Notes and Comment Blog

As if it were obvious that women’s rights had to be sacrificed

Jan 12th, 2014 10:21 am | By

More from Ann Elizabeth Mayer’s long article A “Benign” Apartheid: How Gender Apartheid Has Been Rationalized.

Taking advantage of the failure of CEDAW expressly to rule out any culture-based justifications for gender discrimination and playing to cultural relativist sympathies, states have frequently resorted to culture to defend discriminatory laws and policies. For example, many Muslim countries have entered reservations when ratifying CEDAW, saying that they must qualify their obligations in order to uphold Islamic law and speaking as if it were obvious that women’s rights had to be sacrificed where conflicting religious precepts were at stake.87 Appeals to Islam may be used in combination with appeals to the complementarity thesis, with claims being made that countries are obliged to treat women in ways that
recognize women’s different nature and the different roles that women should play, ideas that are often linked to religious teachings that are imbued with patriarchal ideas. For example, Morocco included language in its reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW giving men and women equality in the family, saying: “Equality of this kind is considered incompatible with the Islamic Shariah, which guarantees to each of the spouses right and responsibilities within a framework of equilibrium and complementarity in order to preserve the sacred bond of matrimony;” and Egypt in reserving to the same article said it was doing so in the interests of upholding Islamic law in which “women are accorded rights equivalent to those of their spouses so as to ensure a just balance between them.”88

87 See Rebecca Cook, Reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 30 VA. J. INT’L L. 643, 687-91, 694-95, 701-06 (1990); Belinda Clark, The Vienna Convention Reservations Regime and the Convention on Discrimination Against Women, 85 AM. J. INT’L L. 285, 291, 299-300, 310-12, 371 (1991); Jane Connors, The Women’s Convention in the Muslim World, in FEMINISM AND ISLAM: LEGAL AND LITERARY PERSPECTIVES 351-71 (Mai Yamani ed., 1996).

88 For a discussion of the Moroccan and Egyptian reservations, see Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Rhetorical Strategies and Official Policies on Women’s Rights: The Merits and Drawbacks of the New World Hypocrisy, in FAITH AND FREEDOM: WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE MUSLIM WORLD, 106-13 (Mahnaz Afkhami ed., 1995).

Which is exactly like the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which adds a reservation to nearly every right of the form “as long as it complies with Sharia” – which of course makes many of the rights completely empty and worthless.

Although reservations by which Middle Eastern countries have sought to excuse themselves from compliance with various CEDAW provisions have been vigorously criticized by advocates of women’s rights and have also provoked objections from some other states parties, the international community has taken no effective steps to curb such reservations. One reason is that attempts to deter the practice of reservations in conflict with the object and purpose of CEDAW have met with resistance in the form of
accusations that these were tantamount to Western attacks on Islam and/or the Third World.89 An attempt made in 1987 by the CEDAW Committee to examine the basis for reservations that used Islam as the grounds for non-compliance in a study “on the status of women under Islamic laws and customs and in particular on the status and equality of women in the family” resulted in a strong diplomatic backlash.90 Muslim countries quickly rallied to stop this project, intimating that the CEDAW Committee was engaged in cultural imperialism and attacking Islam.91

Does that sound familiar? Jaw-clenchingly familiar? Yes it does. It’s what Maryam gets told all the time. It’s what got Taslima’s tv serial shut down when mullahs said it might hurt someone’s sentiments, even though the serial is not about religion. It’s what makes ostensible feminists and progressives passionately defend the hijab from criticism, always including that stupid cartoon -

Embedded image permalink

 - as if criticism of the hijab were exactly the same as snatching one off someone’s head.

The study was abandoned in the face of concerted pressures from Muslim countries, proving that it was not hard to mobilize effective opposition to CEDAW by using claims grounded in Islamic culture and religion. After this episode, one appreciates that the fear of inflaming Muslim opinion may inhibit initiatives to curb the practice of CEDAW reservations that are made under an Islamic rubric. Reviewing this situation, one scholar has noted that CEDAW effectively seems to have a lesser status than other human rights conventions, being treated more as a statement of intent than as a set of internationally binding obligations, and that the culturally-sensitive nature of the content is a factor influencing countries to see CEDAW more as rhetoric than as international law.92

92 See Clark, supra note 87, at 285-86.

It’s a very bad arrangement.


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

Postcards from Mars

Jan 12th, 2014 8:58 am | By

Smithsonian Magazine offers snapshots taken by Spirit and Opportunity over the past ten years.

Another bow to the engineers. They figured the two Rovers would last three months. Spirit lasted six years and Opportunity is still working, a decade in.

Check out the rounded rocks. A long-gone river?

A closeup of tiny spherical rocks clustered in a square inch of the Martian surface, captured by Opportunity. Full size version. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS/Cathy Weitz)


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

You have got to be kidding

Jan 12th, 2014 8:22 am | By

Seen on Twitter:


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

Guest post by Simon Davis: Why the Ryan J. Bell narrative is flawed

Jan 11th, 2014 8:16 pm | By

The facts

The story of Ryan J. Bell has created quite a bit of buzz these past few days. For those that aren’t familiar, on December 31, Bell -the former senior pastor at the Hollywood Seventh-Day Adventist Church- announced he would be “trying on” atheism for a year. As he said in a blog post announcing this:

So, I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will “try on” atheism for a year. For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.

Per Dan Burke at the CNN Religion Blog:

The seeds of Bell’s journey were planted last March, when he was asked to resign as pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Hollywood.

He had advocated for the church to allow gay and lesbian leaders, campaigned against California’s same-sex marriage ban and disputed deeply held church doctrines about the End Times.

Eventually, his theological and political liberalism became more than leaders in the denomination could bear, and he lost his career of 19 years. His faith was shaken, and for a while Bell became a “religious nomad.”

By January 3, Bell had been let go from his adjunct teaching positions at Christian at Azusa Pacific University (APU) and Fuller Theological Seminary as well as his consulting agreement with the Glendale City Seventh-day Adventist Church, leaving him with no sources of income.

On January 6, Hemant Mehta of the “Friendly Atheist” blog started an online fundraiser for Bell which has to date raised over $26,000 from an initial goal of $5,000. Mehta had originally been critical of Bell’s year long experiment.

The Narrative

On the blog post announcing the fundraiser, Mehta wrote:

I think it’s important to show that, unlike the Christian organizations, we support someone who’s willing to put his own beliefs under the microscope. Furthermore, we’ll support his experiment even if he doesn’t end up becoming an atheist.

What a disappointing response from the Christian schools and church.

Not unexpected, just disappointing.

One thing’s for sure: Bell just got a dose of reality from his experiment. A lot of atheists remain in the closet precisely because they’re afraid of the ramifications of coming out. They’re afraid of losing their families, friends, or jobs. Bell lost some of those, just for saying he was exploring life without God.

Speaking to Burke, Mehta elaborated:

“He learned what it’s like to be an atheist real fast,” said Hemant Mehta, a prominent atheist blogger and schoolteacher in Illinois.

Mehta said he knows many atheists who fear that “coming out of the closet” will jeopardize their jobs and relationships, just as in Bell’s experience.

“I think more than anything else, people appreciate that this guy is giving atheism a shot,” Mehta said. “I mean, he lost three jobs in the span of a week just for saying he was exploring it.”

Why I think this narrative is flawed

Let me start by saying I think Bell’s story has a lot going for it on the “Atheism vs Christianity” front. For one thing, he’s a charismatic former evangelical pastor who has decided to oppose church positions on key progressive issues. For another, he’s willing to potentially leave behind entirely the religious beliefs and practices he’s espoused for most of his adult life. All this in full public view. In addition, it’s hard not to sympathize with the plight of a father with two children who’s life is rapidly changing and has just lost his livelihood-all for seemingly just dabbling in atheism, much less being a outspoken anti-theist.

However, there are two aspects of Mehta’s narrative where I believe he is missing the mark:1) That Bell’s experience of losing his employment has somehow taught him “what it’s like to be an atheist” and 2) That the response from the schools and church that he was working for was somehow unwarranted.

It is true that many atheists keep their convictions to themselves to protect themselves from employment discrimination or harassment, or even just to avoid rocking the boat with their religious co-workers. It is also true that there are employers who would take punitive action against an employee due to a difference in religious convictions or indeed a lack of same. The reason that such retaliation is so insidious however, is that the difference in religious convictions is unrelated to the task at hand. For the vast majority of jobs in secular workplaces, a worker’s atheism is no more a help nor a hindrance then her colleague’s belief in Christianity, Islam, or any other religion.

Some atheists might nonetheless argue that Bell’s non-committal decision to simply give atheism a try ought to be a mitigating factor. To those people, I would request that they ask themselves how they would react if the situation were reversed (while recognizing that such comparisons are rarely precisely equivalent). Would they support with equal enthusiasm an atheist organization that continues to pay for the services of one of their public representatives while that representative goes on their year-long journey of spiritual discovery to blog on a website called for instance “”? And most importantly, would the cancellation of said employee’s contract be an example of the “jeopardy” Christians face when coming out in the workplace? I would imagine that such an argument would be met with very little sympathy if not outright laughter among even the most tolerant of atheists.

But let’s come even closer to people with Bell’s circumstances and examine members of the clergy who have become atheists with the passage of time and who face many challenges as a result. The Clergy Project is an especially valuable initiative for them. My understanding of what these clergy members typically seek for their next career stop is to transition away from being paid to serve their faith communities. I would be very surprised if many of these clergy members have the reasonable expectation of remaining employed as religious leaders or as seminary teachers after coming out as atheists.

Atheists are right to be outraged when their atheism precludes them from performing secular functions. But how many atheists feel that their opportunities in life are somehow limited by being shut out of teaching positions at Christian seminaries?

This brings me to my second objection. The flip side of atheists not having the reasonable expectation that they ought to have equal opportunities to teach at Bell’s former employers APU and Fuller is that these employers are under no obligation – legal or moral – to entertain Bell’s recent experimentation with atheism. The fact that he’s simply giving it a shot doesn’t change the fact that he is publicly stating his intention to not follow the tenets that they require him to uphold. Regardless of his admirable sincerity and pleasant demeanor, make no mistake that Bell is creating a confrontation, albeit under the guise of “just asking questions”. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I would imagine that the fact that this confrontation comes just a few months after another public falling out with the same church’s leadership also played a role in their decision.


Sympathizing with Bell as a person is quite understandable. He’s in a tough spot for all the reasons outlined above, and these no doubt hit home with many atheists. However, animus against his employers by atheists seems misplaced.

The challenges Bell is facing only bear a superficial similarity to those that atheists face in secular workplaces dominated by Christians in the US. If we are trying to tell powerful stories that exemplify these challenges, my recommendation is that we look elsewhere.

Simon Davis is online marketing director at a health care publications company. His writing has appeared in Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer magazines. You can follow him on twitter at @SimonKnowz

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

Pack extra rainbow flags

Jan 11th, 2014 5:08 pm | By

The Ottawa Citizen did its “ask the religion experts” question on the winter Olympics and Russia a couple of days ago. Kevin Smith of CFI Canada spoke for the nones.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is participating in the same race as many third-world countries, where attacking homosexuality is all the rage; people motivated by goodwill for themselves rather than towards others.

American Christian evangelicals, their influence waning at home, have invaded god-fearing Uganda to spread the morals of their homophobic creator, one whose every command must be obeyed if they are to have eternal life. They have been victorious, although the punishment for being gay is merely life in prison and not, as some had prayed for, the death penalty.

Similarly, Putin, whose policies are failing at home, attempts to solidify his base by taking a page from the fundamentalists, cosying up to the corrupt Orthodox Church and finding a minority scapegoat. Instability requires provocation.

Some people have called for a boycott. However, the 1980 boycott did not shame the Russians from leaving Afghanistan, and it’s doubtful a boycott of the 1936 games would have stopped Hitler from slaughtering Jews and other minorities, including homosexuals.

For two weeks, these Olympics will provide an opportunity for a rainbow coalition of people to take a stance against Putin’s abuse of LGBTQ rights. The world will be watching.

Exactly. I’m hoping it’s the gayest rainbowest Olympics ever.

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

Denial is honor

Jan 11th, 2014 4:48 pm | By

Glendale California has a statue to “comfort women” which was unveiled on July 30 last year.

Photo by Melissa Wall

Three far-right Japanese politicians want Glendale to remove the statue.

Three members of Japan’s House of Representatives called on Glendale to remove an 1,100-pound statue honoring an estimated 80,000 to 200,000 “comfort women” from Korea, China and other countries who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese army during World War II.

The trio, Mio Sugita of the Hyogo Prefecture, Yuzuru Nishida of Chiba, and Hiromu Nakamaru of Hiroshima, are members of the Japan Restoration Party, a 1-year-old conservative political party that prefers a smaller central government, tax cuts and a hard-line approach to national security.

And no statues memorializing something bad that the Japanese army did in the past.

“The news that the statue was installed made a big noise in Japan,” Nishida said, as it describes the women as sex slaves. “That hurts Japan’s honor.”

Glendale erected the roughly $30,000 statue, which was paid for by Korean groups, in July, and a wave of controversy followed. City officials received thousands of letters from Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans opposing the statue.

Many former comfort women have publicly shared disturbing stories of their servitude and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs says on its website that some women based in war-area brothels were “deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery.”

But saying that hurts Japan’s honor. Everybody is supposed to shut up about it because Japan’s honor.

But statue opponents, including the three Japanese politicians, say the women acted willingly and claim the estimated number of comfort women is greatly inflated.

In addition to calling for the Glendale statue’s removal, the Japanese politicians also said they wanted the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to revise its account of the comfort women system and for their colleagues in Parliament to retract an apology to comfort women made by Japanese officials in the 1990s.

Because honor. Obviously it’s much more honorable to deny and conceal bad things one’s country did 70 years ago than it is to cop to what one’s country did and apologize for it. Obviously. Honor is lying about past misdeeds, while dishonor is acknowledging them and apologizing.

In mirror-world.

In the real world it’s the other way around.

H/t Peter Breitner



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

Regardless of motive

Jan 11th, 2014 3:27 pm | By

Ann Elizabeth Mayer points out something very significant in her article A “Benign” Apartheid” How Gender Apartheid Has Been Rationalized [pdf].

As the foregoing comparisons between the international human rights documents on racial and gender discrimination have illustrated, the former is far more harshly condemned than the latter. Among other things, there is nothing in CEDAW expressly admonishing that gender discrimination is impossible to justify regardless of motive.

No, I’m sure. That’s because so many people think it is possible to justify. But wouldn’t it be nice if that could change? If we could finally drop all the bullshit about women being “complementary” and having their own “role” and about “family values”?

Although the parallels between racial and gender apartheid are significant, the international community has impliedly accepted various rationalizations for what amounts to gender apartheid–rationalizations like the need to respect natural differences and religious and cultural traditions–that would not be given serious consideration if racial apartheid were at issue.

That state of affairs itself seems almost “natural”…but not all that long ago people did accept various rationalizations for racial apartheid, along with accepting apartheid itself – by which I don’t mean just the South African variety, but also all the de facto segregation in places other than South Africa.

That the Apartheid Convention warns us in Article III that racial apartheid can never be justified and is criminal regardless of motive has already been mentioned. Since critical outsiders felt confident that the power relations inherent in South African-style apartheid were unjust and deserving of the strongest condemnation, any defense of the associated culture/religion became likewise untenable. As discussed by Courtney W. Howland, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision against South Africa in the 1970 Namibia case showed no interest whatsoever in exploring the reasons for South Africa’s apartheid
policies; any such rationales were dismissed out of hand.80 As Howland reminds us, according to Afrikaaners’ religious beliefs there was a divine plan for the roles of Whites and Blacks that mandated Afrikaaners’ supremacy and their domination over Blacks.81 However, the ICJ ruled that the motives for apartheid were irrelevant, and it also deemed that evidence purporting to show the benefits of South African racial policies was immaterial.82

80 Howland, The Challenge of Religious Fundamentalism, at 347-48. 81 id.
81 Id.
82 Id.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Afrikaaners’ religious beliefs were just dismissed as irrelevant when it came to apartheid. It can be done, so let’s everybody start doing it with gender apartheid too.

That is, attempts to justify racial apartheid by appeals to the motives behind it or its supposed beneficial impact were laughed out of court. Howland concludes that, by now, “[tlhere is no chance that the international community would accept that religious belief justifies systematic racial discrimination.”83 This conclusion seems incontestable. One need only imagine the reaction that would occur if someone tried to attack Nelson Mandela as an enemy of culture and religion on the grounds that his campaign against racial apartheid had been destructive of Afrikaaner traditions and disrespectful of Afrikaaners’ Christian faith in order to appreciate that the principle of racial equality easily trumps conflicting claims based on religion and culture.

In contrast, as will be discussed, room has been left for religion and culture to be successfully invoked to rationalize gender apartheid. A rare instance where the use of culture to justify treatment of women in violation of international human rights law is expressly prohibited is in the 1994 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Article 4 of the Declaration asserts:

States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. 84

One can surmise why UN delegates agreed that women’s rights could not be curbed by custom, tradition, or religion in circumstances where violence was being used against women.

83 Id. at 349. 1

84 G.A. Res. 48/104, supra note 24, Art. 4.

Because they didn’t want to say “our religion says we can use violence against women.” It would be awkward. But short of violence…it’s a different story.

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

A Saturday treat

Jan 11th, 2014 2:45 pm | By

I missed this when it first aired, but saw it when it was recycled the other day. I think I’ll watch it again online…maybe a few times.

It’s Nova on engineering Curiosity Rover.

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

How many stories weren’t written?

Jan 10th, 2014 5:53 pm | By

Jill Filipovic on harassment of women online. (Hey have you ever noticed that this seems to happen to quite a lot of women? That’s interesting, isn’t it.)

We want to believe that the Internet is different from “real life,” that “virtual reality” is a separate sphere from reality-reality. But increasingly, virtual space is just as “real” as life off of the computer. We talk to our closest friends all day long on G-Chat. We engage with political allies and enemies on Twitter and in blog comment sections. We email our moms and our boyfriends. We like photos of our cousin’s cute baby on Facebook. And if we’re writers, we research, publish and promote our work online. My office is a corner of my apartment, and my laptop is my portal into my professional world. There’s nothing “virtual” about it.

Or separate. It’s really not separate.

Imagine going to work and every few days having people in the hallway walk up to you and say things like, “Die, you dumb cunt” and “you deserve to be raped” and, if you’re a woman of color, adding in the n-word and other racial slurs for good measure. Consider how that would impact your performance and your sense of safety. But you still love your job and your co-workers. That’s how the Internet feels for many of us.

Except for the part about every few days. It’s all day every day. Not walking up to you, to be sure, because blocking, but it’s there.

I know these harassment stories are ubiquitous to the point of being boring. “Women get rape threats” is not news. Amanda Hess helpfully details the actual costs of these threats: The hours of work lost to tracking someone down online, to reporting someone to the police, to developing self-protection mechanisms when the police fail, to, in extreme cases, hiring professional enforcement for speaking gigs. For me, the costs included a law school education, professional contacts, and a robust work life.

But what about the things you can’t put a price on? How many stories weren’t written because the women who could best tell them were too afraid? How many people like me, damaged and lashing out, paid their online cruelties forward? How many women look back at the person they were before their skin thickened, before they learned how to deal, when they were a little more sure-footed, and how many of them grieve a little bit for all the good things that got lost in the process of surviving?

What does an online landscape look like when the women most able to tolerate it are the same ones who are best capable of bucking up and shutting parts of themselves down?

Like this one. It could look a lot better than it does.




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

Women are relegated

Jan 10th, 2014 4:52 pm | By

Sheema Khan is not keen on the idea of “accommodating” requests for exemption from class participation with the Wrong Gender.

In Muslim communities, gender segregation has led to the marginalization of women, as they are shut out of debate, discussion and decision-making. Under the pretext of “religious purity”, women are discouraged from full participation in community development. At some events sponsored by Muslim campus groups, women are relegated to the back of the hall. At such events, men may freely ask questions; women are encouraged to write their questions on paper, so their voices won’t be heard. Some groups even forbid women speakers, or offer the excuse that there are no qualified females to address the audience. As in the UK, there should be greater scrutiny and debate of accommodations made to groups where gender equality is compromised.

Professor Grayson should be commended for taking a principled stand. Allowing such an exemption will open the door to further requests that are contrary to the advances made in gender equality. Just ask Muslim women. We don’t want to go backwards.

But of course the whole idea behind this “accommodation” is that you don’t ask the women, because it’s a man who requested it. You don’t ask the women and you don’t inform them; you just secretly “accommodate” the man’s request.

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

No parades for you

Jan 10th, 2014 3:12 pm | By

Yes I’m all over Russia like a bad rash today. This business of calling for people to be burned alive gets on my nerves.

Human Rights Watch reported on the ECHR’s ruling in October 2010.

In a stinging ruling issued against Russia, the European Court of Human Rights rebuked the Moscow authorities for repeatedly denying activists the right to hold gay pride marches, Human Rights Watch said today. The court, ruling on October 21, 2010, said the ban violated the right to freedom of assembly. It also ruled that the Moscow authorities had unlawfully discriminated against activist Nikolay Aleksandrovich Alekseyev and the organizers of gay pride events on the basis of sexual orientation, and had denied them a remedy having violated their rights.

And yet, oh look, more than three years later they’re behaving worse instead of better.

Alexeyev, a Russian LGBT activist, had requested permission, as required by law, from the-then Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov to hold a peaceful demonstration to draw attention to discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia, to promote respect for human rights and freedoms, and to call for tolerance on the part of the Russian authorities and the public at large towards gays and lesbians. He requested permission to demonstrate three years in a row, in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Each time the Moscow authorities denied permission on the grounds of public order, prevention of riots, protection of health and morals, and rights and freedoms of others.

Luzhkov repeatedly stated that he would not allow gay activists to hold public events in the streets of Moscow “as long as he was the city mayor.” He claimed that authorizing gay parades would breach the rights of those people whose religious and moral beliefs included a negative attitude towards homosexuality.

Ah yes that one again. It’s what the US Catholic bishops claim about employers having to provide health insurance that includes (gasp) contraception. It’s what B&B owners claim when they want to refuse to rent rooms to gay couples. It’s what theocratic bigots do these days: they wrap their bigotry in the kryptonite of “religious beliefs” in order to violate other people’s rights.

The court reiterated that it would be incompatible with the underlying values of the European Convention if the exercise of rights like the freedom of assembly by a minority group were made conditional on its being accepted by the majority: “Were this so, a minority group’s rights to freedom of religion, expression and assembly would become merely theoretical rather than practical and effective as required by the Convention.”

Rather than banning demonstrations on the basis of their potential to threaten public order and cause riots, the authorities should be fulfilling their duty to ensure that police protect peaceful demonstrators when they are exercising their freedom of assembly, Human Rights Watch said.

The court reminded the Russian government that demonstrators “must be able to hold the demonstration without having to fear that they will be subjected to physical violence by their opponents. It is thus the duty of …[s]tates to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enable lawful demonstrations to proceed peacefully.”

See how that works? Not “you can’t have a march because if you did thugs would beat you up” but “it is our job to make sure thugs don’t beat you up.” The latter is civil society; the former is a failed state.

HRW has been there.

On May 27, 2007 Human Rights Watch was present in Moscow, when Alekseyev and a small group of LGBT activists and their supporters tried to stage a peaceful public demonstration to claim their rights. Anti-gay nationalist groups assaulted them, beating some severely, pelting others with rocks and eggs. Police sided with the violent rather than the victims, failing to protect the peaceful demonstrators. Human Rights Watch documented this in “‘We have the Upper Hand’: Freedom of assembly in Russia and the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” a 20 page report, co-authored by ILGA Europe.

It appears that this battle may take some time.

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

Ivan Okhlobystin please note

Jan 10th, 2014 2:47 pm | By

From the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on October 21, 2010, in the case of Alekseyev v Russia – a useful note.

63.  Referring to the hallmarks of a ‘democratic society’, the Court has attached particular importance to pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness. In that context, it has held that although individual interests must on occasion be subordinated to those of a group, democracy does not simply mean that the views of the majority must always prevail: a balance must be achieved which ensures the fair and proper treatment of minorities and avoids any abuse of a dominant position (see Young, James and Webster v. the United Kingdom, 13 August 1981, Series A no. 44, § 63, and Chassagnou and Others v. France [GC], nos. 25088/95 and 28443/95, § 112, ECHR 1999-III).

The ECHR ruled against Russia in that case. Russia, of course, simply paid the fine and carried on regardless.

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

Russian church demands vote on banning all the gays

Jan 10th, 2014 10:50 am | By

You think that’s a joke? Satire? Hyperbole?

It’s not.

Gay Star News quotes AFP:

 ‘There is no question that society should discuss this issue since we live in a democracy,” [Church spokesman] Chaplin told pro-government Izvestia daily.

‘For this reason, it is precisely the majority of our people and not some outside powers that should decide what should be a criminal offence and what should not.’ he said.

Chaplin said he was ‘convinced’ homosexuality should be ‘completely excluded from the life of our society’.

Christopher Stroop has more at Religion Dispatches:

There are few bright spots in LGBT issues in Russia today. A recent media hubbub over the (as yet remote) possibility of recriminalizing “sodomy” may in fact be an indicator that things are getting even worse. The most recent buzz began when entertainer and anti-gay provocateur Ivan Okhlobystin published an open letter to Putin calling for the question of sodomy laws to be put to referendum.

That’s the guy Masha Gessen fired as a columnist, but without telling him that it was because “certain opinions simply will not be accepted”…like ones calling for people like her to be burned alive. He’s one of the reasons she and her partner and adopted child fled Russia for the US.

Back to Religion Dispatches:

As Global Voices Online’s Kevin Rothrock has pointed out, many in the liberal Russian blogosphere had until recently tended to regard Okhlobystin as only a charlatan and provocateur making outlandish statements as a form of performance art. His recent actions, however, are causing some of them to change their views and to see the man as a genuine fascist. It says something about the state of the ROC that leading hierarchs are willing to associate themselves with the likes of Okhlobystin and other radical conservatives.

Chaplin, who, as Chairman of the Synodal Committee on Church-Society Relations functions in many respects as the public face of official Orthodoxy, exhibits a pattern of such behavior. He has praised the radical Orthodox activist known as Dmitry Enteo, for example, and even joined with Enteo in a prayer service for the passage of laws against abortion, ‘propaganda of homosexuality,’ and blasphemy.

Chaplin’s is a prominent voice among Orthodox Russians, and the message he consistently sends is that the absolute worst, most violent and oppressive elements and tendencies within Russian Orthodoxy, even when their demands go beyond what the (hardly liberal) Russian state will countenance, have the moral high ground.

It’s frightening.

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

Guest post on Walt Disney and anti-Semitism

Jan 10th, 2014 10:24 am | By

Originally a comment by flippyshark on Meryl Streep the rabid, man eating feminist.

He formed and supported an Anti-Semitic industry lobby

There is no turning Walt Disney into a liberal hero. But as far as I can tell, this claim is just plain not factual. After the animator’s strike in the 1940s, Walt Disney was most certainly anti-union, and happy to help the McCarthy witch hunt. But I cannot find any credible evidence that he harbored any specific animus against Jews. The worst I can find are some anecdotal accounts of him using insensitive phrases in casual conversation (“Have the accountants Jew up the numbers”) – and animator Art Babbit (who was Jewish and active in the unionizing of the animation studio) alleged that Walt and Roy Disney attended meetings of the German-American Bundt (for business reasons) in the years before WWII. (Can’t be confirmed) During the war, the Disney Studio produced plenty of anti-Nazi wartime propaganda, and there is no evidence that Walt had any pro-Nazi sentiments at that or any time. Indeed, he proudly took home an Oscar for the zany anti-Hitler Donald Duck short “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

He received a Man of the Year award from the B’nai Brith in 1958, an occasion he happily showed up for – not likely to happen if he had at any time been known as the organizer and supporter of an organized anti-Semitic lobby. Many of his closest associates and creative lights in the company were Jewish (which doesn’t disprove the personal accusation, I know.) The Sherman Brothers (the songwriters for Mary Poppins) knew Walt well in the last ten years of his life. They spoke warmly of him and considered the anti-semite charge a calumny. I have personally worked with and spoken to Marty Sklar, recently retired head of Walt Disney Imagineering. Also a Jew, he regards the idea as slander. (While admitting that Walt was often brusk and tactless in his day to day dealings)

Not meaning to sound like an apologist – he was an imperfect man, and his creative legacy has its good and awful points. But the anti-Semitic notion seems to be more of a popular myth than anything rooted in fact. (Unlike Henry Ford, who left us plenty of documentary evidence of his racial hatred for the Jewish people.) And yes, hiring practice at the studio was utterly sexist. (And I love Emma Thompson for all the reasons Streep cites here.)

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

The hell with sincerity

Jan 10th, 2014 9:59 am | By

From the Globe and Mail story on York University and the tension between human rights and religious accommodation -

“Each request for accommodation based on religious beliefs is considered based on the facts in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code,” Rhonda Lenton, York’s provost, said in an e-mail. But she also said the case is “complicated” by the fact that alternate arrangements were made for the other student to complete the work.

“Students often select online courses to help them navigate all types of personal circumstances that make it difficult for them to attend classes on campus, and all students in the class would normally have access to whatever alternative grading scheme had been put in place,” she said.

In a series of confidential letters, Dr. Singer also argued that granting the request “does not, in my opinion, qualify as a ‘substantial impact’ on any other student’s rights.”

To grant a religious accommodation, the university must decide the beliefs are sincere, and that it will not interfere with other students’ experience or harm the course’s academic integrity.

If that’s accurate, it’s truly sinister. The stipulation that to be granted a religious accommodation must not interfere with other students’ experience is the wrong kind of stipulation: it’s too shallow and too literal. Equality is not just a matter of in the moment “experience”; it’s a lot more than that. It doesn’t necessarily “interfere” with anyone’s experience if a particular set of people is denied entry, or indeed if those people are enslaved or killed. It’s very easy to ignore the unequal treatment meted out to people who aren’t oneself. My “experience” isn’t the criterion for whether or not you should be treated as inferior or alien or impure (and vice versa).

And sincerity isn’t the right criterion either. People tend to be all too “sincere” in their hatred of designated outgroups, and that’s exactly why they treat them like shit.


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

Meryl Streep the rabid, man eating feminist

Jan 9th, 2014 6:14 pm | By

There was some awards partly last night and Meryl Streep was there to say something, and what she said was not the usual emollient drivel.

Ezra Pound said, ‘I have not met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well, I have: Emma Thompson. Not only is she not irascible, she’s practically a saint. There’s something so consoling about that old trope, but Emma makes you want to kill yourself, because she’s a beautiful artist, she’s a writer, she’s a thinker, she’s a living, acting conscience.

Emma considers, carefully, what the fuck she is putting into the culture. Emma thinks: Is this helpful? Not will it build my brand? Not will it give me billions? Not does this express me? Me! Me! My unique and fabulous self, into all eternity in every universe for all time? Will I get a sequel out of it, or a boat? Or, a perfume contract?

Ezra Pound said, ‘I’ve never met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well, he would say that because he was supposedly a hideous anti-Semite. But, his poetry redeems his soul. Disney, who brought joy, arguably, to billions of people, was perhaps, or had some…racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobby. And he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot.

Here’s a letter from 1938 stating his company’s policy to a young woman named Mary Ford, of Arkansas, who had made application to Disney for the training program in cartooning. And I’m going to read it here in Emma’s tribute because I know it will tickle our honoree, because she’s also a rabid, man eating feminist, like I am.

You remember that letter, right? I posted about it here quite recently.

Dear Miss Ford,

Your letter of recent date has been received in the inking and painting department for reply. Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school. The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink, and then filling in the tracing on the reverse side with paint, according to the directions.

When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney’s chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers’ favor for 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work. It must have killed him to encounter, in a woman, an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own, considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination.

I do like a good rabid feminist.

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

Ubi solitudinem faciunt

Jan 9th, 2014 5:57 pm | By

And still in Pakistan…another police chief taken out.

A senior police officer known in Pakistan for campaigning against the Taliban has been killed in a bomb blast in Karachi.

Chaudhry Aslam, the head of the city’s anti-terror operations, and at least two others died in an attack on a police convoy in the Essa Nagri area of the city, reports say.

Mr Aslam had survived a number of previous attempts on his life.

The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out Thursday’s attack.

Where they made a wilderness and called it peace.

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

Masha Gessen

Jan 9th, 2014 5:29 pm | By

There was a very disturbing interview on Fresh Air yesterday with the Russian-American (dual citizenship) journalist Masha Gessen. The interview was disturbing on several different subjects that Gessen talked about. Putin’s Russia is…a bad place.

Gessen has just written a book about Pussy Riot. One disturbing item was the working conditions at the prison where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova served time. The sewing factory in the prison was taking on more and more orders, so the prisoners worked more and more hours.

By the end of the summer, the workday was about 17 hours, so they were allowed to sleep about four hours a night, if that. They wouldn’t get days off except maybe every six weeks or so. So they were incredibly sleep deprived. The working conditions were very unsafe and they were also … fed very, very poorly in the prison colony.

So Nadezhda decided to protest first inside the prison by going to complain to the warden and saying that they needed to return the workday to the legal limit of eight hours. In response, he threatened her with murder.

Gee. Makes the Irish industrial “schools” sound like a holiday camp in comparison.

And then there’s the new level of murderous hostility toward LGBT people.

What [the anti-gay propaganda law] means is that any portrayal of LGBT people, LGBT relationships and LGBT families is now illegal in Russia if it’s accessible to minors, which of course is a problem for LGBT families because we are ourselves examples of LGBT families and are by definition accessible to minors who live in our own homes.

So the natural consequence of these laws is a campaign against LGBT parents which began with the second law … which is a ban on adoptions by same-sex couples or single people from countries where same-sex marriage is legal. … It’s not just new adoptions; it can be used retroactively to annul adoptions that have already taken place. …

Gessen and her partner – a woman – have an adopted kid. Gessen’s parents emigrated from Russia to the US when she was herself a kid, then she went back about twenty years ago, but now she and her partner and kid have moved to New York because of the fear that he will be taken away from them.

t’s Putin’s effort to shore up his constituency around this very vague but very potent idea of traditional values — the Russian family, the Orthodox religion — and against the West. Nobody represents the alien West in Russia better than LGBT people do.

Part of the reason for that is because there was never any conversation about sex and sexual orientation in Russia. While the Western world was having the sexual revolution, we were having the Soviet Union.

That’s a good line. We had the sexual revolution, they had the Soviet Union. Yeah.

From a piece Gessen wrote for a New York Times blog last month:

The only thing more creepy than hearing someone suggest the likes of you should be burned alive is hearing someone suggest the likes of you should be burned alive and thinking, “I know that guy.” With various Russian public persons competing for the role of the country’s most virulent homophobe, I have had that experience a few times.

Dmitry Kiselev, the head of the new Russian ministry of truth, suggested last year — when he was a highly placed executive in Russian state broadcasting — that the hearts of gay people should be buried or burned “for they are unsuitable for the aiding of anyone’s life.”

Not used for transplants, you see, but disposed of.

Last week Ivan I. Okhlobystin, an actor and writer, who is also an ordained Russian Orthodox priest, called for burning gays alive in ovens. He explained this was necessary to protect Russian children.

I have known Okhlobystin for a long time, and for a couple of years I was his editor: He wrote a weekly column for a website I headed up. He had a reputation as something of a loose canon — a very popular one — and at one stage I felt he had gone too far in trying to shock readers. He had written a column titled “Alas, I am a racist,” in which he said that if one of his daughters brought home an African man, he would drive them both out into the woods and shoot them.

It took me several months to convince my boss to allow me to fire Okhlobystin: The publisher feared we’d get a reputation as stuck-up politically correct editors who policed their writers’ opinions. Plus, the man was a traffic-generating celebrity. And we suspected that many of our readers felt he spoke for them when he claimed no one wants their children to marry black people.

In the Fresh Air interview when she talked about that situation, she put it a little differently – that the publisher (and maybe she too) wasn’t comfortable as a publisher saying there are some things you can’t say.

I was interested by that, because I know it’s uncomfortable, but at the same time, I think there are things that no publisher would want in a magazine or newspaper. Serious proposals for genocide for example; calm reasoned arguments for euthanizing children with cognitive disabilities for example; unabashed undisguised racism for example. I think there are things you can’t say, in the sense that no reputable publisher will touch them. Gessen regrets not telling Okhlobystin that:

By agreement with my boss, when I did fire Okhlobystin over the phone, I mumbled something about needing to vary our columnist base and get some fresh blood onto the website. I avoided any hint that he was being terminated for expressing his opinion.

In other words, I am one of the many people who have over the years failed to communicate to Okhlobystin that certain opinions simply will not be accepted — paving a tiny piece of the way for this guy I know to call for people like me to be burned alive.

That’s a real issue.


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

Actions speak louder

Jan 9th, 2014 4:30 pm | By

From Planned Parenthood Action on Facebook:

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

Talk about reification…

Jan 9th, 2014 1:18 pm | By

Something I’ve noticed in passing before but noticed more slowly this time: referring to people as “hijabis”. It was in a Twitter exchange between Adele Wilde-Blavatsky and someone I don’t know.

appNick Nipclose @NickNipclose

Criticism of hijab is irrelevant: event was opposing harassment of hijabis not arguing that hijab is flawless

Adele Wilde-Blavatsk @lionfacedakini

but in promoting the event many equated the hijab with the hoodie and symbolically it appeared that way too

Nick Nipclose @NickNipclose

I’m not comparing murders, it could be sad that harassing a hijabi is worse than bothering a hoody clad kid1/2

It struck me more forcibly than it had before what a horrible way to refer to a person or set of people that is. It’s so dehumanizing. She’s not a person, she’s the thing she wears to conceal her head because her religion treats it as an “obligation.”

It’s obvious that the guy doing it sees it as a particularly respectful way of talking, but it isn’t.

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