Notes and Comment Blog

Not one month, not four, but eight

Dec 25th, 2013 1:20 pm | By

Update: see comments, especially Tony Sidaway’s @ 10, for context that makes sense of this.

An item from the Independent more than two years ago. It’s more than a little unnverving.

A man who used a social networking website to post sectarian comments about Catholics and Celtic supporters has been jailed for eight months.


Stephen Birrell, 28, from Glasgow, was also handed a five-year football banning order at Glasgow Sheriff Court for writing the comments on a Facebook page titled Neil Lennon Should Be Banned.

He admitted writing the religiously and racially motivated comments between February 28 and March 8 this year.

Sentencing him, Sheriff Bill Totten said the courts had to send “a clear message to deter others who might be tempted to behave in this way”.

One of the comments, posted a day before a Celtic v Rangers game on March 2 this year, read: “Hope they all die. Simple. Catholic scumbags ha ha.”

Two days after the match, he wrote: “Proud to hate Fenian tattie farmers.”

Good god.

Ok I know – because I was schooled about it here by commenters in the past – that Glasgow has a big problem with sectarian hatred and violence that plays out as football rivalry. But…eight months in jail for that?

The sheriff told Birrell that he had escaped a longer sentence because his comments hadn’t made specific threats against individuals.

But he said he wanted to “send a clear message that the right-thinking people of Glasgow and Scotland will not allow any behaviour of this nature, or allow any place in our society for hate crimes”.

He said: “The use of modern communications to spread or support abuse or target groups of people because of their ethnic or racial background has no place in our modern society and has no place in genuine support for any football club.”

Eight months.

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

Ask any question

Dec 25th, 2013 1:05 pm | By

For any future gifting needs you may have, Ezra Resnick suggests a Magic Dogma Ball for those on your gifting list who like easy answers.

Ask any question, no matter how complex, and the Magic Dogma Ball™ will give you the definitive answer (according to your selected tradition). No thinking required!

The Magic Dogma Ball™ answers questions about ethics, politics, metaphysics, fashion, sex, and more. Possible answers include:

  • It is certain
  • Without a doubt
  • It is forbidden
  • Don’t even think about it

Gifting made easy.


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

Out come the sticks

Dec 25th, 2013 12:26 pm | By

Spain: women protesting new anti-abortion law: police get rough.

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

Being and becoming

Dec 25th, 2013 11:07 am | By

A commenter pointed out a storify in a comment and I took a look at it. What I saw made me curious about the person behind it so I looked at her Twitter and that led me to her blog. Her most recent post there is titled So, What’s It Like Being a White Muslim, Anyway? The title is symptomatic of the post itself.

It’s a stupid title, because Islam is not officially unwhite, and because it represents a category mistake. 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. Yes. But one can talk about them well, or one can talk about them badly. This blogger, who calls herself Ms Muslamic and The Hijabinist, does not talk about them well.

I can divide my life neatly into two phases: the phase where I was Average Cis White Girl and the phase where I became Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman.

Does it jump out at you the way it jumped out at me? It’s just one, introductory sentence, but she replicates it repeatedly – the thing that jumped out at me.

She didn’t stop being Cis or White when she converted to Islam. Why does she oppose Cis White Girl to Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman? Why isn’t it Cis White Girl as opposed to Cis White Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman? (I won’t quibble with girl/woman, since at least the chronology matches.)

The replications:

As a White cis woman I’d experienced misogyny and sexism, but the way I get treated now is considerably worse than anything I encountered back then…

This transition was made worse by the fact that Cis White Feminism does not (in general) support or respect Muslim women. When I converted, I went overnight from having Cis White Feminism speak for my experience and respect my input to having that exact same feminism ignore me, marginalise me, silence me and patronise me. I stopped being an intelligent, independent person who was welcomed into the global sisterhood and started being a rescue project for Orientalist feminist do-gooders. The change was jarring. But thankfully when I got pushed out to the margins I discovered a whole bunch of other people who had also been pushed to the margins by mainstream feminism and we bonded on twitter and now it’s awesome. So you can keep your Mean Girls Cis White Feminism because it’s not helping me anyway.

I’m not asking for some kind of special treatment or implying that I somehow have it worse than other people. Fighting oppression is not a zero-sum game. You can recognise that my experience has been difficult and painful in a number of ways without also implying that the experience of Muslim PoC is less worthy of attention. Nobody deserves to be dehumanised by society as a whole. Nobody deserves to live in fear because of their religion. Likewise I think I can say “Hey, being a White Muslim has its own particular set of complicated problems” without implying that I’m more important than women of colour, trans women, women with disabilities or other women pushed to the margins of mainstream Cis White Feminism.

What’s she doing with this? I think she’s trying to make the case that feminism isn’t intersectional enough…except of course for feminism that is intersectional enough, which would be feminism that isn’t “White” or “Cis”…and it’s actually somewhat tricky to find any feminism that is explicitly officially White, though it’s less tricky to find feminism that’s explicitly officially Cis. But still, one gets the idea, not least because it’s an idea that’s been around as long as second-wave feminism has – that a lot of the most visible feminism tends to be middle-class and all that goes with it, and thus not very good at addressing class and race and the other ways people are marginalized. (Funny though that the blogger doesn’t include “straight” or “heterosexual” among her axes of marginalization. I wonder why that is; I wonder if it was conscious.)

One gets the idea, but it’s still a very tendentious, and in my view unfair, binary. It loads the dice.

Another thing about that first sentence I cited.

I can divide my life neatly into two phases: the phase where I was Average Cis White Girl and the phase where I became Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman.

“Became” is an odd word to use. One doesn’t just “become” a Muslim, the way a girl becomes a woman over time. One decides to be a Muslim; one converts, in short, to Islam. It’s not passive, it’s active. It’s not something that happens to you, it’s something you make up your mind to do. That’s all the more the case with the “Hijab-Wearing” bit. She’s in the UK, so she’s not in a place where the hijab is forced on all Muslim women.

Obviously all this is more or less peripheral; my real objection to her post is the usual one: that it treats criticism of Islam as racism and thus taboo, while I think Islam should be wide open to criticism along with all other religions, because religions are systems of ideas that make massive claims on people. But the rhetoric of this move is interesting.

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

Judge to Utah: no stay for you

Dec 24th, 2013 6:01 pm | By

All your bases are belong to us.

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that gay marriages can continue in Utah, denying a request from the state to halt same-sex weddings that have been occurring at a rapid rate since last week.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ rejection of Utah’s request for an emergency stay marks yet another legal setback for the state. The same federal judge who ruled that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights previously denied the state’s request to halt the marriages.

Next stop, Arizona.

Utah’s last chance to temporarily stop the marriages would be the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s what the Utah Attorney General’s Office is prepared to do, said spokesman Ryan Bruckman. “We’re disappointed in the ruling, but we just have to take it to the next level,” Bruckman said.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s office declined comment on the decision.

Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at Virginia’s University of Richmond who has tracked legal battles for gay marriage, thinks Utah faces long odds to get their stay granted, considering two courts have already rejected it and marriages have been going on for days now.

“The longer this goes on, the less likely it becomes that any court is going to entertain a stay,” Tobias said.

So all you loving same-sex couples in Utah who like the idea of being hitched? Get busy!

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

Guest post by Tim Harris on ‘cultural relativism’ in Japan

Dec 24th, 2013 5:50 pm | By

Originally a comment on In their efforts to discredit advocates of women’s international human rights.

In the 80s & 90s, one faced the same sort of thing in Japan, with what was called ‘nihon-jin-ron’, the ‘theory of the Japanese’, a thoroughly and cynically racist and chauvinistic outpouring which depended in part on taking certain questionable and often racist assertions about Japan made over a century or so by some Westerners and throwing them back in the face of the West: ‘we Japanese’ understand one another not through logic, like coldly rational Westerners, but through intuitive feeling, through ‘hara’ (guts); our arts are so extraordinarily sensitive that Westerners cannot possibly appreciate them; even though Westerners may parrot the Japanese language, they can never truly speak or understand it.

These theorists also depended heavily on the dogma of ‘cultural relativism’ which, taken to an extreme (as it all too often is – the temptation to do so is great), essentially makes ‘cultures’ like black holes to one another – though the proponents of nihonjinron insisted that ‘the Japanese’ understood the West all too well: being logical, etc, the West was easy to understand. Essentially, ‘cultural relativism’ provided a cloak for the indulging of an extreme nationalism that even extended to literary scholarship – Konishi Jin’ichi’s history of Japanese literature, for example, which was acclaimed by useful idiots in the West like Earl Miner and panned by the British scholar and translator Dennis Keene as well as myself.

When one took up cudgels against nihonjin-ron, it was remarkable how quickly charges of racism, cultural condescension, etc were made. Writers like Peter Dale, Ross Mouer, Yoshio Sugimoto (who was actually Japanese!), Karel van Wolferen, Alan Booth and, in a small way, myself had to face this. And it was interesting that these charges came as often from Westerners as from Japanese, if not more so. It was also interesting to me that most of the Western critics of nihonjin-ron were not from the US – I think this because of the closer acquaintance Europeans had with nationalist modes of thought and because of the paternalistic attitude taken towards postwar Japan by many Americans – it is something that to my mind vitiates Donald Richie’s writings on Japan, though his books on Ozu and Kurosawa are admirable.

The bubble of nihonjin-ron burst more or less with the bursting of Japan’s bubble economy, though now we have the most chauvinistic government in years in power here, and one suspects the theorists could emerge again, given the right circumstances.

Really, it’s a delicate balancing act – which is something that on the one hand a parochial insistence on the universality of Western values and on the other the sort of thing indulged in by Penny and her ilk simply fail to recognize.

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

In their efforts to discredit advocates of women’s international human rights

Dec 24th, 2013 4:01 pm | By

More from Mayer’s long 2000 article on gender apartheid. The article is very apposite to what we’ve been talking about lately.

The discussion will point out how those seeking to defend what amounts to gender apartheid have tried to turn the discussion away from actual patterns of oppression of women, endeavoring to depoliticize this phenomenon by, among other things, minimizing the important role of the state. Instead of acknowledging that governments of modern states are controlled by men and that these men may have vested interests in retaining a status quo that favors them, they pretend that religion and culture are independent determinants of women’s status.

It’s just a coincidence that all these religions and cultures make women subordinate to men, and that governments are controlled mostly by men. The two have nothing to do with each other. Don’t look at that man behind the curtain.

As will be shown, a widespread predisposition to downgrade the significance of any gender discrimination that claims to be rooted in religion and culture is exploited by governments and allied apologists in their efforts to discredit advocates of women’s international human rights. The result is that defenses that would never excuse
racial apartheid wind up being greeted as plausible rationalizations for gender apartheid.

Even by progressives, feminists, leftists like Priyamvada Gopal and Laurie Penny. That’s strange, isn’t it. I always find it strange.

And then we get even closer to Gopal and Pennie and their colleagues.

This article also analyzes attempts that have been made by some U.S. academics to induce U.S. opinion to reject international human rights law as the criterion for judging the treatment of women in the Middle East. Religion and culture are depicted by such academics as if these set parameters regarding the treatment of women that are accepted by insiders to a given society, only being contested and criticized
by outsiders. Such depictions completely ignore the intense controversies about women’s rights that are going on within Middle Eastern societies. These academics work to discredit advocacy of women’s international human rights, deliberately associating challenges to gender discrimination with negatives like neocolonialism/imperialism and attacks on culture and religion.

Yes they do. They do it quite blatantly, by misrepresenting protests and the people behind them, by throwing epithets when this is pointed out instead of correcting the misrepresentations, and by persisting in their failure to correct the misrepresentations.

It’s a horrible spectacle.

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

Ibn Warraq on Edward Said

Dec 24th, 2013 12:24 pm | By

More than ten years ago I published at ur-B&W a long article by Ibn Warraq, adapted from a longer one with full references and notes, on Debunking Edward Said. I think it’s relevant to things we’ve been discussing lately, so I want to pay it a visit.’

Consider the following observations on the state of affairs in the contemporary
Arab world :

The history of the modern Arab world – with all its political failures,
its human rights abuses, its stunning military incompetences, its decreasing
production, the fact that alone of all modern peoples, we have receded in democratic and technological and scientific development – is disfigured by a whole series of out-moded and discredited ideas, of which the notion that the Jews never
suffered and that the holocaust is an obfuscatory confection created by the
Elders of Zion is one that is acquiring too much – far too much – currency;

….[T]o support Roger Garaudy, the French writer convicted earlier this year
on charges of holocaust denial, in the name of ‘freedom of opinion’ is a silly
ruse that discredits us more than we already are discredited in the world’s
eyes for our incompetence, our failure to fight a decent battle, our radical
misunderstanding of history and the world we live in. Why don’t we fight harder
for freedom of opinions in our own societies, a freedom, no one needs to be
told, that scarcely exists?

It takes considerable courage for an Arab to write self-criticism of this kind,
indeed, without the personal pronoun ‘we’ how many would have guessed that an
Arab, let alone Edward Said himself, had written it? And yet, ironically, what
makes self-examination for Arabs and Muslims, and particularly criticism of
Islam in the West very difficult is the totally pernicious influence of Edward
Said’s Orientalism. The latter work taught an entire generation of Arabs
the art of self-pity – “were it not for the wicked imperialists, racists
and Zionists, we would be great once more” – encouraged the Islamic fundamentalist
generation of the 1980s, and bludgeoned into silence any criticism of Islam,
and even stopped dead the research of eminent Islamologists who felt their findings
might offend Muslims sensibilities, and who dared not risk being labelled “orientalist”.
The aggressive tone of Orientalism is what I have called “intellectual
terrorism,” since it does not seek to convince by arguments or historical
analysis but by spraying charges of racism, imperialism, Eurocentrism, from
a moral high ground; anyone who disagrees with Said has insult heaped upon him.
The moral high ground is an essential element in Said’s tactics; since he believes
his position is morally unimpeachable, Said obviously thinks it justifies him
in using any means possible to defend it, including the distortion of the views
of eminent scholars, interpreting intellectual and political history in a highly
tendentious way, in short twisting the truth. But in any case, he does not believe
in the “truth”.

Does that sound familiar? It does to me, at least. It sounds all too much like the way Priyamvada Gopal wrote in her inaccurate and at times abusive article about the protest against gender segregation, and even more like the crude echo of it that Laurie Penny wrote a few days later. It also sounds like the way both Gopal and Penny have reacted to criticism. Penny did listen to some of it, and did slightly amend one paragraph in her article, but she ignored the rest, and left (for one thing) the grossly inaccurate claim about the Student Rights report uncorrected, so there it still sits. Gopal didn’t even do that much, and she’s still flinging around complaints about “liberals” with assorted epithets attached. They both clearly think they occupy the moral high ground, and their thinking that seems to make them unable to argue reasonably.

This wouldn’t matter if it weren’t such an influential idea – “Orientalism” – but it is, so it does.


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

Everyone likes a good rescue

Dec 24th, 2013 9:38 am | By

So have a nice rescue of a yellow Lab who was swept out to sea off the Norfolk coast.

You’re welcome.

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


Dec 23rd, 2013 6:10 pm | By

And one other thing. The way Laurie Penny keeps talking about “Muslim feminists” while ignoring the existence of ex-Muslims and non-Muslims, as if no ex/non-Muslim could possibly have anything relevant to say about women’s rights and religion, or standing to say it – as if only Muslims are allowed to say anything critical of Islam, and as if all non-Muslim critics of Islam are simply racists in disguise -

- the way Laurie Penny keeps doing that -

Well imagine carrying on that way if the subject were the Vatican v women.

Imagine Laurie Penny denouncing all non-Catholic critics of the Catholic church as racists and imperialists, and then ruefully agreeing that she should have talked to some Catholic feminists. Imagine her treating all secular, atheist, ex-Catholic, Jewish and so on women who objected to the Vatican’s all-male tyranny over a big chunk of humanity as racists and colonialists.

Imagine that, then wonder what the hell she thinks she’s talking about.

She’s critical of sexism, I know. Imagine her saying that only men could criticize sexism. Imagine her saying that only capitalists can criticize capitalism. Imagine a whole bunch of parallels of that kind, and notice how grotesque they are, and wonder why she is so confused.

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

Relatively benign

Dec 23rd, 2013 5:31 pm | By

Gita Sahgal alerted me to this long article by Ann Elizabeth Mayer on “A Benign Aparheid: How Gender Apartheid Has Been Rationalized” [pdf].

An examination of the situation of women in some Middle Eastern countries reveals patterns of systematic, egregious gender discrimination. However, to date international law has failed to classify such treatment as a kind of apartheid, and the international community has failed to impose sanctions to deter such treatment of women. This article explores why gender apartheid, despite its direct analogies to racial apartheid, has largely been seen as a relatively benign phenomenon. Both countries defending their discriminatory treatment of women and Western apologists for such treatment depoliticize laws and policies discriminating against women. Cultural relativist proclivities mean that the reality of male domination and women’s oppression is obscured and that people can be persuaded that women’s status is merely an expression of cultural and religious traditions that outsiders are bound to respect. At the same time, certain U.S. academics are working to discredit critics of gender apartheid by attacking women’s international human rights, ascribing advocacy of the latter to a destructive totalitarian ideology that is inimical to freedom of religion and religious values. A critical appraisal of the attempts to rationalize gender apartheid reveals flawed logic and serious misrepresentations of the politics of gender in Middle Eastern countries.

That’s dated 2000. The situation hasn’t improved much since then, I think, though it may be a little more on the radar. But there were people who were outraged by LSESUASH’s use of a photo from an anti-apartheid demo for the protest against gender segregation – as if it’s just obvious that gender segregation is comparatively trivial.

Here’s a passage that I wish Priyamvada Gopal and Laurie Penny would read carefully and take to heart. (They won’t, but I wish they would.)

This article also analyzes attempts that have been made by some U.S. academics to induce U.S. opinion to reject international human rights law as the criterion for judging the treatment of women in the Middle East. Religion and culture are depicted by such academics as if these set parameters regarding the treatment of women that are accepted by insiders to a given society, only being contested and criticized
by outsiders. Such depictions completely ignore the intense controversies about women’s rights that are going on within Middle Eastern societies. These academics work to discredit advocacy of women’s international human rights, deliberately associating challenges to gender discrimination with negatives like neocolonialism/imperialism and attacks on culture and religion. Specters of a feminist totalitarianism that aims to bring about genocide have even been invoked. By such tactics, apologists for systematic gender discrimination have tried to make patterns of pervasive gender discrimination and segregation seem relatively innocuous, presenting these patterns as a kind of benign apartheid.

Why would they want to do that, do you suppose? I don’t understand it at all, myself.

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

It’s hard to get people to leave their desks

Dec 23rd, 2013 4:36 pm | By

A couple of weeks ago the Secular Coalition for American held a briefing for Congress to introduce the ”Model Secular Policy Guide,” a book of separation-of-church-and-state policy prescriptions. They chose a rather…strange way to go about it. USA Today reports:

It had all the makings of a Christmas party: sparkling cider, cheese, chocolate-covered strawberries, even fashion models wearing sparkling gowns.


Yes, you read that correctly: fashion models wearing sparkling gowns. USA Today has a picture of them, sparkling. They look very nice, no question, but is that really the best way for the SCA to promote its work? No, it’s not. It’s a good deal too much like draping a hotty in a bikini over the hood of a car as a subtle way to draw the attention of buyers who think the hotty goes with the car, or makes it hot, or something.

The models, the sushi, the strawberries were the brainchild of executive director Edwina Rogers, a veteran Republican lobbyist who took over as the organization’s head last year. Having worked for four senators in the past, she knew that her policy book needed to be handed down with pizzazz.

“It’s hard to get people to leave their desks, they’re all very busy, very competitive and so it helps to have some food and have something interesting for people to see,” Rogers said.

It helps to have some food and some young women in sparkly dresses.

Oh Edwina. Really.

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

Mutts and purebreds

Dec 23rd, 2013 12:15 pm | By

Motivated by Janet Heimlich’s post and the discussion of it here, I’m reading Nicholas Humphrey’s 1997 Amnesty lecture published at Edge. Its subject is childhood teaching and indoctrination. One major theme is the difference between the two; between open and closed.

Donald Kraybill, an anthropologist who made a close study of an Amish community in Pennsylvania, was well placed to observe how this works out in practice. “Groups threatened by cultural extinction,” he writes, “must indoctrinate their offspring if they want to preserve their unique heritage. Socialization of the very young is one of the most potent forms of social control. As cultural values slip into the child’s mind, they become personal values—embedded in conscience and governed by emotions. . . The Amish contend that the Bible commissions parents to train their children in religious matters as well as the Amish way of life. . . An ethnic nursery, staffed by extended family and church members, moulds the Amish world view in the child’s mind from the earliest moments of consciousness.”(7)

The question is…is the preservation of a “unique heritage” worth imprisoning children in a closed system?

I think it’s not, but then I have the benefit (if I’m right that it is a benefit) of having been raised in an open one. I wasn’t raised on a single book, nor was I raised to preserve a unique heritage. I was raised a mutt.

Then perhaps I am, after all, being too alarmist about what all this means. For sure therisks are real enough. We do live—even in our advanced, democratic, Western nations—in an environment of spiritual oppression, where many little children—our neighbours’ children if not actually ours—are daily exposed to the attempts of adults to annexE their minds. Yet, you may still want to point out that there’s a big difference between what the adults want and what actually transpires. All right, so children do frequently get saddled with adult nonsense. But so what. Maybe it’s just something the child has to put up with until he or she is able to leave home and learn better. In which case I would have to admit that the issue is certainly nothing like so serious as I have been making out. After all there are surely lots of things that are done to children either accidentally or by design that—though they may not be ideal for the child at the time—have no lasting ill effects.

But the ability to leave home – including the heritage, the culture, the dogma – is what’s at issue. As Humphrey goes on to say.

Yes, I agree therefore we should not be too alarmist—or too prissy—about the effects of early learning. But, No, we should certainly not be too sanguine about it either. True, it may not be so difficult for a person to unlearn or replace factual knowledge later in life: someone who once thought the world was flat, for example, may, when faced by overwhelming evidence to the contrary, grudgingly come round to accepting that the world is round. It will, however, often be very much more difficult for a person to unlearn established procedures or habits of thought: someone who has grown used, for example, to taking everything on trust from Biblical authority may find it very hard indeed to adopt a more critical and questioning attitude. And it may be nigh impossible for a person to unlearn attitudes and emotional reactions: someone who has learned as a child, for example, to think of sex as sinful may never again be able to be relaxed about making love.

But there is another even more pressing reason not to be too sanguine, or sanguine in the least. Research has shown that given the opportunity individuals can go on learning and can recover from poor childhood environments. However, what we should be worrying about are precisely those cases where such opportunities do not—indeed are not allowed to—occur.

Suppose, as I began to describe above, children are in effect locked out by their families from access to any alternative ideas. Or, worse, that they are so effectively immunised against foreign influences that they do the locking out themselves.

Think of those cases, not so uncommon, when it has become a central plank of someone’s belief system that they must not let themselves be defiled by mixing with others. When, because of their faith, all they want to hear is one voice, and all they want to read is one text. When they treat new ideas as if they carry infection. When, later, as they grow more sophisticated, they come to deride reason as an instrument of Satan. When they regard the humility of unquestioning obedience as a virtue. When they identify ignorance of worldly affairs with spiritual grace. . . In such case, it hardly matters what their minds may still remain capable of learning, because they themselves will have made certain they never again use this capacity.

There it is again – defilement, mixing. It’s the purity concern that Jonathan Haidt tells us liberals don’t have and conservatives do – tells us with a good deal too much sympathy for the concern, in my book.

Mixing, defilement, mutts, mongrels. Hybrids, borders – leaving home to go to Oz.

It’s better. The liberal way is better. Having one way of life, one view, one holy book; that’s not just different, it’s worse.

So now have the passage about the Inca girl “sacrificed” by priests.

As we saw, there are several factors that might be considered counter-balancing. And of these the one that seems to many people weightiest, or at least is often mentioned first, is our interest as a society in maintaining cultural diversity. All right, you may want to say, so it’s tough on a child of the Amish, or the Hasidim or the Gypsies to be shaped up by their parents in the ways they are—but at least the result is that these fascianting cultural traditions continue. Would not our whole civilisation be impoverished if they were to go? It’s a shame, maybe, when individuals have to be sacrificed to maintain such diversity. But there it is: it’s the price we pay as a society.

Except, I would feel bound to remind you, we do not pay it, they do.

Let me give a telling example. In 1995, in the high mountains of Peru, some climbers came across the frozen mummified body of a young Inca girl. She was dressed as a princess. She was thirteen years old. About five hundred years ago, this little girl had, it seems, been taken alive up the mountain by a party of priests, and then ritually killed—a sacrifice to the mountain’s Gods in the hope that they would look kindly on the people below.

The discovery was described by the anthropologist, Johan Reinhard, in an article for the National Geographic magazine.(14) He was clearly elated both as a scientist and as a human being by the romance of finding this “ice maiden”, as he called her. Even so, he did express some reservations about how she had come to be there: “we can’t help but shudder,” he wrote, “at [the Incas'] practice of performing human sacrifice.”

The discovery was also made the subject of a documentary film shown on American television. Here, however, no one expressed any reservation whatsoever. Instead, viewers were simply invited to marvel at the spiritual commitment of the Inca priests and to share with the girl on her last journey her pride and excitement at having been selected for the signal honour of being sacrificed. The message of the Tv programme was in effect that the practice of human sacrifice was in its own way a glorious cultural invention—another jewel in the crown of multiculturalism, if you like.

Yet, how dare anyone even suggest this? How dare they invite us—in our sitting rooms, watching television—to feel uplifted by contemplating an act of ritual murder: the murder of a dependent child by a group of stupid, puffed up, superstitious, ignorant old men? How dare they invite us to find good for ourselves in contemplating an immoral action against someone else?

Immoral? By Inca standards? No, that’s not what matters. Immoral by ours—and in particular by just the standard of free-choice that I was enunciating earlier. The plain fact is that none of us, knowing what we do about the way the world works, would freely choose to be sacrificed as she was. And however “proud” the Inca girl may or may not have been to have had the choice made for her by her family (and for all we know she may actually have felt betrayed and terrified), we can still be pretty sure that she, if she had known what we now know, would not have chosen this fate for herself either.

No, this girl was used by others as a means for achieving their ends. The elders of her community valued their collective security above her life, and decided for her that she must die in order that their crops might grow and they might live. Now, five hundred years later, we ourselves must not, in a lesser way, do the same: by thinking of her death as something that enriches our collective culture.

We must not do it here, nor in any other case where we are invited to celebrate other people’s subjection to quaint and backward traditions as evidence of what a rich world we live in. We mustn’t do it even when it can be argued, as I’d agree it sometimes can be, that the maintenance of these minority traditions is potentially of benefit to all of us because they keep alive ways of thinking that might one day serve as a valuable counterpoint to the majority culture.

That’s what I think. Decline all invitations to celebrate other people’s subjection to quaint and backward traditions as evidence of what a rich world we live in.

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

Gopal v liberals

Dec 23rd, 2013 11:19 am | By

Priyamvada Gopal is still throwing verbal bricks at liberals. I understand liberals here to mean people who defend universal human rights as opposed to people who carve out exceptions for “cultures” or “communities” or religions or, usually, all three. She threw her latest bricks while offering Laurie Penny support in her battle with “white” yaddayadda on Twitter.


Priyamvada Gopal @PriyamvadaGopal

@PennyRed Don’t be apologetic with liberal bullies who for all their protestations,don’t like to hear non-European feminists speak nuance

Far from being defenders of the rights of non-European/Muslim women, want them silenced uness they say the right things their way

Faced down astonishing abuse and footstamping liberal tantrums this past week which would be horrifying if it weren’t amusing.

 I think she wants us to equate liberals with “Western” and “white”…which means she wants to hand over liberalism to the “white West”…thus making the non-West illiberal.

I wonder if she’s really thought this through.

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

You have to judge

Dec 22nd, 2013 6:10 pm | By

Janet Heimlich would like to get Richard Dawkins to withdraw a comment he made about how we should view people who abused children a few generations ago. She explains in a post at her blog at Religious Child Mistreatment.

Dr. Dawkins made the comment after he was asked about his downplaying of having been fondled by a teacher at his boarding school in Salisbury, England. Calling the molestation “mild pedophilia,” Dr. Dawkins said that he didn’t think that he, nor other boys who experienced the same molestation by the teacher, suffered “lasting harm.” Then Dr. Dawkins stated,

I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.

I am surprised that Dr. Dawkins holds this view, especially as someone who often chides religious people for being nonsensical, irrational, and sometimes, unethical. The Bible talks about such crimes against children as mass killings, cannibalism, incest, starvation, rape, and sacrifice with little condemnation of those actions. Are we to look back on those abuses and not condemn them, simply because they happened a long time ago? Can we not even say that what happened to those children was wrong?

It’s tricky. I think I know what he’s getting at. There can be too much of a “gotcha” game about pointing out how wicked people were in the past, combined with a smug feeling of self-cuddling for being so much better than that. It can be too quick, too glib, too unaware of what people could or couldn’t know, and the like.

But at the same time…there’s a problem with avoiding all that and charging off too far in the opposite direction, too. Think of the way the Irish church ran the industrial “schools” for example. I was re-reading a bit of the Ryan report this morning, the part about the punishments, with the long cold frightening waits on the landing for the nun to come up the stairs and beat them; the part about the punishments for bed-wetting; the prevarications of the nuns testifying. Reading it gives you such a sense of duration. Years and years, decades and decades, children isolated, miserable, frightened – made to stand on a landing for hours awaiting a beating, forbidden to sit, freezing cold, the urine running down their legs from fear.

You can’t just not see that as immoral. You can’t – that is, you mustn’t – let yourself be callous about all that needless misery inflicted on children for the crime of being poor or born to an unmarried mother or some other accident. You have to judge. You can say “maybe I would have done the same thing in that situation” if you want to, but you have to judge. If you don’t know that’s wrong, how will you prevent yourself from doing something similar if chance puts you in a situation where you’re expected to?

Janet puts it this way:

Ethically speaking, we are a more evolved people than those who came before us. It would be a travesty not to apply the standards of today in judging abusers of the past. Sure, we can give reasons why people have acted unethically, yet we should not hold back on clearly stating that child abuse, as well as racism, homophobia, and other such actions are—regardless of the era—immoral. And the same holds true to what happened to Dr. Dawkins as a boy. I’m glad that he was not adversely affected by having been molested. Yet, regardless of the fact that, back in his day, sexual abuse was not discussed as a violation of children’s rights, I have no problem saying that the teacher who molested those boys (among other things) acted immorally.

To underline the point, and to persuade Dawkins, she cites and quotes from a lecture by Nicholas Humphrey.

The lecture dealt with the immorality of indoctrinating children with religious teachings and failing to criticize cultures that abuse children. To illustrate his point, Dr. Humphrey talked about a American television program that featured the discovery of the body of a young Inca girl who had been sacrificed about 500 years ago.

Dr. Humphrey was infuriated by the way the individuals interviewed on the program discussed the ritualistic killing:

No one expressed any reservation, whatsoever. Instead, viewers were simply invited to marvel at the spiritual commitment of the Inca priests and to share with the girl on her last journey her pride and excitement at having been selected for the signal honour of being sacrificed. The message of the TV programme was, in effect, that the practice of human sacrifice was in its own way a glorious cultural invention—another jewel  in the crown of multiculturalism, if you like.

Dr. Humphrey found the program’s glorification of the sacrifice of the Inca girl to be unconscionable, even though the killing took place hundreds of years ago: “How dare they invite us—in our sitting rooms, watching television—to feel uplifted by contemplating an act of ritual murder?” said Dr. Humphrey. “How dare they invite us to find good for ourselves in contemplating an immoral action against someone else?”


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

The virtues of being partisan

Dec 22nd, 2013 5:10 pm | By

Maryam interviews Marieme Helie Lucas. Right at the start MHL makes an important point:

As long as all these attempts by Muslim fundamentalists – whether in the form of different rights for different categories of citizens, veiling, sex segregation and so on – is not analysed in political terms – as the expression of an anti-democratic programme, but rather in terms of religion or culture, the British government will not limit the rise of this extreme-Right movement, which will be increasingly difficult to control.

That’s a very good point, all the more so in a time when both religion and culture are treated like fragile much-loved babies, while political concerns are supposed to be robust enough to take care of themselves.

Those of us who clearly see the rise of a new form of fascism – mostly because we come from situations in which we have had to live under the boot of fundamentalists – are left to our own devices to struggle against it. It is not very different from the situation of anti-Nazi Germans who were not listened to, for far too long, until a bloody war was inevitable.

MHL is Algerian. That boot, those fundamentalists.

Universities have no business pandering to such requests, and if they do, what’s next? Fundamentalist speakers will only address audiences where females are fully covered?

It seems we are already witnessing some of the next steps. According to media reports, in one instance at a UK university, women were not only segregated but had to give their questions in writing to the speaker, whilst men could raise theirs. As one knows, their voices are sexually attractive and fundamentalists plug their ears against temptation – hence the ban on singing in the areas the Taliban control…

What is sure is that fundamentalists will not stop here and will produce more and more demands, since the aim is not to get satisfaction for a specific demand, but to gain political ground.

Wouldn’t you think people who run things would be shrewd enough to realize that? I would, but maybe that’s naïve of me.

Are racial and gender segregation incomparable? Why is it that everyone can see the distinction between a black university and racial apartheid but when it comes to gender, it’s not as obvious?

Marieme Helie Lucas: This is a very crucial question that I have debated a lot, including more than twenty years ago with feminist friends in the USA. While sex segregation was rapidly expanding in Algeria under the heavy weight of the first fundamentalist preachers and religious groups, I was trying to warn them about the potential backlash of their gender segregation policy in the name of feminism.

Many of our feminist weapons have been turned against us along the years… and I have come to this very sad conclusion that we were not smart enough to think, as thinkers and philosophers should, about all the facets of the concepts we were grappling with. Just think of our feminist praise for diversity, whilst all along we knew that difference was used to legitimise the racist South African apartheid regime, or the segregationist states of the USA. This concept is now used to legitimise the imposition of differences on women that make them unequal in the name of religion, ethnicity or culture.

Susan Moller Okin, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? (The answer is yes.) Diversity is only as good as it is. Not ever difference is something to celebrate. The murderer is different; not in a good way.

There is a relativist culture of non commitment and neutrality that has been expanding – certainly in the West, under the influence of liberalism, of human rights organisations and of political correctness and the fear of appearing racist. Accordingly, everything is equal; everything has to be respected on par – the right of the capitalist and the right of the worker, the right of the one who holds the gun and the right of the one who runs for his life away from the gun… It is high time to admit that there are conflicting rights, antagonistic rights.

It seems to me that progressive people have forgotten the virtues of being partisan. I want to stand for the right of the worker, not that of the capitalist, for the right of the man who runs for his life, not for the right of the man who holds the gun, and for the right of women to live their lives without interference from extreme-Right religious people.

Ah, that’s a great line. Progressive people have forgotten the virtues of being partisan. Ima stop there but there’s lots more; go read the whole thing.

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

Dog’s elevenses

Dec 22nd, 2013 3:17 pm | By

Laurie Penny amended her article slightly in response to the comments she got on Twitter.

Her second paragraph as she first wrote it:

The recent blanket coverage of the “gender segregation on campus” story was a textbook case. This month Student Rights, a pressure group not run by students, released a report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers. The tabloids went bananas. Extremists were taking over the academy.

The amended version:

The recent blanket coverage of the “gender segregation on campus” story was a textbook case. This month Student Rights, a pressure group not run by students, released a report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers. Many Asian women’s groups and individual Muslim feminists joined the subsequent protests, sometimes taking personal risks to do so. Unfortunately, rightwing commentators and tabloids seized upon the issue to imply that Islamic extremists are taking over the British academy.

That’s really not much of an improvement. As @CEMB_forum just pointed out on Twitter, it paints the “Asian women’s groups and individual Muslim feminists” as useful idiots, which is all the more galling since it still relies on grossly mistaken factual claims. To repeat: the Student Rights report on gender segregation was released last May, not this month, and the protest had nothing to do with Student Rights. Dog’s breakfast, dog’s dinner, dog’s midnight snack.

Also, Maryam for example did not “join” the protest, she fucking organized it. Also…Penny just can’t figure out the right way to label people. “Asian” is useless; there are non-Asians involved (who yet are not “white,” to use Penny’s catch-all word). “Muslim” is worse than useless because there are ex-Muslims and non-Muslims from Muslim-majority areas involved. Penny is too much in a hurry to label and docket everyone to take the time to grasp the fact that the protest was internationalist in nature. It wasn’t “white” and it wasn’t “black” either; it wasn’t “Asian” nor was it “European” (to use an equally meaningless label). It wasn’t “Muslim” nor was it atheist. It was based in solidarity, not in warring identities.

There’s an editorial note at the end:

This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests

Sigh. Point missed again.

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

Be sure not to support liberal feminists of Muslim background

Dec 22nd, 2013 12:52 pm | By

Alom Shaha alerted me to a tumblr post by King of Dawah.

Jemima Cheltenham – We Betray Our Principles By Supporting Them

As white liberal feminists we must oppose misogyny in all its forms.

Especially when we get scared by requests from Muslim feminists that we stand side by side with them in the face of angry reactionaries and passive aggressive sulking community leaders.

Yes, the Muslim liberals and feminists who are fighting for equal rights and against the dictates of clerics are very brave. But as white liberals we have to be even braver, by ignoring them, so we don’t get scared by scary men with beards demanding reactionary things who may call us racist for supporting women who struggle for the same rights as everyone else.


Read the whole thing.

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

Another dog’s breakfast

Dec 22nd, 2013 12:04 pm | By

Oh christ, not again. This time it’s Laurie Penny getting it all wrong.

This isn’t ‘feminism’, says the title, It’s Islamophobia. The title isn’t directly the fault of the author, since editors write the titles, but that one does reflect what the article says, and it’s the same old crock of shit.

As a person who writes about women’s issues, I am constantly being told that Islam is the greatest threat to gender equality in this or any other country – mostly by white men, who always know best.

Well that can happen, yes. (Dear Muslima? Yes. It can happen.) But that doesn’t mean that there is no problem with conservative Islam and Islamism when it comes to gender equality, just as there are problems with conservative Christianity, the Vatican, conservative Judaism – you get the idea. Liberal, secular versions of religion are mostly benign, epistemology apart, but it doesn’t follow that all versions of religion are.

…from the Rochdale grooming case to interminable debates over whether traditional Islamic dress is “empowering” or otherwise, the rhetoric and language of feminism has been co-opted by Islamophobes, who could not care less about women of any creed or colour.

The recent blanket coverage of the “gender segregation on campus” story was a textbook case. This month Student Rights, a pressure group not run by students, released a report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers. The tabloids went bananas. Extremists were taking over the academy.

Never mind that it wasn’t strictly true, the non-controversy spread to every level of government. Labour MP Chuka Umunna declared: “A future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities.” Even the prime minister stepped into the debate, saying the proposed guidelines, which have since been withdrawn, were “not the right approach”. The elite all-male Oxford club of which both he and the chancellor were members was presumably the perfect approach.

Sigh. Notice how completely she ignores the December 10 protest. Notice how wrong she gets the facts – the Student Rights report was not released this month, it was released last May. Naturally it said nothing about the UUK guidance, because the UUK guidance didn’t exist at the time. Notice how she jumps from that to the spread of the controversy, thus getting the whole thing completely wrong.

(I should say that people are arguing with her on Twitter right now, as I type this, and she is admitting some omissions. Fair dues. [But I wish people would get this right before writing about it instead of after.] But she persists in saying she supports “Muslim feminists.” I’ve asked her about six times now, what about ex-Muslim, Muslim background, allies? And she’s ignoring me. Ok, I’m a nobody, and I’m not a “Muslim”…but then that’s my point, which is that she’s excluding allies, and that’s…neither progressive nor helpful.)

I have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this “policy of gender segregation” by “Islamic extremists”, despite the fact that no such policy exists.

Yes it does.

I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

In short, by the whole genre of “Dear Muslima.” Fine, but that’s not what happened in this case.

For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.

We’re not. That’s not what happened in this case. Start over.


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

He knows a hawk from a handsaw

Dec 21st, 2013 5:43 pm | By

Is Anjem Choudary a joke or not? Maybe not, according to Sunder Katwala in the New Statesman blog (the Staggers blog called the Staggers).

Choudary backed out of a Panorama interview, apparently because he didn’t want to be pressed on his lack of truthfulness about how well he knew Michael Adebolajo, one of the accused in the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Normal service was resumed this morning – as Choudary was given the prestige 8:10am slot on the Today programme. Choudary refused, as usual, to condemn a murder that he has previously been willing to condone and justify. But he was not asked the questions that he pulled out of thePanorama interview to avoid, or about whether his links with Adebolajo went deeper than he claims. Nor was any other British Muslim voice offered the opportunity to counter him, though the government’s anti-terror coordinator Alex Carlile was invited to offer context afterwards.

Doesn’t sound like a mere joke, being interviewed on the Today programme. Anyway even jokes can commit mass murder or organize others to do so.

No broadcast organisation has offered a clear account of how they make these choices – or whether they accept that there is any tension between the journalistic job of scrutinising extremism, the shock entertainment value of platforming the most outlandish and least representative views, and the role of contextualising those views too. Instead, they too often speak with forked tongues. Take Daybreak’s Jonathan Swain’s tweet last summer after Choudary popped up on the sofa to make the case for murder. “Just interviewed Anjem Choudary on @Daybreak who claimed the murder of Lee Rigby was justified. What a Disgusting and offensive view”. As Claude Rains might have said in Casablanca, how shocking it must have been for the programme to discover that they had booked such an extremist voice to express his well known and frequently repeated views.

Very well known. I’ve been following reportage on him for years. That’s why I’ve heard so often that he’s a joke.

It is difficult for the media to resist the temptation of platforming a man who often thinks like a newsdesk, and is willing to provide a cartoonish story, as with his recent protests against alcohol. But, as Hope Not Hate’sinvestigation into the Al Maharajoun hate group shows, there is a strong accumulation of evidence to support the view that Choudary is considerably more dangerous than his clownish media persona may imply. As Nick Lowles and Joe Mulhall write: “Behind his media-grabbing and provocative stunts lies a group that is a gateway to terrorism, at home and abroad. While Choudary might not have been directly involved in terror plots, he helped shape the mindset of many of those behind them”.

Perhaps he was doing a Hamlet, a Claudius, a Columbo – pretending to be a lot more of a joke than he really is, so that he can do the serious shit under the noses of the spies and journalists.

The important question again arising out of the Woolwich murder for Anjem Choudary is whether he may deserve somewhat more of the moral responsibility for the killing of Lee Rigby than he has sought to claim publicly. It is, as Hope Not Hate set out clearly, a recurring question across several attempts at violence and terrorism. That was probably a question to be scrutinised in a reported package, rather than letting Choudary tap-dance around John Humphrey’s questions in the style of a cabinet minister.

But would it have been good radio?



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