Notes and Comment Blog

No punching out the sacred

Jan 27th, 2014 2:29 pm | By

Tunisia’s assembly passed a new constitution yesterday. It’s better than it might have been but it’s still flawed.

Parliament agreed the text on Friday after the governing Ennahda party granted a number of concessions, including dropping references to Islamic law.

It guarantees freedom of worship but says Islam is the state religion. It also forbids “attacks on the sacred”, which analysts say is open to interpretation.

That. Very good that references to sharia were dropped, but not good that any religion is the state religion, and bad that it forbids attacks on “the sacred,” whatever the hell that is when it’s at home.

The text also recognises equality between men and women for the first time.

Well that is good.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won the first democratic elections after long-time ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power in 2011.

Damn BBC. There’s no such thing as a “moderate” Islamist party. Islamism is theocracy and that can’t be “moderate” in this world at this time.

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

Can you imagine the outcry

Jan 27th, 2014 2:15 pm | By

All right – a bad decision withdrawn. The councillors of Newtownabbey have thought better of it.

Newtownabbey Borough Council’s artistic board last week cancelled the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged).

The comic play was due to run at the council’s Theatre at the Mill from Wednesday, 29 January, for two nights.

But on Monday the artistic board decided to put the play back on and the full council ratified that decision.

The play will now go ahead as scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday.

Reduced Shakespeare Company vindicated!

Mayor of Newtownabbey Fraser Agnew, who is an Ulster Unionist councillor, said there was a “need to defend Christian values”.

“If it was a play to do with anti-gay material can you imagine the outcry there would be over that, if it was anti-Semitic, if it was anti-Koran… all of those things would create an uproar,” Mr Agnew said.

“So I have to create an uproar too!” Mr Agnew said to himself. “If they can I can. It’s not fair. Mom always liked them best. I don’t want to. You’re not the boss of me. I hate spinach. Put me down. Christian values are the best so yaboosucks!”

H/t Ashling

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

The pursuit of learning

Jan 27th, 2014 11:51 am | By

So it’s cold in Champaign-Urbana today. It was forecast to be cold yesterday. Nevertheless classes and operations were scheduled to go ahead. The chancellor, Phyllis Wise, emailed the students yesterday to tell them so. They responded with sexist racist attacks on Twitter.

Well of course they did. What else does one do when a woman does something one dislikes?

Andrei Andreev@AndreiAndreev33 Follow

It’s going to be -27 without wind chill tomorrow morning and I have class at 8 #FuckPhyllis #Cunt #Bitch #Whore

phyllis can go shove tomorrow’s weather up her wideset vagina. #fuckphyllis

I hope you slip on ice and break a hip #fuckphyllis

Asians and women aren’t responsible for their actions #FuckPhyllis

And so on.

People just can’t get it right, can they. Satire of religion? Shout the place down. Personal attacks using sexist and racist tropes? Fun fun fun.

H/t Christopher

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

He doesn’t bloody know them

Jan 27th, 2014 11:33 am | By

Great, we don’t have to worry about purely local problems in Sochi between gay people and everyone else, because the mayor of Sochi says there are no gay people in Sochi. Whew! That’s one bullet dodged.

The mayor of Sochi, host of the Winter Olympics, has said there are no gay people in the city.

Anatoly Pakhomov said homosexuals were welcome at the Games – as long as they “respect Russian law” and “don’t impose their habits on others”.

When Putin said it was “as long as they don’t go after children.” Pakhomov’s formula seems potentially more restrictive. It depends what he means by “impose their habits on others.” I sort of kind of suspect he means just…”as long as they don’t be visibly unstraight in public.” That could be a difficult standard to meet.

Anatoly Pakhomov, a member of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, told Panorama that gay people would be welcome at the Games.

“Our hospitality will be extended to everyone who respects the laws of the Russian Federation and doesn’t impose their habits on others”, he said.

But when asked whether gay people had to hide their sexuality in Sochi, the Mayor said: “No, we just say that it is your business, it’s your life. But it’s not accepted here in the Caucasus where we live. We do not have them in our city.”

When challenged, the mayor admitted that he was not certain there were no gay people in Sochi: “I am not sure, but I don’t bloody know them.”

Ahhhhhh that kind of there aren’t any – the “I don’t know any of the filthy vermin” kind of there aren’t any.



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

Never ruled by pope nor clergy

Jan 27th, 2014 10:45 am | By

Maajid Nawaz has a rather beautiful mini-statement (all right all right it’s a tweet) from yesterday:

I am a free Muslim. My prophet left no heir. My faith was never ruled by pope nor clergy. For my sins I answer to God alone. You are not God

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there were more free Muslims (and free Christians, free Hindus, free Mormons…)?

That version of faith/religion still has the problem that the nature of the sins depends on the concept of “God” – but that’s true of any concept of morality. Taking heirs and popes and clergy out of the equation makes it much easier to avoid identifying your god with bits of dogma left over from the days before the invention of birth control.


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

Getting liberalism wrong

Jan 26th, 2014 6:24 pm | By

This is depressing – a statement by a group called Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, doing the same irritating “we deplore violence, we approve of free speech, but” shuffle that we’ve already seen.

Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats (EMLD) deplores the reported death threats against Maajid Nawaz, a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. Death threats can never be justified and we wholeheartedly condemn them.

Impressive? They condemn death threats. Now that that’s out of the way – on to their real passion – demanding respect for all the cultures and faiths, no matter what.

EMLD also deplores the portrayal of Muslim communities – in the mainstream media and party blogs – as not valuing free speech. Many British Muslims value the Liberal ideals of free speech as much as any other citizen.

It deplores the portrayal? Not the reality? Yes, many British Muslims value the Liberal ideals of free speech as much as any other citizen – depending on how you define “many” – but many also do not, and are very keen to let everyone know they do not. You know who portrays them that way? They do. They do it themselves. They sign that stupid petition that demanded the LibDems deselect Maajid.

The negative portrayal of Muslim communities feeds well-documented anti-Muslim discrimination and attacks on them and we believe that all Liberals should make better use of our freedom to debate the alarming rise of Islamophobia across Britain and mainland Europe.

But so does the reality. It’s not just the media picture of anti-freedom of expression Muslims that feeds discrimination, it’s the activity and rhetoric of anti-freedom of expression Muslims themselves. I’ve been marveling for days at the way some Outraged Ones feed into the very stereotypes that contribute to all this “Islamophobia” and hostility to Muslims.

Liberalism is more than the right to offend. That is a narrow, shallow, interpretation. With free speech and Liberalism comes the responsibility to respect, to understand, and to be tolerant of faiths, difference and all cultures.

No. No. No. No.

There is no responsibility to respect all faiths and all cultures. That is a demand too far. I have no responsibility for instance to respect honor cultures that persecute and murder women and girls in the name of that honor.

This includes respect for those who speak out when they are offended. PPCs should be especially aware of this and should know better than to offend large sections of the population, whatever point they seek to make.

No. If those large sections of the population are “offended” for bad reasons, then no, PPCs should not know better than to offend them. Some people are “offended” to be told that they are not superior to other races. Some people are “offended” to be told that women should have equal rights with men. Some people are “offended” to be told that there is nothing wrong with same-sex marriage. It is not the case that PPCs should know better than to make those points, which could easily offend large sections of the population.

Apparently the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats don’t understand what Liberal Democracy is.

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

They strongly defend Maajid’s right to express his views

Jan 26th, 2014 3:26 pm | By

All right. Nick Clegg has given a statement to the Independent, and he did it without the giving with one hand while taking back with the other approach.

Nick Clegg has intervened in a growing row over freedom of expression, describing as “unacceptable” death threats made against a prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate who tweeted a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus greeting each other.

The Deputy Prime Minister defended Mr Nawaz’s right to send the personal tweet of the “Jesus and Mo” cartoon after BBC producers decided it was too offensive to be worn on T-shirts by two atheist audience members at a televised debate attended by the Lib Dem candidate.

In a letter to some of those supporting the petition against Mr Nawaz, Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems were a “party of respect, tolerance and individual liberty”.

He added: “We fundamentally believe in freedom of expression in an open, liberal and free society and therefore strongly defend Maajid’s right to express his views.

“I’m sure it goes without saying that the death threats and threats of violence Maajid has received are totally unacceptable, and I’m sure you will join me in whole-heartedly condemning them.”

And that’s it! Unlike that crappy statement given to the Evening Standard last week, there is no “but at the same time we must respect the rabidly ‘sensitive’ feelings who think their religious taboos apply to everyone.” That whole part is totally missing. They just strongly defend Maajid’s right to express his views FULL FUCKING STOP.

H/t Stells Dessoy

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

While the three sisters punched and kicked

Jan 26th, 2014 12:03 pm | By

An unpleasant moment in Blackburn, Lancs.

Six siblings – all members of a Muslim family – have been jailed for what the judge described as the “sustained and brutal” attempted kidnap of a white woman who was having a relationship with their sister.

The victim, Sarah Harrison, 35, was in a relationship with Nazma Ditta, 28, and was targeted by members of her partner’s family as she left work in Blackburn Lancashire.

CCTV captured Harrison’s attackers approaching her and the violent struggled that followed as Ditta’s siblings sought to find out where Miss Harrison and their sister were living.

Footage of the broad daylight attack, which happened on June 20 last year, showed members of Miss Ditta’s family trying to bundle Miss Harrison into their car, along with shouts of “get her in, get her, you’ve messed with the wrong Muslims”. According to Preston Crown Court, Miss Harrison said she was worried that she would have acid thrown in her face.

Miss Harrison was attacked by sisters Ghazala Ditta, 31, Nighat Morris, 38, and Atfah Ditta, 32, and their brother Tahmoor Ditta, 26. When a work colleague of the victim tried to intervene, Tahmoor Ditta threatened them by brandishing a metal tool, while the three sisters punched and kicked Miss Harrison before attempting to drag her into a silver Toyota Corolla.

Harrison was able to resist being shoved into the car and her attackers gave up and drove off. But what a horrendous situation – a whole large family attacking one sister’s partner because of the usual horseshit.

In the days leading up to the attack, members of the Ditta family had confronted the victim at her workplace and asked her about the whereabouts of their sister.

They also asked her work colleagues about where she parked her car and waited at various locations for her to leave work. Miss Ditta had previously declined to have an arranged marriage and left home days before the attack to move in with Miss Harrison, although she pretended to her family that she had gone to Manchester for a new job.

Six of them were convicted – five sisters and one brother. All of them ganged up on her and tried to force her to live the life they wanted her to live instead of the life she wanted to live. She’s 28 years old.

Addendum: the Daily Mail has CCTV. One of the three sisters who attack Harrison is wearing a burqa, and she’s the one who punches her hard in the face, four times. Very devout.


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

Seeking a formal alliance

Jan 26th, 2014 10:43 am | By

We’ve met the BNP, we’ve met Golden Dawn, so now let’s meet Jobbik, the Hungarian branch of the Let’s Foment Hatred of Some Despised Group or Other club.

Jobbik, who have a several MEPs in the European parliament, are known for a series of anti-semitic and anti-Roma statements. In November 2012, Marton Gyongyosi, the party’s deputy parliamentary leader, called for a security register of Hungarian Jewish legislators and ministers. Gyongyosi said: “I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a security risk in Hungary.”

Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, said last month that the three parties had a “common core set of values” and he was seeking a formal alliance with Golden Dawn and Jobbik.

The UK Roma Support Group have supported the calls for a ban. “Jobbik in Hungary has led the targeting and attacks on Roma communities. Their 2010 manifesto says: ‘The co-existence and cohesion of Magyar and Gypsy is one of the severest problems facing Hungarian society’.

That’s ethnic-cleansing talk.

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

Are pious women to be equated with submissive wives?

Jan 26th, 2014 9:44 am | By

There’s a conference in London today, wrapping up in an hour. It’s put on by the Deen Institute, and it’s titled Can Muslims Escape Misogyny? Tariq Ramadan is at the top of the bill.


This conference will address the injustices against women which persist across communities and cultures the world over, and ask where Islam stands on countering these issues. Islam is often criticised as misogynistic, and its name is invoked by those who seek to perpetuate injustices and inequalities against women and girls. So what’s truly to blame and what solutions does our spiritual tradition offer?

Moreover, stories of forced marriages, domestic violence justified under the guise of sharia law and female genital mutilation perpetuated by purported religious figures, continue to make the headlines. Does Islam place one gender above another? Does the Quran really condone domestic violence? Are pious women to be equated with submissive wives? And beyond issues strictly associated with Islamic texts, what do Islamic teachings have to offer women in terms of freedom from male domination and holistic emancipation?

Join us to explore these issues and many more.

I wonder what “holistic emancipation” might be…

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

Repeat often enough

Jan 26th, 2014 9:32 am | By

Via Monte Albert at BMSD on Facebook.

In other contexts I would consider it too crude and obvious and simplistic to bother with, but in that context – where there is a huge amount of repetition of myths and fictions treated as facts – it makes a useful point. The mere fact that something is written down in a book doesn’t make it true. No matter how many times how many people repeat that it is true, and holy, and a sin to deny – none of that makes it true. Repetition is just repetition. Advertising and political manipulation work the same way.

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

Not your standard Liberal Democrat

Jan 25th, 2014 4:16 pm | By

I have to dash away but I just want to point out Nick Cohen’s piece on the Maajid Nawaz-LibDems-Jesus and Mo turmoil for your enlightenment.

Just a bit, on LibDem activist Muhammad Shafiq:

Shafiq denies that he is spreading fear and if you had not done the research you might believe him. Certainly, you could think him a man who can snuffle out offence where no one else can find it. You could think that the 20,000 or so who have signed his petition are so desperate for reasons to censor that they will manufacture them. But this is a free country and they are entitled to their hysterias.

But to put it as politely as I can, Shafiq is not your standard Liberal Democrat. He is in charge of the Ramadhan Foundation, which has hosted speakers whose attitudes towards gay people and Jews are anything but liberal. To make sure that Nawaz felt the full force of his critique, Shafiq slipped an aside into his open letter to Nick Clegg. He talked of Nawaz’s “expected, suspected, wanted reaction from the minority of unhinged in those communities”. Nawaz was deliberately soliciting attacks from the “unhinged”, apparently. He expected them. He wanted them. And if the unhinged should assault or kill him – he had no one to blame but himself. Shafiq told me that he did not mean that Nawaz was inciting his own murder, but I struggle [to] see how else his followers can interpret his words.

On Twitter, Shafiq went further and gave a masterclass in double speak. “Ghustaki Rasool Quilliam,” he tweeted. Most of his audience had no idea what he meant. A few knew all too well. “Ghustaki Rasool” is “defamer of the prophet” in Urdu: a charge that incites Islamists to murder. Fanatics took to Twitter to prove the point. “Have spoken to someone in Pakistan,” one of Shafiq’s followers replied. “They will have a surprise for him on his next visit!” Another Twitter user contacted Nawaz to say: “Gustak e rasool is punishable by death anywhere in the world. Btw I’m in the UK not Pakistan.” A third cried that “dogs like Maajid Nawaaz will be punished!”

Until tomorrow.

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

Yes another one

Jan 25th, 2014 11:51 am | By

A petition to Cameron to intervene in the case of that schizophrenic Scot sentenced to death for “blasphemy” in Pakistan.

Muhammad Asghar is a 68 year old from Edinburgh, currently resident in Pakistan. He has been convicted of blasphemy following a trial where his legal team were dismissed, and the state nominated replacement presented no evidence in his defence. He is a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of mental illness, a fact very relevant to his alleged crime; declaring himself a prophet. Muhammad Asghar should be helped, not killed. We ask that David Cameron and Alex Salmond intervene in the strongest possible terms, to help save the life of a vulnerable British man.

The petition is by the Scottish Secular Society.

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

Let’s play ProphetQuest

Jan 25th, 2014 11:27 am | By

A new one from Mike Booth. I know that voice…

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

As the guardians of all that is right in society

Jan 25th, 2014 10:52 am | By

The councillors of Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland must have been suffering from Censorship Envy.

The decision by Newtownabbey’s Democratic Unionist council to stop two performances of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) was met with outrage from freedom of expression campaigners.

The show, first seen in 1995, was to have been performed over two nights at the Theatre at the Mill in the town next week, with about 150 of the 800 seats available sold.

Fraser Agnew, the mayor of Newtownabbey council, said: “As the guardians of all that is right in society we have got to take a stand somewhere.”

The productions were part of a three-month UK tour by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which has put on a series of successful productions in London’s West End and around the country.

Town councillors are the guardians of all that is right in society? Since when? I thought they were the elected officials charged with managing their city. Fraser Agnew seems to have confused that job with Plato’s Guardians, who are a rather different kettle of poisson.

The show’s publicity calls it an “affectionate, irreverent roller-coaster ride from fig leaves to Final Judgment as the boys tackle the great theological questions: Did Adam and Eve have navels? Did Moses really look like Charlton Heston?”

Sinn Fein councillor Gerry O’Reilly said: “This is clearly an example of certain councillors forcing their religious views on to everyone else.”

Why yes, yes it is. Sinn Fein might possibly be considered an example of the same thing, but whatever.

H/t Shatterface


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

Prairie voles are Christians

Jan 24th, 2014 4:03 pm | By

Hey, Patricia Churchland does the Colbert Report. Oxytocin, prairie voles and montane voles, bonding, the self is in the brain, what about the soul?

Any time people try to tell you how great Sam Harris’s take on morality is, just tell them to read Patricia Churchland instead.


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

Sentenced to village-rape

Jan 24th, 2014 1:48 pm | By

And then there’s the quaint old custom of gang-raping women to punish them.

A young woman in West Bengal was gang-raped this week on the order of a village council, to punish her for planning to marry a man from outside the village, according to the Indian police.

The episode began on Monday when Khaliq Sheikh, the man from outside the village, asked the young woman to marry him, and she accepted his proposal, the police said. When Balai Mardi, the chief of the village, heard about it, he quickly sought to block the marriage.

According to local news media accounts, villagers went to the young woman’s house and detained Mr. Sheikh, and the next day, he and the young woman were taken to the village square, tied to separate trees and accused of breaking community rules.

It’s a question of Village Values, you see. Like Family Values in the US, but slightly more brutal.

Mr. Mardi ordered the couple to pay fines totaling 27,000 rupees, or about $442, Mr. Yadav said in a telephone interview. Mr. Sheikh paid his portion and was allowed to leave, but when the young woman’s family refused to pay, Mr. Mardi ordered villagers “to enjoy her,” said a police officer who spoke on condition that he not be named.

She was then raped repeatedly in Mr. Mardi’s mud-and-thatch hut, according to local news reports.

Then Mr Mardi threatened her and her family, saying he’d burn down their house if they told the police, but they told the police anyway. They must not have the right Village Values.



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

In Modi’s Gujarat

Jan 24th, 2014 1:39 pm | By

State textbooks in Gujarat glorify Nazism, according to the Times of India.

Welcome to high school education in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where authors of social studies textbooks published by the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks have found faults with the freedom movement and glorified Fascism and Nazism.

While a Class VIII student is taught ’negative aspects’ of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, the Class X social studies textbook has chapters on ‘Hitler, the Supremo’ and ‘Internal Achievements of Nazism’. 

The Class X book presents a frighteningly uncritical picture of Fascism and Nazism. The strong national pride that both these phenomena generated, the efficiency in the bureaucracy and the administration and other ‘achievements’ are detailed, but pogroms against Jews and atrocities against trade unionists, migrant labourers, and any section of people who did not fit into Mussolini or Hitler’s definition of rightful citizen don’t find any mention.

The headline on the article is

In Modi’s Gujarat, Hitler is a textbook hero

Modi could be the next Prime Minister of India. It’s alarming.

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

Into the pit

Jan 24th, 2014 1:23 pm | By

A 70-year-old man has been convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in Rawalpindi.

Muhammad Asghar was arrested in 2010 after writing letters to various people claiming to be a prophet, reports say.

His lawyers argued for leniency, saying he has a history of mental illness, but this was rejected by a medical panel.

Disgusting in every way. So what if someone wrote a bunch of letters claiming to be a prophet? What a harmless inconsequential who could possibly care action. Giving him a ticket comparable to a parking ticket would be a ludicrous abuse of state power; sentencing him to death is just off the charts. Ignoring his mental illness for the sake of sentencing him to death is another step down into the pit of sadistic shitness.

Mr Asghar, who is from Edinburgh, Scotland, was accused of writing letters to police officers claiming to be a prophet. He is thought to have lived in Pakistan for several years.

“Asghar claimed to be a prophet even inside the court. He confessed it in front of the judge,” Javed Gul, a government prosecutor, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

So what, you fucking fool. It doesn’t matter. He could claim to be Tinker Bell or Sasquatch or Elmer Fudd’s third wife; it wouldn’t matter. Pakistan has enough real crimes to pursue without squandering its time on the persecution of a religious fantasist.

But his lawyer told the BBC’s Saba Eitizaz that she was forcibly removed from the case by the judge and that proceedings were carried out behind closed doors.

His lawyer says she will launch an appeal against the verdict, which was delivered late on Thursday. Higher courts in Pakistan have been known to overturn blasphemy verdicts handed down in lower courts because of insufficient evidence.

Mr Asgharn has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh, but the court did not accept his medical reports from the UK, reports say.

He has been in jail since his arrest in 2010 and his lawyer says he has also tried to take his own life in jail on one occasion.

Oh it’s just too foul to contemplate.

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

The bus proceeds smoothly on its way

Jan 24th, 2014 12:23 pm | By

There was an open meeting of the Cambridge Student Union last night at which the Liberal Democratic MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert gave a talk. Tehmina Kazi reports one thing he said (and is fine with my quoting her):

Best quote from Cambridge MP and highly-regarded Lib Dem Julian Huppert at last night’s Graduate Union talk: “The chances of Maajid Nawaz being deselected as a parliamentary candidate as a result of the petition are approximately… ZERO.”


It’s still bad that they issued that very un-liberal statement about not hurting people’s feelings by tolerating satire of their religions, but it’s good that they’re not scouting for a nice cliff to drop him off.

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