Notes and Comment Blog

Millions missing

Jan 1st, 2014 11:55 am | By

At 50 Million Missing, a post about the axing of Taslima’s tv serial.

Feminist author Taslima Nasreen’s scripted television series (in Bengali) titled ‘Dusahobas’ meaning ” Unbearable Cohabitation,” although ready for telecast has been “indefinitely postponed” for airing, because of pressure from Islamic clerics in the state of West Bengal.

Abdul Aziz of the religious group Milli Ittehad Parishad said their group had written to the producers of the show and told them to withdraw Taslima’s name and reference from the serial, even though Taslima has scripted the show! Aziz said, “We have been told that there are some scenes in the serial that might hurt our sentiments,” even though he does not specify as to what exactly in the show is hurtful to Muslim sentiments in India.

In fact this show is not about Islam but about issues that are effecting women of all religious and cultural communities in India, issues like dowry, dowry violence, sexual violence, and prevention of education. Issues that Indian society needs to contend with through mass media like television.

But it’s been shut down, because someone was told that there might be something that might hurt someone’s sentiments.

West Bengal which was one of the safest states for women in India, today under the leadership of a woman, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has the highest rate of crimes against women in India.  This has largely been because of Ms. Banerjee’s encouragement of a misogynistic cultural, and patriarchal trend that keeps her politically popular at the cost of women’s rights! This is shameful for the West Bengal and for India.  We must demand more of our women leaders.

If even women won’t…


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

Kolkata: another gang-rape victim dies

Jan 1st, 2014 11:34 am | By

The Times of India reports:

A year after the Nirbhaya horror, yet another gang-rape victim lost her battle for life at the state-run R G Kar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata on New Year’s Eve.

The 16-year-old, a resident of Madhyamgram in North 24-Parganas, was gang-raped at Badu on October 25. The next day, while on her way back home from the police station after lodging a complaint, she was allegedly sexually abused all over again.

The teenager and her family were so traumatized by the sequence of events that they chose to shift to another tenement close to Kolkata Airport. But there was no respite. The miscreants continued to hound her till she finally poured kerosene on herself on December 23 and lit a match. She was admitted to the hospital with 40% burns and finally succumbed on Tuesday afternoon.

Political parties, trade unionists and social workers converged on the hospital as soon as news of the teenager’s death spread. The girl’s parents were inconsolable. Their only child had dreamt of being a teacher. The mother claimed that her daughter didn’t commit suicide but was murdered by the two men who used to hound them.

It wasn’t enough to rape her; they had to hound her afterwards too.

The family had shifted to the single-room tenement near the airport gate about six months earlier. For obvious reasons, they hadn’t told landlord Ratan Sil of what the teenager had undergone. Unfortunately, Sil’s wife had a nephew who lived in the neighbourhood where the girl had been raped. Within days, this youth named Minta turned up at his aunt’s house and started hounding the girl and her family. He was joined in by Sil.

“I suspect that they wanted to take advantage of the situation and sexually harass my daughter again. One day while returning home, I found Minta knocking on the front door. When I asked what he wanted, he made a lame excuse. Around 9 am on December 23, he and Sil came over and started abusing us. My husband had gone to Krishnanagar with a fare. I left my daughter alone and went to the main road to see if any of his friends were around. On returning, I found the door bolted from the outside and smoke billowing from the window. I rushed in to find her in flames. She called out to me and said that I should also join her as the goons wouldn’t leave me in peace either. I called out to neighbours and they doused the blaze. I suspect that Minta and Sil set my daughter ablaze,” the mother said.

Some of that gender ideology we hear so much about.

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

A priest explains “gender ideology”

Jan 1st, 2014 10:55 am | By

Thanks to a comment by Ariel, we can read this interview with a priest, Dariusz Oko from the Papal University of John Paul II, translated from Polish and titled Gender ideology destroys a cradle of humankind – a family. This is good because I was just wondering what the Vatican thinks it means by “gender ideology.” Let’s find out.

Anna Cichobłazińska: – In media there appear more and more terms: gender, ideology of gender, totalitarianism of gender, philosophy of gender. What does this term mean and why is it so dangerous?

Fr. Dariusz Oko: We should speak not so much about ‘philosophy’ but about ‘ideology’ of gender. Philosophy is a radical search for the truth and the good, whereas the ideology is a tool of a ruthless fight about one’s interests also at the cost of the truth and the good. It is to lead to the victory of opinions and satisfying of egoistic desires of a social group at the cost of even the biggest harm done to other groups. In this sense, gender is a classic example of an ideology, is a tool in a ruthless fight for benefits for the atheistic gender and homo-lobby.

Ah yes, in sharp contrast to the Vatican, which never fights ruthlessly for benefits to itself. Cue hollow laughter.

It’s a fascinating claim though. The “normal” situation in which women are subordinate is fine, it’s when women try to be equals instead of subordinates that it’s not fine and priests say they are trying to get benefits for women alone at the expense of “other groups.” (What other groups?)

What is at the base of these assumptions?

Spiritual attitudes of creators of gender ideology. First of all, these are leftist atheists, the leftists. Atheism builds on the fundamental, false assumption of non-existence of God and, consequently, it understands the man and the world in a false way. It is as if a baby, living in the womb of a mother would state that his mother does not exist at all. Then the baby will go from absurd to absurd.

No. Suppose a baby magically developed enough to think in that way, the baby would have very good reasons to be aware of the existence of her mother. Atheists don’t say the world we live in doesn’t exist. We have very good reasons to be aware of the existence of the world; the same does not apply to “god.”

The priest cites the body count of “atheism” (meaning Nazism and Stalinism and Maoism), then explains how feminism will also have its body count. Any day now. No really.

People who are the most fierce enemies of God, they are also becoming the most fervent servants of satan. We should remember that it is just satan who becomes the basic source of their way of thinking. However, after this ocean of crimes and absurd, atheists find it difficult to gain the authority through classical Marxism, it is too discredited for it. Also their atheistic assumptions are like mental chains and shackles, which do not allow for going further towards the truth. They are somehow ‘doomed’ to move around in a small area of atheism, they cannot come out into more open areas, or understand more things. Moreover, like every man, they need a kind of worldview, a kind of sense, a kind of a special understanding the reality. When the simple Marxism cannot hold these functions any more, they invented its mutation, that is, gender ideology. They are also creating an illusion of mission and service. As they ‘used to help’ workers and peasants, seizing the whole authority for themselves in this way, and creating the worst and the bloodiest dictatorships known in the history, so now they want to ‘help’ people sexually different and by the way they want to gain the totalitarian authority. Because they are spiritual or even physical descendants of the worst and atheistic offenders, one should expect that they will be similarly wicked, hypocritical and ruthless in their actions.

Right. Atheism is tiny and closed, while Catholicism is big and wide-open and full of More Things.

Q Exactly, why are they talking about sex so much, and are concentrated on it?

A It is typical for atheism. If what is the supreme and the most spiritual in a man is negated, that is, his community with God and people, the human existence is getting poor anyway and a man is falling into what is lower and purely physiological. And sexuality belongs to the most powerful forces of our carnality, hence there is its overestimation, passive subordination to it and separation from love and responsibility leads easily to servitude, a search for one’s fulfilment and happiness, nearly only within its limits, also on the way of behaviours which are very distorted. For this reason atheists become sex-maniacs and sex-addicts and they want to impose these ill attitudes on the society.

Says the guy from the church with a long history of child-rape and being accomplices, accessories, aiders and abettors.

There’s a lot more. It’s creepy, creepy stuff.


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

The huge interrogations

Jan 1st, 2014 9:54 am | By

Sunday morning at 10 a.m. UK time, BBC1 The Big Questions will be asking the ridiculous question, ”Should Human Rights always outweigh Religious Rights?”

But the good news is that Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis will be taking part, so it should be interesting.

Mind you, I can ruin the suspense right now by saying yes, of course they should. Any religious practice that violates one or more human rights should not be allowed. There is no “religious right” to enslave people or cut off their genitalia or keep them out of school or deny them medical treatment or prevent them from getting birth control.

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

One in six

Dec 31st, 2013 5:06 pm | By

It has come to my attention that I don’t have anxiety, and that a lot of people do, and that I’m damn lucky not to. Or maybe I mean I don’t have Anxiety, or an anxiety disorder. It’s not as if I never get unreasonably jittery about something. I’ve told you how absurdly jittery I get whenever I travel (and how promptly I get over it once I’m at the airport). But compared to real anxiety, that’s nothing.

Scott Stossel has a long article about his in the current Atlantic.

I’ve finally settled on a pre-talk regimen that enables me to avoid the weeks of anticipatory misery that the approach of a public-speaking engagement would otherwise produce.

Let’s say you’re sitting in an audience and I’m at the lectern. Here’s what I’ve likely done to prepare. Four hours or so ago, I took my first half milligram of Xanax. (I’ve learned that if I wait too long to take it, my fight-or-flight response kicks so far into overdrive that medication is not enough to yank it back.) Then, about an hour ago, I took my second half milligram of Xanax and perhaps 20 milligrams of Inderal. (I need the whole milligram of Xanax plus the Inderal, which is a blood-pressure medication, or beta-blocker, that dampens the response of the sympathetic nervous system, to keep my physiological responses to the anxious stimulus of standing in front of you—the sweating, trembling, nausea, burping, stomach cramps, and constriction in my throat and chest—from overwhelming me.) I likely washed those pills down with a shot of scotch or, more likely, vodka, the odor of which is less detectable on my breath. Even two Xanax and an Inderal are not enough to calm my racing thoughts and to keep my chest and throat from constricting to the point where I cannot speak; I need the alcohol to slow things down and to subdue the residual physiological eruptions that the drugs are inadequate to contain. In fact, I probably drank my second shot—yes, even though I might be speaking to you at, say, 9 in the morning—between 15 and 30 minutes ago, assuming the pre-talk proceedings allowed me a moment to sneak away for a quaff.

If the usual pattern has held, as I stand up here talking to you now, I’ve got some Xanax in one pocket (in case I felt the need to pop another one before being introduced) and a minibar-size bottle or two of vodka in the other. I have been known to take a discreet last-second swig while walking onstage—because even as I’m still experiencing the anxiety that makes me want to drink more, my inhibition has been lowered, and my judgment impaired, by the liquor and benzodiazepines I’ve already consumed. If I’ve managed to hit the sweet spot—that perfect combination of timing and dosage whereby the cognitive and psychomotor sedating effect of the drugs and alcohol balances out the physiological hyperarousal of the anxiety—then I’m probably doing okay up here: nervous but not miserable; a little fuzzy but still able to speak clearly; the anxiogenic effects of the situation (me, speaking in front of people) counteracted by the anxiolytic effects of what I’ve consumed. But if I’ve overshot on the medication—too much Xanax or liquor—I may seem to be loopy or slurring or otherwise impaired. And if I didn’t self-medicate enough? Well, then, either I’m sweating profusely, with my voice quavering weakly and my attention folding in upon itself, or, more likely, I ran offstage before I got this far. I mean that literally: I’ve frozen, mortifyingly, onstage at public lectures and presentations before, and on several occasions I have been compelled to bolt from the stage.

Yikes. I don’t have that, or anything close to it. It sounds nightmarish. I feel as if I should do something to make it up to all the people who do have it. As I mentioned, that’s a lot of people. Stossel says so.

Anxiety and its associated disorders represent the most common form of officially classified mental illness in the United States today, more common even than depression and other mood disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 40 million American adults, about one in six, are suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder at any given time; based on the most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services, their treatment accounts for more than a quarter of all spending on mental-health care. Recent epidemiological data suggest that one in four of us can expect to be stricken by debilitating anxiety at some point in our lifetime. And it is debilitating: studies have compared the psychic and physical impairment tied to living with an anxiety disorder with the impairment tied to living with diabetes—both conditions are usually manageable, sometimes fatal, and always a pain to deal with. In 2012, Americans filled nearly 50 million prescriptions for just one antianxiety drug: alprazolam, the generic name for Xanax.

Life is harder than it ought to be.

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

In a missionary situation

Dec 31st, 2013 3:47 pm | By

The Vatican wants to let everyone know that it is against secular education and would prefer that everyone went to a Catholic school, although it will settle for some other kind of religious school, since it doesn’t like to be too pushy about these things.

The Catholic News Agency reports on this exciting new idea:

A recently released Vatican document is calling for a fresh commitment to Catholic identity within what it calls an increasingly secularized educational system.

At a press conference held Dec. 19, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said, “the Catholic identity of the school is fundamental.”

Not within a secular (or “secularized”) educational system it’s not.

Noting the many challenges facing Catholic schools, the Cardinal added, “today one of the greatest problems is when large organizations want to impose gender ideology.”

Gender ideology? Meaning what? Treating girls as equal to boys, including in math and science and sport? And as for imposing gender ideology…what does the Vatican think it does? Or does the Vatican think it’s fine for a large organization to impose gender ideology as long as it’s the Vatican imposing the Vatican’s gender ideology?

(Stupid question. Of course he does.)

“Today, due to the advanced process of secularization, Catholic schools find themselves in a missionary situation, even in countries with an ancient Christian tradition,” reads the congregation’s “Educating To Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools.”

“Catholic schools’ primary responsibility is one of witness. In the various situations created by different cultures, the Christian presence must be shown and made clear, that is, it must be visible, tangible and conscious,” the document continues.

Huh. Catholic schools’ primary responsibility is one of witness. Not education, but “witness.” They’re in a missionary situation, due to the shock-horror process of secularization. So the whole “education” and “school” thing is just a Trojan horse; what they’re really doing is trying to secure more dues-paying members.

Catholic schools have in Jesus Christ the basis of their anthropological and pedagogical paradigm…

That’s not education. It’s nothing to do with education. It’s the enemy of education, because it says there is just One True Thing.

The goal of Catholic schools should be to find balance between the two cultural extremes found in the world today, advises the document.

On the one hand, “one needs the ability to witness and dialogue, without falling into the trap of that facile relativism which holds that all religions are the same and are merely manifestations of an Absolute that no-one can truly know.”

On the other, “what is important is to give answers to the many young people ‘without a religious home,’ the result of an ever more secularized society.”

No thank you. Seriously, just piss off and mind your own business. Stay in your churches. Leave schools and hospitals alone.

(I would have liked to quote from the Vatican document itself but it must not be translated yet, because it doesn’t turn up. Maybe later.)

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

In light of the controversial nature of these images

Dec 31st, 2013 11:47 am | By

Catching up on a slight backlog which I will blame on…let’s see…the paucity of daylight hours at this time of year. Yeah, that’s it.

Cast your mind back to December 19, when LSE apologized to Chris and Abhishek. Chris and Abhishek issued a statement in response.

The LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society welcomes the half-apology from the LSE for the misconduct of LSE and LSE Students’ Union staff during the Freshers’ Fair of 3 and 4 October, 2013.

Professor Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE, issued the apology today in response to our Appeal under the LSE’s Free Speech Code, adding that “the wearing of the t-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies”, and that School staff and Students’ Union Officers had “unfortunately misjudged the situation”.

Even as we welcome Professor Calhoun’s apology, we are disappointed that it took the threat of legal action to elicit an acknowledgement of our grievances, and that no apology has been forthcoming from the LSESU, whose grave misconduct began this chain of harassment. We also believe that several other lingering concerns must be put on record.

We are disappointed by Professor Calhoun’s admission that there was no “audit trail of the number and substance of complaints received”. We believe that such flippancy does not behove the LSE’s commitment to freedom of expression, and hope that the LSE will reform its procedures to better reflect this commitment. In light of the LSE’s inability to produce any evidence of complaints, we continue to believe that it is possible that there were, in fact, none, and to suspect that our real crime was to offend the politics of the officials concerned, not the sensibilities of our fellow students.

We are also disappointed that Professor Calhoun has failed to apologise for, or even acknowledge, our harassment at the hands of LSE Security and LSESU officers. We disagree with Professor Calhoun’s contention that they acted ‘in good faith’ in dealing with a ‘difficult situation’, and aver that the decisions in question were uncomplicated and taken unhurriedly, over two days. We would like to know of the punitive action taken against the LSE and LSESU staff concerned, particularly against the named senior officials of the School administration, who are guilty of more than an ordinary miscalculation.

We are also dismayed by an aside in Professor Calhoun’s decision, in which he claims he doubts that the behaviour of the LSESU officers was “a complete shock to you, particularly in light of the controversial nature of these images”. We reject this attempt to excuse the behaviour of the LSESU officers by apportioning blame to us.

We insist that the t-shirts were entirely innocuous, and that we did not wear them with the intention of causing offence, but we also maintain that genuine freedom of expression in a civilised society must protect the provocative, the offensive and the blasphemous.

That is indeed a very dubious thing to say. No, let me put that more precisely – it’s a bizarrely unprincipled thing to say. There is after all a principle involved: the principle is that, barring a really compelling reason, the default situation at a university gathering should be that expression is free. Saying “well these images are controversial so obviously you knew the the LSESU officers would shut you down for showing them” is the opposite of that. It’s not usually the default view of universities that controversial material is and should be subject to suppression by the Student Union.

Looking forward to a better year for LSESU ASH as the days grow longer again.

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

A huge growth in angel awareness

Dec 31st, 2013 10:36 am | By

The Irish Independent has a story on…angels. Not a story on the oddity of belief in angels in 2013, but rather the contrary. More like a story on angels finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Time was when you wouldn’t hear about angels from one end of the year to the next — except at this time of year, of course, when they did their duty in the Christmas story, bringing messages to shepherds watching their flocks by night.

It is in this capacity, however, as messengers and guides, that these ‘spiritual beings’ have come into the greater, everyday consciousness.

On the one hand, scare quotes on “spiritual beings,” and on the other hand, they have at last emerged into the Great Public Mind.

Angelology has always been a legitimate part of divinity studies, but like much else that organised religion has sought to keep from the masses, it has edged its way out into the larger world.

The past 10 to 15 years have seen a huge growth in angel awareness, thanks in large part to Doreen Virtue and Diana Cooper whose books, blogs and decks of angel cards have paved the way for the acceptance of others whose talents, and life path, have led them to chiming in with the ever-growing chorus of angel communicators.

What? What? What? There’s a “what?” for every clause of that. Legitimate? According to whose criteria, exactly? Organized religion has sought to keep angels from the masses?

That suggests a strange picture, in which priests and bishops hang out with angels behind closed doors in the back rooms of churches, while the masses outside sadly live their lives with no idea that there are such things as angels. Movies, greeting cards, songs, Milton, Fra Angelico, woo meisters – none of those have made a dent on the blindly secular public who’ve never so much as heard of angels.

And then the growth in “angel awareness,” as if there’s actually something to be aware of, other than the movies and greeting cards and the rest. And, “angel communicators” – which is apparently both a special talent, and one that is susceptible of growth. And yet notice that there’s no such field for ordinary secular communication. With real people you just get talking and Twitter and the like. It’s only with these Special entities that you need “communicators” – ghosts, gods, angels, witches, prophets, ancestors.

Maybe we should combine the pet industry and the unseen agents industry. Ghosts, gods, angels, witches, prophets, and ancestors should all be assumed to be living in dogs and cats. That way we can have something to touch.

In many ways, the current crop of angel practitioners suffered so that we don’t have to.

Each of the four we spoke to has gone through dark nights of the soul before they got to where they are today, living fully in the faith that they, and we, are watched over every moment of our lives.

This dreck is in an actual newspaper. Jeez, Ireland.


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

In praise of the mundane

Dec 30th, 2013 5:53 pm | By

Tom Flynn at the CFI blog is not in favor of talk about “transcendence.”

In a Guardian blog, New Humanist commentator Suzanne Moore has — if inadvertently — defined the key difference between religious humanists and secular humanists in a very few words.

Bewailing the poverty of atheist (particularly, New Atheist) argot when it comes to offering a supporting matrix for meaningful secular ceremonies, Moore writes: “We may find the fuzziness of new age thinking with its emphasis on ‘nature’ and ‘spirit’ impure, but to dismiss the human need to express transcendence and connection with others as stupid is itself stupid.”

There’s the difference between religious and secular humanism in its essence — in a nutshell, if you will. Religious humanists yearn to “express transcendence and connection with others.” Secular humanists are fine with expressing connection with others, but inasmuch as they are secular, they attach great importance to the recognition that … hang on now … there is no such thing as “transcendence” or “the transcendent.”

Essential to the secular view is the insight, rooted in science, that reality is mundane. It’s the domain of matter, energy, and their interactions — and nothing else.

And further, I would add, that that is where our business is. Our business is not with “the transcendent” because it’s here, instead. We need to pay attention to this world, the real world, the mundane world, the world that has such creatures in it…because it’s where we are. We’re no good to each other if we’re concentrating on imaginary Beyonds. We can’t understand this world properly if we think it’s underneath a better, brighter, more special one Out There Somewhere.


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

Pay it forward

Dec 30th, 2013 4:42 pm | By

There’s a nice segment on On the Media about plagiarism as a new art form. A poet called Kenneth Goldsmith teaches his students to give up all ideas about creativity and focus on recycling material.

The choices that we make are as expressive of ourselves as any kind of personal narrative we might do about our family or growing up. We’ve just never been taught to value those choices.

Until now, that is. Until recently; until the internet and aggregator sites and blogs.

Or, not so much until recently, perhaps, but it’s actually not completely new. There used to be things called commonplace books, where people collected passages from their reading. I’ve always loved both the idea of them and the things themselves. I’ve also always kept them myself, starting in childhood.

That’s one reason I like Montaigne so much – his essays are among other things giant extended commonplace books, and that’s interesting. Keats talks about his reading in his letters, and that’s one reason they’re so brilliant.

One of the haters’ tropes about me is that a lot of my blogging involves pointing to other people’s writing. Yes, that’s right, it does. And?

That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. I like being pointed to other people’s writing, and I like returning the favor. I like a good salmagundi, and I like making one. It’s all good.


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

More solidarity needed

Dec 30th, 2013 12:01 pm | By

Iram Ramzan gets abuse on Twitter for being a liberal Muslim.

I am the latest in a bunch of women, specifically Muslim women, who have come under attack from a group of misogynist men. Their aim is supposedly to combat Islamophobia yet ironically their appalling behaviour is unIslamic and actually fuels anti-Muslim sentiment.

It’s rather funny how our ‘Muslimness’ is questioned to destroy our credibility. Accuse a Muslim person of drinking alcohol or eating pork and you have instantly ruined their reputation. And if you’re a woman, well, that’s ten times worse. The combination of being an ex-Muslim (which I am not by the way) and a ‘whore’ is lethal.

When Lejla Kuric, a Manchester-based artist, wrote an article on her meeting with Tommy Robinson, she was accused of being ‘Islamophobic‘, despite the fact that she is a Muslim. My theory is because she does not ‘look Muslim’ i.e. she is white and does not wear a headscarf she is an easy target.

Sara Khan, of Inspire, is regularly called a ‘government stooge’ and all the usual stupidity,  including people spreading rumours that she drinks alcohol – she doesn’t, but why should it matter?

Because the kind of people it matters to are the ones the rumor is aimed at.

She says:

“I’ve been called an ex-Muslim, that I work with or get into bed with zionists and Islamophobes, that I’m creating Islamophobia for addressing gender injustice within Muslim communities etc. None of this surprises me in one sense because I’ve spent 20 years working within Muslim communities and I know the score. I know that if you speak out as a Muslim woman you need a thick skin and you need to be prepared for a big backlash.”

Of course, men, too, come under attack. Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation is constantly hounded, even by moderate Muslims. But when you are a woman, it is easier to be attacked. Men are not labelled as whores who sleep around. That delightful label is reserved for us females alone.

More worrying is if you look through their tweets, they are followed and re-tweeted by even moderate Muslims – they seem to unite against anyone who is ostensibly liberal, even if it means to side with a troll online.

Being a liberal Muslim is a thankless task. That’s very unfortunate.

And here’s a key point:

Try and get some support or solidarity from prominent Muslim commentators or writers – forget about it. The only solidarity we seem to receive is from those on the right who ‘hijack’ issues such as the university gender segregation, yet if there was solidarity from those on the left, the right wouldn’t need to ‘hijack’ the debate.

That’s a slight exaggeration, since there is a “we” to receive solidarity, so it can’t be true that the only solidarity is from the right. But it’s clear what she means, and it’s true. There’s not nearly enough solidarity from the left, and there’s way too much of the opposite of solidarity in the form of automatic shouts of “Islamophobia,” so the hijacking by the right is far more conspicuous than it should be, and  than it would be if only the left would pay the fuck attention.

Lejla certainly believes that there is a problem with misogyny directed against women online, and it is something that has been highlighted in the media more recently.

She said:

“Muslim women who speak for women rights and against gender inequality within their own community or express political or theological dissent are ‘slut-shamed’ by some Muslim man who do not approve of their opinions. Our sexual morality is questioned and we are deemed ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ as a way of silencing us.”

Like me, she is labelled a “Quilliam whore”, ugly, and other vile insults, especially after she writes an article. Does she receive any assistance or help from anyone or other Muslims? “Sometimes from Muslim women, never from Muslim men, not once,” she says.

Sound familiar?

So look them up on Twitter, give them solidarity and support. Iram Ramzan. Lejla Kurić. Sara Khan.

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

Dancing like infomercial hosts

Dec 30th, 2013 11:19 am | By

It’s good to popularize; it’s good to convey specialized knowledge to a non-specialist public (which of course means a public full of people who specialize in other things) in a way that’s accessible without being predigested to the point that it’s just thin gruel that even Scrooge or Mr Wodehouse would have rejected.

It’s tricky. Benjamin Bratton says how it’s tricky.

To be clear, I think that having smart people who do very smart things explain what they doing in a way that everyone can understand is a good thing. But TED goes way beyond that.

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired …you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

That. (My version of it is Alain de Botton, who makes people feel clever for reading him by dropping a lot of names, while avoiding substance as if it had the worst breath on five continents.)

For fans of the meta, it’s worth noting that this is itself a TED talk. Bratton is saying what’s wrong with TED in a TED talk.

So I ask the question: does TED epitomize a situation where a scientist’s work (or an artist’s or philosopher’s or activist’s or whoever) is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn’t feel good listening to them?

I submit that astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.

And lousy astrophysics, I would guess.

TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and I’ll talk a bit about all three. I Think TED actually stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment.

The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an “epiphimony” if you like ) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realisation, its triumphs and tribulations.

What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?

I’m sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don’t care about anyone’s experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time – and the audience’s time – dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.

Are you sure you wouldn’t like a basin of nice thin gruel?



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

Kind baby teaches dogs how to slither

Dec 30th, 2013 10:58 am | By

Or sarcastic dogs tease baby’s method of locomotion.

It’s one of those.

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

Think of the implications of this argument

Dec 29th, 2013 5:53 pm | By

Ron Lindsay raises an important point about judges and the Catholic church.

According to the Church, it violates the moral obligations of a Catholic to do anything—anything—that would facilitate the provision of contraception to an individual. (See this summary of recent court decisions for an overview of this argument.) According to the Church, this includes the simple act of filling out a form certifying that the employer has an objection to contraception. This act by itself would make the employer complicit in evil. It’s for this reason that some religiously affiliated nonprofits are suing over the mandate—even though as result of the government’s accommodation they will not have to pay a penny or spend one minute to arrange for contraceptive care for their employees.

Golly – even that is complicity in evil. So…that’s kind of worrying in light of the fact that six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are Catholic.

Think of the implications of this argument.  If simply filling out a form objecting to contraception makes one an accomplice to evil, what about rendering a judicial decision upholding the contraceptive mandate? This would appear to be a much more affirmative and consequential act than the completion of a form. But if that is the case, how can a judge who is a good Catholic by Church standards possibly render a decision upholding the mandate?

In the past, Catholics in the U.S. have suffered from prejudice and bigotry. One of the traditional knocks against Catholics had been they did not and could not support the separation of church and state. John Kennedy, along with many other progressive Catholic politicians, did much to lay those fears to rest. They showed that support for a secular state is not incompatible with being a good Catholic.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church may now be resurrecting concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen, or at least between being a good Catholic and an impartial judge. In arguing for an extremely expansive understanding of a Catholic’s moral obligation, the Church is effectively undermining confidence in Catholic judges.

It is, isn’t it. Not to mention hospital administrators, pharmacists, obstetricians and gynecologists…all because the church insists that it’s evil for people to use birth control. A stark illustration of the evil of substituting the imagined rules of an imagined god for the needs of actual humans.

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

Guest post by Jen Phillips: Delusions of equality

Dec 29th, 2013 5:19 pm | By

 Or, On buying a car while female.

I bought a new car last month—a sweet little hybrid Ford C-Max to replace the less-efficient SUV I’ve driven for the past 12 years. My husband and I communicated openly about the financial elements of the process, but as I was to be the primary driver, I did my own market research, test drove several vehicles, decided exactly what I wanted and how much I wanted to pay for it. I went in alone to make the purchase, feeling supremely confident that the experience would be relatively quick and painless, as thoroughly prepared as I was.

Hours of facile sales psychology and a heavy dose of sexism later, I had what I wanted, but at considerable cost to my delusions of equality. The sales associate persisted in trying to guide me toward a particular car based on color rather than the more substantial features I knew I wanted, even after I told him repeatedly that I didn’t care what color it was as long as it wasn’t white. Immediately after this revelation he showed me a white car, claiming that it was actually a beautiful sparkly pearl color—couldn’t I see it glistening in the sun? Seriously. When drawing up the paperwork the sales associate/manager team repeatedly got the math wrong in the dealership’s favor, and blinked at me reproachfully when I challenged the calculations. I can’t say for sure whether these and numerous other miscues were due to rank incompetence or to their presumptions about my level of consumer intelligence based on my gender or appearance, but either way it was a sorry state of affairs.

I made my husband a co-signer on the sales agreement so that both our names would appear on the title. Hubby came in at the end of my two-hour negotiations, just to sign the finished papers, whereupon everyone involved ceased communicating with me altogether and spoke only to him.

I survived the experience unscathed, and, if I’m being honest, I had a bit of fun calling them out on their slimy behavior while I was in there. The look on their faces when I whipped through the sloppy math was pretty priceless. And I do love the car. That said, I think it tells a really sad story about our culture that someone with my socioeconomic and professional status who is also well-informed about the product will still receive the default assignment of ‘easily duped bimbo’ the minute I set foot inside a car dealership. And just to clarify that last, I don’t mean to suggest that I would expect different or special treatment because of any status. Rather, I know I am more privileged than the majority of car-buyers, and if ANY woman had a chance of being treated equitably, it would be someone like me. And still – no! So how do women who aren’t as well-off or educated get treated when they need to buy a car, I wonder? I think the answer would probably make me physically ill.

I’ve since been back to the dealership several times, alone, to pick up the car, drop off some paperwork, and collect the license plates. I wrote the checks, my name came first on every document. It could not be clearer that this is MY CAR. Nevertheless, today a customer satisfaction survey arrived in the mail addressed to my husband. Only his name appeared on the envelope. And so it goes.

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

Quick, call this woman’s owner

Dec 29th, 2013 10:50 am | By

News from our ally Saudi Arabia: another woman nabbed for driving a horseless carriage.

Saudi police on Saturday pulled over a woman minutes after she got behind the wheel in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after activists called for a new challenge to a driving ban.

“Only 10 minutes after Tamador al-Yami got behind the wheel police stopped her,” activist Eman al-Nafjan told AFP, adding that Yami carries an international driving licence and was with another woman who was filming her in the car.

Tamador’s husband was called to the scene and she was forced to sign a pledge not to drive again without a Saudi licence, said Nafjan on her Twitter account.

Has it all – surveillance, imposition of male “guardian” on adult woman, coercion to sign a pledge, and the insulting “without a Saudi licence” when women can’t get a Saudi licence.

The absolute monarchy is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, a rule that has drawn international condemnation.

Why condemnation? Because women are human beings too; adult human beings with the necessary cognitive development to drive cars. That’s why.

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

One can imagine the pressure

Dec 29th, 2013 10:26 am | By

Taslima has a guest post by a neuroscientist at MIT, Garga Chatterjee.

Many Bengalis take a lot of pride about Kolkata, as a centre for free thought and artistic expression. Kolkata, the so-called ‘cultural capital’, has demonstrated the increasing emptiness of the epithet, yet again. Taslima Nasreen, one of the most famous Bengali authors alive, had scripted a TV serial named ‘Doohshahobash’ ( Difficult cohabitaions) portraying 3 sisters and their lives – standing up to kinds of unjust behaviour that are everyday realities for the lives of women in the subcontinent. Nasreen has long lent a powerful voice to some of the most private oppressions that women face, often silently. The private channel where the serial was slotted ran a vigorous and visible advertising campaign – Nasreen’s name still has serious pull among Bengalis and the channel knew it. Nasreen had made it clear that the serial had nothing to do with religion. However that was not enough for the self-appointed ‘leaders’ of the Muslims of West Bengal who issued warnings to the effect that the serial not be aired. The commencement of the serial, sure to be a hit and a commercial success for the channel, has now been postponed indefinitely.

Notice that the “leaders” are self-appointed, as religious “leaders” so often are. (Who asked Fred Phelps for his opinion? No one ever.) Notice how some “warnings” from self-appointed leaders are all it takes.

One can imagine the pressure the producers and broadcasters have faced that led to the shelving of a potential runaway commercial success. As in the recent incident of Salman Rushdie being prevented from coming to Kolkata due to the protest by similar characters, one can be sure of the kind of role the Trinamool Congress government and its law enforcement agencies had in this affair. If the government is to be believed, it had no role in the criminal farce that is being played out unchecked. Muzzling free speech and right to expression does not always need written orders from the government. A phone call here, a verbal order there – these are typically enough.

So much for free thought and artistic expression.


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

Engaging with critics

Dec 28th, 2013 4:51 pm | By

An update on that outrage-sparking post I did the other day about the putative similarity (or identity) between racism and “Islamophobia” which in the comments became also a discussion of the hijab. An update because a trackback just came in from a post by my noisiest critic, Sarah Jones, who has been being my noisiest critic on Twitter ever since I published the post. An update because she gets some things wrong, and also because I don’t disagree with her about 100% of all of everything.

From her post:

When a ruling class targets a minority class, it’s never just about religion. Religious and racial prejudice have historically walked hand in hand. I’ve been repeatedly accused of trying to argue that we can never criticize religion, and I want to make it clear that this is not a thing I have ever or will ever argue. Rather, I’m arguing that our critiques need to be historically informed. We need to understand and acknowledge that religious prejudice exists and that it is linked to racial prejudice.

Certainly. That’s why I said, in the post,

It’s getting to be a boring trope to point out that Islam is not a race, but all the same, it’s not, even though it’s true that Muslims are often treated as a despised racial group. Islam is not a race and “White” is not a religion.

Ok but one gets what she means. Islam is not in fact a race but Muslims are mostly de facto non-white; a Muslim who is white is usually a convert or possibly a child of converts; there are social and political issues one can talk about. 

See? That’s the bit where I acknowledge it. No doubt not in the way Jones would have thought more acceptable, but nevertheless I did.

We need to understand the consequences of reducing a community to a monolithically barbaric Other.

When white liberals say that the hijab is intrinsically misogynist, that’s what they’re doing. They are calling this symbol, which is not their symbol, which is, for better or worse, associated with a racial identity they do not share, backwards. They have declared open season on anyone who wears it.

That’s the bit she got wrong. I didn’t say that. The post wasn’t even about the hijab, and in the comments, other people claimed I had said that, but I didn’t say it. We paraphrase people inaccurately sometimes – I do it too – when we’re annoyed. “vexorian” claimed I had said it, but “vexorian” was wrong.

          Please note that Ophelia is the one who just decided that the Hijab is a misogynistic symbol. But this seems to say more about Ophelia having a partial view of Islam as a religion with only extremists and no moderates.

Except that I hadn’t said that. I accepted vexorian’s way of putting it when I replied, but that was for the sake of argument.

Not at all. You seem to be assuming that all Muslim women wear the hijab, but “moderates” (I would prefer to call them liberals or secular democrats [e.g. Tehmina Kazi]) are much less likely to wear the hijab, let alone see it as obligatory.

I haven’t “just decided” that the hijab is a misogynistic symbol. I’m not the one person on earth who thinks that.

Moderates, secularists, liberals, democrats tend to be the ones who resist the pressure to “cover up” while the fundamentalists are the ones who apply the pressure. It’s always bizarre (or worse) to see “Western” liberals siding with the latter rather than the former.

Jones has said repeatedly on Twitter that I say the hijab is intrinsically misogynist. She’s wrong; I don’t say that.

Of course I don’t think it is, any more than a woolen cap is or a muffler is or a black hoodie is.

What I do say is that it has baggage, and that that makes it dubious for feminists (for instance) to treat it as a feminist act to put it on.

I could be wrong about that, but that’s my claim. My claim is not that it’s “intrinsically” misogynist. (My claim is generally not that it’s misogynist, period, but rather that it’s sexist.)

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

A note on symbols

Dec 28th, 2013 12:14 pm | By

An observation (inspired partly by JoshS’s musings on Twitter just now) about how symbols work. They work via shared meaning.

There can be exceptions, to be sure. We can have our own personal symbols that we make up.

But what we can’t do is take symbols that already have a meaning, and deploy them in public, and expect the rest of the world to give them our own personal meaning instead of the existing, public meaning.

That’s especially true of symbols that are contested or political.

Like the US flag, for instance. That has a lot of meanings, but one prominent one in the past (I think it’s mostly faded away now) was an in-your-face love-it-or-leave-it brand of patriotism. The Chris Noth character on the original Law and Order always wore a flag as a lapel pin, and I took that as a hint that he was that kind of character. I could have taken it to mean something else, or nothing, but the obvious meaning seemed the most likely one.

It’s a simple point enough.

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

The open consensus

Dec 28th, 2013 11:42 am | By

Kenan Malik is another who is not impressed by the surface “liberalism” of the new pope, and, happily, he is not impressed by it in the NY Times, where he will reach many people.

Francis may be transforming the perception of the church and its mission, but not its core doctrines. He has called for a church more welcoming to gay people and women, but he will not challenge the idea that homosexual acts are sinful, refuses to embrace the possibility of same-sex marriage and insists that the ordination of women as priests is not “open to discussion.”

Oh oh oh but he mentions The Poor. He doesn’t wear the red shoes. He lives in a couple of rooms and goes places on the bus. Surely that’s good enough! Surely gestures are all anybody could possibly want.

Religious values are immensely flexible over time. Christian beliefs on many issues, from slavery to women, have changed enormously in the past two millenniums. Yet an institution like the Catholic Church can never be truly “modern.” The authority of the church rests on its claim to be able to interpret God’s word. Were the church to modify its teachings to meet the preferences of its flock, then its authority would inevitably weaken. But were it not to do so, the chasm between official teaching and actual practice would continue to grow.

And that is, of course, our fundamental problem with religion, those of us who have such a problem. It’s the problem I have with “God” – the fact that there’s no avenue of appeal, no way to negotiate or object. It’s an anti-human arrangement.

According to Professor Woodhead, few British believers now look to religion as the primary source of moral guidance. Most follow their own reason or intuition, or the advice of family and friends; fewer than one in 10 of believers seek guidance from God or a holy book. None look to religious leaders. The only faith that shows a substantially different pattern is, again, Islam.

It is easy to see why conservatives and traditional believers would find these figures troubling. Even for nonbelievers and social liberals, however, there may be cause for concern. The more open attitudes to social mores and the greater willingness to think for oneself are welcome. But the decay of religious authority points also to a more atomized society and a destruction of collective consensus about moral judgments.

But collective consensus about moral judgments is simply oppressive if it’s a bad consensus, as it so often is. The possibility of change and reform is the only hope of abandoning bad consensus moral judgments over time.


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