Notes and Comment Blog

“To a soldier of the Khilafah preparing to sacrifice my life for Islam”

Mar 12th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

An Australian teenager who converted to Islam and ran off to join Daesh apparently left behind a blog post explaining his wonderful reasons for his excellent adventure, the Guardian reports.

The 18-year-old Australian reportedly killed in a suicide attack in Iraq on Wednesday had previously planned to launch “a string of bombings across Melbourne”, according to a blog seen by Guardian Australia.

Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi was reported on Monday to be fighting with the Islamic State militia group in Syria and Iraq.

Social media accounts linked to the group posted photographs on Wednesday that appear to show Bilardi preparing to attack an Iraqi army unit in the Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The images have not been verified, but reports from Iraq have claimed that 10 people had been killed and up to 30 injured in a wave of up to 21 suicide attacks on Wednesday.

It’s good to have adventures at age 18. It’s possible to have adventures without murdering people.

Guardian Australia has found a now-deleted blog written under Bilardi’s nom-de-guerre, Abu Abdullah al-Australi, which appears to provide a chilling insight into how a precocious young man became obsessed with political injustices and embraced violent extremism as the answer.

The blog’s veracity could not be confirmed, but references to the writer’s age and origin in a non-Muslim family in Melbourne line up with reported accounts of the teenager’s life.

The blog includes claims that before fleeing to Syria, the writer drew up plans to launch “a string of bombings across Melbourne, targeting foreign consulates and political/military targets as well as grenade and knife attacks on shopping centres and cafes”.

Knife attacks – he was planning to kill people with a knife.

The attacks would culminate “with myself detonating a belt of explosives amongst the kuffar”, he wrote.

“The kuffar” – as one might say “the niggers” “the Jews” “the whores” “the dogs” “the vermin.” It’s an evil way to think.

His blog has been deleted but here’s the cache. Look how he begins:

With my martyrdom operation drawing closer, I want to tell you my story, how I came from being an Atheist school student in affluent Melbourne to a soldier of the Khilafah preparing to sacrifice my life for Islam in Ramadi, Iraq.

See what he did there? It’s his life that he’s “sacrificing.” There’s no mention of the other people he plans to murder, no mention of their lives that he plans to “sacrifice” for Islam. That tells you all you need to know about him right at the beginning.

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

We do not think this is a harmless hoax

Mar 12th, 2015 11:23 am | By

Jezebel has some new fodder for Christina Hoff Sommers: a Congresswoman actually expects the FBI to do something about Gamergate harassment. Brace yourselves for new videos from the “factual feminist” aka the former philosopher who now shills for a right-wing clubhouse.

[Katherine] Clark is the congresswoman for Brianna Wu, the Boston-based game developer who’s been relentlessly trolled for months by Gamergaters. Clark’s office, she says, has been “watching Gamergate unfold” for several months.

“We discovered this fall that Brianna was a constituent and reached out to her about what we could do,” Clark said. “That led us eventually speaking with the FBI about how they’re handling these cases.”

Wow. Imagine if Rebecca’s Congressional Representative had ever done that.

Or, you know, not handling them at all. It’s exceedingly difficult to get law enforcement to take online threats and harassment seriously. Danielle Citron, the law professor and author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, estimates that the DOJ has only prosecuted 10 cases of cyber-stalking between 2010 and 2013. (A Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that there are 2.5 million cases of serious and frightening harassment each year, though they don’t specify what portion of that is online.) To date, not a single violent threat made against Wu, Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn has result[ed] in an actual, prosecuted criminal case.

Clark, a former prosecutor, says her office met with seven representatives from the FBI in February to determine how seriously the agency is taking the problem.

“It was disappointing,” Clark says. “This is clearly just not one of their priorities. For me as a former prosecutor, it echoed what we would see 20 years ago around domestic violence.” She said that while the FBI are obviously “committed public servants,” they didn’t seem terribly interested in the Gamergate problem.

Doesn’t that make us all feel special.

Clark is also aware that local police can be less than useful, she says: “We’ve heard from many women that local police are often well-intentioned and wanted to be helpful, but may not even know what Twitter was is never mind the power it can have and the real effects it can have on someone’s life and feelings of safety and ability make money. There’s also the chilling effect on their freedom of expression.”

And so Clark is politely going nuclear: in a press release today, she called on the DOJ to “prioritize” online threats against women. She’s also sent a letter to her fellow members of Congress and to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies—the entity that oversees the DOJ—asking them to put language in the 2016 appropriations act that specifically addresses online threats.

That’s heartening to see. Even if it’s just words added to an appropriations bill, it’s a step. A step is better than no step.

The economic impact on women is real, Clark says, and she takes it seriously as a threat to the national economy: “Many of the women [targeted by] Gamergate had to not accept lucrative speaking opportunities and decline public events where they received threats that were very specific,” Clark says. (Brianna Wu’s company Giant Spacekat pulled out of the gaming convention PAX East due to threats.)

“This is an issue that people are paying attention to,” Clark says. “We do not think this a harmless hoax. We think this has real-life implications for women, both personally in their feelings of safety and also economically as they try to put their careers together. There are very few careers choices these days that don’t have some intersection with your online presence.”

She’s been there herself.

Clark has also been threatened online, she says. “Not to the degree many women face, but when I was a state senator we had to have state troopers go out and talk to one person. That’s exactly why I’m bringing this up. As a member of Congress, the threats leveled at me would get a very different level of priority and attention. That should be available to women across the country as well.”

Threats aren’t just some harmless joke.

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


Mar 12th, 2015 10:56 am | By

Sweden has published online the address that Foreign Minister Margot Wallström planned to give in Cairo on Monday.

This is the part – the only part – where she touches on human rights and women’s rights, in a way that Saudi Arabia calls “offensive” and “blatant interference in its internal affairs.

I include the first three paragraphs only so that you can see what led up to the human rights and women’s rights part.


Democracy, security and economic development are interrelated. Without progress in one of these fields, sustainable results in the other cannot be expected.

Inclusive socio-economic development is particularly important. Educational and economic empowerment is the best antidote to radicalisation and terrorist recruitment.

Employment is crucial, especially for our youth. Youth unemployment is a key challenge, in Europe and in this region.


Human rights are a priority in Swedish foreign policy. Freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are not only fundamental rights and important tools in the creation of vibrant societies. They are indispensable in the fight against extremism and radicalisation. So is a vibrant civil society.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. This is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, recognise challenges, and focus attention on women’s rights, women’s representation and their adequate resources. Our experience is that women’s rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole.

More than 20 years ago, in 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development met here in Cairo to discuss various issues, including education of women and protection of women from all forms of violence, including female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. Many of these issues are still very much in play today and I urge you to contribute to upholding the agreements made here in Cairo 20 years ago.

Not much interference in internal affairs there that I can see. It’s quite revealing that Saudi Arabia considers such a minimal statement an outrage, and that it prevented her from delivering the address at all.


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

Adjö Saudi Arabia

Mar 12th, 2015 10:09 am | By

Sweden has actually dropped an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Swedish government this week decided to scrap an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, effectively bringing to an end a decade-old defence agreement with the kingdom. The move followed complaints made by the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom that she was blocked by the Saudis from speaking about democracy and women’s rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo.

Tensions between Stockholm and Riyadh have grown so acute that Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden on Wednesday. The Swedish foreign ministry had published Wallstrom’s planned remarks in Cairo, which made no specific reference to Saudi Arabia but did urge reform on issues of women’s rights. Nevertheless, the Saudi foreign ministry deemed the statement “offensive” and “blatant interference in its internal affairs,” according to the BBC.

Oh really – so now people aren’t allowed to talk about women’s rights in general because that’s “offensive” to Saudi Arabia?

The Saudis spent $39 million on Swedish military equipment last year.

That Sweden’s centre-left government has chosen to risk that sort of investment — and the ire of prominent business leaders at home — marks an important moment. For decades, Saudi Arabia’s vast energy reserves and strategic position in the Middle East have led Western countries to politely skirt around the issue of the kingdom’s draconian religious laws and woeful human rights record.

And not just the governments of Western countries, but also the media of same. S. Arabia’s horrifying human rights record has been horrifyingly under-reported over here.

The double-standard in Western attitudes toward Saudi Arabia has looked particularly glaring in the past year. After the Islamic State began decapitating American hostages in its custody, Saudi Arabia — a key ally in the US-led coalition against the jihadists — carried out beheadings of inmates on death row.

American politicians routinely hurl invective against Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of fomenting terrorism abroad and maintaining a tyranny at home. But Saudi Arabia has an even less democratic system than that in Tehran, and  as the chief incubator of orthodox Salafism, has played its own unique role in the rise of fundamentalist terror groups around the Middle East and South Asia.

And it keeps women much much more confined and rightsless and dependent and subject to contempt and hatred.

Sweden’s decision came after months of “nail-biting,” reports Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky. But it’s likely just the start of a larger European conversation regarding the ethics of dealing with Saudi Arabia.

Well done Sweden!

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

Save the cornerstone

Mar 12th, 2015 9:44 am | By

A familiar theme – as the annual Commission on the Status of Women meets at the UN, some states try to water down the declaration while activists work to prevent that.

The two-week CSW, held in New York, will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations over the past two decades.

But last week, the Women’s Rights Caucus, which monitors discussions at the CSW, said it was concerned that the language in the declaration was being watered down by certain UN states.

The caucus called on organisations to add their signatures to a statement demanding the declaration be strengthened.

It is understood that Russia, the Holy See (which has a seat on the UN as a non-member permanent observer state), Indonesia, Nicaragua and the Africa group of countries have tried to limit references in the text to human rights and to remove mention of the role feminist groups play in advancing gender equality. These states argue that human rights was just one chapter of the Beijing platform for action, rather than an overarching theme. Caribbean countries are also understood to have failed to step up to support women’s rights.

Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Canada, Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Australia and the EU are believed to be among those that have repeatedly challenged any removal of references to human rights.

I wonder where the US fits in there.

The Holy See is also thought to have wanted mention of a standalone gender equality target proposed in the sustainable development goals removed from the declaration.

Any specific reference to women’s rights activists is expected to be lost.

The pushback on women’s existing rights from these states is not unusual in UN political statements, [n]or are their attempts to block any progressive moves forward.

Well let’s face it, the subordination of women is the cornerstone of family life, which in turn is the cornerstone of some other very important thing, so we can’t mess with it.

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

Baby Halder’s day

Mar 11th, 2015 5:16 pm | By

This is an extraordinary story.

It’s 11pm and Baby Halder’s day is just winding down. Dressed in a blue-and-white salwar kameez, the 39-year-old domestic helper finishes washing a pile of dishes, then mops the floor and turns off the kitchen lights before retiring to her small one-room flat on the terrace of her employer’s palatial, well-appointed house in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of India’s capital, Delhi.

But she is not yet ready for bed. Even though it’s late and she has to start work at 6am, Baby fishes out a notebook from the desk and begins to write. “It’s become a habit now,” she smiles. “I’ve got to write at least a few pages before I go to sleep. It’s fulfilling at the end of the day.” Baby has a lot of reasons to smile. Although she dropped out of school at the age of 12, the mother of three is already a popular author. Her first two books Aalo Aandhari (meaning Darkness and Light in Bengali) and Eshast Roopantar (Self-portrait) were literary successes in Bengali; her third book Ghare Ferar Path (The Way Home) was published by Dey’s Publishing, a Bengali publishing house, in December 2014 to rave reviews from the critics.

Aalo Aandhari, a thinly veiled autobiography published in 2002, was a success in Bengali. But it was its English translation, A Life Less Ordinary, published two years later, that made Baby a literary phenomenon after it sold more than a million copies. The book was translated into 24 languages including French, German and Korean and heralded Baby’s arrival on the literary scene.

And yet she works as a maid from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.?

Baby, who only completed grade 7 before she was married off by her father, smiles shyly when she recalls the praise she received. “It’s nice to know that the book was read by so many people,” she says, recalling how she met Bollywood stars such as actress Nandita Das during one of her book launches. She has invested the earnings from the royalties – around Rs2.5 million (about Dh148,000) over the years – into a house that she has built in her village in Kolkata. She has also put her children through school. The eldest Subodh, 26, works as a chef, while Taposh, 20, and Tia, 17, are in college. Tia wants to become a fashion designer and Baby is planning to enrol her into a design school with her literary earnings.

She is hoping they will be boosted by the English version of Eshast Roopantar, which was published in Hindi in 2010, and is expected to hit the stands later this year.

Baby, who has attended several major literature festivals in Frankfurt, London, and Jaipur, and dined and discussed literature with world-renowned authors including Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, admits that all three books of hers are autobiographical in parts.

One degree of separation; I’ve dined and discussed with Taslima too.

So, why does Baby – who has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian andBBC, earned decent royalties, and travelled abroad for book fairs, literary festivals and book launches – still toil as a maid in Prabodh’s mansion?

“I’m very superstitious,” says the author. “I have this great fear that if I stop working as a maid, I won’t be able to write at all. These are very frightening thoughts.

“Moreover my simple life suits me. There are no complications. My needs are few. I’m happy and comfortable. And if I change my lifestyle, where will I get the raw material for my books, which are essentially about marginalised people and therefore appeal so much to the common man? I’m averse to taking risks.”

Ok but couldn’t she work better hours? But it’s her life, not mine. Anyway her employer is part of the story.

She was married off at age 12 to an alcoholic who beat her; after 12 years she left, taking her children with her.

She found a maid’s job but changed employers frequently as she was overworked and underpaid.

Finally, 14 years ago, she landed in Prabodh’s home. “He was so kind and took me in with the children. He gave me a job and then allowed me to dream of becoming a writer.”

Leaning back in his armchair, Prabodh recalls how he spotted Baby’s inherent talent in the first week she began work.

“One morning I saw her near the bookshelf in my drawing room looking through the books, stopping to read a few pages in one then flipping through another while dusting the shelves,” he says.

Baby, who saw her boss staring at her, thought she would be rebuked for shirking her job and quickly promised not to waste time. “But I told her to relax and said she was welcome to read all the books during her free time.” He also gave her a pen and a notebook, and encouraged her to put down her thoughts on paper.

And that’s how she got started.

Baby could not believe it. “That was the first time after over 25 years that I was holding a notebook,” she says. 
“I love reading but I could never pursue it because there weren’t any books at home, nor did I have the time.” But now here, in Prabodh’s house, she was surrounded by books.

“I enjoy reading Bengali books and there were plenty here,” she says. After reading a bit, particularly books by Taslima Nasreen, Baby decided to follow Prabodh’s advice and write.

And she wrote beautifully, and her first book was a best-seller. Cinderella eat your heart out.

H/t Kausik Datta

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


Mar 11th, 2015 4:27 pm | By

Hurriyet reports that parents want a teacher of religion classes in northern Turkey to be fired for telling her female students that they “deserve rape” for not wearing hijab.

“You don’t cover your head anyway, so raping you or doing evil to you is permissible [in Islam],” the female teacher, identified by the initials L.Y.İ., told students at the Halil Rıfat Paşa Middle School in the province of Tokat on March 9, according to parents who spoke to Doğan News Agency.

That seems very harsh. It seems way out of proportion. Rape is a terrible thing to do to a human being; not wearing hijab is not a terrible thing to do to anyone, not even Mohammed or Allah. One of the things punishments should be is proportional.

According to the parents, the teacher also told the girls that they should have prayed for Özgecan Aslan – whose brutal murder in southern Turkey on Feb. 13 caused national outrage – instead of going to demonstrations to commemorate her.

Mahmut Demirbağ, the school’s headmaster, reportedly told the parents that the teacher “apologized” for the comments. However, some parents have continued to demand that she be dismissed, threatening legal action.

“She insulted 13-year-old girls for not wearing a headscarf during a Quran class, which is elective. This teacher cannot lecture my daughter,” a parent told the Doğan News Agency.

They’re not broken yet in Turkey. That’s good.

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

Guest post: Weaponized speech

Mar 11th, 2015 4:09 pm | By

Originally a comment by quixote on Hey the chant was on a school trip, so obviously no biggy.

Bigotry is harmful. Bigoted drunken chants are no exception. Bigotry uses speech to hurt, not to express a train of reasoning. It’s weaponized speech, and as such it stops free speech. It is the antithesis of free speech. The clearest example is not in racist speech but in gendered mobs aimed at women on the web, which is nastily effective at both hurting and silencing women while expressing no thoughts at all. It’s just plain old hatred and plain old hate speech.

This concept seems to be difficult mainly for some white males who are almost never the targets of weaponized speech.

To give an example of ideas that could be considered racist that are not weaponized, researchers (this was many years ago) wanted to study whether blacks were more violent than whites. They almost got shut down for racism, but ultimately managed to do an acceptable controlled study. (The short answer is no. Blacks as a group were actually slightly less violent than whites matched for age, gender, and income.) The difference was on the order of 13% vs 15% or something like that.

Of course, the great gaping chasm of difference was between males and females. 85% of violent attacks were committed by men, a little bit over 5% were not-directly-provoked attacks by women, and 10% were violence by women in response to attacks by men. I believe the numbers are still very similar.

And the fact that this vast difference was not being studied, while the piddling non-difference between races was studied woke up the sociology community to the fact that, yes, it really was a racist question. But my point is that you do have to ask the obnoxious question to see the answer. That kind of speech is and should be protected. There is an idea behind it. That is different from abuse and hate speech.

If we — meaning people like I’m-all-right-Jack Volokh — don’t wake up to the difference between abuse and speech, there’s not going to be any free speech for anyone except the Volokhs. Maybe that’s why he’s okay with it.

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

Guest post: Homophobia in American African Migrant Churches

Mar 11th, 2015 3:35 pm | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe.

A lot has been said about how American evangelists are supporting efforts and campaigns to legislate against gay marriage in Uganda and other African countries, but there is very little mention of African churches that are re-exporting a homophobic gospel to Europe and America. Many African Pentecostal groups are extending their mission overseas. They are promoting programs and activities that undermine the rights of gay people in this region. These churches are mainly from West Africa, particularly from Nigeria. They are establishing branches in immigrant communities in Western countries where they propagate “Africanized Christianity.” Yes, they qualify their Christianity as African because they think American and European Christians have drifted from preaching the true word of God. They claim that Western churches have teachings and practices that are incompatible with their Africanized Christianity. But this is only a ploy to create a gospel niche for themselves where they can promote doctrines that go against the human rights laws of these countries. One of these homophobic African churches in the United States is the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries (MFM).

This church has its headquarters in Nigeria but it has branches in Europe and North America. MFM preaches against homosexuality. It regards homosexuals as sexual perverts in need of salvation and redemption. One of the prayer points of the Los Angeles branch of MFM is “Deliverance Prayers Against Homosexuality and Sexual Perversion.” The prayer point urges those who are caught in the sexual bondage of homosexuality, lesbianism, and other forms of sexual immorality to understand that their bondage can be broken “through the power of the blood of Jesus.” MFM branches in New Jersey and Katy, Texas have adopted the same prayer programs.

Another MFM branch of the church in Houston, dubbed the United States. and Caribbean Regional Headquarters, compares homosexuals and lesbians to dogs.

At the website, you will find the following wording:

The Bible refers to homosexuals and lesbians as dogs. Anyone who has ever engaged in these kinds of things would need to receive deliverance from the spirit of the dog, which has entered into him or her. Generally, in the spirit world, dogs symbolize sexual perversion. So, if you see yourself being pursued in the spirit by a dog, check your sexual life. It means that something must be wrong somewhere, whether in your heart or your activities. Psalm 22:16 says, ‘For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed [sic] me: they pierced my hands and my feet.’

Unfortunately, praying against homosexuality is a policy of the North American Network of MFM and it is documented here.

All human rights communities should be concerned about this church and its affiliates. These homophobic prayers should not be seen as innocuous intercessions and suppli- cations to God. The prayer programs are actually teachings that negatively and unfairly shape the minds and attitudes of the congregants. The hateful prayers are statements of opposition against homosexuality. Humanists, secularists, and religious individuals who support the rights of gay people should speak out against the activities of MFM. Perhaps a strong effort can be made to petition the leaders of the offending MFM branches to sanction the hateful prayers.

Just as the world came out and roundly condemned American evangelists who sponsored or supported the “Kill the Gays Bill” in Uganda, we should also condemn expressly African pastors and churches that are propagating hatred and persecution of gay people in the United States. Hate speech should not be considered a constitutional right when so many lives are at stake. Individuals and organizations must bring attention to the dangerous situation and publicly criticize African churches that are praying against homosexuality. There is a slight risk in such a protest. Criticism could be misconstrued as some type of racism. But condemning the activities of homophobic churches has nothing to do with racism. That would be a counter argument to avoid the real problem of hate speech. Protesting hate speech is a clear effort to protect the universal human rights of dignity, safety, equality and protection against fear of bodily harm.

The nontheist community can work and campaign for the respect and recognition of gay rights in the United States, Uganda, Nigeria, and in other parts of Africa. Together, we can object to African Pentecostal churches eroding the gains we have made in Europe and some of North America. We need to act now and complain about the dangerous church doctrine that equates homosexuals to dogs. Such an analogy and hatred has no place in contemporary America.

I urge readers of this article to form a protest committee and take action. Coordinate your efforts with other groups that are equally appalled by the situation. Form alliances to put an end to bigotry and hatred. It is our duty to demand social changes to better the world.

About the author:

Leo Igwe served as the Western and Southern Africa representative for the Humanist and Ethical Union. He bravely worked to end a variety of human rights violations, including anti-gay hate, sorcery, witchcraft, ritual killing, human sacrifice, caste discrimination, anti-blasphemy laws, and most importantly child and adult witch superstitions. Igwe is currently involved in a three-year research program on “Witchcraft Accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

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

Hey the chant was on a school trip, so obviously no biggy

Mar 11th, 2015 3:16 pm | By

The New Republic also has a piece on whether it’s constitutional for the University of Oklahoma to expel the two frat boys who led the racist chant on the bus. Of course it does; the New Republic is the National Review for people who think they’re on the left.

[A]s UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh noted shortly before Boren’s announcement, a public university student has a right to express himself without being expelledeven if that expression is a virulent, racist chant. “First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas,” Volokh wrote. “And universities may not discipline students based on their speech.”

Public universities, that is.

Yes, and note that that’s not what Volokh noted; he left out the “public” part.

In 1972, the Supreme Court made clear that “state colleges and universities are not enclaves immune from the sweep of the First Amendment,” and a year later the court reaffirmed that “the mere dissemination of ideasno matter how offensive to good tasteon a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of conventions of decency.” That case, Papish v. University of Missouri Curators, involved a set of facts relevant to the Oklahoma case: Expulsion of a graduate journalism student who was sanctioned for handing out a newspaper “containing indecent forms of speech.”

Yes but “indecent” isn’t the issue. The problem with racism and with racist bullying is not that it’s “indecent” but that it’s harmful. That doesn’t automatically mean the First Amendment doesn’t apply, obviously, but it clutters up the issue to imply it has to do with what’s “indecent” (or “offensive,” which is a completely useless word for trying to think clearly about this subject).

Noting that a public university can reasonably regulate “the time, place, and manner of speech and its dissemination,” the court ultimately ruled that a student cannot be “expelled because of the disapproved content of the newspaper,” and ordered the student reinstated.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule: when the offensive speech represents a “true threat” to the listener, or if the words had somehow been used to pick a fight or to incite others to violence. None of that seems to be the case here, as the chant appears to have been sung while on a school trip and not directed to a particular audience.

And therefore it was sealed off in an airtight bubble where it would have had no effect whatsoever on how the members of that fraternity interacted with non-white people at the university. And I’m Marie of Romania.

Why do people have to be so simple-minded about this stuff? Why do they have to pretend that if it’s not “I’m going to lynch you!!” screamed directly into the face of one person, it’s nothing at all?

The school, for its part, seems to have anchored the expulsion on the notion that the students created a “hostile educational environment” for everyone else with their “racist and exclusionary chant.” But where does such hostility and exclusion begin and end?

Gosh, I don’t know, therefore let’s throw up our hands and just let god take care of it.

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

The Constitution steps in

Mar 11th, 2015 2:38 pm | By

But it’s unconstitutional for the University of Oklahoma to expel students for saying racist things, some people in the Law Community are saying. Eugene Volokh says that.

1. First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations.

If that’s true, it seems problematic. Places where people have to work closely together need to be able to regulate the extremes of how those people treat each other. To put it crudely, bullying can make group life hell, so people in charge need to be able to regulate bullying.

UPDATE: The university president wrote that the students are being expelled for “your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” But there is no First Amendment exception for racist speech, or exclusionary speech, or — as the cases I mentioned above — for speech by university students that “has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

Then I guess I think there should be, for the reasons given.

2. Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — “You can hang him from a tree,” “the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,” “by any means necessary” with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.”

I’m not crazy about that “just because…” It’s easy to brush off threatening language that isn’t addressed to you or people like you. I don’t like that “just because” in reference to chants about lynching.

To be sure, in specific situations, such speech might fall within a First Amendment exception. One example is if it is likely to be perceived as a “true threat” of violence (e.g., saying “apostates from Islam will be killed” or “we’ll hang you from a tree” to a particular person who will likely perceive it as expressing the speaker’s intention to kill him); but that’s not the situation here, where the speech wouldn’t have been taken by any listener as a threat against him or her.

Oh is that so? How does Volokh know that? I don’t know that, so how does he? I’m very damn sick of people who are immune to that particular kind of threat dismissing and belittling it as no big deal.

Time has a piece on the question.

The University of Oklahoma’s decision Tuesday toexpel two students who played “a leadership role” in singing a racist chant that went viral after it was caught on video may assuage critics. But civil liberties experts say it could also be unconstitutional.

“The impulse to expel is understandable, but the decision is on constitutionally questionable ground,” said Ken Paulson, the President of the First Amendment Center and Dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. “A public university is subject to the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment and may not punish students because they hold offensive views.”

A public university, he stipulates – Volokh didn’t limit it that way, but said “universities may not discipline students based on their speech” without limiting it to public universities.

Private institutions like private colleges or the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity have wide leeway to discipline or expel students for racist speech if it violates their codes of conduct. But the University of Oklahoma is a public research university, and civil liberties groups say it should be treated as an arm of the government.

So apparently Volokh is reaching farther than those civil liberties groups.

The video and Oklahoma’s response are part and parcel of a tension between freedom of speech and hostile educational environments that has been mounting in higher education for several months. Last spring, students at Smith, Rutgers and Brandeis succeeded in driving away graduation speakers who had held views students found offensive.

Well, “hostile educational environments” and “found offensive” are not the same thing, although there’s overlap. I do think that chant went way beyond merely “offensive” and into the middle of hostile educational environment.

“Universities are one of the primary battlegrounds for learning about free speech and understanding how to combat bigotry,” Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma, said in a statement that neither condoned nor condemned the expulsion. “The best antidote to hateful speech is the exercise of peaceful speech in return.”

It might be true that it would be better not to expel the students but to give them some heavy duty peaceful speech in return, instead. But as a matter of principle I don’t think public universities should be banned from ever expelling students for speech. I can agree it should be rarely used, but not never. But I’m not a lawyer, so my view on the subject is just that.

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

It’s just a bit of fun

Mar 11th, 2015 2:04 pm | By

Mo is very amused by the “Islamophobe of the year” awards; Jesus not so much.


It isn’t funny because it’s true.

Note the headline on The Guardian, too.

Author’s Patreon is here.

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

Still a hack

Mar 11th, 2015 11:18 am | By

Christina Hoff Sommers is still making videos for the American Enterprise Institute sniping at people who argue that there is sexism in video games. She made a new one on Monday, with a partial transcript.

“Is Gaming A Boy’s Club?” is the name of a school lesson plan developed by the Anti-Defamation League—ADL for short. The ADL is a well-respected organization that has fought anti-Semitism and racism for decades. As a long-time admirer of the ADL, I am baffled by its sponsorship of such a biased and dogmatic curriculum. The lesson plan advertises itself as meeting standards for inclusion in the Common Core—an influential national curriculum. The entire lesson plan is dedicated to the proposition that video games are a hotbed of sexism and misogyny, and it gives students the message that anyone who dares to suggest that games should be more inclusive can expect to be terrorized by malevolent gamers.

And that message is completely wrong and contrary to the truth because – no actually Sommers doesn’t say why. She can’t very well, can she, because the message is not wrong and contrary to the truth. Women who talk about sexism in gaming are likely to be terrorized by malevolent gamers, unless they do that talking solely in private. Sommers must be relying on some mental reservation or quibble about wording to make her claim somehow true. Maybe because not all critics can expect to be “terrorized”? Maybe she carefully chose that word because not all gamers resort to threats? Maybe she knows perfectly well that anyone who dares to suggest that games should be more inclusive can expect to be verbally harassed and abused, and chose “terrorized” for better deniability? Me, I would say “terrorized” can include verbal harassment and abuse, but then I’m the kind of person Sommers sneers at, so there you go.

Lesson materials include a video and an article by feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian—both are harsh indictments of the world of gaming. That would be fine if she were not the only assigned author. In another part of the lesson plan, the teacher places seven posters around the room—each bearing a statement about video games. Students are then told to attach Post-Its to those they agree with. Three are neutral—for example: “I have played video games” and “I have watched other people play video games.” But four are affirmations about sexism: “I have witnessed sexism in video games,” “I believe video games can perpetuate sexism.” None says anything positive about games—such as, “Gaming is an exciting activity for both women and men,” or “Sexism in video games is exaggerated.”The curriculum also includes a small group discussion on sexism and video games and “additional resources” that focus on—guess what?– harassment, misogyny, and terror in the culture of video games. The curriculum is not only obsessively one-sided—much it is false, misleading, or exaggerated. Let’s start with the very first sentence. “Video games do not have a good track record when it comes to positively including girls and women.” But on page 3 of the curriculum students learn that women now constitute 48 percent of video game players—up from 40 percent in 2010.

Note the word now. Then note the preceding phrase track record. See what she did there? The curriculum starts with “Video games do not have a good track record” and Sommers contradicts with “It’s improved.” But the fact that it has improved (assuming that’s true) doesn’t contradict anything about its track record.

What I hate most about this crusade of Sommers’s is the way it says “No no no don’t look under the surface, don’t point out things that everybody ignores, don’t say this cultural habit doesn’t have to be like this – LEAVE THE STATUS QUO ALONE.”

It was depressing to see Steven Pinker RT the Sommers video.



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


Mar 11th, 2015 10:55 am | By

Laura Bates won a press award yesterday for Everyday Sexism.

The founder of the Everyday Sexism project has won the inaugural Georgina Henry Women in Journalism Award for Innovation at the Press awards for 2014.

Laura Bates was awarded the prize at the awards event at London’s Marriott Grosvenor Square hotel on Tuesday night.

The other nominees for the award were the GroundTruth Project’s Middle East correspondent Lauren Bohn, reporter and blogger Iram Ramzan, and freelance journalist and Daily Mirror columnist Ros Wynne-Jones.

Oh looky there, one of the other nominees is Iram Ramzan – who wrote that guest post I published here just three days ago. She was the runner-up. Congratulations, Iram!

Women in Journalism launched the annual prize in honour of Henry, the former deputy editor of the Guardian and one of the founders of the campaigning group. Henry’s partner Ronan Bennett and children Molly and Finn were in attendance at Tuesday’s ceremony.

The Times won newspaper of the year at the event, with the judges praising its “searing investigation” into the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

More “orientalist reveries” I suppose.

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

Into shivers of orientalist reverie

Mar 11th, 2015 10:20 am | By

Nesrine Malik offers up a classic piece of warmed-over Edward Said at Comment is Free.

What happened is, a Lebanese tv presenter who is a woman told off a sheikh guest who is a man, and a video of the moment has gone viral (at least according to Malik it has). Malik’s point is big woop, because what she calls “Arab television news” is always like that. (There is such a thing? There’s generic Arab television news, about which one can generalize? Sounds dubious.) It’s always quarrelsome and noisy.

Moreover, Arabic TV news is predominantly staffed by women. The presenter in question, Rima Karaki, follows a long tradition of formidable female anchors that began at al-Jazeera Arabic and MBC, and it is nothing unusual to be interviewed by a woman on most channels.

I suspect that London-based Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i’s sexism was ramped up in the reporting of the story, and I daresay he would have been as huffy and pompous if it had been a male presenter who had interrupted and cut him down to size. It didn’t hurt the mythologising of Karaki’s behaviour that she is attractive, and was wearing a headscarf.

But the headlines that followed in the western press are part of a now established genre that morphs the everyday behaviour of Arab and Muslim women as being something impressive and counterintuitive. The images of female Kurdish fighters in their fatigues sent the western media into shivers of orientalist reverie.

Oh please. The nature of IS is more than enough to explain interest in female Kurdish fighters without drivel about shivers of orientalist reverie.

It is however, consistent with a long heritage of the western gaze, spanning everything from misery-porn about Muslim women, to ostensibly serious journalism that shows life “behind the veil”. It is the creepiest of obsessions, hiding behind the pretence of concern, while actually being akin to the behaviour of a peeping tom, both in terms of the smug reaffirmation of the western consumer’s implied superior values, and as a general fixation on Arab women as exotic creatures whose value is derived solely from their imprisonment in a gilded cage. I don’t know how many photo essays from Iran and Saudi Arabia of women shaving their legs in sepia-toned images we need to see before we get it; Arab women are not frozen in 2D behind a burqa.

It could be argued that anything that humanises and shows Arab women not being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour-killed is a good thing. But when everything that is not that is treated as a novelty, one is effectively reinforcing the stereotypes by saying, “Look! Here is a woman NOT being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour killed. How about that?”

Yeah, that’s the thing to worry about, reporting on “Arab women” not being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour-killed. That’s much more urgent than worrying about actual women actually being beaten, enslaved, force married or honour-killed.

It is undeniable that there are many ways in which women all over the world are trapped in patriarchal societies. But the Arab woman as an emblem of only that is proving a difficult stereotype to shift. Not just because it is not accurate, but because it seems people do not want their world views challenged, only simply reinforced.

And her evidence for that is the virality of a video showing an “Arab woman” telling off a man. So her point is that there is no kind of reporting that could shift the stereotype. So I guess everybody should just ignore the whole subject, is that the solution?

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

Some people stoned her, some abused

Mar 10th, 2015 3:37 pm | By

A woman in Afghanistan did a performance art thing about street sexual assault, and she got such a generous reception that she’s gone into hiding.

Kubra Khademi had hired a local blacksmith to forge a suit of armor with accentuated breasts and buttocks. She planned to wear it publicly to protest the way that women’s bodies are lecherously groped and abused in public spaces — something that first happened to her when she was only four years old.

“Somebody touched me and then he just walked away. I was just a female for him. He didn’t care how old I was,” the 25-year-old artist shared in an interview. “I was feeling guilty. Why did it happen to me? It was my fault. And I said: ‘I wish my underwear were made of iron.’”

She told the AP that she was publicly sexually assaulted several times after that, most recently in 2008, just before she took her entrance exams to study art at Kabul University. That time, she screamed. “All the people stared at me and even started yelling at me: ‘You whore! How dare you scream! Did you enjoy it?’” she remembered.

She’s a whore for objecting to sexual assault. What? Is it whorish of her to think her body belongs to her and not to the general public?

Kubra Khademi (Image via Twitter)

Via Twitter

Khademi’s activism culminated on the afternoon of February 26, when she emerged from her home wearing the metal suit, concealed by a coat. She removed the covering at the base of the Kata stone bridge and began to walk. Bystander Mina Rezaei described the eight-minute performance and the angry reactions it quickly provoked on her Facebook:

Crowds were wide-eyed and everyone was running to see the armored woman. Some complained about her clothes, some misused the situation and started touching girls’ bodies in the crowd, some people stoned her, some abused. It was so unbearable and scary. People were following both herself and her entourages while stoning all of them. During those eight minutes, the armored woman was scared and walked so fast. At the end she sat in a car, but people still stoned and kicked the car as a sign of goodbye to her.

Stoning. Well, that’s forthright, at least.

Some people even accused Khademi of being an American spy. She has since received so many angry emails and death threats that she’s purportedly left her home. According to her Facebook, she currently resides in Seoul, South Korea, though it’s unclear if that’s where she’s currently located.

Khademi’s brave performance follows that of many other artists  — from Pussy Riot to Tania Bruguera — who have forsaken the safe haven of the gallery to take their social activism into the streets, where it is most trenchant.

And then are made to pay for it.

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

Sigma Alpha Epsilon has a track record

Mar 10th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

It’s not the kind of track record you want.

The fraternity now boasts more than 200,000 living alumni, along with about 15,000 undergraduates populating 219 chapters and 20 “colonies” seeking full membership at universities.

SAE has had to work hard to change recently after a string of member deaths, many blamed on the hazing of new recruits, SAE national President Bradley Cohen wrote in a message on the fraternity’s website.

The fraternity’s website lists more than 130 chapters cited or suspended for “health and safety incidents” since 2010. At least 30 of the incidents involved hazing, and dozens more involved alcohol.

130 out of 219. Wow.

However, the list is missing numerous incidents from recent months. Among them, according to various media outlets: Yale University banned the SAEs from campus activities last month after members allegedly tried tointerfere with a sexual misconduct investigation connected to an initiation rite.

Stanford University in December suspended SAE housing privileges after finding sorority members attending a fraternity function were subjected to graphic sexual content. And Johns Hopkins University in November suspended the fraternity for underage drinking.

“The media has labeled us as the ‘nation’s deadliest fraternity,’ ” Cohen said. In 2011, for example, a student died while being coerced into excessive alcohol consumption, according to a lawsuit.

Its insurer dumped it, so now it pays Lloyd’s of London the highest insurance rates possible.

Universities have turned down SAE’s attempts to open new chapters, and the fraternity had to close 12 in 18 months over hazing incidents.

But isn’t that what higher education is for?

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

Each Sunday morning he yells and pouts

Mar 10th, 2015 11:58 am | By

From Slate’s advice column by Emily Yoffe

Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats.

Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn’t believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons’ spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?

—Mad as Hell Mom

No, you don’t force him to go. I wouldn’t call that giving up, I’d call it not forcing him to do something that shouldn’t be mandatory for anyone.

I too hated church as a kid. We didn’t go all that often, but when we did, I hated it. I hated Sunday school even more; I think I went only about twice.

We stopped going before I was old enough to refuse as opposed to complaining – long before I was twelve. Thank fuck for that. But I remain convinced that it’s not something parents should force on children, especially if they hate it. Of course many religious parents aren’t going to agree with me, but that’s what I think.

So I don’t like Yoffe’s reply.

You and your older son find spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the church, but your younger son finds the whole thing intolerable. You’ve been fighting this losing battle for two years, and if you keep going, your son will flee all observance as soon as he is able. I think you need to walk a more tolerant path. Tell your little atheist that you’ve been thinking about what he’s been saying about church, you’re tired of dragging him to Sunday school, and you’re reconsidering your stand. But before you do, you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn’t mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction.

Jeezis. Punish him with homework, make his freedom from church conditional on doing the homework, and punish him in general for not going, just to make sure.

Godbotherers can be such bullies.

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

Guest post: On celiac disease, fat deposition, and nonsense on PBS

Mar 10th, 2015 11:01 am | By

Originally a comment by quixote on What next, How to Homeopathy?

@m-la, your two links relate to borderline celiac conditions. (I’m a biology prof with quite a bit of knowledge of both nutrition and human physiology, so forgive me for going all “Imma gonna lecture” on you.)

The links have no relation to the claim that GMO foods will somehow alter fat deposition. GMO foods, as far as I’m concerned, have plenty of other problems. (Bad agricultural practices, lower nutritional quality, potential introduction of allergens, lack of long term, independent research demonstrating safety, the list goes on for a while. I did a post on it a while back.)

None of the objections, though, have any relation to fat deposition. Or, for that matter, to causing celiac disease. Aggravating it is a different topic entirely.

For research on what can be a contributing cause to celiac disease, recent research implicates emulsifiers added to hundreds of commercial food products. That makes rather obvious biological sense. Emulsifiers emulsify fats. Cell membranes are fats. Emulsifiers can cause enough damage to the cells lining the intestines of some people to cause a problem.

Fat deposition can be altered by endocrine disruptors. These are any pollutants or additives that interfere with hormones, things like BPA, plenty of pesticides and herbicides, and so on. A recent general article is here with links to the research publications in that article. Endocrine disruptors are not the same as GMO food.

tl:dr It is nonsense to say that eating wheat is going to give you belly fat, except insofar as extra calories of any kind can have that effect. It’s also nonsense to say that GMO wheat will somehow have more of that effect than any other kind of wheat. And it’s nonsense to say that wheat or GMO wheat causes celiac disease. It may be poorly tolerated if you already have celiac disease. PBS should not be promoting nonsense. Very disappointing.

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

Not new, not unique

Mar 10th, 2015 10:30 am | By

Two University of Oklahoma students who led the racist chant have been expelled.

Two University of Oklahoma students were expelled Tuesday for their alleged “leadership role” in a racist chant by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members, a decision that President David Boren says speaks to his school’s “zero tolerance” policy for such “threatening racist behavior.”

The expulsions come days after the video surfaced and hours before the midnight Tuesday deadline that SAE members were given to pack their bags and get out of their house.

It was only a nine-second clip, but the fallout has been disastrous.

The national chapter of SAE shuttered the house at OU, and Boren said the university’s affiliation with the fraternity is permanently done.

“I was not only shocked and disappointed but disgusted by the outright display of racism displayed in the video,”said Brad Cohen, the fraternity’s national president. “SAE is a diverse organization, and we have zero tolerance for racism or any bad behavior.”

Is that right? A fraternity? A fraternity with zero tolerance for any bad behavior? I’m sorry, I don’t believe that for a second.

Boren said he’s done with SAE at Oklahoma.

“The house will be closed, and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be back,” he said at a Monday news conference. The university also is exploring what actions it can take against individual fraternity members.

“There seems to be a culture in some of these fraternities, and it just has to be snuffed out,” Boren told CNN.

I continue to wonder if sexism and misogyny are as sharply rebuked as racism.

The decision to shutter the fraternity was an easy one for Boren.

“If we’re ever going to snuff this out in the whole country, let alone on college campuses, we’re going to have to have zero tolerance and we have to act right away,” the former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator said.

“This is not a place that wants racists or bigots on our campus or will tolerate it, so I think you have to send a very strong signal.”

That’s good. I hope the same applies to sexism.

Unheard co-director Chelsea Davis said a racist mentality is not new to campus and is not confined to one fraternity.

“Unfortunately, it took them getting caught on video camera for this to happen, but this is definitely not something that is brand-new. It’s not something that’s only seen within this one organization,” she said.

It would be nice if adolescents could find other, better ways to rebel.

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