Notes and Comment Blog

Reckless anti-science alarmism

Nov 26th, 2013 6:08 pm | By

Simon Davis wrote a great article on the main Greek opposition party’s bad move in attempting to block legislation that would bring down generic drug prices, and using alarmist anti-science rhetoric to do it.

The main reason why their handling of this issue is so misguided is because they are relying on reckless anti-science alarmism. Leading the charge is SYRIZA party leader Alexis Tsipras, whose statements today about “cheap and dubious [generic] drugs” have absolutely no demonstrable scientific basis.

In addition, there is no logical basis nor has anyone articulated any convincing rationale about how SYRIZA’s position is even remotely related to their stated left-wing party principles. The proposed legislation sets a price ceiling of 50% of the innovator drug price or the average of the lowest prices in three other EU countries, whichever is less. It also mandates that all generic drugs are priced at a maximum of 65% of their off-patent equivalents. In other words, when an innovator drug’s patent expires, patients will have access to generic alternatives that are priced at a maximum of 32.5% of the price. The only reason why off-patent medication is available today in Greece at relatively high prices despite a lack of patent protection is because of the manufacturers’ name recognition. So when SYRIZA decides to oppose sensible legislation that limits the price of off-patent medication, the result is that they [are] siding with large drug companies’ profits.

Doesn’t sound like a brilliant way to get votes, does it.


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

Swimming in Tukwila

Nov 26th, 2013 5:20 pm | By

Jeez, even here in Seattle. Although this time it’s about women-only (and sometimes also men-only) times at municipal swimming pools. That’s a bit of a special case, in a way, since it requires being sparsely dressed. But…it’s also the thin end of the slippery nose under the tent. Wait, that’s not quite right…

Earlier this month, a resident filed a gender-discrimination complaint with the state Human Rights Commission (HRC), challenging not the women’s swim time at the Tukwila pool but the men-only component, after she said she was unable to accompany and supervise her 11-year-old son there.

Last Thursday, the HRC closed the complaint, saying that since the pool offers swim times for both women and men, no gender discrimination exists under state law. The pool also offers swim times for families.

Although the ruling clears Tukwila, it raises a legal question for other cities and programs that offer women-only swims without a male-only option.

Laura Lindstrand, policy analyst for the Human Rights Commission, said it’s possible such a facility  could be in violation of state law. “We would need to closely look at the facility’s reasoning for having such a policy,” she said.

Because god, comes the reply.

But such legal matters were far from the minds of the more than two dozen women — many dressed in the Islamic hijab — and a handful of men as they spoke emotionally to commissioners in Tukwila about how they and their families use the pool.

“This isn’t just something I’m doing,” Farole said. “ It’s a commandment from God; men and women are not to mix together. That’s my religious belief.”

Ah. Well in that case you’ll have to do your swimming at the mosque, because city governments don’t take commandments from God.

Councilmember Dennis Robertson said while he understood the need for the single-gender swim times, city officials needed to be careful not to contribute to gender inequality. “It’s not what this country is about,” he said.

The arguments being used to support single-gender swim times were used to justify racial segregation in the South, he said. “We are walking on dangerous grounds here,” he said.

Carroll, who also spoke, echoed that position.

Their comments worried Farole and the other women who at last week’s meeting submitted petitions bearing 132 signatures defending the program.

“For the first time as a resident I felt unwelcome,” Farole said.

But after listening to the women, Robertson appeared to be walking back his earlier position on the women-only swim times.

While he pointed out that many business deals historically have been made in settings where women have been denied access, Robertson said it’s clear this is not one of those settings.

“It’s easy to jump to conclusions, and I jumped to the conclusion about what this might mean,” he said.

Carroll said her main concern is that young Muslim women feel they cannot be safe around men in a community where she lives.

“If I was convinced we were initiating women-only swims to empower women, I would be very happy about it,” she said. “But I fear that we are just introducing the 21st-century version of more marginalization.”

In the end, there appeared  to be reason for optimism, from all sides.

Commissioners announced the single-gender swims would continue at the pool, and Carroll and some of the women and men discussed their differences.

I dunno. I’m not crazy about it, but I don’t feel anything like as strongly as I do about gender segregation of public debates and other public functions at universities, as if women are so fragile they can’t ever be around men at all.

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

The gender segregation stipulated by Islam is not implemented

Nov 26th, 2013 4:49 pm | By

This is an interesting example, from Germany in January 2012.

A German man has created a new website to arrange shared car trips with a twist – it’s targeted toward Muslims, and drivers can only offer transport to members of the same sex.

Called, the site is based on the same principle as other popular websites like , which lets cost-conscious Germans arrange shared car rides.

Those interested in offering rides specify their gender, asking price and how many passengers they can accommodate. Potential passengers contact the driver directly.

In operation since late last year, the website has attracted its share of criticism. People have accused Reid of trying to create a parallel society and supporting immigrants who don’t want to integrate in German culture.

But Reid says the response from thousands of grateful riders has showed him he’s filling a niche.

“Many Muslim brothers and sisters complained that they can’t use conventional offers because the gender segregation stipulated by Islam is not implemented,” he added.

I do like to see the niches created by stupid bigotry filled by enterprising go-getters like that.

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

The pope urges everyone to be passive and blank

Nov 26th, 2013 1:26 pm | By

I thought I couldn’t hate popes and their bullshit any more than I already did, but pope Frank really knows how to push the right buttons. He did a “homily” the other day shitting all over curiosity and saying it’s the opposite of god. (He’s right, but for the wrong reasons. Or for the right reasons, but he doesn’t weigh them correctly.) It’s truly disgusting.

The spirit of curiosity generates confusion and distances a person from the Spirit of wisdom, which brings peace, said Pope Francis in his homily during Thursday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. 

The hell with peace (of that kind). We get that when we’re dead; while we’re alive we should make the most of it.

That which God asked of Abraham—‘Walk in my presence and be irreproachable’—is this: this peace. To follow the movement of the Spirit of God and of this wisdom. And the man and woman who walk this path, we can say they are wise men and women… because they follow the movement of God’s patience.

Nonsense. Word salad.

In the Gospel, the Pope underlined, “we find ourselves before another spirit, contrary to the wisdom of God: the spirit of curiosity”.

“And when we want to be the masters of the projects of God, of the future, of things, to know everything, to have everything in hand… the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Curious! They wanted to know the date, the day… The spirit of curiosity distances us from the Spirit of wisdom because all that interests us is the details, the news, the little stories of the day. Oh, how will this come about? It is the how: it is the spirit of the how! And the spirit of curiosity is not a good spirit. It is the spirit of dispersion, of distancing oneself from God, the spirit of talking too much.”

Terrible. Awful. Anti-human, anti-life, anti-thought. All that peace and union is just nothingness, it’s stagnation, it’s stasis. It’s death. The church claims to be pro-life but that he’s recommending right there, that’s death.

“The Kingdom of God is among us: do not seek strange things, do not seek novelties with this worldly curiosity. Let us allow the Spirit to lead us forward in that wisdom, which is like a soft breeze,” he said. “This is the Spirit of the Kingdom of God, of which Jesus speaks. So be it.”


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

A correction

Nov 26th, 2013 12:50 pm | By

Several people have informed me that I was completely wrong about selfies, and since they’re all people whose judgment I respect and I wasn’t all that committed to my (admittedly hasty) view anyway, I’ve decided what the hell, they’re right. There was one sentence in the Jezebel article that did neatly sum up a certain genre of selfie that I don’t like – or rather, that I think is demeaning. But meh; that’s not very high up on the list of things to object to, and anyway it’s only one genre, and I wouldn’t want to be without selfies of people with their dogs draped over their shoulder or their cats leering into the lens.

As rorschach pointed out at the time, Chrys Stevenson has a great post in defense of selfies.

And Amy has a brilliant one full of art history and wit.

 First of all let’s back up for a moment and remember what “selfie” is actually slang for. The self-portrait has had a long and very important history in the art world. Painters have painted self-portraits or selfies if you will, for hundreds upon hundreds of years and one could even argue that cave drawings were representative of those very humans drawing on those very walls. “Look at me! I was here and this is how I looked and how I lived!” Since then, artists like Frida Kahlo have used paintings of themselves to express the myriad of human emotions. Yes, Frida wanted you to gaze upon her. She also wanted you to understand her joy and her severe physical and sometimes emotional pain.

Image above is an example of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait.

Image above is an example of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait
And when photography was invented the self-portrait shifted primarily to that new medium. Since then, artists have, over the years, made careers out of the selfie. I highly encourage you to take a look at the work of photographer and artist Cindy Sherman as an example.

If anything, Sherman took the selfie to the mountaintop and dismantled Ryan’s thoughts on the, “fucked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.” Long before the word “selfie” was coined. Self-portraits can be feminist as fuck.

What I said before? Forget it.

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

$140 per day

Nov 26th, 2013 11:50 am | By


How is this even possible?

AlJazeera reports:

A religious court in Israel has fined a woman $140 each day that her one-year-old son remains uncircumcised. The Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem has reportedly rejected an appeal from the woman, who is currently going through a divorce and whose husband insists the procedure be carried out.

Rabbinical courts in Israel have jurisdiction in Jewish religious matters, including marriage and divorce. However, the woman’s lawyer reportedly argued that the court does not have the authority to demand the circumcision. According to +972 Magazine, there is no legal requirement for parents to have their sons circumcised.


A religious court can require people to mutilate their infant’s genitals and fine them daily if they refuse? How does that even work?

Making the decision against circumcision is a controversial one in Israel. Circumcision has been an important Jewish tenet for millenia, and for the religious, it symbolises a covenant with God.

No doubt it does, but how can sane contemporary people try to require anyone to cut off a bit of their infant’s penis because it symbolizes a covenant with god? Both parts are baffling – the mutilation part and the covenant with a fictional character part.

“Rabbinical courts in Israel have jurisdiction in Jewish religious matters” but does that include requiring everyone to be religious in the first place?


Via Joanne Payton

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

Now recruiting

Nov 26th, 2013 11:28 am | By

Another illustration by Gnu Atheism.

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

Universities once barred women altogether

Nov 26th, 2013 11:13 am | By

Polly Toynbee also objects to UUK’s separate-but-equal policy.

Separate but equal; where have we heard that before? Apartheid South Africa is no metaphor for anything else, but women of my generation and all those before were told over and over again that the sexes are different “but equal”, as an excuse for excluding them from places they didn’t belong: they should be doing “separate but equal” in the kitchen, bedroom and nursery. Whatever is segregated by diktat is rarely equal.

And not just our generation and older, but younger generations too; women are still told that. That is still official Vatican dogma – women are equal but “complementary” – women are equal but different, and they must not try to abandon their True Nature™.

Universities once barred women altogether. Now they strive to be emblems of enlightenment, temples to reason, equality, free speech and freedom of thought. But it’s not easy to balance conflicting freedoms. Universities UK, their representative body, has just published 40 pages of guidelines on External Speakers in Higher Education Institutions, wriggling and writhing over competing freedoms for women versus not causing religious offence: it ends up with excruciating nonsense.

Some students may want a “no platform” policy for speakers they find obnoxious – the BNP or members of unsavoury governments. Demonstrating opposition is a freedom, but banning or yelling down free expression within the law is a denial of freedom. However, Universities UK’s guidelines give the sexist eccentricities of some religions priority over women’s rights, by allowing religious speakers the right to demand women and men are segregated in the lecture hall.

The right to demand and have their demand satisfied.

The compromise is that women can’t be put at the back: “The room can be segregated left and right, rather than front and back.” Depressingly, the National Union of Students has endorsed this. What’s wrong with “side by side” segregation? Just ask how that would look if universities allowed speakers to demand separation by race.

Muslim speakers demand segregation to make a very public point about their belief in women’s “separate” role in the universe, one step behind a man, even in a place of learning. After all, as Maryam Namazie, head of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, says, the speakers and the audience have all travelled there on trains and buses that are not segregated. Mosques and synagogues may hide women out of sight, but by agreeing not to “offend”, the universities condone what they should confront.

And so far, at least, there’s no sign that they’re listening to the objections.

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

Rory Fenton condemns

Nov 25th, 2013 8:48 pm | By

At the New Humanist, Rory Fenton says no thank you.

It is astounding how quickly we forget or wilfully ignore that human rights are there to protect people – not beliefs. At the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, of which I’m president, we increasingly see this confused notion of rights being applied on UK campuses. Whether it’s our student groups intimidated for “blasphemy”, as at LSE and Reading, or religious societies refusing unmarried women permission to speak, as at Bristol, this trumping of individual rights by the supposed rights of “beliefs” is increasingly common.

…nestled in the report was a bizarre and backward recommendation; universities should be willing to enforce sex segregation between male and female audience members if a speaker requests it.

The report’s peculiar logic ran as follows: speakers have the right to free speech but if their demands for sex segregation are not met they will refuse to speak. Therefore to not enforce sex segregation is to deny the speakers’ freedom of speech. The report is careful only to endorse the ‘nice’ kind of segregation with men and women split on the left and right hand sides of a lecture theatre rather than front and back, the logic here being that men and women are being treated ‘equally separately’, whatever that means.

That it’s equally insulting to both of them?

That wouldn’t be much of a recommendation if it were true, but it’s not true. So yeah, whatever does that mean?

This logic has echoes of the old racially segregated Deep South of the United States; separate but equal. To argue that segregation is not inherently unequal is to fail to see just why men and women are being kept apart in the first place; this drive for segregation stems from ideologies that view women as very much inferior to men. To allow these ideologies power in UK universities is to betray hard-won individual rights and the principle that in public spaces all must be treated equally. Separate is never equal.

That is correct. And it makes me very, very angry that UK university vice-chancellors are just flinging all that away.

The report goes as far as to say that non-religious beliefs, such as feminism, should take second place to “sincerely held” religious beliefs. That’s right; the mere fact that they are religious makes some beliefs more important than others because, of course, Feminist can’t be sincere in their beliefs.

Because those “beliefs” are secular, so they can’t be “sincerely held.” They can only be held, loosely and kind of sloppily, the way secular people do.

The Universities UK report focuses on sex because it’s an issue that has come up before but there is no reason for its logic to stop there. If a racist is invited to speak – should he not have the audience forcibly segregated into whites and non-whites? What if his beliefs are really “sincerely held”? Could the EDL insist on all Muslim students sitting separately? Of course Universities UK would never support this.

Just what I keep saying! I said it on their horrible blog post, too. I hope they (or rather, Nicola Dandridge) answer (answers).

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

BHA condemns

Nov 25th, 2013 8:33 pm | By

The BHA condemns Universities UK’s guidelines on gender segregation.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented that ‘Universities are secular institutions, not places of worship, and sex segregation should have no place in secular spaces in which we expect to find equality between men and women.  It would be completely unacceptable if a visiting speaker tried to segregate an audience along racial lines, so sex segregation should be equally unacceptable.  Universities UK have characterised this as a freedom of speech issue, but this is misleading.  A visiting speaker’s right to freedom of speech entitles them to express their political and religious views, but not to impose these views on the audience.’

Damn right. If it’s obviously unacceptable on racial grounds, which it is, why is it acceptable on gender grounds?

It isn’t.


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

They have to be separated in school

Nov 25th, 2013 3:35 pm | By

Thurgood Marshall arguing Brown v Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1953.

I got the feeling on hearing the discussion yesterday that when you put a white child in a school with a whole lot of colored children, the child would fall apart or something. Everybody knows that is not true.  Those same kids in Virginia and South Carolina – and I have seen them do it – they play in the streets together, they play on their farms together, they go down the road together, they separate to go to school, they come out of school and play ball together. They have to be separated in school. There is some magic to it. You can have them voting together, you can have them not restricted because of law in the houses they live in. You can have them going to the same state university and the same college, but if they go to elementary and high school, the world will fall apart.

Cooties cooties cooties! Separate them or ew ew ew.

They can’t take race out of this case. From the day this case was filed until this moment, nobody has in any form or fashion, despite the fact I made it clear in the opening argument that I was relying on it, done anything to distinguish this statute from the Black Codes, which they must admit, because nobody can dispute, say anything anybody wants to say, one way or the other, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it.

We charge that they are Black Codes. They obviously are Black Codes if you read them. They haven’t denied that they are Black Codes, so if the Court wants to very narrowly decide this case, they can decide it on that point.

And what are Black Codes? Post-Civil War laws passed to keep slavery in all but name.

So whichever way it is done, the only way that this Court can decide this case in opposition to our position, is that there must be some reason which gives the state the right to make a classification that they can make in regard to nothing else in regard to Negroes, and we submit the only way to arrive at that decision is to find that for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings.

And that is why separate is not equal.

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

How to ensure that no one is unlawfully excluded

Nov 25th, 2013 12:49 pm | By

Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK has written a blog post explaining that UUK is not promoting gender segregation. That’s nice, but I don’t know of anyone who said it was. The objection is that UUK is treating gender segregation as permissible, and that it said it’s not unequal.

Since its publication, there has been some public debate on a small component of the guidance: a hypothetical case study (p.27) in which an external speaker on faith in the modern world requests that the audience is segregated according to gender. The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own gender, to those who wish to sit with the opposite gender – hence the mixed seating alternative which is part of the solution in this case study. The issue is how to ensure that no one is unlawfully excluded from the event.

Ah that’s sneaky. The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own gender - no no no, it’s not that easy. The religious beliefs “require” that everyone sit with her or his own gender. It is not a matter just of what I am required to do, it’s a matter of what others are “required” to do, and of the right of the male speaker to “require” it of everyone who attends the lecture, including people who share his religion but not his reactionary version of it, and people who don’t share his religion. Dandridge frames it as a matter of allowing people to obey their own religious “requirements” but ignores the issue of forcing other people to obey “requirements” that 1) are not theirs and 2) are on the face of it obnoxiously and impertinently discriminatory.

Suppose a white guest speaker says her religion “requires” white people to sit with white people and black people to sit with black people. I wonder if Dandridge would phrase that as “The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own race, to those who wish to sit with the opposite race.” I wonder if she would feel more squeamish about that; I wonder if she would say it at all. My guess is that she would feel more squeamish and wouldn’t say it.

And nobody is “unlawfully excluded from the event” on the basis that she describes. A racist is not unlawfully excluded from the event if the racist says her religion requires racial segregation and the university refuses to arrange any such segregation. The racist can still attend the event; she is not excluded; she is simply not granted an unreasonable and malevolent demand.

Universities have a vital role to play in securing free speech and promoting debate. This practical guidance has been developed to ensure that as many debates as possible on sensitive and emotive issues can continue to take place. By promoting free speech and open debate the rights or wrongs of gender segregation can be challenged and discussed.

Bollocks. We can perfectly well challenge and discuss the rights or wrongs of gender segregation, and racial and ethnic and religious segregation, without putting the actual segregation into effect. We can also, frankly, perfectly well treat some questions as settled and just fucking move on. We don’t need to challenge and discuss the rights and wrongs of genocide, and we really don’t need to challenge and discuss the rights and wrongs of gender versions of Jim Crow laws.


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

He “knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women”

Nov 25th, 2013 12:11 pm | By

What a claustrophobic mind we see in this post claiming that Maryam’s petition against Universities UK’s guidelines that allow sexual segregation at the behest of guest speakers is “Islamophobic.”

Petition site Avaaz are running asking people to condemn Universities UK’s statement on sex segregation in events held on campus. Please DON’T sign it. It might use intellectual language, but its both factually dubious and distinctly Islamphobic.

First, its worth pointing out that the lectures and visiting lecturers being talked about are student-organised speaking events. They are not course lectures. Allowing such meetings to take place on campus is an important part of encouraging debate and widening participation in Higher Education. Furthermore, it allows Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues.

Wait. How does allowing sexual segregation at the behest of guest speakers “[allow] Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues”? Are Muslim women otherwise not allowed to meet and discuss their issues? Do UK universities forbid Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues at debates and lectures where the audience is not segregated? Of course they don’t. Muslim women are allowed to meet and discuss their issues on the same terms that anyone else is. Universities are not in the business of making special rules and exclusions for particular groups.

If Muslim women aren’t “allowed” to meet and discuss except when they are segregated from men then Muslim women also aren’t “allowed” to take buses or the tube, walk on the pavement, stroll through the park, shop at Waitrose or Boots, go to the pub or a café, go to concerts or plays or movies – have jobs, go to the hospital, have a bank account, have friends. On those terms they aren’t “allowed” to take part in contemporary life at all. They might as well be buried. Fortunately UK universities don’t impose such a regime.

I’m a graduate of the University of Bradford – I have attended lectures that were segregated. It was done in a very simple and largely organic way – I knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women, so I sat on the side of the central aisle where the men were congregating. We didn’t actually have curtains or anything, and in a culture where people socialise amongst their own sex, its not surprising that friends sitting together looks pretty segregated right away.

Way to internalize the viciously illiberal rules. It was not “appropriate” to sit next to women? A culture where people socialise amongst their own sex? Terrific: a world where women and men are strangers to each other, and women get less and worse of everything.

In allowing its website to be used to petition against the right of Islamic Societies to determine the running of their own meetings, Avaaz is endorsing cultural imperialism and side-lining of an entire culture within our Universities.

As I understand it the guidelines are not about meetings of societies but about public debates and lectures – debates and lectures that are open to anyone who wants to attend.

You can call it “cultural imperialism” to have one set of rules for everyone if you want to, but it’s a perverse and reactionary move. The expectation of equality doesn’t have much in common with imperialism.

The petition represents an attempt to force Western culture into the meetings and events of women and men who subscribe to another culture.

That assumes that all Muslims subscribe to gender segregation, which is complete bullshit. Not all Muslims do, and plenty of Muslims find that assumption highly insulting. Plenty of non-”Western” people find it massively insulting when Westerners put all the good things under the sign “Western” and assume that everyone in the east and south shares a monolithically reactionary culture.

Never underestimate the ability of White Men to use Women of Colour as a means to espouse racism and cultural superiority.

That’s cute, when it’s Maryam who drew up the petition. Ignore her why doncha.

Looking down the list of initial signatories, it is clear that this is an attempt at religion bashing by some of the most reactionary pupils of ‘Western Enlightenment’ thinking.

Oh right, such as Deeyah Khan, Gita Sahgal, Harsh Kapoor, Mina Ahadi, Nahla Mahmoud, Pragna Patel…

They are not the reactionaries here.



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

At the European Parliament

Nov 24th, 2013 5:15 pm | By

Taslima has a post about her trip to Strasburg for the 25th Sakharov Prize anniversary.

I tweeted a lot in the last few days. I was at the European Parliament to celebrate 25th Sakharov Prize anniversary. All the Sakharov Laureates were there except Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Hu Jia, Jafar Panahi and a few others. Shirin Ebadi the Nobel Peace Prize winner came to represent Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian lawyer who received Sakharov Prize last year. We attended many conferences, seminars on Human Rights, official lunch and dinner.

But she didn’t get to talk to Malala Yousafzai.

After she got the Sakharov prize we the Sakharov Laureates took family photos. In the photo below, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament is standing between Malala and me. I congratulated Malala for the prize. She shook my hand with expressionless face. I came from the Indian subcontinent, almost from the same background, fighting religious fundamentalists for women’s rights, but her expression tells me that it means nothing to her. She in her speech expressed that the names of the previous Sakharov laureates that amazed her were Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and Kofi Annan. A few days ago I requested the European Parliament to arrange for my meeting with Malala when we both would be at the parliament. But I was told that no bilateral meeting would be possible for Malala. She is now like a big superstar, no one can touch her. I imagine how busy she is with hundreds of different things in the West but I never could imagine she would not talk to any Sakharov Laureate, give no interview to any media after getting the prize and she would not be present in the discussion on children’s right at the European Parliament and would not be present even in the official dinner hosted by the President of the European Parliament for her honor. I heard her father said no to everything. I wish she could be herself. Would she be able to be herself someday in this protective environment? The glamour world and the business world both are dangerous for human rights activists.

That’s perhaps understandable, since she’s a schoolgirl and perhaps still not as strong as she would have been if the Taliban hadn’t shot her in the face…but it’s sad. It seems a great pity she wasn’t even allowed to go to the dinner and talk to her fellow laureates.

I did not expect but was not shocked either when Malala started her official speech in the name of Allah. She said, Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim while she was giving a speech at the secular European Parliament. Malala believes in Allah and Islam. She often praises Islam and talks about women’s freedom. I wish she knew ‘religion is not compatible with women’s rights’.

So do I, but at the same time, she can probably do more good as she is. An Irshad Manji as opposed to a Taslima.

Everybody loves Malala. I am afraid she will be able to convince young Muslim girls that Islam is a good religion that respects women and it is good to wear Islamic veils. She talks about changing the world by books and pens. All children need books and pens. But the truth is, in all Muslim countries including Malala’s Pakistan, children are given the book called Quran to be indoctrinated in order to change the world to Darul Islam. The Taliban use pens to write the names whom they plan to kill. I think it is better to mention what kinds of books are needed to make the world a better world. And what should be done with pens.

That is true. It’s not just any books. It’s certainly not memorization and blind submission to one “holy” book.

I asked a politically incorrect question to children rights activists during children’s rights debate at the parliament: ‘You have been talking about children’s right to an adequate standard of living, health care, education and to play and recreation. You have been talking about children’s right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. But not many activists say that children should not be brainwashed to be superstitious, racists, chauvinists, misogynists, fanatics, terrorists. Why not many activists say that brainwashing children with parents’ religion or with any other religion is against children’s rights. Mutilating or cutting children’s genitals in the name of religion, culture, tradition is also against children’s rights.’

Seriously, no good answer was given to me. A woman said she was fighting against female genital mutilation. I asked ‘what about boys genital mutilation?’

I don’t get surprised easily. European Parliament’s official secretly informed me that there might be a plan to give Sakharov award to Pope.

I love Taslima’s question. And Taslima.



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

Literal patriarchy

Nov 24th, 2013 4:16 pm | By

Aha so Doug Phillips of Vision Forum has resigned as top boss of VF because he had An Affair with A Woman. The blog Diary of an Autodidact has a thorough analysis.

Douglas Phillips has three major claims to fame, all of which are related to a certain view of gender.

The first, as I partially discussed in my post on his connections to White Supremacy, is his belief that there is a single explanation for modern evils. Let me state this clearly, because I think it tends to be lost in all the static.

The foundation, the CORE of the Vision Forum doctrine is that “Feminism™” is THE cause of all modern evils.

That is, that the big error of our age, the big cause of all that ails us, is that women do not know their place. What is their place? In the home, and under complete subjection to me in every time, place, aspect of life, etc.

Don’t believe me? Read it from Douglas Phillips himself. Here are the “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy.”

Note, women are created to serve men. Men are the glory of God, while women are the glory of…wait for it…MEN. The entire created purpose of women is to serve MEN.

Out of this everything else flows. The cause of all our modern ills is that we have rejected “God’s purpose for women.”

So, the teaching of Vision Forum runs thus: We have forgotten that women belong in the home, doing housework and raising (large numbers) of children and, most importantly, obeying men in everything. After all, God speaks only to men, not women, and if women would just serve their men, everything would be great. So, we should teach our daughters to first, serve their fathers, until such time as their fathers find husbands for them, and then they should serve their husbands.

And it’s not just about who serves whom. Phillips (and others of the Patriarchy movement) teach that women are inherently easier to deceive, and thus must never be allowed to be in a position of authority. Of any sort. Instead, a woman must always be under the authority of a man. Her father, until she marries. Her husband after that. If she is widowed, she would be under the authority of her eldest son, or oldest close relative. Never ever can she be in charge of her own life.

This is from a conservative Christian, who considers Phillips’s views vile. If only everyone did.

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


Nov 24th, 2013 12:37 pm | By

I’m very late in catching up with the Ex-Muslims of North America. The prod was seeing a tweet of mine – about Universities UK and the gender segregation trainwreck – favorited by Sadaf, and looking to see who she is. She’s one of the founders.

While not fully comprehending the gender essentialism ingrained in the religion and its practices, Sadaf always felt that gender equality would never be attainable under Islam or her own Afghan culture. and has since pursued the creation of an inclusive safe-space for Ex-Muslims. While working with the Toronto group and staying connected with the global online communities, Sadaf has come to know the dangers, the troubles, and the alienation of being an Ex-Muslim. Ever since, Sadaf became a Community Organizer and aids North Americans in creating a safe-space of their own. Sadaf’s goal is to have an Ex-Muslim group in most major North American cities and to help others find strength and solidarity through our communities.

On their About page, they explain that because of the apostasy taboo and the dangers that go with it, they are not about public advocacy but rather about support and solidarity for other ex-Muslims.

As our membership grows, and we make gains in terms of visibility and social and legal protections for our members, we envision the group moving towards having a greater focus on outreach and advocacy, while maintaining, as always to the best of our abilities, the safety and privacy of our most vulnerable members.

And while they’re doing that they also have to avoid two opposing traps.

While we denounce the bigotry of those who promote their racist and xenophobic ideas under the guise of criticizing Muslims, we also denounce the cultural and moral relativism of those who propagate the idea that all people of Muslim backgrounds are the same and want to follow Islam, and that Islam is somehow less capable of being scrutinized than other belief systems. We are the people who have both first-hand and well-researched knowledge about Islam and we bridge the worlds between the polarized discussions of Islam through our lives and our voices.

Another of their team is Kiran Opal.

In 2008, Kiran became involved with Maryam Namazie’s UK-based Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), and its affiliated online forum. There were countless others like her: people of Muslim backgrounds or converts to Islam who no longer believed in the religion, but felt forced by their families and communities to keep their doubts and their agnosticism/atheism to themselves. Kiran has helped people access anti-violence services and shelters in their area, and build asylum cases when possible. She has helped rescue young women from forced marriage in their parents’ countries of origin, working with legal and medical advisors and law enforcement all over the world to provide assistance to people living under repressive rules and threatened with violence.

In 2013, Kiran heeded the growing need for open and public Ex-Muslim voices, and for connections between Ex-Muslims who feel isolated in small pockets around the world, by co-founding Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) with a group of passionate, reliable, and earnest Ex-Muslims. Kiran brings her experience and contacts to EXMNA to foster deep connections between previously isolated Ex-Muslims and allies, and to show that Ex-Muslims are not anti-Muslim. While being open about her lack of belief in Islam, she respects others’ choice to remain in the religion, and hopes to be afforded the same respect.

Kiran is coordinator of an exciting project spearheaded by EXMNA co-founder Sarah Haider. She works closely with Muhammad Syed, who has been instrumental in putting together the new organization and continues to be its cool, calm center. Kiran is also honoured to work with Sadaf and Nas from Toronto, whose efforts in organizing and nurturing the Toronto Ex-Muslims group have provided the fertile soil for EXMNA. Kiran is also infinitely thankful to Maryam Namazie for being such an inspiration, and to the amazing admin team at the CEMB forum who have helped so many Ex-Muslims throughout the world, even as they themselves have had to remain anonymous. Their work makes a difference, and it will be remembered.

Yes. Infinite thanks to Maryam for being such an inspiration.

You can Like their Facebook page.


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

The confusion thickens

Nov 24th, 2013 11:54 am | By

The Independent seems to have a very bizarre understanding of the Universities UK guidance on how to manage guest speakers.

The document comes out in the wake of a number of incidents where freedom of speech has been threatened – in particular an Egyptian speaker at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies was forced to abandon a speech largely because of protests from the Muslim Brotherhood.

In addition, research by Student Rights, a pro-equality group, shows that there were 180 cases of radical preachers speaking at university events in the year up to March 2013. It shows some ways in which freedom of speech can be preserved even if the speaker is controversial – such as segregating different sections into different parts of the room as in the case of an ultra-right religious speaker arousing protests from feminists. (In a recent case, a speaker at University College London insisted the audience be segregated before he agreed to speak).

What? The Independent thinks the issue is that segregation is a tool to preserve free speech from being prevented? But the speaker didn’t demand that protesters be segregated, he demanded that women be segregated. And how would segregating protesters help anyway? Unless you segregated them all the way out of the building and into a different one.

The Student Rights research showed that in a quarter of the 180 cases segregated seating for men and women was promoted. It described the practice as “a widespread trend”.

The document argues this could be acceptable – but organisers would have to be sure they did not breach equality laws by, say, putting the feminists at a disadvantage at the back of the room. “Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either the female or male attendees,” it concludes.

Godalmighty – the author, Richard Garner, really is that confused – he seems to think it was the feminists who were segregated, and that they were segregated as a way to defuse their potential protest. Yeesh. It wasn’t the feminists, it was the women. The segregation wasn’t “feminists here, normal people there” – it was “women here, men there.” Men can be feminists, and women can be not feminists.

Also…really? He thinks that would fly? “New university policy – segregate the feminists, to preserver order and free speech.” Even the deeply addled UK vice-chancellors would probably spot the problem with that idea.

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

The bus from hell

Nov 24th, 2013 11:12 am | By

Meanwhile, also at UK universities, there’s laddish “banter”

This week, a video of the men’s hockey team at the University of Stirling appeared on YouTube, showing the male students on a packed bus, engaged in a shouted chant. The chant, filmed on a mobile phone, begins: “I used to work in Chicago, in a department store …” and becomes increasingly misogynistic, racist and offensive as the journey progresses. Now the video has been viewed tens of thousands of times online, the University says it has launched an investigation.

But this video represents so much more than a single, isolated incident. In just two horribly uncomfortable minutes, it sums up the reality of what female students are facing up and down the country – a reality that isn’t going away.

This is not a one off. This is not even unusual. In the last month alone, the Everyday Sexism Project  has received more than 100 reports of similar incidents from students at universities up and down the country. It is becoming the background noise to their education. And many of these reports reflect exactly the same attitudes that emerge in the Stirling video. The message is loud and clear: sexism and sexual violence is a joke, and woe betide you if you dare to object, you frigid, uptight bitch:

“The other day in class at university, I was sitting as the only girl in a group of 20-year-old guys, and they started making jokes about how they were going to rape girls after their night out later on … I was really angry, but felt like they wouldn’t listen to me if I said something about it… or tell me to lighten up.”

“I was walking from my university accommodation to the club on campus when two guys started walking next to me. They asked if I was going to the club and I said: ‘Yes I’m meeting my friends there.’ They then asked if I wanted some ‘action’ before I got there and one of them put their arm right round me so I couldn’t pull away. I said: ‘No thank you.’ . They said it was OK they could still do something to me if they wanted because it’s not rape if the woman’s wearing socks.”

And on and on.

Marvelous, isn’t it. On the one hand theocratic misogynists who want the women herded into a separate space, on the other hand shouting “bantering” bullies who want the women silent and legs-open.

Laura Bates sums up:

We urgently need to listen to these young women’s voices. These are just some of the stories we have received in in the past month alone. Though individual institutions are dealing well with events in some cases, we need to step back and see the bigger picture here. Until we do, and until this wave of violent misogyny is recognised as an urgent nationwide problem by University heads, the hundreds of the reports we receive from young women will continue to end in that same, bewildered question – how is this still acceptable?

Hint for the heads: accepting gender segregation is not the way to solve the problem.


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

Designs by a wonderfully acid British cartoonist

Nov 24th, 2013 10:25 am | By

Nick Cohen has a piece in the Observer on censorship at UK universities. He starts, as he should, with Chris and Abhishek.

On the morning of 3 October, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis put on joke T-shirts, of the kind students wear the world over, and went to man the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the London School of Economics freshers’ fair. The bullying the university authorities visited upon them for the next 36 hours should provoke the most important free speech court case to hit British universities in years. It certainly deserves to.

Damn right.

Both the left and the right complain about censorship, both engage in it, Nick points out.

The Moos and Phadnis case cuts through the hubbub of charge and counter-charge. It shows that  authoritarians of all stripes share the same vices, and not just because you know without needing to wait for their careers to “progress” that today’s repressive student union politicians will be tomorrow’s repressive human resources managers and Labour home secretaries.

The students wore Jesus and Mo T-shirts with designs by a wonderfully acid British cartoonist, who wisely never discloses his real name. Jesus and Mo are holding a banner that says:  “Stop drawing holy prophets in a disrespectful manner NOW!” Mo also has a placard that reads: “Religion is NOT funny” and is saying: “If this doesn’t work, I say we start BURNING stuff.”

Are you offended? Really? Oh dear that’s a pity, because if you cannot take a satirical reference to real religious censorship, your fragile sensibilities should be your problem and no one else’s.

To fill out the claim a bit more: there is such a thing as religious censorship; it’s active and widespread in the world right now; the cartoon skewers it neatly and economically; it’s a thing worth skewering, and skewering it causes real harm to no one. (What about religious censors?! Spare a thought for them. The cartoon might convince some people that what they do is not a good thing to do. Yes, it might. That form of “harm” is a risk of doing things that are not good things to do.)

The political hacks of LSE’s student union, who are studying at a university that Sidney and Beatrice Webb founded in 1894 to promote “modern” education on “socialist lines,” knew nothing of basic principles. They decided that the modern and socialist thing to do was silence freethinkers.

Student union officials told them to “lose the T-shirts” and pulled atheist literature from the stall. When the young atheists asked why they should submit to this impertinent demand, the hacks replied that the T-shirts were “of course, offensive”. They did not say why. The LSE’s security guards arrived and threatened to expel the atheists. Wearing the T-shirts was an act of “harassment” that could “offend others”, they said.

Student union officials and security guards teaming up against the atheists. Heart-warming, ain’t it.

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

An apt illustration

Nov 23rd, 2013 5:48 pm | By

Via Twitter:

Embedded image permalink


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