proxy codes too. Everyone else is free to critique their own religion, and other faiths and ideas too. But Islam must be protected.

However, Muslims are free to critique all religions, belief systems and moralities, because evangelising Islam, and proffering critique and judgement is not only a divine prerogative, but the closing down of ethical, critical judgement towards Islam is also a divine right.

As we can see, this is an ethical and moral mess.

This is an aspect of liberal relativism that is morally flawed and unsustainable without damaging basic principles of liberal secularism. It also means that aspects of Islam that need to be criticised, like Islam’s apostasy codes, remain unexamined, and with that authority unquestioned, their capacity to hurt people and cause harm increases.

Another fear is that being critical of aspects of Islam manifests in prejudice towards Muslims, and this is an understandable response given how parts of the far-right do project generalising narratives of communal responsibility on Muslims. As Exmuslims, we understand this, because being from ethnic minorities ourselves (apart from growing numbers of former white converts) we are also prone to be in the targets of bigots who project their hostility onto anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, whatever that is supposed to be.

The key to dealing with this is for the Left to take ownership of the issues that need to be critiqued, and do so through the prism of liberal secular values, so that they cannot be co-opted by the nationalist right, who have agendas that are not tolerant.

Yes yes yes. Support people like Irshad Manji and Tehmina Kazi and Maajid Nawaz, as well as ex-Muslims. Amplify their voices, link to their writing, spread the word.

Sadly the instinct of relativism too often prevents this reckoning from occurring. The silencing of Exmuslims voices is the norm, although we are trying to change this.

There are three main layers of silencing of apostates voices. The first layer is the hardcore religious silencing, which includes notions that we deserve to be killed and harmed. Under that is a second layer of some Muslims who may not agree we should be persecuted, but don’t want to have these problematic aspects or religion talked about, because of feelings of embarassment, fear of the consequences, or cognitive dissonance regarding apostasy / blasphemy codes. The third layer underneath this is the relativism of white liberals who are often in concordance with silencing instincts over these issues, including silencing of Exmuslims, for the reasons we outlined earlier. Often, relativist liberals simply pretend we don’t exist.

But silencing never works, and it only increases the problems.

It is important to understand that anti-Muslim bigotry is real. At the same time, the reality of the need for Islam to be critiqued has to be acknowledged by the Left, and by Muslims who live in liberal secular democracies too.

epilogue: Some of these issues were touched on by a Pakistani-Canadian Exmuslim called Eiynah, in a response to the recent heated debate over Ben Affleck’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show. You can read it here. Please do check it out.

Give Andrew Brown some food for thought for a change.

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

What magic words?

Nov 5th, 2014 4:30 pm | By

Sometimes laws can be hard to understand. There’s a case in the UK where an underage girl was violently married off and raped, but the judge says he can’t annul the marriage. Sorry for citing the Daily Mail but it’s the only source:

A judge says he cannot nullify the marriage of a teenage mother who says she was forced at ‘gunpoint’ into becoming a bride when she was just 14.

Instead the girl, now 17 and a mother of a one-year-old, must defy her family if she wants the union formally annulled, said Mr Justice Holman at the High Court.

The teenager, who was born in Britain and whose family has lived here for 40 years, says she was shipped out to Pakistan to contract a forced marriage with a 24-year-old man two years ago.

She told how she was subjected to ‘harrowing’ violence and menaced with a gun to go through with the ceremony – and was two weeks later forced to have sex with her ‘husband’, giving birth to his baby who is now aged just over one.

After she came forward with her account, her local authority took both her and her baby into care and asked Mr Justice Holman to formally declare that her marriage – which effectively made her a rape victim – could never have been recognised under English law.

But there’s a statute that says he can’t, so he said no.

It seems grotesque, doesn’t it. She never consented, in fact she was forced at gunpoint, so…how was that ever a legal marriage in the first place? You’d think they could carve out an exception for fake “marriages” that are actually not marriages at all but a collection of felonies. Abduction plus menacing plus rape shouldn’t add up to marriage.

Mr Justice Holman accepted that – as the girl was ‘domiciled’ in the UK; had been put under duress; and, most importantly, was under 16 at the time of the ceremony – the marriage was ‘on the balance of probability, void’ under English law.

However, he said he was prevented from making a solemn declaration to that effect by a section of the Family Law Act 1986, which states: ‘No declaration may be made by any court…that a marriage was at its inception void’.

But is it “a marriage” at all? It doesn’t seem like a marriage to me. It seems like a crime, and a very serious crime at that. It’s enslavement enabled by abduction and violence, not marriage. What magic words make it a marriage under those circumstances?


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

Was it a sincere question?

Nov 5th, 2014 11:55 am | By

Chris Stedman has a post at RNS replying to Peter Boghossian’s “why gay pride?” tweet. He is, you won’t be surprised to hear, much better at being even-tempered about it than I was.

Many atheists, such as LGBTQ atheist author Greta Christina, responded—but Boghossian dug in and continued to defend his statement, tweeting additional statements like “Questioning that one can be proud to be gay is a leftist blasphemy.”

As a queer atheist, I too am perplexed by both Boghossian’s question and his defensive reaction to criticism—especially from someone who lists “reason, rationality, critical thinking” in his Twitter bio.

Quite so – except that I, being so much less even-tempered, am not so much perplexed as irritated. Or, rather, both. I’m perplexed at Boghossian’s willingness or indeed eagerness to be so overtly…what…provocative-reactionary. I’m irritated by the same thing.

Perhaps he truly doesn’t understand why some LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people feel proud to be LGBTQ. Rather than assume a more cynical motive, I’m going to treat his question as sincere. But when confronted by an LGBTQ-related question you don’t understand, the reasonable next step is to ask LGBTQ people. And it doesn’t take much investigating to find out why many LGBTQ people feel a sense of pride.

That’s where my smaller supply of even-temper comes right into play – I find it pretty much impossible to treat his question as sincere, because I don’t honestly see how it could be. He lives in the world; he’s not fresh from a desert island or a locked room where he was fed through a slit in the door. I don’t see how he could possibly be sincerely unaware of what gay pride is all about. I find it pretty much impossible to believe he need to investigate to find out why many LGBTQ people feel a sense of pride, when that’s been common knowledge for decades. He hasn’t been tucked away in a Quiverfull enclave all these years has he? He’s not the secret oldest son of Michelle and Jim-Bob Duggar?

Of course, not all LGBTQ would say that they are proud to be LGBTQ. They’re free to their own perspective. But why imply that it is not even remotely understandable that some would?

In a time when more and more atheists are encouraging their fellow nonbelievers to be “openly secular,” I wonder if Boghossian sees any parallels between the celebratory spirit of LGBTQ pride and the joy many atheists find in being honest about what they believe. It’s an imperfect parallel, but maybe he understands on some level what it’s like to feel proud to claim an identity that comes with consequences. 

I bet I know what Boghossian would say. He’d say atheism is something that one “works for” while being gay isn’t. Well, yes and no. It isn’t for everyone. For some people atheism just is. The idea of “god” just has no purchase. And then, being open about it is a separate issue, and there the parallels are quite close. Stigmatized identity is stigmatized identity.

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

Parents raised concerns about her trip to Kenya

Nov 5th, 2014 10:52 am | By

Africa’s a big continent. A very big continent. It can be hard to grasp just how big if you’ve grown up on maps that make it look as if the US dominates the universe. Joan McCarter at Daily Kos provides a nice graphic that shows how easily China, India, Western Europe and the UK, and Argentina all fit into the space Africa takes up, with some to spare.

McCarter does that by way of illustrating the cruel ignorance of this story:

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Nov 3 (Reuters) – A teacher at a Louisville, Kentucky, Catholic school has resigned rather than take paid leave after parents raised concerns about her trip to Kenya, half a continent away from the Ebola epidemic in western Africa, WDRB Channel 41 TV reported.

Susan Sherman, a religious education teacher who is also a registered nurse, was recently on a mission in Kenya in eastern Africa. When she returned, St. Margaret Mary school requested she take a precautionary 21-day leave and produce a health note from her doctor, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Well hey now. I’m on the same continent as Texas, where Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola. So are some 350 million people in the US and 35 million in Canada and 120 million in Mexico. Should we count the rest of America down underneath Mexico, or should we consider the narrowness of Central America a good enough reason to consider them two continents? Oh what the hell, if St Margaret Mary school can’t be bothered to check the distance between Liberia and Kenya, we might as well err on the side of inclusiveness and add another 400 million people. We should all have been in quarantine for 21 days after Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola, right? All billion-plus of us? Because of a disease that is spread by contact? A disease that is not airborne?


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

A candid

Nov 5th, 2014 10:16 am | By

What a screenshot of mansplaining looks like.

Embedded image permalink

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

An incident took place in the area

Nov 4th, 2014 6:05 pm | By

Another pointless benighted god-soaked horror out of Pakistan. Dawn reports:

An enraged mob beat a Christian couple to death and burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked on Tuesday for allegedly desecrating a copy of the Holy Quran, police said.

It’s a book. A book. Allah didn’t touch it, Mohammed didn’t touch it. It’s just a book, made in a factory. It’s not a reason to kill people. It’s not a reason to beat people to death.

“A mob attacked a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the Holy Quran and later burnt their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked,” local police station official Bin-Yameen told AFP.

“Yesterday an incident of desecration of the Holy Quran took place in the area and today the mob first beat the couple and later set their bodies on fire at a brick kiln,” he added.

Note that the cop starts with the bogus “crime” and says it actually happened – which I don’t believe – and refers to it as “desecration” of the “Holy Quran” – which is magical bullshit. It’s an insensate manufactured object. Only after urinating in the well does the cop say the mob murdered the two people.

The victims were only identified by their first names, Shama and Shehzad, and were a married couple.

Pakistan’s brick kiln workers are often subject to harsh practices, with a study by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front Pakistan estimating that 4.5 million are indentured labourers.

Maybe Pakistan should turn its attention to the exploitation of laborers instead of religion.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence. Anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

So, what do we learn from that? Don’t ever go anywhere near Pakistan. It’s not safe.

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

Even to change their beliefs

Nov 4th, 2014 3:35 pm | By

Seven years ago an Anglican bishop was saying that laws against “apostasy” are a bad thing.

One of the Church of England’s most senior bishops is warning that people will die unless Muslim leaders in Britain speak out in defence of the right to change faith.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, whose father converted from Islam to Christianity in Pakistan, says he is looking to Muslim leaders in Britain to ‘uphold basic civil liberties, including the right for people to believe what they wish to believe and to even change their beliefs if they wish to do so’.

Even change their beliefs, yes imagine that. Beliefs aren’t like friendship or marriage; you’re allowed to leave and loyalty isn’t necessarily a virtue.

Ali, who some see as a potential Archbishop of Canterbury, has told Channel 4’s Dispatches programme of his fears about the safety of the estimated 3,000 Muslims who have converted to other faiths in Britain.

‘It is very common in the world today, including in this country, for people who have changed their faith, particularly from being Muslim to being Christian, to be ostracised, to lose their job, for their marriages to be dissolved, for children to be taken away,’ Ali said. ‘And this is why some leadership is necessary from Muslim leaders themselves to say that this is not what Islam teaches.’

In the long run, it would be better to say it’s the wrong thing to teach, period. Never mind whether “Islam teaches” it or not. Reform. Reform whether Islam says ok or not. Let Islam catch up, if that’s what it takes.

The bishop warns that Muslims who switch faiths in Britain could be killed if the current climate continues. ‘We have seen honour killings have happened, and there is no reason why this kind of thing cannot happen.’

In 2004, Prince Charles asked British Muslim leaders to renounce laws of apostasy and the death sentence for converts in Islamic countries, but no public statement was ever made.

Well good for Priss Choss; that may be the one useful thing he’s ever done. But how pathetic that it sank like a stone.



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

Guest post: They calculatedly choose a woman they think will keep quiet

Nov 4th, 2014 3:01 pm | By

Originally a comment by blondeintokyo on Dude, just grab her.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Japanese women are weak or somehow submissive. How a woman would react would depend on her personality. I’ve seen Japanese women yelling at, hitting, kicking, and running chikan (subway gropers) off trains and chasing them down the platform.

I saw one woman determinedly hanging onto a guys coat as he hit her about the head and shoulders in an attempt to break her grasp and escape before the transit police could arrive and grab him. So don’t judge Japanese culture by that one video – I find it highly likely that some women DID hit, kick, or yell at him, but he just didn’t publish that footage.

And keep in mind- you can’t judge these girls’ reactions through the lens of your culture. You have to understand that in Japan it’s considered to be immature and shameful to act out in a way that bothers others or otherwise draws attention to yourself in public. It’s considered to be “meiwaku” and is generally scorned. For this reason, you won’t usually see people being loud, confrontational, or causing scenes in public places- they’d be embarrassed or ashamed to draw that kind of attention to themselves. Unfortunately, not calling attention to yourself includes not reacting in a visible way even when something happens, like being groped. This is actually the sort of frozen, stoic reaction that the chikan count on to keep women quiet. They calculatedly choose a woman they think will keep quiet, a woman who won’t want to cause a scene and embarrass herself. They depend on her shame to keep her quiet- sound familiar? It’s really not that different from what happens in the US or other countries. These guys pick on those they perceive as weak, as no doubt this guy did.

(Which by the way, is also why the chikan pick on western women…they assume that they won’t be able to speak Japanese and so won’t be able to report them.)

I also think the girls’ confusion and giggly reaction was at least partly due to that guy being a foreigner. People here really don’t speak English all that well, and these girls likely had no idea what he was saying, what to say to him, or how to deal with him. The general public honestly isn’t used to dealing with foreigners, and this sort of gives foreigners a kind of invisibility cloak and lets them get away with behaviour that a Japanese could never get away with – no one wants to confront the scary foreigner. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds if situations, from being drunk and loud in public, to getting out of speeding tickets. It always irritates me when I see foreigners take advantage of the Japanese tendency to be non-confrontational, but this guy in particular really galls me. It’s abhorrent behaviour and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. I only hope that next time someone has the presence if mind to call the cops, because this would be covered under Japan’s sexual harassment and public nuisance laws. If caught, he’d be arrested and spend at least a month in jail. And I would dearly love for this guy to spend time in a Japanese jail.

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

The real issue with Reza Aslan

Nov 4th, 2014 12:23 pm | By

Act one, Vlad Chituc wrote a post at Nonprophet Status yesterday saying how great Reza Aslan is and how wrong ex-Muslims are to have any quarrel with the things Reza Aslan says.

The hashtag campaign #AnApostatesExperience initially drew my attention because it seemed like a welcome attempt to elevate the experience of ex-Muslims in conversations about Islam.

Instead, the campaign seems to have started as a response to this tweet by Aslan:

Reza Aslan @rezaaslan

I’ve written about Muslims, Jews, Xtians, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists. I’ve never received more venomous threats than I do from Atheists.
8:31 AM – 13 Oct 2014

To quote fellow Patheos blogger Dan Arel, #AnApostatesExperience was meant to show “what real threatening and venomous attacks look like,” as if that erased the threats that Aslan received. It’s hard for me to see how this is any different than “Dear Muslima,” except this time it’s a Muslim as the target.

Heina has written a response to him today.

To answer the title, i.e. “Why is it so hard for critics to read Reza Aslan charitably?”: It’s because Aslan is far too charitable when it comes to the oppression that Muslims perpetuate within their own communities. Further, I find the characterization of #AnApostatesExperience in the post to be not only uncharitable, but also poorly-informed as to the real issues with Reza Aslan and with ex-Muslims.

We at EXMNA were hardly one-upping Reza Aslan in some Dear Muslimah-esque ploy. Rather, we were responding to Aslan’s long and storied history of pretending as if Muslims as a whole are far more progressive than they are, i.e. as progressive as he happens to be.

Here’s a news flash for Vlad Chituc: not all progressive Muslims do that, to put it mildly. The really progressive ones are far more interested in standing up for progressive values than they are in defending Islam from criticism.

In fact I have that in common with them; lots of us have that in common with them. We’re all far more interested in standing up for progressive values than we are in defending our theist/atheist community from criticism. We want our theist/atheist community to get criticism, and to pay attention to it and to change for the better. We want that community to include us and all the marginals as equals, not as a servant class to the Real members.

Setting Aslan’s disingenuous arguments aside for just a moment, the Dear Muslima comparison feels like a rather low blow. Personally speaking, I joined Skepchick on the heels of the so-called “Elevatorgate”. Part of why I did was my disdain with Richard Dawkins’s use of people like me as props in his arguments against Western feminists. I wanted for my own voice to be heard about issues involving me rather than people squabbling about people like me as if we were rhetorical points rather than human beings. My fellow ex-Muslimah and Freethought Blogger Hiba has also spoken up and out against the Dear Muslimah tactic. That we were accused of doing so to Reza Aslan is painful as well as inaccurate.

And yet appropriate, in its way, because it’s another iteration of this pattern of throwing feminism under the bus in order to give preferential treatment to theism/atheism. Odd, that, isn’t it – theism and atheism are opposites, yet both have weirdly parallel “issues” with women and feminism.

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

Also a target

Nov 4th, 2014 11:54 am | By

Iram Ramzan reports an appeal for Muslim women to report domestic abuse.

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, made the appeal after a report highlighted the sexual grooming of Asian girls by gangs.

The MWN report was compiled after high-profile cases showed mostly Asian men were preying on young white girls.

The report showed Asian girls are also a target, most vulnerable to offenders from their own communities.

Now Ms Gohir wants to speak to victims of sexual abuse by family members for a new report. During her research last year Ms Gohir said many victims she spoke to asked if she was looking for stories on sexual abuse in the home, and needed a separate study.

She said: “I thought at the time it must be really common. I want case studies within the Muslim community to make them realise that part of the problem is our silence. The problem is getting worse and worse.”

Part of the problem is always silence, isn’t it. Family violence is always at least initially covered up, because that’s how family works. There have to be people like Shaista Gohir reaching out to help.

“Women are the barrier to justice. You’ve got mothers, who you expect to be nurturing, who are covering it up. Isn’t it our fault as a community if we instantly protect the offender and demonise that victim? This happens in all communities, but within Asian culture there are shame and honour issues that result in a cover-up.

“From what I’m hearing, sexual abuse in the family is a bigger problem than gangs.”

The Muslim Women’s Network can help.

Contact Shaista by email at or call 078022 25989. More info:

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

Men respond more readily

Nov 4th, 2014 10:37 am | By

Adam Lee notices that William Lane Craig has a lot in common with Sam Harris and Michael Shermer. Craig wrote a column about the “feminization” of Christianity, and well you’ve guessed the plot already, haven’t you.

[H]e’s noticed that the audiences for his lectures are nearly all men:

First is my observation that apologetics seems to have far more interest for men than for women.

That observation is based upon an enormous amount of experience in speaking on university campuses, at apologetics conferences, and in classroom teaching… It became very evident to me not only that the audiences which came to these events were largely male but that in event after event only the men stood up to ask a question.

Oh dear. We all know what’s coming. It’s so easy to guess the plot when they start that way. We could recite the rest in our sleep by now.

And why should apologetics classes appeal predominantly to men? To explain this, Craig dusts off the old saw, “women don’t do thinky“:

Second is my hypothesis that this disparity is to be explained by the fact that men respond more readily to a rational approach, whereas women tend to respond more to relational approaches.

Bingo! We have bingo. We have so much bingo we’ve run out of places to put it all.

Once again I will point out that he probably wouldn’t say that if the comparison were not women : men but blacks : whites. He would probably come up with a different intuitive explanation, perhaps equally wrong and uninformed, but not invidious in quite that way.

Yet man after man after man after man has no inner check whatsoever on saying that about women. “Women don’t do rational.” They think it and say it and don’t even notice how glaringly sexist it is. They think it and say it and don’t even notice how barely separated it is from saying “women are stupid” or “women can’t think.” All that, and they respond with outrage and indignation when women say yo that’s sexist.

It’s striking how much Craig, a staunch Christian apologist, sounds like some of our male atheist “leaders”. They, too, have fielded questions about the gender imbalance in their audiences; and they, too, have often responded with clueless, patronizing, armchair answers about how they’re just too unimpeachably rational to appeal to women – that is, when they’re not snarling about “social justice warriors”, or pining for the good old days before political correctness when men could grope women with no repercussions.

It is striking, isn’t it. It never stops surprising me. I always – naively – think they must know better, so I’m always surprised to see that they don’t.

H/t Dana

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

Tutti a tavola

Nov 3rd, 2014 5:04 pm | By

You have been schooled. Or relegated. Or something.

Peter Boghossian isn’t going to talk to you any more, because he’s the adult and you’re the child.

If you’ve been relegated to the Kid’s Table because you can’t have an adult conversation, I’ve banned you & won’t be able to see your tweets.

That’s not convincing, coming from him. I’m not going to claim I’m always adult and level-headed, because I’m not – but I don’t see him as a paragon of reason and maturity either. On the contrary, I see him as someone who makes a point of provoking people and then jeering when they react; a troll, in short.

And he doesn’t, that I’ve seen, provoke people for good reasons, or on trivial points. He does it for bad reasons and on subjects that cut deep. What’s so adult about that?


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

Where were they?

Nov 3rd, 2014 3:13 pm | By

There’s this guy Bryan Stevenson. He did an interview on Fresh Air a couple of week ago.

When Bryan Stevenson was in his 20s, he lived in Atlanta and practiced law at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee.

One evening, he was parked outside his apartment listening to the radio, when a police SWAT unit approached his car, shined a light inside and pulled a gun.

They yelled, “Move and I’ll blow your head off!” according to Stevenson. Stevenson says the officers suspected him of theft and threatened him — because he is black.

It was terrifying. One cop kept saying that, over and over, while Stevenson tried to explain that he lived there. Stevenson thought he was about to be killed.

“[It] just reinforced what I had known all along, which is that we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” Stevenson tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “The other thing that that incident did for me was just remind me that we have this attitude about people that is sometimes racially shaped — and you can’t escape that simply because you go to college and get good grades, or even go to law school and get a law degree.”

Stevenson is a Harvard Law School graduate and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court. He won a ruling holding that it is unconstitutional to sentence children to life without parole if they are 17 or younger and have not committed murder.

Life without parole for children? God this country is horrible. Children are children, not adults; their brains haven’t finished developing yet; that’s why they shouldn’t be treated as adults.

His new memoir, Just Mercy, describes his early days growing up in a poor and racially segregated settlement in Delaware — and how he came to be a lawyer who represents those who have been abandoned. His clients are people on death row — abused and neglected children who were prosecuted as adults and placed in adult prisons where they were beaten and sexually abused, and mentally disabled people whose illnesses helped land them in prison where their special needs were unmet.

In a decent system there would be no need for a Bryan Stevenson. Children wouldn’t be prosecuted as adults and mentally disabled people wouldn’t be prosecuted as mentally robust.

It’s not good for people, being on death row. Stevenson explains:

One of the things that pains me is we have so tragically underestimated the trauma, the hardship we create in this country when we treat people unfairly, when we incarcerate them unfairly, when we condemn them unfairly.

You can’t threaten to kill someone every day year after year and not harm them, not traumatize them, not break them in ways that [are] really profound. Yet, when innocent people are released, we just act like they should be grateful that they didn’t get executed and we don’t compensate them many times, we don’t help them, we question them, we still have doubts about them.

I saw that create this early-onset dementia [in McMillian] that many of the doctors believed was trauma-induced, was a function of his experience of being nearly killed — and he witnessed eight executions when he was on death row. …

One of the things I just wanted to people to understand is we can’t continue to have a system of justice defined by error and unfairness and tolerate racial bias and bias against the poor and not confront what we are doing to individuals and to families and to communities and to neighborhoods. [McMillian] is in some ways a microcosm of that reality. He’s representative of what we’ve done to thousands of people.

Almost as if slavery had never ended.

One desperately sad passage:

One of the first cases I ever dealt with where the man was executed was a surreal case where … I drove down to be with this man before his scheduled execution. … They shave the hair off the person’s body before they put them in the electric chair and we’re standing there, [having a] very emotional conversation, holding hands, praying, talking.

I remember him staying to me, “Bryan, this has been such a strange day. When I woke up this morning the guards came to me and said, ‘What do you want for breakfast?’ And at midday, ‘What do you want for lunch?’ In the evening they said, ‘What do you want for dinner?’ ” All day long he said they kept saying, “What can we do to help you? Can we get you stamps to mail your last letters? Can we get you water? Can we get you a phone to call your friends and family?” I’ll never forget that man saying … “More people have said, ‘What can I do to help you?’ in the last 14 hours of my life than ever did in the first 19 years of my life.”

I remember standing there, holding his hands, thinking, “Where were they when you were 3 years old being abused? Where were they when you were 7 and being sexually assaulted? Where were they when you were a teenager and you were homeless and struggling with drug addiction? Where were they when you came back from war struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder?” And with those kinds of questions resonating in my mind, this man was pulled away and executed.

We kid ourselves about all this.

Our newest project at the Equal Justice Initiative is really trying to change the conversation about race in this country. We’ve done a very poor job at really reflecting on our legacy of racial inequality. … You see it in the South, but it’s everywhere.

And we want to talk more about slavery and we want to talk more about this era between Reconstruction and World War II, which I call “An Era of Racial Terrorism” — of racial terror and violence that shaped attitudes. I want to talk more about the civil rights era, not through the lens of celebration. We’re too celebratory of civil rights these days. We have these 50th anniversaries and everyone is happy and everybody is celebrating. Nobody is talking about the hardship.

It’s almost as if the civil rights movement was this three-day event: On Day 1, Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat on the bus. On Day 2, [the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.] led a march on Washington. And on the third day, we signed all of these laws. And if you think about that history in that way, you minimize the trauma, the damage, the divides that were created. You can’t segregate and humiliate people decade after decade without creating long-lasting injuries. …

Segregate and humiliate and – never forget – extract labor from. That Era of Racial Terrorism was all about ways of finding alternatives to formal slavery for extracting labor from Those Other People.

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

Can women loiter?

Nov 3rd, 2014 12:46 pm | By

That’s a question in India.

When one travels as a woman or indeed as someone who is not an upper caste, middle or upper class, Hindu, heterosexual, able-bodied, young male, one has to be just that little bit more careful because one is marked, by one’s location at some margin or the other, sometime multiple margins intersecting with each other or running parallel to each other often vying for first place.

A trip with a woman friend in the Hindi heartland first alerted me to how much one strategizes as a woman to be able to access public space. My travel diary from this trip became the foundation stone for a research project on women’s access to public space in Mumbai.

It’s dangerous, you see, because public space is where there might always be Stranger Semen floating around that could find its way into the hussy walking around in the open.

As a woman you are marked as automatically out of place in most public spaces, struggling hard to be invisible and still have a good time. In a variety of languages the terms used for transgressive women in public space are related to the act of being on the streets without purpose – strolling, roaming, wandering, straying, rambling – all terms that Rebecca Solnit (Wanderlust: A History of Walking, 2000) points out suggest that women’s travel is invariably sexual or that their sexuality is inevitably transgressive when it travels. It is the transgression associated with purposeless wandering that we took on when we suggested that one way for women to stake a claim to public space was to loiter. To hang out without intent and without necessarily doing anything productive in public space to suggest that women’s access to the public was not dependent on having something to do.

I actually knew a woman who thought this way (a neighbor, who has now moved away). She once asked me if I felt self-conscious walking around outside without a dog. I think I stared at her in befuddlement. She told me she did. If she wasn’t escorting a dog who needed exercise, she felt conspicuous and weird.

This year, three years after our book was published we encountered a group of women who had taken the ideas of our book and run with them, or more accurately loitered with them! An amorphous and expanding group of women led by Neha Singh and Devina Kapoor were loitering for pleasure in the city. They were hanging out in parks and at chai-tapris; they were riding bicycles in different parts of the city and reclaiming the night too. Most significantly for us they were articulating this as a political movement and posting pictures as an invitation to others to join them. They called it Why Loiter: The Movement. They have been loitering for five months now, every Sunday and they are already talking of expanding the movement. These young women have taken the ideas of the book and were having such fun with them while articulating a radical politics of change.

Good, but it’s sad that they have to.


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

There’s always the hanger

Nov 3rd, 2014 12:21 pm | By

New Brunswick (the one in Canada, not the one in New Jersey) has exceptionally harsh restrictions on abortion.

In 1994, the province banned abortions in clinics outside of hospitals. Federal rulings changed that in 1995, but people needing the procedure were forced to pay out of pocket.

Since then, the province’s Morgentaler Clinic saved many from unwanted pregnancies. But following its closure in July, the government’s restrictions on abortion are too tight to accommodate people’s needs. Newly sworn-in premier Brian Gallant has pledged to remove barriers to abortion in the province, but has not yet come through with anything in the way of solid action.

Sounds like Canada’s Texas.

Reproductive Justice NB tried to raise the money to save the clinic, but though they surpassed their first fundraising goal of $100,000, they couldn’t raise enough to keep it going. The group maintains that two harmful regulations need to be repealed immediately. The first is NB Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of the Medical Services Payment Act, which stipulates that, for the procedure to be funded, two doctors must sign off that an abortion is “medically required.” It also stipulates that the procedure be performed in a hospital by an OB/GYN doctor, even though it could just as well be carried out by a general practitioner or nurse practitioner.

The other regulation, found in Section 2.01, prohibits abortion clinics like the Morgentaler Clinic from receiving government funding.

In other words, the tax money that funds health care in Canada, so women who use such clinics are made to pay twice.

Why would Canada want to have a Texas?

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

Glamorizing theocracy

Nov 3rd, 2014 11:18 am | By

The New Statesman has an unpleasant piece by Chris Allen that treats all anti-IS Muslims as co-opted if not worse.

First the background, via the BBC:

A fashion designer has created a ‘poppy hijab’ to commemorate the centenary of the first Muslim soldier being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.

Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq, a final year student at the University of Arts in London, also hopes the piece of clothing will give Muslim women a new way to mark Remembrance Day.

That would be a very dubious thing if the poppies were meant to commemorate, say, an imperialist massacre or a genocide. But you can remember and mourn the mass slaughter of World War I without endorsing that war itself.

“Most people don’t know how many Muslims fought for Britain a hundred years ago and it’s important that we join together and look back at the shared history we’ve got,” said Steve Ballinger from the integration think tank British Future, which helped Ms Ishaq design the hijab.

The group carried out a survey tracking people’s attitudes to the centenary of World War One and found only one in five Britons realised Muslims had fought for Britain – a lower level of awareness than that for the contribution of soldiers from other [religions].

British Muslims have a share in remembering and mourning the mass slaughter of WWI.

“Poppies are obviously the most prominent thing we associate with Remembrance Day and the hijab is something which is commonly associated with Muslims, so we married the two together to try and produce something which hopefully people see as positive,” said Ms Ishaq.

The 24-year-old, who herself wears a hijab, felt it was important to create a headscarf which Muslim women would want to wear in public.

The designer worked alongside Islamic groups to create an item which would appeal to British Muslims and combat negative perceptions about the religion in light of issues such as fundamentalism.

“It’s a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines,” said Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain.

“This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

Not the angry minority who want to impose sharia and stone “adulterous” women and keep girls out of school. Not violent theocratic fascists, in short. Now Chris Allen’s take:

The hijab is being backed by the Islamic Society of Britain and think tank British Future to mark 100 years since the first Muslim soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross. Sughra Ahmed, president of the Islamic Society of Britain, seemed to suggest in a comment to the Mail that this hijab would help divert attention away from the “angry minority” who offend people with their views.

But there is more to the poppy hijab than either the Daily Mail or Ahmed would have us believe. As Nesrine Malik wrote in the Guardian in response to the Sun’s choice of front-page image, these re-appropriations of the hijab can be little more than proxies for anti-Muslim bigotry. They become a politically correct way of airing a suspicion that all Muslims are “basically terrorist sympathisers”. The wearing – or not wearing – of a patriotic hijab becomes a shrouded loyalty test.

Really? Why don’t they do the exact opposite of that? Why don’t they do what it says on the tin? Why would Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq and Sughra Ahmed want to air a suspicion that all Muslims are “basically terrorist sympathisers”? Why isn’t it much more likely that they’re doing what they purport to be doing: trying to point out and demonstrate that not all Muslims are violent theocratic fascists? Why treat them as identity-traitors or inauthentic for wanting to flag up Muslims who aren’t like that? Why talk over liberal Muslim women and claim that they don’t know what they’re doing?

This is not a new issue, even as it takes a new floral form. New Labour, for example, launched the now defunct National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group back in 2007. And ever since then, politicians – whose plans were often backed by various Muslim representatives and spokespeople – have endorsed the view that Muslim women are uniquely placed to influence and challenge the perverted ideology spread by extremists.

Employing the language of counter-insurgency throughout, the mantra that has emerged is one which depicts Muslim women as able to play – on behalf of the state – a crucial role in the winning of hearts and minds in the fight against extremism and radicalisation.

Talking about it in fuzz-language like “extremism and radicalisation” just obfuscates. It obscures the nature of the “extremism and radicalisation” that’s at issue, and makes it sound like youthful idealism. There is nothing good about Islamism. It’s a horrible, murderous ideology that wants to see women totally enslaved and LGBTQ people dead. Poppy hijabs and liberal groups led by women are infinitely better than that. It’s outrageous to imply otherwise.

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

Guest post: And then the gaslighting starts

Nov 2nd, 2014 6:34 pm | By

Originally a comment by nathanaelnerode on In which I surprise them.

I’m a solidly-built, six foot tall white male in my mid forties, and for at least two decades I have had absolutely NO idea what it’s like to be scared walking down a street.

Well, y’know, how shall I put this… I’m a thinly-built, 5 foot 2, “weak” looking, often “effeminate” looking male, and I have ALWAYS known what it’s like to be scared walking down a street.

I’ve been sexually harassed, I’ve been in a hostile environment, I’ve been physically assaulted. This is probably actually fairly common for boys who went through US schools, unfortunately. My threat assessment is turned WAAAAAY up, all the time; I have PTSD.

And nobody is running a special campaign to make me more comfortable, or to claim that “all men” are scary — if I find all men scary, uh, that’s my problem to get PTSD treatment for, and I will.

If I find men who are behaving in a creepy, inappropriate, impolite, and boundary-ignoring manner scary, on the other hand — which I totally do — that’s entirely another matter. They are scary.

Harassment needs to stop, and frankly it’s bloody obvious when someone is harrassing: harrassing means not taking no for an answer. Rude, selfish interruptions such as catcalls aren’t technically harassment individually (only in large numbers) but are equally inappropriate. Both are often indicators of someone who *might* turn out to be violent. Stalking and invasion of personal space is even worse and even more of an indicator.

Politely talking to people about contextually appropriate things obviously isn’t harassment. The way I was brought up, if you really want to talk to a stranger, you nearly always start with “excuse me”. (For instance, “excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice your WHATEVER T-shirt; I’m a big fan of WHATEVER, and I don’t meet many fans of WHATEVER, are you a fan?”, or “excuse me, I hate to be a bother, but I have always wanted a hat like yours, where did you buy it”.) Then it’s their move conversationally. You stop. If they do nothing or don’t respond, you say “Sorry to bother you,” and leave. If they answer your question politely but brusquely, you say “Thanks,” then accept that they don’t want to talk any more, say “Sorry, I won’t take up any more of your time,” and leave. It’s still their move. If they then say “no, wait” and ask to talk to you, then you have a conversation.

If you’re looking for directions, you should be staring at your map and looking lost before saying “excuse me, I’m lost”…

I don’t know when I learned those rules for talking to strangers, but it was young — elementary school, perhaps. I have never had any problem with talking to strangers.

I guess a lot of older men were trained to be inappropriately and offensively pushy towards women on a routine basis. They need to learn not to do that; they’ll mostly probably be happier, on the whole. It just seems so bizarre to me, since I was brought up post-1970s in what I think of as a normal environment.

The other issue here is the men who are defending the idea of making inappropriate pushiness the norm, who really want it to be the norm, who get angry at the idea of obeying normal norms of polite behavior when women are involved — I suspect these men, who are so upset at the idea of behaving in an ordinary polite fashion, of being actual predators, who need a rape culture in order to hide their behavior.

Another little point: from what I can tell, assaulters and harassers really really like to gaslight the third-party witnesses (when there are any). The witnesses often start out with “Hey! Why did you do that to him/her, that’s awful!”, and then the gaslighting starts… “oh, you didn’t really see me just barge into her, really, I was further away, no you didn’t really see me rudely yell at her, I was politely talking to her…”

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

Artist isn’t quite the right word

Nov 2nd, 2014 5:56 pm | By

More video of Julian Blanc lecturing a room-full of young men on how to coerce women into having sex.

It’s nauseating to look at, because it’s so inhuman. It’s as if women are food and the men are all ravenously hungry. They just want to eat, that’s all. They don’t want to eat people, they just want food.

They just want to fuck something. For some unfathomable reason, the somethings all have these useless brains perched on top of the part that has the penis-holder, so you can’t just fuck them just like that – you have to “strike up a conversation” and “steer them to where you want to go” and “get them on the bed” and “take off their clothes” and have answers to anything they say.

I know this has been said a million times, but honestly – they think feminists devalue men? This shit is what devalues men. I don’t think most men are like this. I’d be embarrassed to be identified with this crap.


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