Notes and Comment Blog

Silly CPAC

Feb 25th, 2014 6:03 pm | By

Lordy, how silly.

American Atheists got an information booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and announced it today, and promptly had its table snatched away because…I don’t know, because it turned out that atheists are atheists, or something. I did say it was silly.

Politico explains.

“American Atheists misrepresented itself about their willingness to engage in positive dialogue and work together to promote limited government,” said CPAC spokesperson Meghan Snyder in an email.

Earlier Tuesday, after announcing the group’s participation, American Atheists’ president David Silverman told CNN, “I am not worried about making the Christian right angry. The Christian right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian right should be threatened by us.”

When CPAC spoke to Silverman about this “divisive and inappropriate language,” Snyder said, “he pledged that he will attack the very idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism.”

“People of any faith tradition should not be attacked for their beliefs, especially at our conference. He has left us with no choice but to return his money,” she said.

But “attacking” the idea that Christianity is an important element of conservatism is not the same thing as “attacking” people for their beliefs.

Now, in all fairness, if Dave had been harassing the people behind CPAC for several months, calling them names and mocking them and tweeting at them, I could certainly see why they would decline his request for a booth. But that’s not what happened. Saying they can’t have a booth after all because he wanted to tell them that Christianity is not an important element of conservatism is just silly.



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

Guest post on Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves

Feb 25th, 2014 4:06 pm | By

Guest post by Anonymous.

Right now, Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves (SOS) is in financial crisis. SOS is a support network for those seeking a secular alternative to AA. James Christopher, a sober alcoholic, founded SOS in 1985 as a way to get and stay sober through secular means. The Council for Secular Humanism (a part of Center for Inquiry) has financially supported the SOS program for over 23 years, but due to other commitments, it will severely cut funding unless SOS can raise $75,000 by the end of March 2014. SOS has so far raised $25,000, but time is running out.

Many, many people have been helped by SOS. Over 700 SOS groups meet in cities all over the world, including many in prisons. It doesn’t get the recognition that Alcoholics Anonymous gets, of course, and people mandated by the courts to join addictions recovery groups often aren’t aware of/offered an alternative. AA is not a secular program. Its 12-Step model requires giving oneself over to a “higher power” to get sober. Many nonbelievers in AA say they can make their higher power whatever they want it to be, i.e. pets, fictional characters, the memory of loved ones; but it is a major part of the program and it’s difficult to get around if you aren’t a spiritual person. Group prayers are often part of the meetings.

SOS credits the individual for achieving and maintaining their own sobriety, and welcomes the attendance of religious as well as nonreligious persons.

Please help save this important, effective program from losing its funding. Secular organizations offer few social programs that directly benefit the public and it would be a shame to lose this one.

If you agree that SOS should continue operating, please donate or pass on this link to the SOS Indiegogo page: There’s also an abbreviated link there to use on Twitter. The Indiegogo campaign ends March 14.

Donations can also be made (through March 31) here:, or send your tax-deductible donation today to:

Save SOS
4773 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA90027

(Credit card donors may also call 323-666-4295 24 hours.)

Find out more about SOS here:

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

World Burqa Day

Feb 25th, 2014 11:59 am | By

Oh, so that’s what the burqa is for.

TORONTO - A Muslim man wore a traditional woman’s burka and female shoes before he strangled his estranged wife in the company of their toddler son.

Abdul Malik Rustam admitted he donned the headdress — which disguised his face — and wedge shoes when he killed his wife, Shaher Bano Shahdady, after she asked for a divorce.

The killing occurred only two weeks after the 21-year-old woman received social assistance and moved into an apartment at 3131 Eglinton Ave. E.

Shahdady, who emigrated from Pakistan to Canada with her family when she was a year old, returned to her homeland when she was 12 or 13.

Rustam and Shahdady were wed in an arranged marriage in their native Pakistan in 2008 when she was 17 or 18 and he was 25.

Arranged? When she was 17 or 18? Is “arranged” really the right word there? Was it really arranged and not forced? I don’t know, but the power differential is obvious enough.

Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, said the murder is an honour killing that raises two disturbing issues for him.

“This attire has become an attire of choice for various crimes, terrorists, and now this is the first time the burka has been used as an instrument to a murder,” Fatah said. “The burka is protected under the guise of religious freedom.”

He added that the burka enabled the killer “to gain access into the home.

“Had it not been for the burka, she would not have let him gain entry at 1 in the morning and would still be alive today,” he said.

“It follows the whole question of arranged marriages, for girls born or raised over here, to men overseas who simply cannot visualize or imagine their wives having professional relationships with any man,” Fatah said.

The whole thing is a nightmare.

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

We’ve already had this conversation

Feb 25th, 2014 11:12 am | By

Exactly. EXACTLY.

Photo: Those who forget the past are doomed to look pretty stupid later.

Via George Takei on Facebook.

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

The child’s host

Feb 25th, 2014 10:39 am | By

We knew it all along. The motive force behind the campaign to get rid of abortion rights is hatred of women as women, women separate from babies, women as people.

Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post:

…just last week, Virginia State Senator Steve Martin posted on his Facebook wall, in response to a Valentine from a pro-choice group, that “Once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.” (He updated the post on Monday afternoon to change the language from “host” to “bearer of the child” because THAT fixes it.)

The fetus is a child, while the woman is a host. The fetus is a full person, while the woman is a mere incubator.

Women are expendable. They’re interchangeable. They’re basically just machines. They don’t matter, except for their machine-function. That’s why they’re the ones who gestate the babies, while the important people who really are fully people, men, get on with the important work that only people can do. Like stand-up comedy for instance.

Now Martin claims he was joking. Really? Look, when you support a fetal personhood bill and vote for the Virginia bill that mandated ultrasounds, it seems safe to assume that literally nothing you say calling women Baby-Hosts is a joke.


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

You’re not going to shift the fact that loads more men want to do it

Feb 25th, 2014 9:53 am | By

[See update at end.]

Ah yes – this again. If you make it explicit that you’re attempting to correct the lazy habit of inviting only men (only white men, only straight white men, etcetera) to do something then that’s tokenism, shock horror, so you shouldn’t do that, you should instead just stick with the lazy habit of inviting only men. It’s better all around. No one will use the word “token” and everything will be in every way better and more emollient.

The Independent has the details.

Dara O’Briain thinks the BBC’s ban on all-male comedy panels should have “evolved” without making future female guests appear as the “token woman”.

The Mock the Week presenter criticised the decision, arguing that stand-up by nature has a larger share of male comics.

By nature?

Ok wait, that could be just the Independent’s paraphrase. Maybe he didn’t say anything quite that dumb.

“It would have been better if it had evolved without showing your workings, if you know what I mean. Legislating for token woman isn’t much help.

“A certain number of women want to go into comedy and they should be cherished and nurtured, but you’re not going to shift the fact that loads more men want to do it.”

All right, that amounts to the same thing. If you’re not going to shift the fact, that must be because it’s “by nature,” also known as “it’s more of a guy thing.”

To go over the old ground yet again: nobody knows it’s “by nature” or “more of a guy thing” or a “fact” that you’re not going to shift. Why does nobody know that? Because there hasn’t been a careful test yet. The “tests” have all been done in a context where men are already expected to be the ones who do the talking, which includes the performing and the being funny. In a context like that it’s not possible to know that loads more men want to do it. The tests have also all been done in a context where women’s offerings get overlooked or dismissed or forgotten; a context where people just casually say “oh not many women want to do that” without pausing to realize that years of discouragement and extra-high hurdles could have something to do with their inability to think of many women who do stand-up.

O’Briain went on to argue that tackling gender inequalities in other areas such as computer coding would be a more effective use of time than dwelling on the representation of women in comedy.

“I wish a tenth of the energy that was put into the women-on-panel-shows debate was put into women in computer coding, in which there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in Europe and 11 per cent of them are done by women,” he said. “It seems a more sensible challenge than these 300 people (in stand-up comedy) and how they are represented.["]

Tech jobs are also important; of course they are. But you know what else is important? The culture. The discourse. The public conversation. Why is it important? Because it shapes our perceptions of the world and ourselves and each other, and the interactions among them. If women are scarce or totally absent in big chunks of that, that matters.

Update: O’Briain says he was misquoted. On Twitter he said

To clarify, yet again. I have no problem with a policy of no all-male panel shows. I just wouldn’t have announced it.

Fair enough. I still disagree with the “you’re not going to shift the fact” claim, but that’s less annoying without the misquoted part.

Thanks to Malachite for the correction.


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

Have years of taunts, trolling and cruel quips taken their toll

Feb 24th, 2014 6:11 pm | By

Oh brilliant, another one. An Olympic gold medallist in swimming got so much bullying shit for having a non-pert nose that she got a nose job.

Have years of taunts, trolling and cruel quips taken their toll on Britain’s most successful swimmer?

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington, 25, apparently underwent nose slimming surgery at a top Harley Street clinic this month, it has been reported.

The retired athlete, who also won two bronze medals at the London 2012 Olympics, has previously expressed her struggle to come to terms with her own body image.

Surprise surprise. Total strangers went out of their way to tell her they think she’s ugly. It had an effect. How astonishing!

Adlington went on to admit that she found the criticism about her appearance the most challenging aspect of taking part in the Olympics.

She said: “It was the hardest thing to get used to, I thought: ‘ Why do people judge me for the way I look?’ It’s not as if I was trying to be a model.

“I always had a bit of an insecurity about the way I looked growing up. I knew that I wasn’t the most attractive girl at school.

“Even when I’d been on a night out, no boys would want to talk to me. So those comments hurt.”

She also cited the inequalities of media scrutiny over the appearance of male athletes compared to female athletes.

“It’s hard for a woman. A woman has to deal with it – and that’s never easy.

“A guy doesn’t get comments on his weight or his looks.”

Ah well, it keeps the plastic surgeons employed.

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

One experimental hippy-trippy toke-toke giggle-giggle sprawl

Feb 24th, 2014 5:46 pm | By

Then there’s Vamsee Juluri in the Huffington Post. He seems to be very annoyed, so annoyed that he’s not altogether clear.

He’s annoyed because Doniger’s book has mistakes, and because there are many books about Hinduism in India but not so many in the US.

But it is in America, this bastion of privilege, and possibility, this dream of the world, that the real consequences of misrepresentation play out. You will find in all your bookstores and journals and hallowed pulpits, that “alternative” story, often becoming the only story. There is no room here for Hindus, only an “expert” on “The Hindus.” Look at the India shelves. Look at the op-ed pages of the papers of record. You will see no Hindus except by token of name perhaps. You will find top of the line seculars who will equate any critique of racism and orientalism against Hindus with Hindu fundamentalism. You will find, reflected back and forth in the words of the four or five authors who have been chosen to portray 1.5 billion people to America, the same malignant fantasy as the old colonizers about Hinduism. It is mitigated, perhaps, by a streak of anti-colonial idealism, a great anguish for the poor, the minorities, the oppressed of the world. But their view of Hinduism is limited. They either did not know it in their lives, or knew no affection for it. They hallucinate a bogey-man in it and blame it for all of India’s ills, with a straight face. They think that when Hindus get angry it is because of their “mythology” and when others kill people it is because they are poor and oppressed. They think that Hinduism has nothing good in it, just borrowed from other faiths. They think that Hinduism has been responsible for every bad thing in India, and then also think that Hinduism doesn’t really exist. They have no clue. And if they did not have the privilege that Hinduphobic orientalism has given them, their lack of academic depth and integrity would have been called out a million times over by now. There is no mainstream history of “The Hindus” in hegemonic center stage in North America. There is just one “alternative,” which makes little sense, frankly, even as an alternative too. It is just an old hegemony by a disingenuously counter-hegemonic name, and has nothing to with Hindus.

But those who are today merely silenced and fantasized about as The Hindus will one day have their history, and their own alternatives too. For the Hindus already have their own liberalism, secularism, and pluralism, way beyond the watered-down double-standard versions offered by the self-appointed prophets of the same. They will welcome debate, dissent, and a reasonable criticism of their own ways, from within and without.

Except, of course, for the ones who won’t.

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

Markets are efficient therefore hiring is always merit-based

Feb 24th, 2014 5:29 pm | By

It’s not just colonialists and Orientalists and militants of Enlightenment who think there is such a thing as caste discrimination in India. Check out Siddharth Singh in the Times of India a couple of weeks ago for instance.

Not many would argue that there is no caste-based discrimination in rural India, or that there was no such discrimination historically in India. The fact is that certain castes, such as the Dalits, have been socially excluded from full participation in the Indian society and economy over the past few centuries. There is documented evidence that in India’s villages, Dalits continue to be denied equal access to public and private goods such as water bodies, roads, land ownership, markets, financial institutions, and jobs. As a result, members belonging to such castes exhibit poor social indicators such as higher rates of poverty, lower literacy levels and higher infant mortality. However, that is rural India. What about modern, urban India? A casual glance at the matrimonial sections in our Sunday newspapers shows that caste plays a major role in our social spheres, but is there active discrimination in the modern private sector economy?

Since profits and efficiency are the guiding principles in a market economy, the claim is that only the most efficient workers are employed, leaving no room for discrimination on the basis of caste and other identities. For instance, in 2007, The Economist magazine claimed that “There is no strong evidence that companies discriminate against low-caste job applicants.”

However, such articles miss the research which does show that Dalits and other backward castes are in fact discriminated against even in the modern private sector.

Now imagine you’re born a Hindu boy who doesn’t have to worry about caste because he had the good luck not be born a Dalit…

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

Imagine you are born as a Hindu boy

Feb 24th, 2014 12:17 pm | By

There are people who take another view of the unpublishing of Wendy Doniger’s book in India.

There’s Jakob de Roover for instance, writing in Outlook India.

Imagine you are born in the 1950s as a Hindu boy with intellectual inclinations. As you grow up, your mother takes you to the temple and shows you how to do puja. Your grandparents tell you stories about Bhima’s strength, Krishna’s appetite, Durvasa’s temper… Perhaps you rejoice when Rama rescues Sita, feel afraid when Kali fights demons, or cry when Drona demands Ekalavya’s thumb as gurudakshina. Your father is indifferent to most of this stuff, but then he is very moody so you prefer to stay away from him in any case.

In school, you are taught about the history of India. You learn that Hinduism grew out of the Brahmanism imported during the Aryan invasion. The caste system is a fourfold hierarchy imposed by the Brahmin priesthood, so you are told, and untouchability is the bane of Hindu society. Caste discrimination needs to be eradicated, as Gandhi said, while the scientific temper should displace superstitious tradition, as Nehru taught.

Your teachers present this account as the truth, along with Newton’s physics and Darwin’s evolutionary theory. You feel bad about your “backward religion” and ashamed about “the massive injustice of caste.” For some time, as a student, you also mouth this story in the name of progress and social justice. Yet you feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. You sense that it misrepresents you and your traditions—it distorts your practices, your people, and your experience, but you don’t know what to do about it.

Could that be because you are a boy, and you are not a member of a lower caste?

Yes, it could. Jakob de Roover stacks the deck.

Later the boy has a daughter, who goes for a PhD in religious studies at “an Ivy League university” – without explanation for why she decided to go abroad for her PhD.

After some months, she begins to feel disappointed by the shallowness of the teaching and research. When compared to, say, the study of Buddhism, where a variety of perspectives flourish, Hinduism studies appears to be in a state of theoretical poverty. Refusing to take on the role of the native informant, she begins to voice her disagreement with her teachers. This is not appreciated and she soon learns that she has been branded “Hindutva.”

Around the same time, she detects a series of factual howlers and flawed translations in the works of eminent American scholars of Hinduism. When she points these out, several of her professors turn cold towards her. She is no longer invited to reading groups and is avoided at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion. In response, this budding researcher begins to engage in self-censorship and looks for comfort among NRI families living nearby. Her dissertation, considered groundbreaking by some international colleagues, gets hardly any response from her supervisors. Looking for a job, the difficulties grow: she needs references from her professors but whom can she ask? She applies to some excellent universities but is never shortlisted. Confidentially, a senior colleague tells her that her reputation as a Hindutva sympathiser precedes her. Eventually, she gets a tenure-track position at some university in small-town Virginia, where she feels so isolated and miserable that she decides to return to India.

There’s a lot more of the same kind of thing. It’s detailed but not convincing.



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

Guest post: Is Islam a More Radical Religion? An Inside View

Feb 24th, 2014 11:27 am | By

Guest post by Kaveh Mousavi, the pseudonym of an Iranian atheist. First published at The Proud Atheist.

When it comes to Islam, there is a controversy among the atheists regarding how they should deal with it. There are those like Sam Harris and Bill Maher who say not all religions are the same, and some are worse than the others, and then there are those who say that it is wrong to single out Islam as all religions are equally bad. There are those who even accuse people like Maher and Harris of racism. Now, in this controversy former Muslims rarely speak up. The dialogue is usually between Muslims – or their defenders – and people who have been born and raised in a different culture. That is understandable to some degree, because being a former Muslim somehow doesn’t improve your resume when you live under a theocracy. But I believe someone with a more intimate knowledge of the religion should weigh in.

I believe I have the right to do so. I am familiar with the faith more than other people, because once I planned to be a “perfect Muslim”, and I studied the religion in depth. I was not pleased with the result and ended up an atheist instead. I am an Iranian living inside Iran. I have been the victim of a theoretical totalitarian regime which bases its laws on Shiite sharia law. I have seen Islam from every angle – from the inside as the firm believer, and from the outside as the non-believer. So this is the question: is Islam more radical than other religions? Is it particularly violent?

Let me spell it out at the beginning. I am on the side of Harris and Maher. I do believe Islam is inherently worse than other religions. But before touching on this subject, let me begin by addressing some complexities. There are many things that complicate a question such as “is Islam more radical.” It largely depends on how you define Islam, and also how you define “radical.”

First of all, “radical” is a very murky concept. It is entirely arbitrary, and it depends on how you define “moderate.” Someone is a radical only in comparison with other people and also in contrast to their historical and geographical context. It is a spectrum, and it depends on where on the spectrum you draw the line. It is a matter of degrees, and it depends on how you define your zero. Within the Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was told to be the “moderate” one, in comparison to his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri who is now the boss. So even if you limit your pool to Al-Qaeda members, you still have moderates and radicals within that context. But no human in their right mind would consider Osama bin Laden remotely moderate. The republicans call Obama a “radical socialist,” while the majority of socialists don’t even consider him a socialist. Many analysts say that the Republican Party has moved to the right and people who were once radical are now the moderate wing of the party. At the time of Lincoln and before him the idea of abolition of slavery was considered radical but now we consider it obvious, so obvious that if someone opposes it, we consider them deranged.

I believe here the first cognitive dissonance between the defenders and the critics of Islam arise. How do you define radical, when it comes to an Islamic context? Do you define a radical Muslim the same way you define a radical Jew or a radical Christian?

If you define moderate as “not-Taliban” or “not-Al-Qaeda,” then yes, most Muslims are moderate. If you have a broader definition which is “not-terrorist,” then yeah, most Muslims are not terrorists. If you consider moderate “not-actively-violent,” then OK. But let me tell you, your standard bar is pretty low.

The geographical context is also important here. I don’t know anything about Western Muslims. They might be as moderate as the majority of Western Jews and Christians. I don’t know. I’m talking about people I know and have lived with.

The point is, if you define moderate the same way you define it in your own culture, then the vast majority of (Eastern) Muslims are extremists. You normally define moderate based on tolerance, acceptance, their view towards freedom of speech and religion, their commitment to the separation of church (mosque) and state, and their dosage of sexism and homophobia. We would sorely fail at every criterion on this list. That stinks, but it’s true.

In order to make this concrete for you, imagine a radical Christian. Would you consider Rick Santorum radical enough? OK. Now, what if he had the exact same beliefs but he was a Muslim? Then, he would be a moderate. Radically moderate (if that makes sense), he would be called an atheist even.

Do you think he was a homophobe because he compared homosexuality to bestiality? Well, at least he doesn’t believe that gays deserve to be hanged. In Iran, the vast majority simply ignore the fact that gays exist. You were shocked when Ahmadinejad said “there are no gays in Iran” in the Columbia University but that’s a fairly uncontroversial thing to say in Iran, even among the pro-democracy activists. Although gays face the danger of death and physical violence everyday, many members of opposition have reproached me and a few others for bringing up the subject, calling it a “non-issue.” When they are not ignoring the existence of the gays, the ruling regime calls them abominations that need to be wiped out. Mohsen Armin is one of the most moderate and liberal-minded Iranian politicians. He argued that gays are sick and need to be treated. He wrote those articles on one of the main opposition websites dedicated to democracy. When it comes to gay rights, Santorum is moderate in an Islamic context.

Also when it comes to sexism. Now I know, the Iranians who live outside Iran, and maybe some Tehran-based Iranians, are rushing to the comment section, screaming “bullshit!” because we have made considerable strides in recent years when it comes to women rights – but they have a warped view. Yes, I feel proud that there are more women in our universities than men, I feel proud about the women population and how they have advanced their cause, but the fact remains that Iran is still one of the most sexist countries in the world, right after Saudi Arabia and Sudan, also Muslim countries. Walk outside the capital or big cities and your image of progress will be shattered. Things like honor killings and forced marriages are still normal here. Also, when you live with people you will see how deeply-rooted sexism is. Yes, we have formidable and admirable feminists here, but the word “feminist” is used as a curse in most contexts, even now. Still, you don’t have to look hard to see husbands who force their wives to stop working. It’s still easy to see wives who could not study in a university because their husbands forbade them to do so. Look at every boyfriend and girlfriend, and you will see how they reconstruct the roles of patriarchy.

And don’t even get me started on sexual harassment and objectification of women. I have always felt like an outsider because I don’t make lewd comments on every single girl who passes before my eyes. People have called me gay (back to homophobia) and impotent for refusing to take part in sexual harassments. Once I was waiting to catch a taxi, and a beautiful girl was standing some ten meters away from me, also looking for a taxi. In the span of two minutes, at least twenty cars stopped to harass her. I’m not exaggerating. I wouldn’t believe it if I had not seen it myself. If I had seen it in a fictional movie, I would call it an exaggeration. But every two or three seconds she was harassed by a new abuser. She approached me, and asked me if it was alright to stand next to me. I said it was OK. She stood in a way to imply that she was my sister or girlfriend, and the harassments stopped. Because she now appeared to be “owned” by a “man”. And that’s the bro code of honor among the Iranian men. A single girl is yours to abuse and harass as you please – but once she is with her “owner” (I’m using the English equivalent of a real Persian expression here), she’s off the limits. It’s the man who deserves your consideration, not the woman. If you rape a girl, it’s the family who is wronged, her father in particular, with having their “property” soiled.

And our government does not really try to stop this. They try their hardest to punish the girls and women for not abiding the sharia dressing code. And their propaganda blames the problem solely on women not dressing Islamic enough.

We are a sexist culture. Despite all of our progresses and victories, the sexism remains deep and strong, and in its most ruthless form. Rick Santorum might be more radical than some enlightened Iranian opposition leaders and activists, but he is still more moderate than the strong majority.

And just to move outside Iran a bit – just the day this article was being written the Afghan parliament struck down a bill on violence against women. This bill is not the Afghan equivalent of the same bill in many Western countries. This bill consisted of these clauses: an underage girl cannot be forced to marry a man (she still can be convinced to, apparently), a man should make sure to uphold justice among his many wives and pay them equal money (justice here means he should equally have sex with all of them and not favor one over the others – even most Muslims don’t know this but that’s how sharia defines it), and women who escape from their house because of their husband’s abuse should have safe houses to home them. These laws were considered “too radical” and they were struck down.

What about tolerance and freedom of speech? Can I make fun of Muhammad in Iran the same way you make fun of Jesus there? Can I direct a play called The Book of Islam and play it on Lalehzar (what was once the Iranian equivalent of Broadway)? I’m afraid I can’t. When a religious leader issued a death fatwa on a singer, who had dared to mock a stupid and insignificant imam, the most moderate Muslims wrote a joint letter and said this – “it’s not right to issue a death fatwa on someone who insults a religious figure” – so far so good – “but he should be tried in the court of law.” Oh, so they’re not disagreeing on whether or not it is a crime to insult a foreigner who died 1400 years ago, they’re just worried about the due process. And believe me when I saw these are the most moderate ones out there. There has been only one – one – Muslim figure who says insulting these figures should be legal and it is simply immoral. Rick Santorum has never asked for censorship or the punishment of the atheists. He would be moderate here.

“Of course the Holocaust never happened! The Jews have always been in charge. They empowered Hitler.” How would you feel if someone told this to you? What if someone whom you loved told this? What if someone whom you respected said this? Now, this brings out the subject of anti-semitism. This particular stance is not a popular or a moderate stance – but it is extremely prevalent among people who support the regime. It is not a view confined to crazy hateful people. People who are decent, normal folks believe that. This is not a dominant view, but it’s still more dominant than it should be.

One of those mindless clichés that Islamophiles repeat is this: “There are more than one billion and half Muslims in the world, how do you compare them with small groups like Taliban and Al-Qaeda?” First of all, that’s no logical argument, because the numbers don’t prove anything. There has been no proven correlation between population and tolerance. Just because there’s a lot of Muslims it doesn’t mean they are all good. But, actually, forgive me for saying this, but actually those “one billion and a half” Muslims are a worse problem in the long run than those “few extremists.” That is because those few extremists are evil and violent people who will be dealt with one way or another, but the vast majority is composed of good people who are intolerant and sexist because they have considered these abhorrent views normal and natural in the culture they were born in.

Our main problem is not our regimes. It is not the extremists, terrorist groups. The regimes and the extremists are not the disease, they are the symptom. We are the disease. I am the disease. The culture is the disease.

This is not a hateful thing to say. Truth is never hateful. No matter how bitter it is, it is ultimately what we should accept. We should acknowledge the problem before solving it. I am not an Islamophobe who hates Muslims. I am still a member of the community. Muslims are still “my people.” They will never consider an atheist a part of their family, their “religious brotherhood.” But you don’t stop loving your family once they disown you.

I am a brother. This is not an indictment, it’s an intervention. Ultimately, we former Muslims should show our “religious brothers” that they have a problem. There should be an AA of sort for people like my fellow Iranians. “I’m Jamshid, and I am a sexist. I am also intolerant. I am also an anti-semite.”

It’s not like my criticism is void of sympathy and understanding. People – my people – are born in a repressive culture which violently silences any dissent and closes all windows and prematurely strangles any question. Men and women are raised to accept sexism, intolerance, and homophobia not only as natural, obvious, and good, but also as the only option. I have worked as a teacher. I have seen young children viciously attacking and bullying gays. I was myself a young child viciously attacking and bullying gays. I have seen young children calling Arabs and Jews dogs. I was myself a young child calling Arabs and Jews dogs. I have seen young children objectifying women and consider them cattle. I was myself a young child objectifying women and consider them cattle. The children are not born to be intolerant. Only a dominant culture can turn them into one.

Remember that hateful Holocaust remark above? The man who told me this was deeply religious, but he was tolerant, and extremely kind. He was extremely honest and hardworking. I’m sure if he could ever see a documentary on the Holocaust, he would never say that. Ask yourself. Would you not be an ant-semite if the only – only – version of history presented to you was The Elders of Zion? His fault was that he was a poor man, cut off from the stream of civilization, watching only Iranian state TV, and never being taught to question what was passed down to him. He was a good man with evil opinions. He was not an oppressor. He never was in a position to oppress. He was a victim. He was thought-deprived as he was food-deprived.

You, my dear western reader, have no idea how overbearing and suffocating religion is here. You simply don’t. You cannot begin to imagine it even if I commissioned you to write a post-apocalyptical novel. You don’t know what it means to have something taught to you everyday at school and university. You don’t know what it means when the entire media advertises a religion 24/7. You don’t know what it means to have religion everywhere, to have it define every aspect of life from entertainment to profession to politics. And to have absolutely zero access to a dissenting voice.

Case in point, my parents were atheists, but hid that from me. They were afraid of me talking at school and making trouble. I was indoctrinated to the religion at school. I was not even a normal Muslim – I was a strong one. So how do you expect people even whose families are equally radical to be different?

This is the fault in the fake dichotomy Islamophiles suffer from. In their black and white world, if you are not praising someone you hate them. If you point out the faults of a culture, you hate that culture. They cannot separate the human from the ideology. They cannot comprehend good people who have evil opinions and support evil causes.

I am not better than people whom I criticize. I come to you as a sinner seeking secular atonement. I was lucky to learn English as a child. I was lucky to be born at the age of internet. That is the only thing separating me and a radical Muslim – luck. I was privileged. So I am only their fellow AA and I’m intervening.

My name is Kaveh. And I am intolerant, sexist, racist, homophobe, and an anti-semite. But I’m recovering. Hopefully. If I ever have a daughter, she will be better me. She will look at me in the eyes and she will tell me “dad, you’re a bigot, and I am not like you.” And I will be proud of her that day. No matter how hard I try, I have no hope of ever cleaning the ugliness of intolerance from my “soul.” But I will try to make a better world for my children. And the first step in recovery is acceptance, and humility.

That is why ultimately people like Harris and Maher are our friends, not foes. A true friend will criticize you to make you a better person. A false friend will give you empty compliments. I don’t know if people like Glen Greenwald are genuinely uniformed or they lie in order to sound cultivated and hip. But I know nothing useful for my “religious brothers” will come out of them. I know it must be infuriating to listen to Harris and Maher. But something will come out of them. The truth.

Therefore, I want to thank people like Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher. I want to thank them for the catharsis they gave me when I listened to them, knowing there are people like me in the free world arguing for my cause. And I want to thank them for not pretending that my troubles are less bad than those of the others. Even if there is one Muslim listening and if he or she is convinced – hell, even if he or she only thinks – the world, my world, is a better place.

I have not exhausted this topic. I plan to write future articles dealing with the subject more – talking about the historical and cultural roots of this, and my remedies for a better future.

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

At LSE next week

Feb 24th, 2014 10:25 am | By

A panel discussion on freedom to offend.

Freedom to Offend: Academia, Human Rights and Social Progress

LSE SU Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society discussion panel discussion

Date: Tuesday 4 March 2014
Time: 6-8pm
Venue: TW1 G.01, Tower 1
Speakers: Professor Timothy Garton Ash, Dr Rumy Hasan, Professor Paul Kelly, Professor Brian Winston
Chair: Professor Chandran Kukathas

The panel attempts to provide a platform to discuss the nature of the right to offend. Is there a right to offend? Does free expression necessarily entails such right? If so, to what extent should the right to offend be granted?

Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European studies at Oxford University.

Rumy Hasan is senior lecturer of science and technology policy research at the University of Sussex.

Paul Kelly is pro-director for Teaching and Learning at LSE.

Brian Winston is Lincoln Chair of Communications at the University of Lincoln.

This event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. For any queries contact Bo Liao, email or call 07522158370.

From time to time there are changes to event details so we strongly recommend that if you plan to attend this event you check back on this listing on the day of the event.

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


Feb 23rd, 2014 6:10 pm | By

A chimpanzee is returned to a better life. On the way there she gives Jane Goodall an embrace.

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

She decided not to leave him alone

Feb 23rd, 2014 5:49 pm | By

A story I missed a couple of weeks ago – that Whole Foods fired a worker because she stayed home with her kid during a snow emergency.

Rhiannon Broschat, a single mother in Chicago, decided to stay home from work on the freezing cold day of Jan. 28 because school was canceled. Broschat says she looked for someone to take care of her special-needs son, couldn’t find help, and decided not to leave him alone. That is a good thing, the kind of decision employers and all of us should move over to make room for. But Whole Foods fired Broschat. It’s not quite that simple, since, according to ThinkProgress, Whole Foods in the Midwest gives workers five unexcused absences over six months, and this was the one that put Broschat over the line. (She says she had documentation for her other absences.) But still: If she’d gone to work that day, Broschat would still have her job.

School was canceled, ffs. That doesn’t happen all the time. I know employees can’t just stay home whenever they feel like it, but surely the above situation is rare enough and exigent enough that a decent company could make allowances.

The Whole Foods spokesperson told ThinkProgress that its stores were open across Chicago, city transportation was running, and fewer than 10 employees didn’t come to work that day because of unexcused absences.

What’s that got to do with anything? Broschat’s son’s school was canceled, so the fact that city transportation was running is beside the point. It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t have a better support system, but guess what, good support systems don’t just fall out of the sky. People who have them can probably work at places that are better to them than Whole Foods was to Rhiannon Broschat. The person it’s really unfortunate for that Rhiannon Broschat doesn’t have a better support system is Rhiannon Broschat, not Whole Foods. Whole Foods can get along fine, but Rhiannon Broschat can’t.


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

Guest post: So much for a “god gene”

Feb 23rd, 2014 5:09 pm | By

Originally a comment by Blanche Quizno on Differences.

This is fascinating research, and it reminds me of a parallel I became aware of a few years ago. Some in the West insist there is a “god gene” and that believing in supernatural deities is instinctual among human beings, essentially.

Daniel Everett went into Brazil as an Evangelical Christian missionary, intent on converting the Pirahã people, a “stone age” tribe that had thus far proven immune to Christian missionary efforts. Everett was certain that HE could, with the help of God, succeed. He ended up becoming an atheist just like they were, because he realized, in a nutshell, that they were so content and so happy and such good people that he couldn’t offer them any promise of improvement through Christianity – they were already better off. And he felt wrong about attempting to coerce them into religious faith, realizing in the end that Christianity is all about coercion.

Here is the first article from which I learned about his adventure, in the New Yorker.

This is another good article – an interview at Freethought Today.

This tribe is absolutely, utterly atheist. They have no concept of “god”, and they have no interest in that subject. They are pretty much the most absolute pragmatists and literalists you’ll find (no, I’m not explaining well nor exactly) in that they demand personal experience. If not their own, then yours – and it must be actual and direct (beliefs need not apply). If not your direct experience, they’ll accept your father’s direct experience, but unless that direct experience is there (YOU *saw* it or *heard* it for yourself), they dismiss whatever it is.

It’s quite hilarious – I hope you’ll read it. So much for a “god gene” – that’s entirely a cultural construction just like what’s being described in this post. In fact, it might well be that there are other isolated tribes that are equally atheist – if we could only protect them from the predatory Christian missionaries long enough to learn about their belief systems before they’re destroyed forever!

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


Feb 23rd, 2014 12:04 pm | By

A fascinating article with many implications to explore: We Aren’t the World.

In 1995 a young anthropologist tried to do a popular social science experiment with the Machiguenga, an indigenous people who live north of Machu Picchu in the Amazon basin.

When he began to run the game it became immediately clear that Machiguengan behavior was dramatically different from that of the average North American.

The potential implications of the unexpected results were quickly apparent to Henrich. He knew that a vast amount of scholarly literature in the social sciences—particularly in economics and psychology—relied on the ultimatum game and similar experiments. At the heart of most of that research was the implicit assumption that the results revealed evolved psychological traits common to all humans, never mind that the test subjects were nearly always from the industrialized West. Henrich realized that if the Machiguenga results stood up, and if similar differences could be measured across other populations, this assumption of universality would have to be challenged.

And so it came about, and that’s what’s fascinating and implication-full.

Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

Hmmyes but what if what you think is hardwiring is actually culture but culture so buried that it looks like hardwiring? That seems to be the issue here, if I’ve understood it correctly.

As Heine, Norenzayan, and Henrich furthered their search, they began to find research suggesting wide cultural differences almost everywhere they looked: in spatial reasoning, the way we infer the motivations of others, categorization, moral reasoning, the boundaries between the self and others, and other arenas. These differences, they believed, were not genetic. The distinct ways Americans and Machiguengans played the ultimatum game, for instance, wasn’t because they had differently evolved brains. Rather, Americans, without fully realizing it, were manifesting a psychological tendency shared with people in other industrialized countries that had been refined and handed down through thousands of generations in ever more complex market economies. When people are constantly doing business with strangers, it helps when they have the desire to go out of their way (with a lawsuit, a call to the Better Business Bureau, or a bad Yelp review) when they feel cheated. Because Machiguengan culture had a different history, their gut feeling about what was fair was distinctly their own.

That’s the part I’m not sure I understand. Maybe they’re not sure they do either; maybe it’s a process. I’m not sure how psychological tendencies can be handed down (i.e. taught) such that they are universal in a particular culture (and not in others). Also thousands of generations isn’t right; market economies haven’t existed for thousands of generations.

Ethan Watters, the author, meets Heine, Norenzayan, and Henrich for dinner to talk about their work.

I had to wonder whether describing the Western mind, and the American mind in particular, as weird suggested that our cognition is not just different but somehow malformed or twisted. In their paper the trio pointed out cross-cultural studies that suggest that the “weird” Western mind is the most self-aggrandizing and egotistical on the planet: we are more likely to promote ourselves as individuals versus advancing as a group.

That’s the part that makes me wonder too. The next thought is always the familiar worry about human rights – “Western” innovation, individualist, groups are happy, all that. Is it just my weird (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) Americanness that makes me think human rights matter and everyone should have them? Many people outside the “West” also think that but then maybe they’ve been contaminated by the “West.”

I don’t know. But psychology or no psychology, it is a fact that systems that don’t take a human rights approach allow some groups to flourish at the expense of others.

But if those others are fine with that, because of their non-weird psychology, maybe it doesn’t matter that they get the shaft?

Is it only my weirdness that makes me say no, it does matter?

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

What’s a little “not” between friends?

Feb 23rd, 2014 10:51 am | By

Jacques Rousseau points out how far Ugandan MPs will go in their efforts to persecute gay people.

the ministerial task team advising the President on the bill “falsified the information contained in the report given by medical and psychological experts, twisting it to show that homosexuality should indeed be further criminalised“.

Let’s follow that link, to Shaun De Waal’s article in the Mail & Guardian.

Under international pressure, President Yoweri Museveni delayed signing the controversial Bill into law, asking for a panel of experts to be convened to advise on whether homosexuality was “learned” behaviour or an inborn condition.

The experts – including academics from Marekere University and officials in the Ugandan ministry of health – said that, in their view and in terms of the best current medical knowledge, “homosexuality has no clear-cut cause”, though they adduce some limited genetic evidence, and that “several factors are involved which differ from individual to individual. It is not a disease that has a treatment.”

The Scientist Consensus Statement concludes that homosexuality is not a disease or an “abnormality”, but that it “can be influenced by environmental factors” such as “culture, religion, information, permissiveness”. Homosexual behaviour, the statement says, “needs regulation like any other human behaviour, especially to protect the vulnerable”, and concludes: “There is need for studies to address sexualities in the African context.”

By contrast, in the report to the president in the name of the caucus of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), this is glossed as: “Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour which may be learned through experiences in life.” It quotes the experts saying that the “practice should be regulated”, following that with the statement: “Presidential Advisor on Science Dr Richard Tushemereirwe stated that homosexuality has serious Public Health consequences and should therefore not be tolerated.”

The statement concludes that homosexuality is not an abnormality, and the report to the president glosses that as ”Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour.” The statement says it’s not, the report says it is.

Thou shalt not bear false witness.


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

What is even more bone-chilling

Feb 22nd, 2014 6:04 pm | By

Kausik Datta wrote a post on the Philadelphia parents who let not one but two of their children die while they prayed over them instead of seeking medical care.

Not one, but two, of the sons (aged 2 years and 8 months at death) of this über-religious Pennsylvania couple died, in 2009 and in 2013 respectively, of entirely preventable and treatable bacterial pneumonia, because they would not vaccinate or seek medical help when required, instead choosing to pray over the sick child. After the first child’s death, they were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, receiving probation and a mandate to seek proper professional medical help in case of illness of their children. They did not.

I find it hard to comprehend this level of intellectual blindness. They are adults by age, but they are not responsible parents; despite all their beliefs, they haven’t a clue about sanctity of life. I fault their fundamentalist church for brainwashing them into mindless, unthinking myrmidons, robbing them of empathy, rationality, and human values. I sure as hell am glad that their six surviving children have been placed in foster care and are receiving necessary medical, dental and vision care.

What is even more bone-chilling in this context is the fact that several US states allow religious exemptions from healthcare of children, including preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic measures. Do read the link for the whole list.

It’s appalling. See what I mean about the Free Exercise clause?

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

You get two tries

Feb 22nd, 2014 5:42 pm | By

There are these parents, Catherine and Herbert Schaible. Their two-year-old son died of treatable pneumonia in 2009 after they “treated” him with prayer instead of medical care. They were under a court order not to do that again (which seems a good deal too generous, frankly). They did do it again, and another child died of pneumonia.

The Schaibles are third-generation members of an insular Pentecostal community, the First Century Gospel Church in northeast Philadelphia, where they also taught at the church school. They have seven surviving children.

Judge Benjamin Lerner rejected defense claims that their religious beliefs “clashed” with the 2011 court order to get annual checkups and call a doctor if a child became ill. The order came after a jury convicted them of involuntary manslaughter in Kent’s death, and they were sentenced to 10 years of probation.

“April of 2013 wasn’t Brandon’s time to die,” Lerner said, noting the violence committed throughout human history in the name of religion. “You’ve killed two of your children. … Not God. Not your church. Not religious devotion. You.”

And that court order that didn’t work, and the decision to let them go on being parents to those eight children, who are now seven.

“It was so foreseeable to me that this was going to happen,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, who prosecuted both cases. “Everybody in the system failed these children.”

After the first death, she and public defender Mythri Jayaraman agreed that the couple’s beliefs were so ingrained that their children remained at risk. They asked the earlier judge to have the family supervised by a Department of Human Services caseworker. Instead, the judge assigned them to probation officers, who are not trained to monitor children’s welfare.

Jeez. The prosecutor and the defender agreed that the children were at risk, and on what should be done about it? Yet the judge didn’t take their advice. Well that’s a pity.

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

Her intention is bad

Feb 22nd, 2014 11:41 am | By

For more insight into the horrible mind of Dinanath Batra, president of Shiksha Bachao Andola and the plaintiff in the ridiculous yet successful lawsuit against Penguin and Wendy Doniger, there’s a little interview he did for Time.

TIME: What are your objections to Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus?

Batra: Her intention is bad, the content is anti-national and the language is abusive. Her agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus.

He doesn’t know that. He’s not a mind-reader. Also, it’s not true – Doniger admires Hinduism.

Why does it matter so much to you about what someone writes about Hinduism?

If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad,  Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? It matters because this book is hurting the sentiments of Hindus all over the world. I am a Hindu. When I read the book, I felt hurt. It hurt my sentiments.

No comment necessary.

Will you protest against every book that doesn’t fit your idea of Hinduism?

We are against anything that hurts people’s religious sentiments. Our movement is aimed at cleansing distortions from education in India. We have also taken on the Indian educational boards for wrong facts in their textbooks. We will protest against any book that portrays a negative image of our society.

Don’t you worry that your objections might seem outdated in today’s modern world?

We are not against modernity, but we are against westernization. Max Mueller once said that they conquered India once and that they will do it again but through education. Through westernization, there’s a renewed effort to enslave our country. Hindus all over the world should stand up against this. In the tiny world we live, we have to try and create heaven out of hell.

There. Now you have more insight into the horrible mind of Dinanath Batra.

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