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.

In a fashion designed to be humiliating

Mar 19th, 2015 5:34 pm | By

Catching up on my history at the moment.Filling in gaps in my knowledge. I didn’t know the one about Harlan Ellison at the Hugo Awards in 2006. Now I know about it.

Here’s the thing.  When Harlan Ellison took it upon himself to grab the spotlight at the Hugo Awards by grabbing the breast of the Guest of Honor, Connie Willis, it wasn’t funny.  Nor was it clever.  Nor was it satirical.  Nor was it a joke between friends.  And, just be clear, it was NOT part of a scripted routine.  Yes, the shtick between her and Robert Silverberg was a planned routine to make the evening amusing for the audience, but Harlan’s actions were unplanned and unwanted.  It was a power-play.  It was demeaning.  It was sexual harassment enacted in a public environment.  It was reprehensible.

How do I know this?  Let me just say, I have an inside line.

No, really, I do.  This is quite likely the only time in my life I’ll be able to claim an inside line on ANYTHING.  But this time, I do.  Because I know an immediate member of the Willis family—Connie’s daughter—who was there during the Hugos.  And let me tell you, from what I heard from her, Connie Willis is pissed.  And rightfully so.

But at least he apologized to her. Sort of. Well no not really.

So, look folks, here’s the situation:  Harlan Ellison behaved like a predator.  He assaulted Connie Willis in public, in a fashion designed to be humiliating, in a manner that demeaned her, and in a way that was NOT part of the evening’s script.  He grabbed her breast in front of a crowd – and with that intentional grab, he stated to everyone looking:

Hey, everybody!  Connie Willis may think she’s an honored guest.  She may think she’s an acclaimed author.  She may think she’s in charge of this ceremony.  She may think we’re friends and I respect her.  But you know what? She’s my bitch if I want her to be.  She’s my prop.  Her breast?  It’s my breast.  Her event?  It’s mine to disrupt. Her talent?  It’s mine to denigrate.  Her gender?  It’s my weapon and I can use it to pump myself up at her expense.

I am Harlan.  I am male.  I must be the center of attention.  Hear me roar.

But then he did sort of apologize on his website where everybody could see it. Sort of.

He made an encouraging start, I will admit.  Here’s a direct cut and paste quote: “iT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst… For me to grab Connie’s breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.”  Good for him.  He added, “”I am 100% guilty as charged, and NO ONE should attempt to cobble up mitigating excuses for my behavior.”

Yep, that went pretty well.  Until he torpedoed it by then signing off and defining his behavior as “puckish.” Puckish?  Mr. Ellison, combining “puckishness” with your apology makes your apology meaningless.  You were not puckish.  You were not playful.  If you were a lesser writer, I’d say that you just phrased things badly.  But you’re not a lesser writer.  You’re a brilliant one.  To imply that your behavior was somehow winsome or cute is the tactic of an abusive husband who, when confronted by the target of his abuse, says, “Well, Jesus, woman.  It was just a joke.  Don’t take it so seriously.  Don’t you have a sense of humor?”  Believe me, working at a women’s shelter and as a women’s self-defense instructor, I hear these sorts of minimalizing tactics all too often.

Yes but the thing is, women are funny. They just are. It’s hilarious the way they don’t like it when you grab them by the tit unexpectedly. It’s a riot the way they squirm and try to get away without being humiliated even worse.

You can see Connie Willis being hilarious that way in the clip:


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

Chickens in Yorkshire

Mar 19th, 2015 4:36 pm | By

Kate Lycett is having an exhibit in Hebden Bridge opening March 26. She’s doing a giveaway.

It’s giveaway time! It is just 4 weeks to go til my exhibition opens at Heart Gallery, in Hebden Bridge On Thursday March 26th. I have a good size (30cm squ) artists proof here, hand-finished with gold leaf and gold thread, to give away. Please could you comment and share to spread the word about the exhibition. I will pick a random number on March 13th.

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

One assumes Saudi authorities will not arrange a visit

Mar 19th, 2015 2:05 pm | By

Michael De Dora spoke at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, on Saudi Arabia and the Istanbul Process.

The rights to freedom of religion, belief, and expression remain nearly non-existent in Saudi Arabia. On January 9, Raif Badawi, the creator of an online forum devoted to discussion on religion and politics, received the first 50 of 1,000 lashes in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah. He now reportedly faces retrial for apostasy, for which the penalty is death. On January 12, his lawyer, human rights advocate Waleed abu al-Khair, had his own prison sentence extended to 15 years. Meanwhile, women’s rights activist Samar Badawi — wife to Waleed, sister to Raif — has been banned from traveling, and restricted from visiting jailed family members.

More recently, on February 24, a young man was sentenced to death for renouncing his faith. And just last week, on March 11, Mohammed al-Bajadi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for human rights activism.

And these are only a few examples from the past 10 weeks. Saudi Arabia has a lengthy record of punishing any individual or community that differs from the government’s narrow version of authoritarian Islam.

See the original for references.

This is the state which, the OIC tells us,  is governed by and centered on the values of justice, compassion, equality, and tolerance. Insulting, isn’t it. “Listen to us while we tell you a brazen lie.”

And yet, in the face of these human rights violations, last week we learned that Saudi Arabia will host, in
Jeddah, the next meeting in the Istanbul Process, which focuses on implementation of Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. This means that while world leaders meet to discuss combating religious intolerance, Raif Badawi and countless other dissidents will sit just blocks away, languishing in Jeddah’s Briman Prison. One assumes Saudi authorities will not arrange for diplomats and NGOs to pay these political prisoners a visit.

In fact, in a stunning example of hypocrisy, Saudi Arabia — like most OIC states — has not even come close to implementing 16/18.6 It is almost certain they will attempt to use this event to legitimize their position.

It’s just staggering, isn’t it? Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most religiously intolerant nation on earth, hosting a meeting to discuss combating religious intolerance, with Raif Badawi in prison a few blocks away.


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

Stop the lashes

Mar 19th, 2015 12:52 pm | By

Via Elham Manea – In front of Saudi Ambassy in Vienna three hours ago –

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

It’s not something that a sister should do

Mar 19th, 2015 12:45 pm | By

Sayeeda Warsi is palling around with Islamists again – Islamists who would, if they had the power, force her to stay home.

The American preacher Yasir Qadhi has fashioned an entire career out of promoting obnoxious views.

Women are not spared, oh no. Have a look at this exchange:

A question from the audience: “What kind of occupation would you recommend for a sister? A job that a sister could do?”

Qadhi’s answer: “Well the question arises, would I recommend a job for any sister? And the answer is in general, in general no. In general it’s not something that a sister should do.”

“A sister” of course is a mollifying way of saying “an inferior being.”

Women may teach Muslim girls and work as gynaecologists. But there is a catch – they must have male permission.

So if her husband allows her, or if she’s not married and her father wishes, her father allows her to work, she may work as long as the environment is permissible and she is doing something which she needs to do and she’s not interacting with men.

To make sure the point is clear, after noting the exceptions which men may approve he turns right back to that “general rule”:

Frankly, with all due respect, I don’t see the need for women in many other fields. There are only a few fields. Like for example in engineering. As I said, I don’t see the need. We have men, they’re doing the job. We don’t need women in this field where they’re going to interact with men, where they’re going to go with them. What’s the point?

The general rule is that the best job that a mother can do is to be a good housewife and to take care of her children.

What’s the point? We have all the engineering we need already; it’s all being done. That’s why climate change is not a concern, why there is plenty of clean water everywhere in Africa and India and all over the planet, it’s why there are no bridges needing maintenance and no places without bridges that could use them. There is no need for new buildings anywhere; no need for improvement in existing technology; no need for new technology – it’s all, all sorted, every bit. The number of engineers we already have is exactly the right number – except it’s a little too big because some of them are women. Some bridges and planes and cars are…uh…too engineered. They have excess engineering in them, because of the women. Both are true. Also anything else is true that would imply that women should go home and stay there.

In early April Mr Qadhi will begin yet another UK tour. This time his hosts will be MEND, the Islamist political activist group that is nothing more than a rebranded “iEngage”. You can read about iEngage’s awful record here. Qadhi and MEND are an excellent match.

One of Mr Qadhi’s fellow speakers on the MEND tour will be Baroness Warsi.

So the first thing Yasir Qadhi does there will be to tell her to go home, right?

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

What upsets Saudi Arabia and the OIC

Mar 19th, 2015 11:22 am | By

Let’s look at that OIC statement on Margot Wallström’s remarks about Saudi Arabia.

First, you’ll want to refresh your memory of her talk. (The article is in Swedish but the talk is in English, just scroll down.) Here are the horrific three paragraphs that have Saudi Arabia and the whole OIC so distraught and furious:

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

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

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

That’s it; that’s all there is. The Saudis and the OIC are livid at being urged to pay attention to education of women and protection of women from all forms of violence, including female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. They’re enraged at being told that freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are fundamental rights.

Now for the OIC statement.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed its reservations on the remarks made, in regard to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, by the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström, at the Swedish Parliament last week. In her remarks, Ms. Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions.

The OIC stressed that 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; and conform all according to its convictions, references, historical background and philosophical, social and political roots.

The OIC Secretary General, Iyad Ameen Madani, stressed that relations between states should be maintained on the basis of respect, parity and appreciation; and that Islam, which Saudi Arabia – a founding member of the OIC – is governed by, is centered on the values of justice, compassion, equality, tolerance and the notion of human vicegerency.

Madani expressed his hope that Sweden will always be true to its history, policies and attitude that do not claim moral authority to pass one-sided judgments and moral categorizations of others.

So there you go. The OIC, which claims to represent all Muslims and all “Muslim nations,” thinks Foreign Minister Margot Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions by saying that freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are fundamental rights. What does that tell us about Saudi Arabia and the OIC? The OIC, which claims to represent all Muslims and all “Muslim nations,” thinks Foreign Minister Margot Wallström degraded Saudi Arabia and its social norms, judicial system and political institutions by saying that women’s rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole. What on earth does that tell us about Saudi Arabia and the OIC?

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

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.)


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


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.)