Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

The government is very busy with something else for the foreseeable future

May 14th, 2015 11:21 am | By

The Hindu reports on anger at the inaction of the Bangladesh government over this string of public murders.

The hacking of another blogger-activist to death in Bangladesh has set off a storm of criticism against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with noted author Taslima Nasreen saying people had “given up any expectation” that she would act against the killers.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Ms. Nasreen said the “killings prove that the Hasina government isn’t taking action against the groups that are targeting them because of votes. The government thinks if it arrests them they will be considered anti-Islam.”

While much of Mr. Das’ work was on scientific theories of evolution, he had also written a poem eulogising Ms. Nasreen recently, in which he had praised her for “not compromising on feminist principles” despite death threats issued against her over two decades.

Protesting the murder, activists of Shahbagh Gonojagoron Mancha, the group Mr. Das headed, took out a procession and held a rally at Dhaka’s Shahbagh. They also condemned the repeated killings of the bloggers and free thinkers and blamed the murder on the government’s failure to arrest attackers and hold trials.

And the government looked fixedly in another direction.

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

Suchitra Bhattacharya

May 14th, 2015 10:56 am | By

An important Bengali writer died (of natural causes) on Tuesday. The Times of India reports:

Famed Bengali writer Suchitra Bhattacharya died at her south Kolkata residence late on Tuesday night following a cardiac arrest, family members and the attending doctor said. Bhattacharya, 65, left behind a daughter.

One of the most popular and powerful novelists of contemporary Bengali literature, Bhattacharya dwelt on contemporary social issues mainly affecting the urban middle class which she analysed with an open mind, almost putting the reader before a mirror.

Her pen also highlighted the pains and sufferings of women in contemporary society, and brought out the decadence in the moral fibre in an era of globalisation and crass commercialism.

Her novel “Dahana” (Charred) dissected the trauma, social ostracism and helplessness of a rape victim, that was made into a memorable film of the same name by Rituparno Ghosh.

Among her other novels are “Kachher Manush” (Close to Me), “Kacher Dewal” (Wall of Glass),Hemonter Pakhi (Bird of Autumn), Aleek Shukh (Heavenly happiness), Gabhir Ashukh (A Grave Illness)

Bhattacharya’s creations have been translated into a number of Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam,Oriya, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi and English.

Premankur Biswas takes a closer look at five of her novels.

When The Indian Express approached veteran Bengali writer Suchitra Bhattacharya to be a part of a panel to choose best young writers in vernacular literature a few years ago, she took it upon herself to introduce us to the works of the new generation of Bengali writers like Sangita Bandyopadhyay and Tilottama Majumdar. She spoke at length about the genesis of feminist writing in Bengal, the contribution of Ashapurna Debi and Mahasweta Debi, but she never mentioned her sizeable contribution to the cause. She was too humble to do that. The truth is that the women of modern Bengal, the young divorcee from Siliguri, the single mother from Patuli, the homemaker from Burdwan, the ageing widow from Ballygunj, they all owe a lot to Suchitra Bhattacharya. Through her novels, Suchitra Bhattacharya documented their realities, their aspirations and their silences.

Dahan primarily talks about a real-life incident that rocked Kolkata in early 1990s- the molestation of a housewife in the middle of a busy south Kolkata intersection and the subsequent intervention of a young school teacher who tries to bring the perpetrators to the book. But Dahan is much more than that. It gleans out prejudices in the urban, middle-class Bengali society through the tribulations faced by the two protagonists, Jhinuk and Romita. But the character that stays with you is the taciturn, idealistic Thammi, Jhinuk’s fiercely independent septuagenarian grandmother. It was later made into an award-winning film by Rituparno Ghosh.

Clearly a major loss.

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

Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun

May 14th, 2015 10:21 am | By

How does cruelty and sadism get normalized?

Another passage from the “Humanitarian Revolution” chapter of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature

Warning: torture, again

But the practical function of cruel punishments was just a part of their appeal. Spectators enjoyed cruelty, even when it served no judicial purpose. Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun.

In 16th-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning,


in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. [p 145]

He goes on, but I yanked my eyes away after the first words; no way I’m going to type them.

Yet people watched it for amusement.

How does this work?

On me it produces a visceral, unavoidable flinching, accompanied by some mild shock-like symptoms.

Now, I’m not a particularly delicate flower. I’m not reporting my reaction to boast of my great sensitivity, because I don’t think my level of sensitivity is at all unusual. I think it’s just normal.

I’ve tried mentally substituting a less charismatic animal, but it doesn’t make much difference.

The explanation is reasonably clear in the case of psychopaths, but they’re a small minority, so that doesn’t help.

There are explanations of how it works when people have to do it in one sense or another – at gunpoint or because they’re part of a disciplined organization and the like, but that doesn’t explain recreational torture-spectating.

I’ve never understood the appeal of bullfights and dog fights and cock fights.

I don’t understand how people can hack a helpless unarmed human being to death with machetes.

I don’t know how this works.

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


May 13th, 2015 5:48 pm | By

City News put together a collection of tv reporters talking about the “Fuck her right in the pussy” harassment they get. There are several women and even one man.

It’s such a peculiar phrase. It sounds like “punch her right in the mouth,” not like anything erotic. I guess that’s the point – it combines punch her right in the mouth with the sexual (but definitely not erotic) note. It does make you think…because it’s so hostile, and so obviously hostile, yet these shits say they think it’s funny. Why is hostility to women so normalized? Why is it so normalized that twisted fucks actually think it’s funny? Why would it be funny? If people kept shouting “kick him right in the head” at male reporters would anyone see it as funny? Would it become funny if it were “kick him right in the balls”? It wouldn’t, would it; it would just be weird. But shouting “Fuck her right in the pussy” at women doing their jobs, that’s seen as funny.

It’s bizarre. I’ll never understand it.

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

Guest post: The way women are socialized to put up with endless crap

May 13th, 2015 3:03 pm | By

Originally a comment on Oh but it’s so hilarious.

Shawn Simoe, the now ex-Hydro One assistant network engineer (he was paid $106,510 last year; hardly the wage of a peon, stevewatson), is perfectly free to engage in whatever manner of behaviour, public or otherwise, that he wishes, but cannot reasonably expect to do so without risk of negative consequence.

The fact that this apparently didn’t occur to him or his buddies before engaging in on-air sexual harrassment apologetics speaks volumes about the way women are socialized to put up with endless crap in the interest of “getting along” or “being nice” or “having a sense of humour”.

No one, not Hydro One or any other employer, is obligated to employ someone so lacking in judgment or knowledge of acceptable social behaviour as this guy apparently is; as someone pointed out upthread, his unrepentant public behaviour suggests he’s a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

More background on the FHRITP meme; according to Mediaite, it started as a hoax by some sleazy guy trying to start a meme in order to sell t-shirts.

(don’t read the comments; it’s full of people insisting it’s hilarious, free speech, people complaining suck the fun out of life, defense of liberty, etc., etc.)

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

How to talk to women

May 13th, 2015 11:28 am | By

Say what?

A blog post by Lilly Rockwell at the Austin Statesman (Austin, Texas, this is).

The newly-elected 10-member City Council, plus the mayor, is the first majority female City Council in Austin’s history, with seven women and four men.

But apparently this represented such a huge change in governance that the city manager’s office thought the city staff who regularly interact with the City Council needed extra training – in the form of a two-hour training session in March with two speakers from Florida – on how to talk to a female-dominated City Council after decades of rule by men.

How…to…talk? Because what, they would all probably burst into tears? Give birth? Pass out Tampax samples?

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, who was a city manager of the relatively small Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Allen was considered an expert in this field because his local city commission was all-female.

Well thank god they called in a man who is an expert on the subject. Naturally it’s only men who are intelligent and thoughtful enough to probe this difficult issue. Remind him to put the gloves on.

His advice included:

  • Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.
  • Women don’t want to deal with numbers. Allen said in his city they used to have background information and financial analysis on the front pages of agenda forms. Allen says he normally would have presented the financial argument, but that his female commissioners would balk and say “Mr. Manager, I don’t want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community.” He said that it may make good financial sense, but if he wants to get the votes, he has to present his arguments “in a totally different way.”

And again I say, thank god they got an expert. Imagine, a non-expert would have no idea how to extrapolate from a conversation with his daughter to all women everywhere. That takes years and years of training.

The city also brought along Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart, who owns a business development and marketing firm, to offer some training, and her session touched on the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” philosophy:

  • Openly acknowledge gender differences. Burt-Stewart says the author of the “Men are from Mars” book says men act on facts, women act on emotion. She also share such insights such as “Men have egos, women have wish lists,” and that men are more likely to use a “dominating” management style than women, who use a “compromising” style. Men think women ask too many questions, Burt-Stewart said, and women often don’t feel included. Men like acknowledgement, women want to be part of a team. Men, typically, communicate less often than females, she said.

Men like to shout “fuck her right in the pussy!” on the street, and women like not to be shouted at on the street. I can expert too.

But after watching this training session (you can watch the video of the session yourselfhere), I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it sexist to make these generalizations about women, or is there something to the idea that women do process decisions differently?

I reached out to Emily Amanatullah, who studies gender issues and is an assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, to help sort this out. “At the outset, it definitely feels archaic, like ‘The women are usually in the kitchen, how do we deal with them now that they have power,’ ” Amanatullah said. “It does reek of old norms and often it’s called benevolent sexism – they are not putting women down, but they are in a way.”

And she said it’s basically bullshit – I mean, she said there’s not much research that etc etc etc. On the other hand there’s one thing –

Amanatullah did agree with one point that Allen made – women do tend to ask more questions. There is research that indicates that women communicate differently, and they are less likely to assert themselves in a group context or meeting, and are more likely to ask a question “as a way to get their voice heard. in a non-threatening, non-aggressive way,” she said.

Hey, you know what? Maybe just maybe that’s nothing to do with What Makes Women So Weird but is rather that getting constantly talked over and interrupted at best, and put down hard at worst, trains women to find ways to get a motherfucking word in edgewise.

Also, asking more questions is a good thing, and it’s certainly a huge improvement on people who make confident assertions without having a clue what the hell they’re talking about.

Or maybe that’s just me. That was your seminar in how to talk to me for today.

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

Guest post: She’s over-reacting to being a pissing post for strangers

May 13th, 2015 11:07 am | By

Originally a comment by cuervocuervo on Oh but it’s so hilarious.

Yelling ‘fire’ in a theater is freeze peach innit?

What the men were caught on video doing and being unrepentant about is also up for legal review by the police. Whatever their drunken intent, it’s being seen as a public safety issue. I can’t imagine why, when men’s hilarity results from exploiting a woman’s objectified presence for media infamy; after all, it wasn’t about her at all, it was about their own amusement and team bonding after enjoying a sporting event. Because when a lone woman is zoomed and yelled at by strange men, who might also physically grab at her and her equipment, that’s just a joke. No harm done. No hyper vigilance built and psychological assault involved.

And ppffft, multiply to several times a day in public for the woman? She’s over-reacting to being a pissing post for strangers who care more for their own bravado than the humanity of people around them. The question also arises how many women who don’t have a camera handy while out in public are getting this done to them? He-larious putting that stunned and likely scared look onto a woman’s face, anytime, anywhere.

Yeah, take that ‘tude back to work and expect co-operation and trust from your fellow employees. Tell the story around the coffee machine. Walk that role modeling.

There’s been at least one instance of this being yelled at a male reporter and people using that weak excuse as it not being misogynist. Oddly, what was yelled was not “fuck him right in the ass.” Is that not as funny? We keep getting told that there are many more male reporters out there doing shoots, so are we going to hear about the overwhelming times this has been done to interrupt their work? Or, for some reason, has the “humour” been disproportionately aimed at female reporters?

Meanwhile, the White Ribbon Campaign is taking the Toronto reporter incident as a teaching awareness opportunity and is now teaming up with the MLSE owners of the stadium where this specific incident happened; building antimisogyny and anti-harrassment space and profile.

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

Guest post: Criticizing Islam Should Not be A Death Sentence

May 13th, 2015 10:09 am | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe.

The murder of a secular blogger in Bangladesh, Ananta Bijoy Das, is yet another demonstration of the growing threat of Islam-based phobia in the contemporary world. This is a stark reminder of the dangers which freethinking, atheist, secular writers and critics of religion face not only in Bangladesh, but in many countries around the globe.

Ananta is the third blogger linked to a freethought blog site Mukto Mona to be killed in Bangladesh in the past four months. Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi born US writer, was murdered in February. He was attacked along with his wife who sustained serious injuries.

Washiqur Rahman was murdered in March. Islamic militants are suspected to be behind these horrific attacks and killings. An extremist group, Ansar al-Islam , has claimed responsibility for the murder of Ananta. The police have arrested two men identified as students of the Madrassas in connection with the murder of Rahman.

These bloggers were reportedly targeted and killed because they have in their writings taken on religious extremism, particularly Islamic fundamentalism in their country.

My question is: What is wrong in challenging religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh? Is it not important that we tackle Islamic fanaticism before it consumes us? Why should people be killed for criticizing Islam? Is Islam now more valuable than human life? Why should some Muslims deem it justified to take the lives of other people just because they wrote or drew something which they found offensive or objectionable? Writing or drawing something does not kill, does it? Do Muslim extremists and their sympathisers think they can live in a world where they are not offended by what some people write, draw or say?

If we are to rid the world of Islam-based phobia and abuses then Islamic religious practices must be criticized, Islamic teachings must be questioned. The Quran must be critically examined. If we are to achieve the much needed intellectual awakening in Islamic societies, if we are to realize a new enlightenment in the ‘Islamic world’ then Islamic texts and doctrines have to be critically analysed.

The Madrassas school project must be revised to reflect 21st century educational values, so that these ‘schools’ begin to produce and graduate students with cutting edge ideas of how to make the world a better and more peaceful place to live for all humans, both those who confess and those who criticisize Islam, not a breeding ground for extremists and jihadists, of merchants of death and destruction in the name of Allah.

Today a lot of atrocities are being committed in the name of Islam, in the name of Mohammad; should we allow them to continue? Should those issues not be critiqued and evaluated in the light of reason, science and freedom of inquiry? Like the Christian Bible, the Quran and the Hadith contain provisions that sanctify violence and murder of those adjudged blasphemers or insulters of Islam, those categorized as unbelievers or apostates.

Is it not high time Muslims started disregarding these hateful passages for the sake of intellectual and moral progress of their societies and the world at large?

It is important to state that Islam like all other faiths is a human phenomenon. Islam is a product of human thought. Like every human creation, Islam has its shortcomings and limitations as a moral guide for human beings. Muslims should begin to see those who highlight these shortcomings and limitations, those who denounce the dark side of Islam, as champions of Islamic reformation, as ‘friends’ not enemies of Islam, who should be protected, not killed.

Yes, criticizing Islam should not be a form of death sentence in Bangladesh or anywhere in the world.

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

The glorious future

May 13th, 2015 9:52 am | By

An exciting conference this weekend in Melbourne.

13 human beings, and 3 crude dolls.

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

Oh but it’s so hilarious

May 13th, 2015 8:54 am | By

Wow. I did not know this was a thing. Now thanks to screechymonkey I do. Men hang around where women are reporting a story for tv news so that they can shout into the camera “fuck her in the pussy!” Because hey, if a woman has the brass-plated nerve to try to do an actual job and be out in public and everything, what is there to do but remind her she’s just a gash?

The tv journalist Shauna Hunt made an issue of it when she was reporting on fans at a recent Toronto FC game.

Watch and be amazed. They’re so pleased with themselves, so brimming with confidence, so contemptuous of Shauna Hunt, so scornful of the idea that men shouldn’t publicly degrade women doing their jobs.


Note that she says it happens to her every day, ten times a day.

The Globe and Mail reports on the aftermath.

Within the span of just one business day, a video showing two men defending the sexual harassment of CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt at a Toronto FC game went viral, the online profiles of the men were posted on social media by internet sleuths and their employers were forced to address what happened – one firing their employee, the other promising to “address” the situation.

I’m not sure I think the guy should have been fired…On the other hand if I worked with him I would probably think it was a great idea. Once he got his face on tv being a complete unrepentant sexist shit, he became a liability.

Like thousands before him, a man at a Toronto FC game thought it would be amusing to interrupt a TV reporter doing a live hit Sunday by making an extremely obscene comment to the camera, a prank that’s become common in the past few years. When others nearby laughed and confessed to planning to do the same stunt, Ms. Hunt confronted them about the “disrespectful” and “degrading” phrase.

“Why is it so funny?” she implores one.

He replies cheerfully that the comment is “hilarious” and “amazing.”

When Ms. Hunt asks him how his mother would feel about his actions, he says with a smile: “My mom will die laughing eventually.”

Not quite; before she finished her question he threw his head back laughing and then said that.

A few hours after the video had circulated online, that man, a Hydro One employee, was fired.

“Hydro One is taking steps to terminate the employee for violating our Code of Conduct,” Hydro One spokesman Daffyd Roderick said in a statement. “Respect for all people is ingrained in the code and our values. We are committed to a work environment where discrimination or harassment of any type is met with zero tolerance.”

But he wasn’t at work at the time.

No, but he was in public, and he was hanging around the reporter in hopes of saying “fuck her in the pussy!” on camera, and he expressed enthusiasm for the hilarity of doing that. It wasn’t going to be a secret from his co-workers. He made himself an issue.

In the past, employees could only be punished for behaviour outside the office if it directly hurt an employment relationship or impacted their employer in some way, says Stuart Rudner, a partner at the employment law firm Rudner MacDonald LLP. But because of social media, an employee can still face the wrath of their employer, even if their inappropriate statements are unrelated to their workplace.

“That’s what we’re seeing more and more of now: people going online and making … offensive comments, and if it’s possible to identify where they work, it can impact the employer and therefore lead to discipline,” Mr. Rudner said.

He referenced a 2012 case in which a Toronto man lost his job after posting a hateful comment on a memorial Facebook page for teenager Amanda Todd, who killed herself after suffering years of bullying. A woman reading the page identified the man’s employer as Mr. Big and Tall and sent them a message, which prompted them to fire the man.

Social media for a lot of people is a tool to unleash their ids, their worst nastiest most aggressive selves. But social media is* also a record of those selves, and the selves don’t always remain anonymous.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne also jumped into the fray, sending a tweet praising CityNews for airing Ms. Hunt’s footage and condemning workplace sexual harassment.

While the two men shut down their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts on Tuesday, they weren’t quick enough. Some who were outraged by their actions quickly harvested photos and information about them and their employers from their profiles earlier in the day and shared them on Twitter, tagging the Hydro One and Cognex corporate accounts, asking if the companies planned to take action. With pressure mounting, both companies released statements before the end of the business day.

“It’s all about public relations,” Mr. Rudner said. “They obviously thought it was in their best interest – not necessarily from a legal perspective, but from a PR perspective – to deal with it expeditiously.”

Social media=a double-edged sword.

* Or are, but I’m treating “social media” as one thing here.

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

In the image of god

May 12th, 2015 5:41 pm | By

One of the people on Sunday’s The Big Question was an Anglican vicar, Lynda Rose, who erupted in fury when Peter Tatchell answered the question (have human rights laws achieved more for mankind than religion?) by saying that religions are mostly opposed to human rights. Rose said the familiar bullshit about how the very idea of human rights rests entirely on “the Judaeo-Christian” whatever and without that we wouldn’t have shit for human rights. It’s because with the Bible we get humans in the image of god, you see.

I was thinking she was a liberal vicar, I suppose because she’s a woman and we know conservative Anglicans don’t like no stinkin’ women vicars – but also because she comes across as that kind of happy-clappy goddy liberal type. But I looked her up and oh gosh no not at all. Heres Barry Duke, editor of the Freethinker, on the vic in 2012, in an article on ads on London buses for “gay cures.”

Attempts to “treat” or alter sexual orientation have been strongly condemned by leading medical organisations. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that “so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish” and concluded in 2010:

There is no sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.

The dotty Rev Lynda Rose, a spokesperson for the UK branch of Anglican Mainstream, said her group adhered to scripture that all fornication outside marriage is prohibited and believed that homosexuals were:

Not being fully the people God intended us to be.

She said therapies endorsed by Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues were not coercive and were appropriate for people who wanted to change their sexual attractions, for example if they were married and worried about the impact of a “gay lifestyle” on their children.

But if humans are made in the image of god, that includes gay humans, doesn’t it?

Anyway. I wonder how people manage to believe that. Do they have no idea how the church carried on for most of its history?

Steven Pinker starts Chapter 4 of The Better Angels of our Nature, “The Humanitarian Revolution,” with a look at medieval torture. He describes the tools and what they did in frank detail.

Warning: torture.

A description of the Judas Cradle and nine other items:

The Judas Cradle, also known as Judas chair, was a torture device invented in century Spain. During this torture, the criminal was first positioned in the waist harness above the sharp, pyramid-shaped seat. The point was then inserted into anus or vagina of the person, and then the person was slowly lowered by a system of ropes.

The Inquisitions used torture. It wasn’t religion that gradually caused people to stop doing that, it was a secular revolution in ideas.

Early Christianity, Pinker says, loved torture and cruelty – it was how you got martyrs. Martyrs are fabulous, and therefore so is torture.

By sanctifying cruelty, Christianity set a precedent for more than a millennium of systematic torture in Christian Europe.

Lynda Rose hasn’t got a clue.

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

You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk

May 12th, 2015 3:41 pm | By

Swedish PEN has demanded an explanation from the Swedish embassy in Dhaka.

Swedish PEN demands a response from the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka following Tuesday’s murder of the author and blogger Ananta Bijoy Dash

“You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit. Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa.” (From the visa refusal of the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka)

More than a month ago Swedish PEN invited the Bangladeshi author and blogger Ananta Bijoy Dash to Stockholm to speak about the deteriorating situation in Bangladesh for journalists and writers, a topic that has become highly actual after the brutal murders of blogger Washiqur Rahman and writer Avijit Roy earlier in March.

PEN’s invitation followed the standard procedure used when representatives of the international press and defenders of freedom of expression are invited to meetings or events within the framework of PEN’s extensive program activities. For Ananta Bijoy Dash, the theme of the meeting which was to take place on May 3 in Stockholm in conjunction with the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, was inseparably linked with the reality he lived in as a secular blogger in a Bangladesh where extremism is increasingly on the rise. According to Swedish PEN, this made him uniquely suited to talk about these issues.But the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka refused to issue the visa required for him to visit Sweden.

Today we have received the news that Ananta has been brutally murdered.

This news has been received with great sadness and it has raised many questions.

To understand we need to look back at the decision that the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka sent after they rejected his visa application which he forwarded in his email to the Swedish PEN on the same day. In the final lines we read: “You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit. Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa.”

Following up on the encouragement from the Swedish PEN Ananta Bijoy Dash filed an appeal to the Swedish embassy’s decision. At the same time Swedish PEN wrote a letter to the Swedish Embassy requesting that the decision should be reviewed, with the explanation that we wanted to meet with Ananta Bijoy Dash even even if our meeting should be postponed. This should have been dealt with by the Migration Court in Gothenburg within the next few weeks.

But it was too late. Early on Tuesday morning Ananta Bijoy Dash was hacked to death by men armed with machetes when leaving his home for work in the town of Sylhet in northern Bangladesh. He never got the opportunity to tell his and the others’ story for his Swedish colleagues on World Press Freedom Day.

It is our duty to know why.

Swedish PEN therefore demands a detailed and credible explanation of why the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka chose not to grant Ananta Bioy Dash the visa he needed to fulfill the Swedish PEN’s invitation to speak in Stockholm –  a invitation that would have guaranteed his stay in Stockholm as Swedish PEN’s guest for two weeks upon his arrival, that was supposed to happen last weekend, and which could have ensured that he would still be here with us today.

Translation from Swedish: Bojan Lazic


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

He knew he was one of the targets

May 12th, 2015 3:36 pm | By

The IHEU tells the terrible story of the refusal by the Swedish embassy in Dhaka to give Ananta Bijoy Das a visa to travel to Sweden for a conference.

Ananta had been on a list of atheist bloggers produced by Islamist political parties in 2013. They demanded a death penalty for ‘blasphemy’, and since then several writers on the list have been murdered, always by machete attack. Ananta was also named on a new hit list in March [Bangla] in connection with a group called Ansarullah Bangla Team.

Ananta wrote to IHEU at the time:

“It seems to me I am one of the targets . I am not sure how long I will hide myself. But I am sure If they will find me they will do what they did with Mr. Avijit Roy. My life is seriously unsecured . I am not sure how can I protect myself & my family.”

International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) statement (12 May 2015):

Each of these murders is a crushing loss to the humanist and secularist communities of South Asia and the world.

IHEU condemns this murder in the strongest possible terms, as well as the failures of the Bangladeshi authorities to bring to justice the individuals and to break the networks behind this string of targeted killings. Whether from apathy, or incompetence, or intimidation, the police and government are utterly failing Bangladeshi humanist, atheist and secularist writers, thinkers and activists.

Ananta Bijoy Das had reached out to us at IHEU following the murders of Avijit and Washiqur. Accepting the very serious threat to this life, we advised Ananta in trying to make the difficult move out of danger. However, we have been informed that his application for a visa to travel to Sweden, under invitation from Swedish PEN, was rejected last week by the Swedish embassy in Dhaka, on the basis that he might seek to remain in Sweden.

We call on all countries to recognise the legitimacy and sometimes the urgency and moral necessity of asylum claims made by humanists, atheists and secularists who are being persecuted for daring to express those views.

And that includes you, Sweden.

Swedish PEN confirmed in a statement [Swedish] that they had invited Ananta to Sweden to talk about the threat to atheists in Bangladesh, but his visa application was refused, despite the clear and demonstrated mortal threat to atheist writers in Bangladesh, and despite the support of PEN for his visit. Swedish PEN demand:

“a detailed and credible explanation of why the Swedish Embassy in Dhaka chosen not to grant Ananta Bioy Dash the visa he needed to meet the Swedish PEN’s invitation to speak in Stockholm”

In the visa refusal letter seen by IHEU (sent by the Embassy of Sweden in Dhaka to Ananta Bijoy Das on 22 April 2015) the embassy notes among other considerations: “you are unmarried and you do not have any children”, as reason to consider the applicant not “well established in Bangladesh”, therefore:

…you have not made it likely that the purpose of the journey is only for a short visit for a meeting and not settlement there. You belong to a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit.

Furthermore, the purpose of your trip is not urgent enough to grant you visa. With regards to this and different circumstances in your case as well as different visa regulations you do not fulfil the requirements for a visa. Your application is therefore rejected.

Can you believe that? He belonged “a category of applicants where there is always a risk involved when granting a visa that you will not leave Schengen area after the visit” – meaning, presumably, he knew his motherfucking life was in danger – so that’s why they wouldn’t let him go there.

It’s a horror.

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


May 12th, 2015 3:25 pm | By

I need relief from the misery of today, and so perhaps do you.

Curiosity Rover sent back pictures of a sunset. Yes sunset as seen from another planet. Sunset as seen from Mars.

Do admit.

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

The political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly

May 12th, 2015 2:40 pm | By

Rafida Ahmed Bonya talks to Reuters about the murder of her husband Avijit Roy and the non-response of Bangladesh.

On May 3, the Indian-born head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for a string attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan, including Roy’s.

The murder of Roy, an atheist who published a popular and provocative blog, marks an escalation by Islamist militants for control of Bangladesh.

Religious fundamentalists are competing daily with secular government officials for power in the majority-Muslim country, one of the world’s largest and poorest democracies.

In her first extensive interview since the attack, Bonya criticised the Bangladeshi government for not responding more aggressively to her husband’s slaying.

“This was well planned, choreographed – a global act of terrorism,” she said. “But what almost bothers me more is that no one from the Bangladesh government has reached out to me. It’s as if I don’t exist, and they are afraid of the extremists. Is Bangladesh going to be the next Pakistan or Afghanistan?”

In an interview, Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed Joy, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said his mother offered private condolences to Roy’s father.

But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly, he said.

So in other words, the government is in the hands of the murderers. If the Prime Minister can’t comment publicly on a public murder of a citizen, then the PM is a hostage to the murdering theocrats.

“We are walking a fine line here,” said Joy, an informal consultant for the ruling party, the Awami League. “We don’t want to be seen as atheists. It doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism,” he said.

“But given that our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we can’t come out strongly for him. It’s about perception, not about reality.”

So they can’t “come out strongly for him” in the sense of saying the murderers shouldn’t have murdered him.

If that’s true, the murderers are running the government.

Joy said Roy’s death came during a three-month period when 160 people died in bus bombings in Dhaka, and shortly before explosions near the prime minister’s motorcade.

Joy blamed political opponents who, he said, seek to destabilise his mother’s government.

“To us, Avijit Roy is no different than the 160 others that have been killed,” he said. “We want to bring all the killers to justice. I understand why (his wife) is upset. My mother has been targeted by these same fundamentalists.”

He is different in one way, though; he was one of the people who contribute to the public discourse. If the theocrats kill off all such people, no resistance will ever be possible.

Bangladesh was founded as a secular country, but US and Bangladesh officials said the Islamic fundamentalist influence began to increase in the 1990s as wealthy Arabs began building hundreds of religious schools.

The same officials say militant influence also increased as waves of Bangladeshis who had moved to the Persian Gulf as laborers returned home with stricter Muslim views.

So just think – it was our enthusiasm for driving around in cars that made this wonderful situation possible.

When they went to Bangladesh in February…

“We knew that anything can happen in a country like that, and we took precautions,” Bonya said. “There was only one threat against him but we didn’t take it seriously. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone.”

Roy was a star attraction at the book fair. On a tranquil morning before his murder, he outlined a book he planned to write with Bonya, and took her on a rickshaw tour of his childhood neighbourhood.

He exchanged Facebook messages with his stepdaughter, sharing in her excitement at attending a US college lecture by the feminist Gloria Steinem.

“We were really, really happy,” said Bonya, who had edited her husband’s books in Atlanta, but had not seen his influence first-hand in Bangladesh.

“He had finally gotten to show me – in Bangladesh – how and why his work was so important.”

And then the murderers showed her in a different way.

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

Guest post: An immigration lawyer on the Human Rights Act

May 12th, 2015 2:12 pm | By

Guest post by Walton, originally a comment on a post by Helen Dale (commenting on an article in the Spectator) on my Facebook wall yesterday on the Human Rights Act. Published with permission.

My view on this as an immigration lawyer:

A large part of the Tories’ explicit motivation for getting rid of the HRA is to curtail the scope of protections in immigration cases. They particularly hate the right to private and family life (Article 8), especially, but not exclusively, in criminal deportation cases. This has featured heavily in Tory rhetoric and tabloid press reporting for several years.

What they don’t tell you is why these protections are worthwhile.

Many of the people that the Home Office labels “foreign criminals” are in fact people who have lived virtually their entire lives in the UK since coming here as small children, and have no remaining ties to their countries of origin: in some cases they would be British citizens had their parents thought to naturalise or register them as citizens while they were still children. Many more have families and children in this country, from whom deportation would separate them permanently. A high proportion of “foreign criminals” have been convicted for drugs offences, or for victimless crimes like using a false passport; some are desperate alcoholics or mentally ill people who are caught by the “persistent offender” provisions. Having served their criminal sentences, instead of being released from prison they are faced with a much worse punishment – permanent exile from the country that is their home. Article 8 is the only recourse that these people have. The Tories have already curtailed it – in part, by enacting a statute last year (“section 94B”) that stops most criminal deportees from appealing on Article 8 grounds until after they have been deported (to a country where they may well have no support and become destitute and homeless). The Tories want to curtail the rights still further, including in administrative removal cases involving people who have committed no criminal offences but have overstayed a visa or entered unlawfully. The practical impact of this is that some children will grow up without parents, some people will be forcibly separated from their spouses, and lives will be torn apart.

The Tories also tend to rant about a tiny number of cases where people regarded as terrorists have avoided deportation to their countries of origin. These cases are, in general, under Articles 2 and 3, not Article 8: that is to say, the people in question would face the death penalty and/or torture in their home countries. I don’t believe that anyone who isn’t a monster can argue that the UK should be sending people back to face death or torture: and more to the point, the British Bill of Rights won’t and can’t curtail this protection. (Doing so would be inconsistent with EU provisions such as the Qualification Directive.) Tabloid rhetoric often conflates Articles 2 and 3 with Article 8, but they are distinct.

The Tory critique of the Human Rights Act is a mixture of incoherence, malice and inaccurate populist rhetoric. Either the new Bill of Rights will make no substantive difference at all (which is the best possible outcome), or it will severely curtail protection of human rights in immigration cases (which is the outcome I fear).

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

Bush goes with little sisters

May 12th, 2015 12:41 pm | By

A more local fan of theocracy – Jeb Bush said some words at Liberty “University” on Saturday. He said the Catholic church knows better than the elected government.

Delivering the commencement address at the booming evangelical universitylaunched by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, Bush referred to a group of nuns who fought a birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m betting that when it comes to doing the right and good thing, the Little Sisters of the Poor know better than the regulators at the Department of Health and Human Services,” Bush said. “From the standpoint of religious freedom, you might even say it’s a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother. And I’m going with the Little Sisters.”

Well of course he’ll never be at risk of dying of an incomplete miscarriage at a hospital that refuses to treat him because the fetus still has a pulse. He’ll never even be at risk of not being able to get birth control because there are no non-Catholic health services anywhere near where he lives. It’s easy for him to choose a bunch of nuns, because they’re not in a position to do him much harm. So he’s a selfish piece of shit.

Not yet an official candidate for president, the former Florida governor was making what has become an essential campaign stop for Republicans seeking the White House by speaking at Liberty.

“How strange, in our own time, to hear Christianity spoken of as some sort of backward and oppressive force,” Bush said before a crowd of about 34,000 in the campus stadium…

Again: people like him – especially men like him – are more immune to the harms that priests and nuns can do than less prosperous and less male people are.

In his speech, Bush praised the power of Christianity in action.

“Today, by the thousands, Liberty is sending forth across America civilized, confident, true-hearted men and women — which happens to be just what America needs,” Bush said to the crowd, which included 6,200 graduates in attendance.

“This doesn’t always come as a welcome reminder in some quarters, but it is true all the same: Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action,” he said.

Pretty words, but false.

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

Ananta and Avijit

May 12th, 2015 12:27 pm | By

Via IHEU on Twitter

#AnantaBijoy and #AvijitRoy pictured together; they and 4 others all now killed by machete

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

A god of sulfur

May 12th, 2015 12:22 pm | By

Taslima shared a poem that Ananta Bijoy Das wrote about her.

A painfully apposite extract –

Alexandria to Nalanda being rampaged and raped by them,
The “elders” are breathing in hatred and violence in their pens,
Blood of the innocent dripping off the shameless swords everywhere.

If you violate their fatwa, their red eyes and edicts
You get beheaded in the east west north south wherever you are.

Human beings worship a loathsome god. They prostrate themselves to a foul, jealous, cruel demon who hates curiosity and learning and freedom of mind. Their god is a nightmare, a monster, the source of everything bad. Their god is evil and wicked and hateful. Their god murders people who want to free us from our chains. Their god carries a machete dripping with our blood and brains. Their god is our horrible red-eyed stinking enemy.

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

Equality for some

May 12th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

It’s one of those taunting rub-their-noses-in-it actions that Tories and Republicans love to do – Cameron appointed an anti-gay marriage MP to be minister for equalities. Hahaha get it? So funny. Hahaha those politically correct fools who think same-sex couples should be able to get married, we showed them, hahahaha.

Caroline Dinenage, the MP for Gosport, was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron today as the Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and the minister for equalities at the Department for Education.

In 2013, she told a PinkNews reader that the “state has no right” to redefine its meaning of marriage and that “preventing same-sex couples from being allowed to marry takes nothing away from their relationship.”

Well, it takes marriage away. That’s not nothing. Not everyone wants marriage, but those who do, do. It’s not nothing.

In a letter to a PinkNews reader, Ms Dinenage wrote that the Church states that “marriage is in its nature a union of ‘one man and one woman’, and went on to say “the insitution [sic] of marriage is distinctive.”

Who cares what “the Church” says? She’s an MP, not a bishop.

At least I can say that without expecting machetes to the head.


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