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.


It gets worse

May 12th, 2015 11:00 am | By

Oh good god, here’s another turn of the screw. The BBC reports the murder of Ananta Bijoy Das.

Ananta Bijoy Das was attacked by masked men with machetes in Sylhet, police say. He is said to have received death threats from Islamist extremists.

Mr Das wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website once moderated by Avijit Roy, himself hacked to death in February.

Sweden has confirmed it turned down a visa request from Mr Das in April.

He had been invited to attend a press freedom event by the Swedish Pen writers organisation but officials in the country’s embassy in Dhaka refused the request, citing a risk he might not return home.

Oh.my.god.

Did they think the “risk” was because he was on a hit-list there? If so…well really, words fail me.

Swedish Pen told the BBC they were in the process of submitting an appeal when they heard of Mr Das’s murder. The group has demanded an explanation from their government, the BBC’s John McManus reports.

Yeah, I should think so.

Sara Hossain, a lawyer and human rights activist in Dhaka, told the BBC that Mr Das and Mr Roy were on a list of targets.

“They’ve always believed and written very vocally in support of free expression and they’ve very explicitly written about not following any religion themselves,” she told the BBC World Service’s Newsday programme.

“These last two have been part of a blog called Mukto-Mona [Free Mind], which is about free thinking and is about explicitly taking on religious fundamentalism and particularly Islamic religious fundamentalism. Their names have been on lists of identified targets.”

I have friends there.

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



More horror

May 12th, 2015 10:09 am | By

Bangladesh. Murder number 3 this year.

A secular blogger has been hacked to death in north-east Bangladesh, the third such deadly attack this year.

Police said Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered as he headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet, an attack that fellow writers said highlighted a culture of impunity.

Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, said a group of about four masked attackers pounced on Das with machetes at about 8.30am on Tuesday on a busy street in Bangladesh’s fifth-largest city.

Hasan would not be drawn on the motive for the attack but fellow writers said Das had been on a hitlist drawn up by militants who were behind the recent killing of a blogger who was a US citizen.

Imran Sarker, head of a Bangladeshi bloggers’ association, said Das was an atheist who wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website formerly moderated by Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-born US citizen who was stabbed to death in the capital, Dhaka, in February.

It makes me so sick I can’t sit still.

Debasish Debu, a friend of Das, said the 33-year-old banker was also an editor of a quarterly magazine called Jukti (Logic) and headed the Sylhet-based science and rationalist council.

Debu said Das had been receiving threats for his writing and that their frequency increased after the killing of Roy. “He had written about superstitions, but he wasn’t among the writers that would hurt the sentiments of religion,” Debu said.

According to the Mukto-Mona site, Das won the publication’s annual rationalist award in 2006 for his “deep and courageous interest in spreading secular and humanist ideals and messages”.

While most of Das’s output for Mukto-Mona focused on science and evolution, he wrote a number of blogs that criticised some aspects of Islam and also of Hinduism. He also wrote a poem eulogising the famed Bangladeshi secular writer Taslima Nasreen, who fled to Europe in 1994 after protests by Islamists.

It’s fascism.

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



The bishop says no

May 11th, 2015 6:33 pm | By

Same old – Catholic health systems buy up everything in sight and then refuse to prescribe birth control. Uh oh, you’re now screwed! Too bad. Have a nice life!

An OB/GYN who can’t prescribe birth control? It’s not some bad joke. It could be a reality if your doctor’s practice is purchased by a Catholic health system that then imposes the Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, a set of rules created by the U.S. Bishop’s Conference that prohibits doctors from doing everything from prescribing the Pill to performing sterilizations or abortions.

…Driven by health-care economics and incentives in the Affordable Care Act, health systems, which are a collection of hospitals and ancillary services, are acquiring physician practices at an unprecedented rate. The percentage of doctors who were employees of health systems increased from 20 percent to 26 percent between 2012 and 2013 alone; more than 40 percent of primary care doctors like OB/GYNs are now employed by health systems directly, and experts don’t see the trend slowing.

And with Catholic hospital systems accounting for eight of the 10 of the largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S., these hospitals are poised to become major owners of doctors’ offices, which could severely impede access to contraceptives if doctors are forced to follow the Directives. “The more we see these Catholic systems buying up these practices, the more we are going to see what Angela saw,” predicted Lorie Chaiten, director of the Illinois ACLU’s Reproductive Rights Project, who notes that such refusals are legal under Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

It’s their religious freedom. Yours, not so much.

Asked directly whether its doctors in Evanston and elsewhere in Illinois were prevented from providing contraception, Presence said in a statement, “We abide by the Ethical & Religious Directives, and there are certain services which we do not provide. It is our expectation that all physicians associated with Presence Saint Francis Hospital share with their patients the options that are available in accessing the care they seek.”

But telling women about their options isn’t a solution when they are denied access to contraception, says Chaiten. “Even if they tell you what your options are, you have to have a second appointment with another doctor to get birth control. This seems inconsistent with whole idea of OB/GYN practice.”

Not only do women have to face the inconvenience of making—and paying—for another doctor’s appointment to get one of the most basic gynecological services, but there’s also a bigger problem: “The more we stigmatize and silo reproductive health care, the more it seems like it’s OK to treat it as not basic health care,” says Chaiten.

And that’s exactly what they want. These bastards want total Catholic control of women’s reproductive care and of their minds. The Pope’s Revenge.

for some women, changing doctors may not be an option. Health insurers are becoming increasingly restrictive about which hospitals and doctors a patient is allowed to use and may charge a steep penalty for going out of the network of preferred providers. Smaller towns and rural areas may not have a large selection of OB/GYNs. The ACLU is backing a measure in the Illinois Legislature that would require health systems to tell patients beforehand what services they don’t provide and where they can get them. Chaiten also encourages women who have been denied reproductive health services for religious reason to report it to the ACLU, which is tracking this trend.

Ironically, Angela’s experience with her OB/GYN wasn’t her last run-in with Catholic health care. After she was refused a tubal ligation and a prescription for birth control, Angela’s husband decided to get a vasectomy. His doctor, who was also part of the Catholic system, said his practice couldn’t do the procedure or make a referral. “The whole situation is so unbelievable to me. I had no idea these limitations occurred,” she says. “When I tell my friends about it, they say it’s medieval. We have to worry that if they keep buying up all these practices, it will get harder and harder to find someone who can prescribe birth control.”

On the other hand, in the news today

Insurance companies must accept all forms of federally approved methods of birth control for women free of charge or co-payments, the Obama administration announced Monday in a series of guidelines on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Responding to reports that insurance companies were skirting requirements to cover all contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Obama administration sought to erase any ambiguity over what forms of birth control fall under the free-coverage mandate.

“As the law has been implemented, issues have been raised by some women and from members of Congress that insurance companies were not covering the contraceptive method recommended by doctors, as well as concerns from issuers that the existing guidance did not provide enough detail about how specific types of contraception should be covered,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.

That’s about insurance coverage, not the provision of the actual birth control – but maybe it’s a first step.

This shit has got to stop. Catholic bishops should not be controlling what medical services women can get.

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



God’s body

May 11th, 2015 4:06 pm | By

David Frum wrote a pretty good piece defending the right to blaspheme, but he got one part wrong.

In 1989, the AIDS activist group ACT UP disrupted services in St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York. One protester grabbed a consecrated communion wafer, broke it, and tossed it to the floor. He and some 100 others were arrested. A few of the protesters were sentenced to community service. None went to prison. Needless to say, none was burned at the stake.

From a Catholic perspective, defiling a consecrated communion wafer does violence to the body of God. It would be hard to imagine a more brutal affront to the most cherished beliefs of faithful Catholics.

Hmm. Is that really what it is? Do they think of it as like taking a machete to God’s arm?

I wouldn’t think so. I don’t think even from a Catholic perspective it’s like doing violence to anyone’s body. How can you do any kind of violence to a god anyway? It doesn’t bleed or feel pain or lose the use of the body part. I think it’s the sacrilege that burns, not an idea of doing violence to a body.

Anyway. Everyone was shocked and went tut, no one said it was blasphemy and a police matter.

The right to blaspheme is not a right most of us make much use of these days, and for excellent reason. In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else.

Ohhhhhhhh no we don’t – at least not if we’re paying attention we don’t. Hobby Lobby anyone?

No, we don’t take that for granted at all, because we can’t. If only we could. Nope; the USCCB enforces religious dogma on anyone who uses a Catholic hospital, emphatically including non-Catholics. Religious phrases and symbols are forced on all of us all over the place – on the money, in “the pledge,” in and around many public buildings, in airports, and on and on.

Expect more blasphemy over the coming years.

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



The sons of garbage collectors belong in other fields than the judiciary

May 11th, 2015 3:28 pm | By

Here’s a piece of jaw-dropping nastiness out of Egypt. A bunch of young prosecutors were fired because their parents hadn’t been to university.

Just months after they were appointed, 138 new prosecutors were removed from office in September 2013 following a ruling from the judiciary’s governing body that said only those born to parents with undergraduate degrees could join the state prosecution.

Can you believe it? Can you imagine how all those parents feel? The humiliation and guilt? And what on earth can possibly be the reason? It’s hard to think of any other than plain snobbery.

The deadlock is “a disaster to social justice”, Mohamed Kamal-Eddin, one of the excluded prosecutors, told Ahram Online, the English-language version of Egypt’s flagship state newspaper. “This condition is a punishment to the parents for not having received university education. Judges are supposed to be the guards of justice. It is absurd that they decide such a condition.’’

The justice ministry declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian. So did two spokesmen for the 138 prosecutors, saying the issue was an exclusively Egyptian matter that should not interest foreign media.

No, don’t say that. Egyptian media are welcome to report on the US’s many striking faults. We should all be internationalist and give a damn about each other.

Speaking on Egyptian television, a senior judge and former member of the board that banned the prosecutors said the decision was aimed at upholding the quality of the judiciary. “We have nothing against the job of garbage collectors, but their sons belong in other fields than the judiciary, because it’s a sensitive job,” said Justice Ahmed Abdelrahman.

Dear sweet tapdancing Jesus. Does he think the garbage collectors bring the garbage home, and marinate their children in it? Does he think the children take the garbage to university with them? What is he talking about?

Ugh, god, why are people so ingenious at thinking up ways to be shitty to each other?

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



Signs of existential evil in society

May 11th, 2015 2:34 pm | By

The Independent reports on a worrying trend.

The proliferation of “beautiful young vampires” in TV series and Hollywood films including True Blood and the Twilight movies is encouraging young people to dabble with occult forces, a leading authority on demonic possession has warned a Vatican-backed exorcism course.

What’s a leading authority on demonic possession? What’s there to be a leading authority about?

“There are those who try to turn people into vampires and make them drink other people’s blood, or encourage them to have special sexual relations to obtain special powers,” said Professor Giuseppe Ferrari at the meeting in Rome, which heard that the number of such possessions is rising globally.

So he could be an authority on people who think, or pretend to think, they’re turning people into vampires. He could be a skeptic, in short…except the part about warning a Vatican-backed exorcism course doesn’t sound like a skeptic.

To Google then. Most of the top entries are related to this same conference. But there’s one item from May 2014, so let’s see what the authority was up to a year ago.

Organizers of a recent exorcism conference in Rome spoke to the Telegraph Newspaper about the growing problem of demonic possession:

…Giuseppe Ferrari, from GRIS, a Catholic research group that organized the conference, said there was an ever growing need for priests to be trained to perform exorcisms because of the increasing number of lay people tempted to dabble in black magic, paganism and the occult…

Ok, so he’s that kind of authority, the kind who takes it seriously. That makes it slightly odd that the Indy calls him an authority.

Professor Ferrari, who heads an Italian occult watchdog, The Group on Research and Socio-Religious Information, said exorcisms should only be conducted by properly trained priests. Although the Vatican regards genuine demonic possession as rare, with many suspected cases proving to be people with mental illnesses, Pope Francis has urged dioceses to ensure that they follow Catholic law and have at least one trained exorcist each.

Just in case. Demonic possession is rare, but rare isn’t the same as non-existent.

Funny, that. If it happens, then why doesn’t it happen constantly everywhere? If it’s something De Debbil can do, why doesn’t De Debbil do it full-time? Why is it rare?

Swiss exorcist Father Cesare Truqui told The Independent that this week’s course, attended by exorcists, priests and lay people, was vital in order to raise awareness and hone priests’ skills in fighting evil.

Hey, here’s an idea – they could forget about demonic possession and just look at their colleagues and themselves. They could think hard about why they’re so determined to keep women subordinate. They could think hard about why they’re so rabidly opposed to same-sex relationships.

“The ministry of performing exorcism is little known among priests. It’s like training to be a journalist without knowing how to do an interview,” he said, noting that dioceses in Italy and beyond were experiencing a surge in reports of symptoms of possession.

No, it isn’t like that, because doing an interview is real while doing an exorcism is just fantasy.

Father Cesare is a protégé of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 25 years, who claims to have dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession. Father Amorth said that sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church were proof that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican”. He took a similarly dim view of fantasy novels and yoga. Practising the latter, he once warned, was “satanic; it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter”.

Gay rights and IVF fertility treatment were listed as signs of existential evil in society by Monsignor Luigi Negri, the Archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio. “There’s homosexual marriage, homosexual adoption, IVF and a host of other things. There’s the clamorous appearance of the negation of man as defined by the Bible,” he declared.

No no no. All backwards and twisted around. I know this, because I’m an authority.

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



Žižek says down with all this political correctness

May 11th, 2015 11:50 am | By

More stupid dreck about how clever and original and rebel-like it would be to use more sexist and racist epithets to liven things up. Annalisa Merelli preaches a sermon on the gospel according to Žižek.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek isn’t one to shy away from provocative observations. In a video published on the portal Big Think, he takes on something that is commonly employed as a sensible cultural practice: Political correctness. The academic calls it a form of “cold respect.” He argues that giving space to an occasional exchange of “friendly obscenities” allows for more closeness and gives way to honest exchanges.

If it’s genuinely friendly, then maybe so, although obviously there’s always the risk that the recipient of the friendly obscenity won’t see it the way the sender sees it. We know that can happen, right? What you intend as a jokey insult comes across as a real insult? It’s not “cold respect” to be aware of that, and to think the risk might not be worth it.

There’s also the fact that real aggression can hide behind pretend joking. We know that can happen too, right? I frankly don’t think the risk is worth it.

Žižek reports several episodes in which his lack of politically correct boundaries has served him well, from dealing with the ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia to becoming friendly with two black Americans after jokingly making a racist remark: “You blacks, like the yellow guys, you all look the same” he reports saying to them, adding, “they embraced me and they told me, you can call me nigga.”)

And I can report a great number of episodes in which I’ve seen that kind of thing go horribly wrong, and another great number of episodes in which I’ve seen non-joking racist or sexist remarks made with dead seriousness. I don’t think the world is suffering from a shortage of people who lack politically correct boundaries. That would be a nice shortage.

Merelli gives her analysis of the idea:

Political correctness stems from the understanding that racism and inequality exist, and that in lieu of fixing those problems, prettier language will do the trick—as if by using inoffensive words and avoiding crass jokes we are to paint over the filth of reality. Politically correct expressions, to Žižek, become patronizing because they actually highlight inequalities. As the philosopher notes, “one needs to be very precise not to fight racism in a way which ultimately reproduces, if not racism itself, at least the conditions of racism.”

No. That’s wrong. Nobody thinks “prettier language” will do the trick all by itself. That’s a canard. It’s a very familiar stale tedious canard, and I’m sick of hearing it.

And it is not just race, of course, that Žižek talks about. Gender, disability–anything that diverges from norms presented in society or media–are all coated with neutral words and behaviors, by the very people who claim to be accepting of it. This special language, despite its intentions, serves to reinforce certain conditions as special, fragile, and weak.

Can we dare to see differences for what they are—nothing else than differences? And can we ever safely name them, perhaps even with the occasional offensive joke?

Perhaps adopting a little of Žižek’s attitude would indeed result in what he refers to as a “wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity.” It might generate misunderstanding, but if a more light-hearted approach is adopted in a genuine way, that would reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level—hence can openly be made fun of, just as we do of ourselves.

Yeah. You know all those ugly people you know? Start telling them how ugly you think they are. That’s the way to a better world. Clumsy people? Boring people? Short? Fat? Old? Disabled? Foreign? Working class? Poor? Badly dressed? Start telling all of them that. Do it “light-heartedly” and that will reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level.

God, people can be so fucking stupid sometimes.

If Annalisa Merelli were here in front of me I wouldn’t tell her what she said is fucking stupid, but it would be very hard not to.

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



Cameron promised that this British bill would be “rooted in our values”

May 11th, 2015 10:09 am | By

From a New Statesman review by Sophie McBain of Shami Chakrabarti’s book On Liberty last December:

This book is above all a treatise against David Cameron’s pledge that a future Conservative government would create a British bill of rights to replace its international commitments – a dangerous attempt to “redefine our fundamental rights as citizens’ privileges”, in Chakrabarti’s view.

Speaking in October 2013, Cameron promised that this British bill would be “rooted in our values” and he singled out a European ruling that prisoners should have the vote: “I’m sorry, I just don’t agree. Our parliament – the British parliament – decided they shouldn’t have that right,” he said. The problem is that human rights are too precious to entrust to party politics and external institutions – such as the European Court of Human Rights – act as an important safeguard to keep democracies liberal.

Human rights shouldn’t be national, because they shouldn’t be particular – they should be universal. If they’re particular rights they’re no longer human rights, they’re just whatever the local particular is – British rights, Muslim rights, capitalist rights, Hindu rights. That’s no good. They have to be universal to do the job they’re meant to do.

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



Tories v human rights

May 11th, 2015 9:36 am | By

The Indy has an explainer piece about what the (UK) Human Rights Act is and why the Tories plan to ditch it.

The Human Rights Act is a piece of law, introduced in 1998, that guarantees human rights in Britain. It was introduced as one of the first major reforms of the last Labour government.

In practice, the Act has two main effects. Firstly, it incorporates the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law.

What this means is that if someone has a complaint under human rights law they do not have to go to European courts but can get justice from British courts.

Secondly, it requires all public bodies – not just the central government, but institutions like the police, NHS, and local councils – to abide by these human rights.

So, speaking from the pov of a Yank, it’s somewhat like the US Bill of Rights, but also unlike it in that here the court of appeal is still a national court rather than a transnational one. As I understand it that’s part of what people on the right dislike about it: it messes with national sovereignty. The trouble with that thought is that national sovereignty is only as good as it is. If you have a government that flouts human rights, then national sovereignty is no way to protect human rights. History has one or two examples of this actually happening.

What rights are we talking about?

The Act covers all the rights included in the European Convention.

These rights are: Right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education.

National governments don’t always strictly honor every one of those rights. Not absolutely always. I’m sure they mean well, but they stumble now and then.

Ok so what is this here European Convention on Human Rights?

The European Convention on Human Rights is an agreement that all countries in Europe will respect human rights. It was drawn up in 1950 in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The Convention was spearheaded by Britain and the committee that drew up its final draft was chaired by British Conservative MP  Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. The UK was a founding signatory and ratified the Convention in March 1951.

That’s after the UDHR. Both were drawn up “in the aftermath of the Second World War” – i.e. in an effort to prevent repetitions of the kind of thing that led up to, caused, went on during and after that war.

Different countries implement the Convention in different ways. The Human Rights Act is the British way of implementing the convention into domestic law.

So why do the Tories want to ditch it?

The Conservatives say in their manifesto that they want to scrap the Human Rights Act. They would replace it with what they call a “British Bill of Rights”.

They say this new bill will “break the formal link between British Courts and Human Rights”.

Um…what? Could they say anything more sinister?

Do they have any more brilliant ideas?

The Home Secretary Theresa May has said Britain could leave the ECHR if British courts were not allowed to overrule the decisions of the Strasbourg court, which ultimately decides ECHR cases.

Oh ffs –  of course they wouldn’t be allowed to overrule the decisions; that’s the whole point!

Mind you: again, the ECHR is only as good as it is. We in the US have a mostly-Catholic Supreme Court now, and a majority with some quite peculiar ideas about human rights.

Tell us about the political background, Indy.

The ECHR has told the government it can’t do various things – such as deport prisoners to countries where torture is routinely used – because such moves breaches human rights.

The Human Rights Act is also subject to a lot of negative reporting in the right-wing press, with regular inaccurate or partial stories about cases brought under the Act.

That’s freedom of the press for you. Ironic, isn’t it.

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



Taslima was one of the petitioners

May 10th, 2015 6:02 pm | By

Taslima reports on a recent Supreme Court ruling in India.

The Supreme Court delivered a verdict against Section 66 A of Information and Technology Act 2000. The Section gives the police powers to arrest those who post objectionable content online and provides for a three-year jail term.

I was one of the petitioners .

A win for free expression online, and Taslima was one of the petitioners.

She talks to a reporter starting at about 1:30:

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8TcliQqRsk

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



Maryam on TBQ

May 10th, 2015 5:17 pm | By

Here is today’s The Big Questions, with Maryam Namazie and Peter Tatchell and Andrew Copson. The question is

Have human rights laws achieved more for mankind than religion?

Hahahahahaha yes of course they have, that’s an easy one, thank you for watching, good bye.

I’ve paused it at 4:00 because Nicky Campbell – the presenter – just said

The 10 commandments is often cited as a perfect distillation and perfect example of human rights.

That’s the most ridiculous claim I’ve heard in whenever. The what? The 10 commandments have almost nothing to do with human rights, apart from the very minimal right not to be murdered or robbed or lied to. Most of it is about god’s rights, not our rights. What a completely absurd thing to say.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0YKq5gn3yg

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



Cover yourself

May 10th, 2015 4:31 pm | By

This again.

FIFTEEN non-Muslim women have trialled hijabs in Dandenong this afternoon as part of a social experiment, slammed by some as promoting separateness.

The experiment by two Minaret College schoolgirls was part of a short documentary being filmed for Greater Dandenong Council’s “Youth Channel” program aimed at “providing awareness, insight and education”.

The Council called on women to wear the Islamic headdress for three hours today as part of a “social experiment” for National Youth Week.

Awareness of what? Insight into what? Education about what?

Notice the Council called on women to wear it. Just women. The Council called on women to wear a hot smothery head-and-neck covering, to provide awareness of…how dirty they are? How necessary it is for women to be muffled and submissive? How women are second-class citizens?

Centre for Multicultural Youth regional services co-ordinator Heather Stewart, who wore a hijab back to her workplace, said she found the experience enlightening and was surprised by the backlash.

“I think it’s really sad that there seems to be such a lot of fear about Islam,” she said.

“I saw it as an opportunity for non-Muslim women to understand a little bit about another culture.”

But why only non-Muslim women? Why is it only women who are asked to do this? Why aren’t men also asked to do this?

Well because there is no male equivalent of the hijab.

Right, and what does that tell you?

Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad said Muslim women couldn’t go around without their hijabs.

“It is part of our religion for women to cover their hair … it’s a statement of religious observance; it’s saying, ‘I am a devout Muslim woman’,” he said.

Women couldn’t go around without their hijabs. We’re always being told it’s a “choice,” but it isn’t, is it, not when there are enough presidents like Keysar Trad around. I also love the forumlation ““It is part of our religion for women to cover their hair” – it is part of their religion for other people to do what they’re told. That’s kind of like saying “It’s part of my religion for you to buy me dinner.”

Also? That claim that “it’s a statement of religious observance; it’s saying, ‘I am a devout Muslim woman’” is bullshit. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about “covering up.” It’s about filthy harlots covering up so that men won’t be forced to rape them.

Mr Trad said the council project would be criticised by some, but it was a positive way for non-Muslims to get a different perspective.

No, it is not, because – to repeat – it’s directed only at women.

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



Litigious George

May 10th, 2015 3:40 pm | By

George Galloway has begun legal proceedings to have the result of the Bradford West byelection set aside.

Well naturally. He lost, so naturally he’s demanding that his loss be set aside. Never let it be said that he takes such an insult lying down.

Galloway won the Bradford West seat for his Respect party in a byelection in 2012, but he was defeated on Thursday by Labour’s Naz Shah, who secured a majority of more than 11,000 following a bitter campaign.

On Sunday night, Galloway said on Twitter: “We’ve begun legal proceedings seeking to have result of the Bfd West election set aside. I cannot therefor discuss my own election for now.” His spokesman said the legal action was at an early stage but was a complaint under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. This relates to candidates making false statements during campaigns.

Oh yes? Galloway’s the one who said Naz Shah’s marriage wasn’t forced because her mother attended the wedding. What about that for a false statement?

A Labour spokesman said: “This is pathetic and without any foundation. George Galloway should accept he was booted out by the people of Bradford West. They saw through his divisive politics and made a positive choice, by a majority of well over 11,000, to elect a brilliant new MP, Naz Shah.”

The guy is a skunk.

⇑ Opinion. ⇑

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



Be sure to report it tomorrow

May 10th, 2015 12:48 pm | By

A feminist student was murdered in April. It looks likely that she was murdered because she was a feminist. The university didn’t do much to prevent her murder.

The University of Mary Washington’s campus in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was hit by a spate of violent threats against a feminist student group for months leading up to the alleged murder of a group member in April. Documents provided to The Huffington Post show the administration was keenly aware of the continued harassment, which was posted on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak, but a federal complaint filed Thursday alleges the public university failed to act on this knowledge and permitted a hostile environment against female students.

Police have not revealed a possible motive for student’s killing and the complaint does not state the school is responsible for her death, nor does it explicitly connect the threats to her killing.

A feminist club had complained to the student senate about fraternities; harassment ensued.

The harassment continued and escalated in the spring, when complaints from club led the university to suspend its club rugby team over a sexist chant some of its members had performed at a party.

Grace Mann, a Feminists United Club member who had been subject to Yik Yak threats of physical and sexual violence, was killed on April 17 by asphyxia by strangulation. Steven Vander Briel, Mann’s roommate and a former member of the rugby team, was arrested later that day and charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death.

Maybe there’s no connection between the two.

Also at the Nov. 23 party, the complaint alleges, a member of the rugby team shouted he wanted to hit a woman. A male who told the rugby member that was not an appropriate joke allegedly was then bullied by rugby team members who called him a “pussy,” according to the complaint. A copy of the complaint and dozens of related emails and screenshots were shared with The Huffington Post.

Men in the UK still try to tell me that “pussy” is absolutely not a sexist epithet in any way, it just means fraidy-cat.

Julia Michels, a club member, emailed the UMW administration on March 25 to explain how members were threatened “with both physical and sexual violence, and have had countless derogatory and misogynistic slurs directed at us.” The club had collected 200 examples of violent posts on Yik Yak directed at them, Michels said. A week later, that number grew to 700.

On March 27, the campus received an email noting the university “has no recourse for such cyber bullying,” but urging students to report direct threats. One student sent a response on March 30 stating, “We have evidence of these posts and have showed them to administrators, and your response is to ‘report them to yik yak’? an app that was created by two fraternity guys? We have been trying to do this for months and this approach clearly has not worked in the slightest.”

That’s so typical. The response almost always seems to be “oh gosh, that’s terrible, if it gets any worse be sure to report it.” When they just did report it! It’s always jam tomorrow.

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



Which way is up

May 10th, 2015 12:11 pm | By

Punch up.

Cartoon by Chip Bok.

H/t Pieter Breitner

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



Just to survive is a form of resistance

May 10th, 2015 11:58 am | By

The Guardian talks to Mona Eltahawy.

Were you anxious about the outrage you might provoke in some quarters by speaking openly about misogyny within your own community?

I’ve got a lot of hate… But it’s hate from people I’m glad I’m pissing off. As a woman with an opinion, you get a lot of shit.

Are all religions misogynistic?

Absolutely, to some degree. All religions, if you shrink them down, are all about controlling women’s sexuality… They’re obsessed with my vagina. I tell them: stay outside my vagina unless I want you in there.

No invitation, no admission.

You decided to wear the hijab at 15. Why?

I wanted to wear it at 15 but my parents said I was too young, so I wore it at 16 and very quickly realised it wasn’t for me. I missed feeling the wind in my hair. When I was eating, it would constrict the way I felt I could swallow.

Mona Eltahawy: ‘All religions are obsessed with my vagina’ | World news | The Guardian

So you stopped wearing it at 19…

I became a feminist while wearing the hijab and to people who challenged that I would say: “This is my way of choosing which parts of my body I show you, so that you don’t objectify me.” But I realised it was very hard to hold on to because if a man cannot do that, the problem is with him and not with me. I was changing my physical presence in order for a man not to objectify me, rather than the man working on himself not to do it.

After her assault by Egyptian riot police in 2011, she got tattoos.

I realised I could use my body to send messages, not just words. When I started to read about tattoos, I found that a lot of victims of sexual abuse have them as a way of reclaiming their body, to take it back from what they [the abusers] did. So on my right arm, I have a tattoo of Sekhmet, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex. The way I put it, she’ll kick your ass and then fuck your brains out. She has the head of a lioness and the body of a woman. On my left arm, I have Arabic calligraphy and I have the name of the street where I was assaulted, because it became an icon of the revolution: Mohamed Mamoud street. Underneath, I have the Arabic word for “freedom”.

She got bright red hair, too.

You were named by Newsweek as one of the 150 ‘Most Fearless Women of 2012’. Do you consider yourself fearless?

You know, I never ever think about that fearless, courage, brave stuff. It’s just what I do. I’m often asked, “Do you feel safe in Egypt?” and I answer: no one feels safe in Egypt. For anyone who continues to exist as a dissident just to survive is a form of resistance.

Survive.

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



Save the date

May 10th, 2015 11:47 am | By

CEMB partay on June 20th.

Join us for appetisers, drinks, music, speeches and laughs to celebrate the CEMB’s 8th anniversary.
Saturday 20 June 2015, 1500-1800 Hours at a location near London Kings Cross/St Pancras stations

Speakers and acts include: Philosopher A C Grayling, Iraqi British Singer Alya Marquardt, Secular activist Aliyah Saleem, Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco Founder Imad Iddine Habib, Comedian Kate Smurthwaite, Author Kenan Malik, Southall Black Sisters Director Pragna Patel, CEMB Spokesperson Maryam Namazie and more.

Tickets: £18 (waged); £10 (unwaged)

To register, please email your name and mobile number to exmuslimcouncil@gmail.com. You can purchase your ticket(s) via Paypal or by sending a cheque made payable to ‘CEMB’ to: BM Box 1919, London WC1N 3XX.

Space is limited so buy your tickets today.

No tickets will be sold at the door.

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



= FREE SPEECH?!?!

May 10th, 2015 11:18 am | By

What’s wrong with this picture?

The caption on the page:

Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK

To insult someone, to be offensive, provocative or racist is not only uncivilised, rude and disrespectful, but also causes societies to live in misery with anger and tension. Those that find this acceptable or support this concept should enlighten us why this is beneficial to society/an individual. How can we expect to build civilised, unified societies if we encourage everyone to insult one another? To respect others is a basic human property.

What rule exists for one community, should exist for others too; the double standards of free speech controlled by those in power against the powerless needs to be eliminated. There needs to be recognition that ‘Freedom of speech’ is not the starting point, rather respect should be the starting point, and both go hand in hand.

That’s thoroughly confused.

“Muhammed” stands for an intrusive oppressive religion that treats women as inferiors and persecutes outsiders as “kuffar.” The power of the “Muhammed” is illegitimate and harmful. We need to resist it, and criticizing or mocking “Muhammed” is one way of doing that. It is not at all the same thing as insulting Muslims as a group.

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



“The Muslim world was enraged”

May 10th, 2015 9:36 am | By

Ok now I’m curious enough about Rafia Zakaria to read her piece about Charlie Hebdo in Al Jazeera. It’s a relief that she does at least know how to adjust her style for a broader audience. The clarity is welcome.

She starts by summarizing the controversy, ending with a very odd description of its core event:

The question whether Charlie Hebdo needs to be valorized is contentious. It tragically lost eight staff members when gunmen affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Yemen stormed the magazine’s offices on Jan. 7.

Charlie “lost” eight staff members. So I guess when the gunmen stormed the offices, Charlie just somehow misplaced eight of its people and has never been able to find them? And that’s what all this is about?

What a weasel. Charlie didn’t “lose” any staff members. The Kouachi brothers, in masks and body armor, forced their way into the office and shot everyone they saw, killing eight people.

She’s a cowardly weasel about saying what happened to Charlie, but she makes up for it by being assertively blunt about the nature of Charlie – blunt but untruthful. She veils the truth and puts the untruth out into the glare of noon sunlight.

Those who are withdrawing from PEN’s gala support Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish the material, but they argue that its racist and Islamophobic content should not be endorsed with an award.

She treats it as established fact that Charlie Hebdo has “racist and Islamophobic content” when she must be aware that that’s hotly contested.

The magazine has a history of singling out Muslims for jabs and ridicule.

Note the gross factual mistake, or pair of mistakes. CH doesn’t single out Muslims, and the jabs and ridicule are for the ideas and the bosses more than for “Muslims” in general.

Its editorial staff occupies a privileged position compared with that of European Muslims or Muslims in general, whom they have long targeted with irreverent satire.

Oh really? Muslims in general? So the staff occupies a privileged position compared with that of the rulers of Saudi Arabia for instance? Compared with that of the Saudi religious police? Compared with that of Daesh and Boko Haram? Privileged in what sense, privileged in relation to whom? In short, that’s bullshit; simplistic, self-pitying bullshit.

Over the years, PEN has done exemplary work in supporting and speaking out for persecuted writers. However, its award to Charlie Hebdo appears counterproductive to the ideal of literary truth by elevating Islamophobic and racist content that instead deserves condemnation. Although the magazine’s editors and cartoonists were victims of terrorism, their work reflected and fed into the collective sensibility that led to the mass slaughter of Muslims as a way to fight terrorism. I support freedom of speech, and I deplore the tragedy, but their work does not deserve honors.

Again – she’s just pretending it’s established fact that Charlie Hebdo is full of “Islamophobic and racist content” when that is at the very least contested.

Literary organizations such as PEN have often been too silent about Western interventions in the Muslim world and the mayhem they have caused. For example, while PEN regularly champions Muslim writers persecuted by foreign governments, it has rarely done this when Muslim writers are persecuted by the U.S government or its allies under its “war on terrorism.” Such silence or tacit support of U.S. foreign policy has led to the elevation of Islamophobia as an acceptable prejudice in the West.

She gives no examples. I would like to know what Muslim writers she has in mind.

And then she takes a turn for the completely disgusting.

Leading the countercharge in PEN’s defense is Rushdie. In 1988, when he published his fictional account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, “The Satanic Verses,” the Muslim world was enraged. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini accused him of blasphemy and issued a fatwa with death threats. More than 20 years later, Rushdie still enjoys worldwide acclaim.

Look at that. Look at it, and quail with disgust. For one thing, The Satanic Verses is not “his fictional account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad.” And then saying “the Muslim world was enraged” is completely ridiculous, and an insult to the very set of people she takes herself to be defending or justifying or speaking up for. It’s not the case that all Muslims were enraged.

And then, worst of all, is that glib callous brutal jump from Khomeini’s murderous fatwa to her apparent resentment that Rushdie still enjoys worldwide acclaim. I guess she wishes he were reviled and long-dead?

But it gets worse.

He has championed Charlie Hebdo. In addition to his comments on the authors behind the PEN boycott, he continues to castigate the writers who have raised objections about the award as “being in the enemy camp” and “fellow travelers” in the cause of Islamic jihad.

Rushdie’s accusations sound eerily similar to George W. Bush’s now famous mantra “You’re either with us or against us,” which has been a huge part of the U.S wars abroad. In March, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a report revealed that the conservatively estimated human cost of Washington’s military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to stand at 1.3 million people.

Yes really. She’s linking Rushdie to Bush (hey, even the names are similar) and thence to the body count of Bush’s war and the Islamist murder-campaigns. Really.

(Yes, Bush’s war created the vacuum that made the Islamist murder-campaigns possible. I’m not defending Bush’s stinking war.)

Questions about privilege and Islamophobia have been difficult to discuss in the U.S. literary sphere, not least because of the lack of diversity in this realm and the politics of the “war on terrorism.” While U.S. military interventions have altered the global view of Muslims for the worse, organizations such as PEN have remained silent. In this context, valorizing Charlie Hebdo’s pillorying of Muslims ignores the 1.3 million mostly Muslim casualties of U.S. operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Making jokes about Muslims and their identity in the aftermath of Washington’s wars serves only to reinforce the war’s propaganda.

What she seems to be doing here is conceptualizing Islam as just “Muslims” – and “Muslims” as all subalterns, parishioners, members, audience – ignoring imams and scholars, religious police and Islamist organizations, monarchs and dictators, madrassas and sharia courts. She is, in short, eliding the very existence of power relations within Islam, and of the millions of Muslims who are subject to theocratic power with no way of modifying or appealing it. What about the “identity” of the judge who sentenced Raif Badawi? What about the “identity” of the machete-wielders who murdered Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman? What about the “identity” of the heavily armed men who have enslaved thousands of Nigerian women and girls?

She doesn’t say.

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



Arnfred Olsen and G W Foote

May 9th, 2015 5:34 pm | By

One silver lining

Norway has scrapped its longstanding blasphemy law, meaning it is now legal to mock the beliefs of others, in a direct response to January’s brutal attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The proposal to rush through the change was made in February by Conservative MP Anders B. Werp and Progress Party MP Jan Arild Ellingsen, who argued that the law “underpins a perception that religious expressions and symbols are entitled to a special protection”.

“This is very unfortunate signal to send, and it is time that society clearly stands up for freedom of speech,” the two wrote in their proposal.

Quite right. To an American it seems strange to see a Conservative proposing it – conservatives here want to force their religion on everyone every chance they get. Or rather, some of them do, but the ones who don’t vote for the ones who do, because taxes, baby.

But the change will be largely symbolic.

The last time anyone was tried for blasphemy in Norway was back in 1933, when the writer Arnulf Overland was prosecuted for giving a lecture titled “Christianity, the tenth plague” to the Norwegian Students’ Society. He was acquitted.

The last time anyone was actually convicted was in 1912, when the journalist Arnfred Olsen was taken to court for an article criticising Christianity in the radical magazine Freethinkers.

Oh yes? Snap. G W Foote, The Freethinker:

Charles Bradlaugh, then the leader of the secularist movement, soon recognised Foote’s abilities and allowed him to play an increasingly important role in the British freeethought movement. Foote contributed many articles to Bradlaugh’s National Reformer and in 1876 founded his own magazine, The Secularist. This was followed by his major publishing success, The Freethinker, which began in 1881 and is still in existence today.

In 1882 Foote was charged with blasphemy for having published a number of biblical cartoons in The Freethinker. These had been modelled after a series of French cartoons that had appeared earlier.

Eerie, isn’t it.

And I have the honor of writing a column for that same The Freethinker. Last month’s was about Garry Trudeau and Charlie Hebdo.

After a series of trials Foote was found guilty in 1883 and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment by Justice North, a Catholic judge. (“The sentence is worthy of your creed,” Foote responded.)  The Freethinker carried the banner headline “Prosecuted for Blasphemy” during this period, probably increasing its sales.

Yes, persecution will do that.

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