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.


Its rich and varied ethical standards

Mar 19th, 2015 11:03 am | By

Saudi Arabia is very annoyed with Sweden. How dare Sweden. Sweden has one hell of a nerve.

Saudi Arabia said on 19 March 2015 it will not issue any new visas for Swedish business people, in retaliation for comments made by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström.

Diplomatic ties between both countries have been severed since Sweden accused Saudi Arabia of blocking Wallström from speaking at an Arab League meeting earlier this month. However, her cancelled remarks were published by the Swedish foreign ministry. While they did not mention Saudi Arabia, Wallström’s statement stressed women and human rights.

Well! Did you ever!? No wonder Saudi Arabia is angry. Women and human rights; have you ever heard anything so filthy and forbidden.

In retaliation, the Scandinavian country then said it would not renew a lucrative defence cooperation deal with the oil-rich Middle Eastern Kingdom because of its poor record for democracy and civil liberties.

Bad. Its bad record. Its record is not just poor, it’s bad; very bad.

The diplomatic row between Sweden and Saudi Arabia over military ties and human rights escalated on 11 March when Riyadh recalled its ambassador from Stockholm.

Dozens of other Arab nations criticized Sweden’s decision, soon after Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden and accused the Nordic country of “flagrant interference in internal affairs”.

Yes, and the police shouldn’t interfere with domestic violence, either, because that’s internal affairs.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which represents 57 Muslim nations, released a statement in which it accused Wallström of “degrading Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions”.

The OIC was initiated by Saudi Arabia and its headquarters are in Jeddah; it’s hardly a neutral observer.

“The world community, with its multiple cultures, diverse social norms, rich and varied ethical standards and different institutional structures, can not, and should not, be based on a single and centric perspective that seeks to remake the world in its own image,” the statement continued.

Uh huh, those rich and varied ethical standards that include the total subordination of women, FGM, child marriage for girls, stoning, death for gays, lashes, amputation – rich and varied indeed.

Go stone yourself, Saudi Arabia.

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



Dust

Mar 19th, 2015 10:38 am | By

It’s being reported, though not (yet) widely, that Daesh has blown up another ancient building in Iraq.

Islamic State (Isis) militants have allegedly blown up parts of the ancient monastery of Mar Behnam near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, south-east of Mosul, according to pictures from IS media shared on twitter and a Kurdish media report.

The photos, released by IS members, show the 4th-century monastery’s tomb complex of Mar (Saint) Behnam and Mart (Saint) Sarah reduced to rubble.

Dr Nicholas al-Jeloo, an expert on Assyrian monasteries in Iraq from the University of Melbourne, visited the monastery, previously run by the Syriac Catholic Church, in January 2010 and confirmed the authenticity of the pictures to IBTimes UK.

“I didn’t want to see the pictures. This is terrible. I’m in shock,” he said.

You can see the photos on Twitter.

The monastery is known for its carvings and features, including “very intricate inscriptions in Syriac, in Armenian and in Uygur, a Turkic language from Western China” said Al-Jeloo.

“The place is a major site of pilgrimage, at the very origins of Christianity in the region, and it links us to our ancient Assyrian heritage – being only a stone’s throw from the ruins of Nimrud, also destroyed by Isis. The only way I could describe it is as a work of art. It was one of the most richly carved monastery complexes in northern Mesopotamia up until today,” he said.

They would blow up the Sainte Chapelle and Kings College Chapel and Salisbury Cathedral if they could.

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



It’s not imperialism, it’s those slags dancing around

Mar 18th, 2015 4:57 pm | By

James Bloodworth has a somewhat similar take to mine on the appeal of Adventures With the Islamists. He wrote about it in the Independent a couple of weeks ago.

[F]or all the arguments which put Islamist violence down as a ‘terrible indictment’ of this or that aspect of Western policy, London Mayor Boris Johnson was probably closer to the mark when he described Jihadists as “porn-obsessed losers who can’t get girlfriends”.

Put another way, bitter and socially awkward virgins are often drawn to ideologies which seek to police women’s chastity and reap violent revenge on the society that has shunned them.

Ideological creeds like Isis, which seek to turn women into sex slaves and cling to a cartoonish masculinity festooned with heavy weaponry and ultra-violence, come ready-made for the Mohammed Emwazis of the world.

For obvious reasons. The set-up is perfect for people who are unpleasant, uninteresting, charisma-challenged, dull, and otherwise lacking in talent for attracting lovers. They don’t have to do anything. They don’t have to please, or make an effort, or be reasonable or fair, or take turns, or think about someone other than themselves. All that is taken care of. Everything is provided, by force, so he doesn’t have to do anything but fuck it.

To be sure, the body count is high, but then if you’re pissed off enough, that’s could be an extra perk as opposed to a drawback.

This is why the media’s obsession with Emwazi’s supposed ‘radicalisation’ is myopic. Based on no evidence at all it is inferred that if only we could locate Emwazi’s grievances (British foreign policy/the brutality of the security services etc) we might safely inoculate society against further outrages. ‘It is our fault,’ as the solipsistic argument has it; we just have to find out why the Jihadists are so angry with us.

That may be one advantage of having made so thoroughly familiar with angry internet harassers over the past few years – I know all this. Why are the harassers so angry? Who knows and who cares. They’re shitty people who spend all their spare time frotting their hatreds online. They’re not angry because of the Iraq war or income inequality or NSA surveillance or the decline of the NHS; they’re angry because they’re angry. It gives their lives meaning. It’s not at all hard for me to believe that Emwazi is like that multiplied by some very large number.

Human beings have long been attracted by the promise of utopia (heavenly or earthly); and in Britain at least racism has undoubtedly helped to push young Muslims into the arms of proselytizing Islamists with their ready-made and all-encompassing explanations of us-versus-them. But another way of understanding the anger of a person like Mohammed Emwazi – and Jihadist fanatics more generally – is to locate it within the penumbra of male – and particularly adolescent male – insecurity.

The obsession throughout Jihadist politics with the behaviour of women ought to be the giveaway. Islamism’s original theorist Sayyid Qutb concocted his politicisation of Islam partly based on disgust at political repression in his own country, but as he documented in Milestones, he was also repulsed at the freedom afforded to American women. Similarly, the British-born Islamists who plotted in 2004 to murder clubbers in the Ministry of Sound nightclub in London did not cite Palestine or imperialism as their casus belli, but instead gleefully talked about murdering “those slags dancing around”.

Misogyny, people. It’s a warning sign, and it’s the toxin itself. Men who froth with hatred of women are not volunteering at food banks or being clinic escorts.

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



Chump change

Mar 18th, 2015 4:16 pm | By

Well that must be very cheerful. David Sirota at Salon points out that super-rich people think they’re not super-rich.

By Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s reckoning, being a millionaire does not constitute living high above the ranks of ordinary people. Lew said last week that back when he was in the private sector enjoying six- and seven-figure pay packages, “My own compensation was never in the stratosphere.”

Lew made that pronouncement as he sought to defend President Barack Obama’s embattled Treasury undersecretary nominee Antonio Weiss from charges that as a financial executive, he is out of touch with the interests of regular people. Lew was seeking to cast his own lot with the ranks of ordinary Americans at a time of growing economic inequality.

Seven figure pay packages? And he thinks that’s not the stratosphere?

According to IRS data, 99 percent of American households make less than $388,000 a year, and 95 percent make less than $167,000 a year. The true middle in terms of income — that is, the cutoff to be in the top 50 percent of earners — is roughly $35,000 a year.

Sirota must think that’s basically lunch money, walking-around money.

According to New York University records, Lew was usually paid between $700,000 and $800,000 a year as the school’s vice president, while also receiving a $440,000 mortgage subsidy. Lew also earned $300,000 a year from Citigroup, with a “guaranteed incentive and retention award of not less than $1 million,” according to an employment agreement obtained by Businessweek.

So he made $1.5 million, and thinks that wasn’t stratospheric.

Sometimes I really hate this country.

While Lew’s comments leave him open to charges that he is out of touch with economic reality, he is not alone, as surveys show many Americans also have misconceptions about income distribution.

A recent study by Harvard University and Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University found Americans grossly underestimate the divide between CEO and average worker pay.

Because people like the Treasury Secretary make sure they do.

 

 

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



One, two, many firewalls

Mar 18th, 2015 11:51 am | By

Tom Holland wrote a response to Mehdi Hasan’s It’snotIslam piece.

He starts by pointing out that this drive to do away with the clutter of centuries of interpretation and clerical additions to go back to the Pure Unsullied Original is how Protestantism started.

The same impulse that prompted Luther to affirm the primacy of scripture over Catholic doctrine has also long been at work in Islam.

As far back as the 13th century, a scholar based in Damascus by the name of Ibn Taymiyya proposed that the surest way to know God’s purpose was to study the practices of the first three generations of Muslims: the “forebears”, or “Salafs”. Reports of what Muhammad and his earliest followers had done, so he argued, should always trump subsequent tradition. Like Luther, Ibn Taymiyya was condemned as a heretic; but he also, again like Luther, blazed a momentous trail.

Salafism today is probably the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. The interpretation that Isis applies to Muslim scripture may be exceptional for its savagery – but not for its literalism. Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist.

Calvin’s Geneva was a pretty harsh place too, you know.

When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in.

Such behaviour is certainly not synonymous with Islam; but if not Islamic, then it is hard to know what else it is.

Quite. Other kinds of Islam are possible, but they’re far from inevitable. Quakers are one kind of Protestantism, and Westboro Baptist is another.

Admittedly the actions of those signed up to Islamic State are unlikely to have been inspired exclusively by religious teachings. Many of those fighting for Isis may indeed, as Hasan points out, be varnishing their taste for violence or power with a sheen of piety. But the same was true of those inspired by Luther’s teachings – not to mention the early Muslims themselves.

Luther’s teachings ended up leading to a lot of wars and slaughters. Religion just is a super-powerful brand of the kind of organizing principle that helps such things to happen.

To imagine that religious motivation can somehow be isolated from the complex swirl of ambitions, fears and desires that constitute human nature is to fall for an illusion: that religions, contingent as they are, and as subject to evolution as any other manifestation of culture, exist platonically as abstract ideals.

Engrave that somewhere. I just engraved it on Facebook.

It is not merely coincidence that IS currently boasts a caliph, imposes quranically mandated taxes, topples idols, chops the hands off thieves, stones adulterers, exec­utes homosexuals and carries a flag that bears the Muslim declaration of faith. If Islamic State is indeed to be categorised as a phenomenon distinct from Islam, it urgently needs a manifest and impermeable firewall raised between them. At the moment, though, I fail to see it.

And if there were such a firewall…again, what about Saudi Arabia? Doesn’t that need a firewall too? And then on down the line? Boko Haram; Al-Shabaab; the Taliban; ad infinitum?

This may take some time.

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



Not a driver but a vehicle

Mar 18th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Mehdi Hasan wrote a very long piece for the New Statesman last week letting us know that Islamic State is not Islamic. The real, true, genuine, authentic, glorious Islam is a whole other thing altogether entirely.

The rise of Isis in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph”, or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam – down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under Isis rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like”.

You know what, Mehdi? I don’t care. I do not care. I might care if there were some majority-Muslim country somewhere that was a paradise of fairness and egalitarianism and freedom and benevolence. But you know what? There isn’t. Not one. And it’s kind of disgusting that you’re more worried about the reputation of Islam than you are about its victims.

He talks to forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, former CIA operative in Pakistan and current expert on counterterrorism.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of Isis and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

Isis members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

Right. I agree with that. I’ve been saying it for years. But that doesn’t equal “Islam is perfect and Isis members are just distorting it.” Religion as such is well adapted for use as justification and valorization of political visions because it is inherently peremptory and immune to negotiation. Secular ideas don’t work as well for that because they can’t borrow that absolutist note from god.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else”. He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group”.

For sure. So, how does that mean we should have a more favorable view of Islam? Given that it works so well as social glue for a lot of murderous passengers in the vehicle for outrage, why shouldn’t we see that as something wrong with it?

“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out. Isis fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The Isis executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

For sure, again. Again, I’ve been saying that for years. I said it about the September 11 spectacle – it was a spectacle. It was fun for the perps, yes including the ones who knew it was their last fun. It was an excellent adventure. All this stuff is that. None of that makes Islam fundamentally benevolent or peace-loving. It can be those things if its adherents make it that, and I hope they will – I hope the Tehmina Kazis and Maajid Nawazes soon outnumber the furious young men out for an adventure. But fundamentally it is what people make it, and so far the record is not good.

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as Isis. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify. It is an excuse, rather than a reason. Isis is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices. As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” Isis, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

That’s nice. What do “Islamic scholars” have to say about Saudi Arabia? Do they “unanimously repudiate” that too? Does Mehdi Hasan? Does Mehdi Hasan claim that Saudi Arabia also has little or nothing to do with Islam?

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



At the museum

Mar 18th, 2015 9:38 am | By

Let’s visit the Bardo Museum, since the guys with guns are so keen to kill us for trying to do so.

We can go to The 101 Masterpieces, and there we can click on each one. Let’s check out Ulysses and the Sirens. Hover over the image to magnify any bit of it you want to look at.

We can take the virtual tour, which is amazing.

You can read the Museum’s Mission, so different from the mission of people who shoot museum-goers and staff.

In general, a museum’s policy consists not only in preserving heritage, but also in trying to enrich and spread it within the framework of a cultural policy that is fair and adapted to the needs and demands. Thus, the museal institution’s major mission has always been to preserve collections subject to public interest within a public service, or at least public utility, mission. The main objective is to ensure accessibility for the larger public and the equal access of everybody to education and culture. As A. Malraux put it in his The Imaginary Museum (Le Musée Imaginaire), “the role of museums in our relationship with the works of art is so important that we hardly think that it does not exist; that it has never existed.”

Thus, the objective of the redevelopment project of the Bardo Museum, a national museum which is the first in the country to exist for more than a century, is to make of it a major pole for a high quality cultural development. With the expansion of its premises, the redeployment of its collections, their suitable, attractive, and didactic exposure the visitor will be able to better appreciate, understand, and finally appropriate the exposed pieces of art…

Art belongs to everyone. Not to the people god chooses, or the people loyal to god, but everyone.

Live long and prosper, Bardo Museum.

 

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



Shooting up the museum

Mar 18th, 2015 9:16 am | By

In Tunis today – guys with guns killed 19 people at the Bardo Museum.

Italian, Spanish, Polish and German citizens were among those killed, as well as a Tunisian and a police officer, PM Habib Essid said.

Security forces killed two gunmen and were searching for accomplices, he added.

The attack happened at the Bardo Museum in central Tunis.

At the time of the attack deputies in the neighbouring parliamentary building were discussing anti-terrorism legislation. Parliament was evacuated following the attack.

At least 22 tourists and two Tunisians were injured in the attack, Mr Essid said.

A museum, a museum of antiquities.

Bardo Museum - Carthage room.jpg

Wikipedia

That attacks a lot of Forbiddens with one shoot-up, doesn’t it – history, education, images, beauty, internationalism, mutual exchange and understanding, mingling, travel, freedom of movement.

The Bardo museum, renowned for its collection of antiquities, is a major attraction in Tunis.

Tourism is a key sector of Tunisia’s economy, with large numbers of Europeans visiting the country’s resorts.

In 2002, 19 people, including 11 German tourists, were killed in a bomb blast at a synagogue in the resort of Djerba. Al-Qaeda said it had carried out that attack.

Religious fanatics hate all of that. They hate human beings, and our ways of being happy. No museums for you, no art, no jokes, no resorts, no antiquities, no Buddhas in earphones, no music, no dancing, no education outside The Holy Book, no recreational walks, no dogs, no reform, no change, no freedom to leave, no future, no joy, no hope.

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



Chiens sur un lac gelé

Mar 17th, 2015 5:55 pm | By

Amazing photos department.

Fox Grom est un photographe russe né à Kirovsk. L’artiste détient deux magnifiques Husky qu’il s’amuse à photographier dans toutes sortes de situations. Dans cette série, l’homme s’est promené avec ses deux adorables bêtes sur un lac gelé. A découvrir en images dans la suite de l’article.

Fox Grom is a Russian photographer born in Kirovsk. The artist has two magnificent Huskies and he likes to photograph them in all kinds of situations. In this series, the guy is strolling with his two adorable animals on a frozen lake. See the pictures in the article.

A couple of favorites.

See them all.

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



The way of the pious

Mar 17th, 2015 5:06 pm | By

Jay Michaelson at RNS reports on a Hasidic enclave in upstate New York.

Hasidism — literally, the way of the pious — began in 18th-century Europe as a movement of Jewish spiritual revival. Although shunned by the religious authorities of the time, it became enormously popular, sweeping throughout Eastern Europe. Centered on personal spiritual experience,  devout prayer (think Pentecostals in Jewish garb) and charismatic leaders (known as rebbes), Hasidism revolutionized Jewish life, especially among less-educated, less-urban populations.

But it quickly changed its character. With the threats of emancipation and assimilation looming, Hasidism turned sharply conservative in the 19th century. Practices ossified, authority was centralized, innovations were prohibited, and any accommodation to modern life was rejected. Today, Hasidim dress like 18th-century Poles.

Unlike far-right Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists are often depicted as cuddly, harmless and quaint. “Fiddler on the Roof,” which in its original serialized novel form was a sharp satire of religious life, is a good example.

Wait a second! Unlike far-right Christians? Oh really? Never seen 19 and counting then? Or Witness? And then there’s Little Mosque on the Prairie – which presented some pretty conservative Muslims as totes mainstream.

Anyway, back to the Skver Hasidim.

The shocking details emerge almost as asides: a rabbi teaching 18-year-olds* to “be vigilant” lest their wives lead them into hell (and telling them not to call their wives by their names, but only say “Um” or “You hear”); witch hunts for people suspected of smuggling a radio or portable television into the Skver community; and widespread corporal punishment, both when Deen was a student and, later, as a teacher in yeshiva.

I have to say, the fear and loathing of women is a lot more serious than the banning of radios and tvs.

And the contempt for non-Jews. “The kindness of the goyim (non-Jews) is for sin,” Deen quotes the Skverer rebbe as teaching. Even when a non-Jew does a good deed, his real purpose is evil.

Or her. But anyway – it’s the kuffar all over again. It’s odious and dangerous. It’s one of the foulest things about religious zealotry.

Then there’s the poverty.  Most Hasidic men (and nearly all women) are uneducated; they speak Yiddish and disparage the teaching of English. They don’t know math or history; they have no employment skills.

Deen falls behind on rent, has trouble feeding his children, can’t hold a job. Indeed, holding a job is beneath the dignity of a Hasidic man, who, if he is fortunate, should be able to study all his life — while collecting unemployment, food stamps and welfare benefits.

The FLDS do the same thing.

Deen finally finds work as a teacher, where his duties involve fraudulently completing progress reports for New York state while not teaching any of the subjects he is reporting on, and collecting government subsidies.

Where’s Rush Limbaugh?! Where’s Fox News? Where’s everyone who yips and bellows about welfare queens?

Deen starts reading books, and ends up leaving, at the price of losing his children and everything else he’s known. Zealous puritanical religion will chew you up and spit you out. Don’t go there.

*Not “18-year-olds” but 18-year-old boys.

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



The space for such ideas is shrinking in Muslim countries

Mar 17th, 2015 3:56 pm | By

Raza Rumi writes about Bangladesh’s slide into theocratic misery.

The brutal, cowardly murder of freethinker Avijit Roy on the streets of Dhaka is a reflection of embedded intolerance in many Muslim societies. Bangladesh, despite its secular credentials, is no exception.

Rumi has experience of that kind of brutal cowardice.

This incident left me deeply disturbed. As someone who was also subjected to (missed) bullets in 2014, Roy’s murder brought back memories of my close brush with death, subsequent exile and the fear of returning to my own country, Pakistan. Like Roy and many others, Islamist extremists found my views unacceptable to the extent that physical elimination was the only answer. I miraculously escaped the assassination attempt, but my driver was killed and another companion was injured.

While a few gunmen were arrested, the trial lingers on. But from my experience as an analyst, Pakistani courts seldom punish attackers, and the masterminds are never apprehended or brought to book.

So there’s no reason not to murder infidels, apart from conscience, and the conscience of this brand of murderer is all on the other side – murdering infidels is righteous.

One can disagree with the approach that some atheists take to matters of faith, but it is utterly disconcerting to note that the space for such ideas is shrinking in Muslim countries. And Bangladesh is no Saudi Arabia or even Pakistan. Its liberation in 1971 from Pakistan was an act of defiance to preserve the political and cultural rights that the so-called Islamic Republic of Pakistan was trying to suppress. For Bangladesh to become more like Pakistan is even more tragic.

In addition to Bishwasher Virus, Roy was also promoting his book, Shunno Theke Moha Bishwo (From Vacuum to Universe), at the Immortal 21st Book Fair held each year in late February. The date of the festival coincides with an important period of Bangladesh’s secular history, when students were killed by security forces for demanding equal rights for the Bengali language. At that time, Pakistan had tried to impose Urdu as a national language on East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh in the war of 1971.

The enduring fault line in Bangladesh since its independence has to do with the existence of Islamist groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami, which opposed the creation of the country and found greater political space due to its alliance with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition outfit. Both these parties boycotted the 2014 elections and, therefore, are excluded from the current system of governance.

But there are other, softer versions of Islamism that are rising in Bangladesh. For instance, the Tablighi Jamaat has found major traction in society. Like in other Muslim countries, Islamist ideas are appealing to the younger segments of the population.

And not just other Muslim countries; also countries with significant Muslim populations.

For decades, Bangladeshi governments, like their nemesis in Pakistan, have appeased religious passions. A clear case is that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina covers her head. There is no Quranic injunction for women to wear a hijab (headscarf). This was true for Pakistan’s slain prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who also demonstrated similar acquiescence to religious fervor by not only covering her head with a scarf, but also donning Islamic rosary beads to prove piety and credentials of being a devout Muslim.

Media freedoms have also been under threat as the incumbent Bangladeshi government has, on occasions, tried to muzzle critical commentaries on elections and the democratic evolution. But surely the religious opposition to free-thinking remains the most serious challenge, leading many to leave the country and not return. Taslima Nasreen, a writer, has been in exile for decades, scared of the radicals back home. Ironically, she is blamed for being too “extreme” in her views.

So Bangladesh empties of independent thinkers, secularists, rebels, critics, nonconformists, apostates, kuffar – how can that be good?

I had always admired Bangladesh as a secular nation and even wroteabout its cultural and intellectual space. Sadly, it is only following the country it left behind in 1971: Pakistan. But when it comes to religious bigotry, few Muslim countries are safe for writers, bloggers and those who challenge extremist interpretations of Islam.

I am afraid of returning home to Pakistan. I was lucky to have narrowly escaped the fate of Roy and perhaps will not be as fortunate next time. The Taliban affiliate that tried to kill me number in the thousands, are well-organized and entrenched. Their level of intolerance is such that I am not even an atheist, yet I am a target.

I mourn Roy’s loss and also lament the state of exile that pernicious extremist ideologies have forced me into.

It’s enough to break your heart.

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



When you cook a steak

Mar 17th, 2015 1:17 pm | By

So of course we have to take a look at the Christian Domestic Discipline Network – Loving Wife Spanking in a Christian Marriage.

Hello & Welcome to the Christian Domestic Discipline Network!

This website is intended to be a haven for those practicing Consensual Christian Domestic Discipline, and for those who ernestly wish to learn about Christian Domestic Discipline.

What is Christian Domestic Discipline?

In order to describe to you what is Christian Domestic Discipline, I’d first like to start with what it is not.

Christian Domestic Discipline is not domestic violence. Neither is it abuse. It is an arrangement between two adults who share the belief that the husband is the head of the household and with that position comes the right to enforce his authority.

An arrangement? Adults? Consensual? Is this discipline, or BDSM?

Christian Domestic Discipline is not BDSM. It is not a game. While we do not deny its sometimes erotic nature, it is ultimately not for erotic purposes. It is often much different than the domestic discipline you will find outside of the Christian faith.

Well that’s confusing. It’s erotic but it’s not BDSM. It’s erotic but it’s ultimately not for erotic purposes. I think they must be doing it wrong. The real thing isn’t supposed to be for erotic purposes even temporarily and en route.

A Christian Domestic Discipline marriage is set up according to the guidelines set forth in the Holy Bible, meaning the husband has authority over his wife within the bounds of God’s Word and enforces that authority, if need be, through discipline including but not limited to spanking. He uses his authority to keep peace and order in his home, protect his marriage, and help his wife mature in her Christian walk.

In a true Christian Domestic Discipline marriage, discipline is tempered with the knowledge that the husband must answer to God for his actions and decisions in his position of authority.

See? That’s not erotic! That’s authoritarian and bossy and you have to obey me. I think if these two are having fun while doing that, they’re doing it wrong and pissing off god!

[samples one article]

Oooookay this is totally erotica and the Christian stuff is just some kind of joke-window dressing.

When you discipline your wife, for either misbehavior or maintenance it is best to start slow and warm up her bottom, spanking her with less intensity and not going full force right out of the gate.

After a sufficient warm up you will be able to spank her with great intensity and a longer period of time, hence enforcing a proper punishment and the tears that are sure to flow.

Remember to take you time with the discipline, by spanking her longer you will find that the submission from her is greater than one done quick just to get it over with, By spanking her for a greater period of time also shows that you as her HOH take your responsibilities serious.

Most new HOH tend to start of thinking that by bringing her to tears they have accomplished the goal of LDD, this is not entirely true. If you spank with fast, hard swats you will cause her to cry, that is true, but you have failed to take into account what is truly needed. She needs and desires to submit to you and your decisions as her HOH, and by taking time to slow down the spanking and thoroughly punishing her she will find solace and be happier.

To make this a clearer to some, when you cook a steak, and use high heat to seer the top, and then try to eat it you will find the steak cold and unsatisfying, just like a woman might feel after a very brief but hard spanking, yes she cried but only out of pain and learned only pain from the spanking. But slowly warming her bottom up, you will be able to spank her longer.

 

I’ll leave you two alone now…

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



The originals don’t have iron bars

Mar 17th, 2015 12:54 pm | By

One bit of slightly less bad news – the Telegraph reports that most of the artifacts Daesh smashed up in Mosul were replicas.

[T]he head of the country’s national antiquities department confirmed they were plaster copies of priceless originals.

“None of the artefacts destroyed in the video is an original,” Fawzye al-Mahdi told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Curators at the Baghdad Museum studied the video and found that many of the artefacts that appeared to have been destroyed were in fact safe inside their own museum.

They also found that others are held in museums around the world.

That doesn’t do Nimrud and Hatra any good, but it’s still something.

The findings confirmed suspicions voiced by archaeologists when the video was first released.

“You can see iron bars inside [the statues],” Mark Altaweel of the Institute of Archaeology at University College, London, told Channel 4 News.

“The originals don’t have iron bars.”

Atheel Nuafi, the governor of Mosul who had to flee the city when Isil seized control of it last year, confirmed that most of the destroyed objects were copies, though he said two were originals.

“There were two items that were real and which the militants destroyed,” he told Iraqi television. “One is a winged bull and the other was the God of Rozhan.”

Any Buddhas with earphones?

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



God said I could

Mar 17th, 2015 12:22 pm | By

Georgia Republicans are working on passing a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” aka RFRA that would be one of the worst in the country.

The bill, the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” is one of a raft of similar bills (RFRAs, for short) wending their way through state legislatures across the country. The bills are part of the backlash against same-sex marriage, but they go much farther than that. Like the Hobby Lobby decision, which allows closely-held corporations to opt out of part of Obamacare, these laws carve out exemptions to all kinds of laws if a person (or corporation) offers a religious reason for not obeying them.

You can offer a religious reason for not obeying all kinds of laws. The US is already packed with religious exemptions to laws governing parents (you don’t want to take your sick kid to a doctor? Knock yourselves out!) among other things, but hey, there’s always room for more.

For example? Restaurants could refuse to serve gay or interracial couples, city clerks could refuse to marry interfaith couples, hotels could keep out Jews, housing developments could keep out black people (Genesis 9:18-27), pharmacies could refuse to dispense birth control, banquet halls could turn away gay weddings, schools could specifically allow anti-gay bullying, and employers could fire anyone for any “religious” reason.

The national movement to pass these laws is well-funded and well-coordinated; most of the laws are written by the same handful of conservative legal hacks in Washington, working for organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, both of which have had a hand in the Georgia bill.

God said white people are best. God said women are whores. God hates fags. God said straight white men have Dominion Over the Earth.

Some legal commentators have said that the law would give a pass to spousal and child abusers, as long as the husband (or father) has a religious pretext. Which is easy to provide; the Christian Domestic Discipline Network, for example, offers a host of rationales for “wife spanking.” And let’s not forget Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

The Christian Domestic Discipline Network? Uh…

So far the bill hasn’t been getting much attention. Let’s hope that changes. The vote is April 2.

H/t Kausik

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



Based on our experience

Mar 17th, 2015 12:03 pm | By

More from the Douglas Starr article: he goes to talk to the current president of the Reid Company, Joseph Buckley.

When I asked Buckley if anything in the technique had been developed in collaboration with psychologists, he said, “No, not a bit. It’s entirely based on our experience.”

Well there’s part of your problem right there. So many flaws, it’s hard to know where to begin. What about the fact that “our experience” can perfectly well include false confessions? What about the circularity? What about the obvious possibility that “our experience” could be of doing it wrong for generations? What about the need to test your assumptions?

Buckley said that the principle of compassion still guides his company, and that Kassin and other critics misrepresent him. He told me that the Reid Technique’s sole objective is to elicit the truth, and that the police interrogate only people whom they suspect of involvement in a crime. He said that critics ignore the various ways a suspect can show that he is telling the truth, and pointed out that a properly trained interviewer begins an accusatory interrogation only if the suspect appears to be lying or withholding information during the behavioral-analysis interview.

But there again – what if the interviewer’s beliefs about “the various ways a suspect can show that he is telling the truth” are wrong? What if the interviewer’s beliefs about when “the suspect appears to be lying or withholding information” are wrong? What if the assumptions underlying the behavioral-analysis interview are wrong?

He argued—and judges have regularly agreed—that if a suspect infers leniency from an interrogator’s guise of sympathy, that’s the suspect’s problem. (Critics may not like the fact that police sometimes lie to suspects during interrogations, but a 1969 Supreme Court decision affirmed their right to do so.)

No, I don’t “like” that fact very much. FindLaw has details on the decision.

It’s a remarkably ramshackle system for one that deprives millions of people of their liberty and a few of their lives.

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



Here’s that Buddha with his tunes

Mar 17th, 2015 11:12 am | By

Via Kenneth Wong SF.

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



The Buddha rocks out

Mar 17th, 2015 11:05 am | By

Two and a half years in prison for advertising a bar with a poster of Buddha in earphones.

A New Zealander and two Burmese men have been found guilty of insulting religion in Myanmar over a poster promoting a drinks event depicting Buddha with headphones.

Philip Blackwood, who managed the VGastro Bar in Yangon, was arrested in December along with bar owner Tun Thurein and colleague Htut Ko Ko Lwin.

They have each been sentenced to two and a half years in jail.

Burmese law makes it illegal to insult or damage any religion.

From what I know of Siddhartha, he would think that’s a crock of shit.

The poster, which was posted on Facebook to advertise a cheap drinks night, showed Buddha surrounded by psychedelic colours. It sparked an angry response online.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has seen growing Buddhist nationalism in recent years.

And persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority. Yay religion!!

[T]he judge, Ye Lwin, said that though Blackwood apologised, he had “intentionally plotted to insult religious belief” when he uploaded the poster on Facebook, reported AFP news agency.

Blackwood, 32, said he planned to appeal against the sentence.

Speaking after sentencing outside the court before being bundled into a car, he said that he was “pretty disappointed” with his punishment, which was “more than the maximum sentence”.

“I have said that I was sorry so many times,” he said. “It was nothing to do with me.”

Before sentencing he said that he had removed the image and posted an apology when he realised it was being shared online and provoking outrage.

Well that doesn’t cut it with religious nationalists aka theocrats. Revenge is theirs.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said that the three men acted in a culturally insensitive way but should not have been sent to prison.

“By using the Religion Act to criminalise these three individuals, rather than accepting an apology and dealing with it in another way, the government is, sort of, setting up more witch hunts against persons that these Buddhist groups view as being insulting to their religion,” he said.

Is it really even “culturally insensitive”? Clearly it is according to the most zealous religious nationalists, but why take their pov as the normative one? I doubt that Burma is completely empty of more easygoing and kindly people who don’t object to friendly images of the Buddha.

Also – did the BBC include the image so that we can judge it for ourselves? Of course it didn’t.

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



Iago in the interrogation room

Mar 17th, 2015 10:27 am | By

Speaking of that New Yorker article – it’s well worth reading. It’s about US law enforcement’s widespread reliance on “the Reid technique” for eliciting confessions, which was concocted by a retired cop out of…nothing in particular.

A growing number of scientists and legal scholars, though, have raised concerns about Reid-style interrogation. Of the three hundred and eleven people exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, more than a quarter had given false confessions—including those convicted in such notorious cases as the Central Park Five. The extent of the problem is unknowable, because there’s no national database on wrongful convictions. But false confessions, which often lead to these convictions, are not rare, and experts say that Reid-style interrogations can produce them.

See, the goal with confessions is not quantity but quality. I mean, sure, it would be great for law enforcement and thus for the rest of us if they could get truthful confessions in every case, but the “truthful” part is key. Dragging false confessions out of exhausted subjects is not helpful.

Thirty-five years ago, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology named Saul Kassin began researching the psychological factors that affect jury decisions. He noticed that whenever a confession was involved, every juror voted guilty. Alibis and fingerprints didn’t matter in these cases. Kassin read the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda decision and found that it repeatedly cites the Reid Technique manual as the most authoritative source on American interrogation techniques. When he bought the manual, he says, “my first impression was, my God, this reads like a bad psychology textbook. It was filled with assertions with no empirical proof.”

Today, Kassin has appointments at Williams College, in Massachusetts, and at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York, and is widely regarded as a leading expert on false confessions. He believes that the Reid Technique is inherently coercive. The interrogator’s refusal to listen to a suspect’s denials creates feelings of hopelessness, which are compounded by the fake file and by lies about the evidence. At this point, short-term thinking takes over. Confession opens something of an escape hatch, so it is only natural that some people choose it.

Do you think the Miranda ruling makes this not a problem? More than 80% of suspects waive their Miranda rights.

The Reid interrogation technique is predicated upon an accurate determination, during Behavioral Analysis, of whether the suspect is lying. Here, too, social scientists find reason for concern. Three decades of research have shown that nonverbal signals, so prized by the Reid trainers, bear no relation to deception. In fact, people have little more than coin-flipping odds of guessing if someone is telling the truth, and numerous surveys have shown that police do no better. Aldert Vrij, a professor of psychology at the University of Portsmouth, in England, found that law-enforcement experience does not necessarily improve the ability to detect lies. Among police officers, those who said they paid close attention to nonverbal cues did the worst. Similarly, an experiment by Kassin showed that both students and police officers were better at telling true confessions from false ones when they listened to an audio recording of an interview rather than watch it on video. In the experiment, the police officers performed less well than the students but expressed greater confidence in their ability to tell who was lying. “That’s a bad combination,” Kassin said.

It’s the Dunning-Kruger combination. You really don’t want that in police interrogations.

Such studies suggest that a troubling chain of events can easily take place in the mind of an interrogator. During the Behavioral Analysis Interview, the detective begins to form an impression, based in part on the suspect’s body language. The impression could be wrong, but the detective, sensitized to those responses, notices them more and pays less attention to others—an instance of confirmation bias. Increasingly convinced that he’s dealing with a liar, the detective questions more aggressively, and this, in turn, triggers more nervousness. The behaviors create a feedback loop, ratcheting up the suspicion and anxiety to the point where the detective feels duty-bound to get a confession. Psychologists call this cycle the “Othello error,” for the tragic escalation of accusation and fear that leads Othello to kill Desdemona.

Gregg McCrary, a retired F.B.I. agent, told me that Reid-style training creates a tendency to see lies where they may not exist, with an unhealthy amount of confidence in that judgment. “They just assume they’re interviewing the guilty guy,” he said.

And the wrong people go to prison, and sometimes to the lethal injection room.

There are alternatives.

In 1990, after a flurry of false-confession scandals in Britain, the government appointed a commission of detectives, academics, and legal experts to develop an interview method that would reflect up-to-date psychological research. After two years’ work, the commission unveiled their technique, called PEACE, for Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure, Evaluate. Training was provided for police departments throughout England and Wales, starting with major-crimes units. By 2001, every police officer in England and Wales had received a basic level of instruction in the method.

The method differed dramatically from previous practices. Police were instructed not to try to obtain confessions but to use the interview as a way to gather evidence and information, almost as a journalist would. They were to focus on content rather than on nonverbal behavior, and were taught not to pay attention to anxiety, since it does not correlate with lying. Instead, police were trained to ask open-ended questions to elicit the whole story, and then go back over the details in a variety of ways to find inconsistencies. For the suspect, lying creates a cognitive load—it takes energy to juggle the details of a fake story. Part of the process involved thorough preparation: police learned to spend hours drawing diagrams of the route they hoped an interview would take. Bluffing about evidence was prohibited. “We were not allowed to lie, coerce, or minimize,” Andy Griffiths, a detective superintendent with the Sussex Police Department, told me. Their job was simply to get as much information as possible, which, along with corroborating evidence, would either inculpate the suspect or set him free.

There are law enforcement people in the US working on developing approaches like that. Let’s hope they make headway.

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



Small favors

Mar 17th, 2015 9:59 am | By

Pakistan had a big hanging party today.

Pakistan has hanged 12 convicts, the largest number of people executed on the same day since the country overturned a ban on executions.

The men were terrorists, murderers or guilty of “heinous crimes”, an interior ministry spokesman said.

At least 27 convicts have been executed since the moratorium was lifted, most of them militants, Reuters reported.

It is estimated there are more than 8,000 Pakistanis on death row. Rights groups say many convictions are unsafe.

Human rights groups say that prisoners often do not receive a fair trial within Pakistan’s outdated criminal justice system and that poorly-trained police often use torture to force confessions.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that the latest executions took place in Multan, Karachi, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Jhang.

I’d like to be able to say that US death penalty cases at least got fair trials with no forcing of confessions, but I can’t. The Innocence Project has helped to make it unpleasantly clear that many convictions are not safe at all, including capital cases. Last December Ricky Dale Wyatt became the 325th person whose conviction was overturned via DNA testing. Douglas Starr’s 2013 New Yorker article Do police interrogation techniques produce false confessions? explained how behind other developed countries the US is in the way it trains cops to interrogate suspects. There’s a long ugly history of using arrest and conviction as a substitute for slavery.

But I guess we can be glad we don’t execute 15 people in one day.

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



In front of synagogues and Holocaust memorials

Mar 16th, 2015 5:50 pm | By

A distasteful little item from a long piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, on anti-Semitism in Europe.

[T]he new anti-Semitism flourishing in corners of the European Muslim community would be impoverished without the incorporation of European fascist tropes. Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a comedian of French Cameroonian descent who specializes in Holocaust revisionism and gas-chamber humor, is the inventor of the quenelle, widely understood as an inverted Nazi salute. His followers have taken to photographing themselves making the quenelle in front of synagogues, Holocaust memorials, and sites of past anti-Jewish terrorist attacks. Dieudonné has built an ideological partnership with Alain Soral, the anti-Jewish conspiracy theorist and 9/11 “truther” who was for several years a member of the National Front’s central committee. Soral was photographed not long ago making the quenelle in front of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial.

Ugh.

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