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.

Guest post: Funny how charity and benefit of the doubt never go both ways

Apr 9th, 2015 5:23 pm | By

Originally two comments by Tom Foss on The words spoken.

“We need to stop spending our money on military and police and start spending it on education.”
“He wants to eliminate the whole military and all police! It’s exactly what he said!”

There’s a phrase missing from your strawman here that would actually make your “charitable” reading accurate: “so much.” We need to stop spending so much of our money on military and police and start spending it on education.

We keep hearing all this about charitable readings and giving people the benefit of the doubt when the people in question have given no indication that they deserve it. Regardless of whether or not she meant the actual words that she said, her claim about the “worst thing that can happen” to a gay person in the US is insultingly, dismissively false. There is literally no reason for her to so blatantly distort the actual situation for gay people in the US to make her point, because the death penalty as actual policy is worse whether American gays are being denied cake or being denied employment. The same is true for her comments about women’s rights. Why dismiss these issues if your point isn’t to say that we need to switch our focus to the real problems? Which, again, is what she actually said.

It’s the same bullshit Patricia Arquette was peddling a few months back, it’s the same bullshit intersectional feminists and civil rights activists have been talking about for ever. Some outside observer sees that a civil rights movement has made some high-visibility victories and declares that the war is over, so now we can focus on the issues that really matter (to me).

Maybe it’s uncharitable to read the words as they were actually said. I suggest that Ali’s comments about the “worst thing that can happen” to gays are far less charitable. At least our reading has a basis in reality.

Funny how charity and benefit of the doubt never go both ways. Ali apparently wasn’t writing her speech thinking “gays in the US still spend a lot of time lobbying and campaigning for rights reforms. Maybe they dohave worse things to worry about than Christian bakers.” No, it was all “they must not know about how bad it is in Iran. I need to tell them how silly this cake nonsense is by comparison, and then they’ll totally see it my way.”

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

Not normally a dangerous job

Apr 9th, 2015 4:13 pm | By

A news story from what must be a colleague (so to speak) of the Onion.

The catering team on BBC quiz Have I Got News For You have been placed on ‘high alert’ after increased chatter surrounding Jeremy Clarkson’s appearance later this month.

With the risk of serving cold food higher than ever before, the catering team are said to be undergoing extensive training and new performance drills ahead of his 29th April appearance to ensure all food in the green room remains warm at all times.

Caterer Simon Williams told us, “This is not normally a dangerous job, but frankly we can’t afford to make the terrible mistake of serving Jeremy Clarkson cold food. Real human lives are at risk.”

Me, I’d put on a fencing mask and serve him piping hot melon and barely-thawed grilled salmon on a bed of stone cold arugula purée.

One former HIGNFY guest told us, “I once had a luke warm sausage roll in the green room, so I hope for all our sakes they’ve managed to rid themselves of such sloppiness.”

“If Clarkson goes off, it could cost hundreds of lives.”

Give the man some nice warm raspberry gelato for dessert.

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

A sample of bad writing

Apr 9th, 2015 1:05 pm | By

C J Werleman claims that New Atheism – all of it, not just Sam Harris and Bill Maher – is pro-white supremacy.

[The New Atheist movement has] become a pro-white supremacy movement. New Atheism is anti-Muslim, anti-Arab bigotry dressed up with a thin veneer of fancy sounding words.

That’s not a very effective way of making his claim, since white-supremacy isn’t the same thing as anti-Muslim bigotry which is not the same thing as anti-Arab bigotry. There’s overlap, but it’s possible to be one of those things without being the others, and it’s possible to be two of those things without being all three.

Individually, and on a personal level, however, New Atheists can be good people. Collectively and unwittingly, however, they not only espouse white supremacy but they also speak in a language that is every bit as crude and racist as fascist, neo-Nazi, movements. Although a little more discreetly.

Hm. He’s really not good at noticing when he contradicts himself between one sentence and the next, is he. If the language is a little more discreet, then it’s not every bit as crude and racist. The language can’t be both a little more discreet and every bit as crude and racist.

While New Atheists don’t use the overt racial epithets of say the Ku Klux Klan in the US, or Pegida in Europe, they use dog whistle terms like “barbarians,” “backwards,” and “violent”.

Some do; some don’t. Also, “violent” won’t do as a dog whistle, because it’s an indispensable word. If you treat “violent” as racist-dog whistle, you’ve made it impossible to use a necessary word.

Moreover, New Atheists enthusiastically, and often unintentionally, promote western imperialism, and any individual who supports an erroneous narrative (“clash of civilisations” is the theme of New Atheism) that, by design, attempts to justify western intervention in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia is, ergo ipso facto, a white supremacist.

Jesus – what a terrible writer he is. No wonder I’ve never bothered with him before. Again with the confusion – “enthusiastically, and often unintentionally” – that doesn’t really cohere. And then the random jumble of clauses, and then the silly “ergo ipso facto” – what a mess. Oh and a wrong factual claim – no, “clash of civilisations” is not the theme of new atheism.

Like their anti-theistic genocidal forefathers of the middle 20th century, New Atheists dabble in the dark arts of scientific racism. “The cult of science promises to eradicate or reform the tainted and morally inferior populations of the human race,” warns Chris Hedges. Today’s New Atheists proclaim science and reason will save humanity; bring an end to all wars; and bring about a more perfect civilisation. On the way to this imagined utopia, however, and again like their genocidal, anti-theistic forefathers of yore, they champion those who urge violence and discrimination.

Which anti-theistic genocidal forefathers of the middle 20th century are those then? And name one new atheist who says “science and reason will save humanity; bring an end to all wars; and bring about a more perfect civilisation.” Just one. He offers Bill Maher as an example but forgets to include the part about how  science and reason will save humanity; bring an end to all wars; and bring about a more perfect civilisation, so that’s not an example of what he just said.

As for Hirsi Ali, no New Atheist alive in America today is unfamiliar with her story. But it’s not the retelling of her story they seek. They want to rehear again and again how “Islam is one of the world’s great evils”, or “the mother lode of bad ideas”, or the greatest threat to Western civilisation, a “nihilistic, cult of death” and so on. They want to be made afraid of Islam in order to justify their hate of Muslims.

Except that maybe, just maybe, that’s not true. Just maybe it really is Islam that they dislike, and that leads some of them into rhetoric that does look anti-Muslim, and sometimes is anti-Muslim.

Sam Charles Hamad is a journalist with great expertise on the Middle East and US foreign policy. On the day Hirsi Ali spoke and received “a standing ovation” at the American Atheist’s convention, Hamad posted on Facebook:

“You’ll find that the vast majority of Ali’s fans are white males who hate Muslims and, in her, have found a perfect little brown-skinned conduit for their bigotry. I’m not a racist or prejudiced, they can say as they spout racism and bigotry. I’m a big fan of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The fact that she’s a complete fraud making a shitload of cash at the expense of these slobbering white bigots would be rather funny if she also didn’t appeal to genuine fascists and demonise Muslims in such a fascistic and potentially dangerous manner.”

Notice the sexism that slipped in there? That Werleman apparently didn’t notice? That tell-tale “little”?

There are plenty of assholes in the atheist/new atheist movement, for sure. I wouldn’t dream of denying it. Lots of them are sexist men, and some are also racist. But is the whole movement “white supremacist” (or sexist)? Nope.

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

La liberté pas le fouet

Apr 9th, 2015 10:50 am | By

Amnesty International Belgique today:

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

A line has been crossed

Apr 8th, 2015 4:30 pm | By

Jeremy Clarkson is baaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaack.

Jeremy Clarkson is set to make his first appearance on the BBC since losing his job as co-presenter on Top Gear.

The controversial broadcaster will appear as the guest host of Have I Got News for You on 24 April.

“Jeremy’s contract has not been renewed on Top Gear but he isn’t banned from appearing on the BBC,” a BBC spokesman said.

Oh. There was me thinking the BBC actually didn’t want him around any more, on account of that thing he does where he hits underlings in the face and calls them fucking cunts at the top of his lungs in posh hotels. But no, they just didn’t want him around on that one programme any more.

Clarkson has hosted the satirical news quiz on numerous occasions.

During one appearance in 2008, he threw a pen at regular panellist Ian Hislop that left the latter with a cut on his face.

So I guess they’re hoping he’ll do more of that kind of thing, because it’s so amusing for the audience.

Following an internal investigation, the BBC announced on 25 March Clarkson’s contract on Top Gear would not be renewed.

More than a million fans signed a petition to reinstate the presenter, but BBC director general Tony Hall said “a line has been crossed” and “there cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another”.

When it comes to this one programme. When it comes to other programmes – oh well that’s completely different. Then there totally can be one rule for one and a different rule for another. On Top Gear Clarkson is totally persona non grata – the BBC has dissasociated itself from Jeremy Clarkson, you might say – but on everything else he’s as welcome as gin at a picnic.

On Tuesday, North Yorkshire Police said there was “no need for further action” against Clarkson following an inquiry into the “fracas”.

Because all he did was punch someone in the face and split his lip. No biggy – unless a poor or foreign or black person does it, of course.

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

Sometimes one swears

Apr 8th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

I too have a very low opinion of Karen Armstrong, Debbie Schlussel, Fred Phelps, Rush Limbaugh, and Ronald Reagan. I’m likely to use harsh adjectives and/or swear words to describe them.

I’m just saying.

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

The university has “regret”

Apr 8th, 2015 10:57 am | By

Speaking of Asra Nomani – Muhammad Syed of EXMNA shared this post by her on Facebook:

If you are in the Chapel Hill, N.C., area, I would like to invite you to a talk I will give on the campus of Duke University at the Griffith Auditorium, April 7, 2015, at 7 PM.

While Duke won a national championship just now, last week I received less than championship handling of my scheduled talk.

Last Thursday, Duke abruptly cancelled my talk after a stated protest by the Duke Muslim Students Association to my talk, the MSA citing false allegations against me that were first spread two years ago by now Duke professor of Islam, Omid Safi, about my alleged “alliances with the most vicious of Islamophobes.” At the time, I told Religion News Service, where the allegations were first published, and its editor Kevin Eckstrom about the longterm dangers of this smear and personal attack. While RNS deleted the blog, its lack of editorial oversight on its bloggers meant the original attack was published and then reprinted at anonymous sites like

Last week, in its email, Duke MSA alleged: “She has had a straightforward alliance with Islamophobic speakers (Robert Spencer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher and Sam Harris), and she is not supported by Omid Safi, the Director of Islamic Studies,” at Duke University.

I asked Duke about proof of the allegations and told Duke I considered its decision an example of the kind of bullying I have chronicled with the “honor brigade” hijacking the debate on Islam. I received no proof because there is none. I have asked Duke MSA and Prof. Safi for comment and received none, so far. After examining “variables,” Duke told me late Friday that it was reinstating the invitation.

A Duke spokesman told me that the university has “regret” about withdrawing the invitation. My parents have come from WV to accompany Shibli and me to this talk, and I am sick to my stomach about this entire experience. I didn’t know if I would accept the 2nd invitation, but detractors to honest conversation seek only one thing: for us to shut up.

So I will do the opposite: I will go to Duke and speak my truth.

You all are so smart, please give me your words of wisdom and strength.

How infuriating is that?

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


Apr 8th, 2015 9:03 am | By

Good to know sexism is dead and we can all move on n shit.

Via Peter Cohen on Twitter

Embedded image permalink

Me? No. No, you’re not.


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

Anachronism stalks every corridor of Downton

Apr 8th, 2015 8:38 am | By

Polly Toynbee pointed out last December that everybody’s favorite soap opera Downton Abbey is staggeringly dishonest about the reality of servants’ lives in the early 20th century.

To control history by rewriting the past subtly influences present attitudes too: every dictator knows that. Downton rewrites class division, rendering it anodyne, civilised and quaintly cosy. Those upstairs do nothing unspeakably horrible to their servants, while those downstairs are remarkably content with their lot. The brutality of servants’ lives is bleached out, the brutishness of upper-class attitudes, manners and behaviour to their servants ironed away. There are token glimpses of resentments between the classes, but the main characters are nice, in a nice world. The truth would be impossible without turning the Earl of Grantham and his family, the Crawleys, into villains, with the below-stairs denizens their wretched victims – a very different story, and not one Julian Fellowes would ever write.

Yup. I’ve been grumbling about that all along. The Crawleys are way too interested in their servants, and way too friendly toward them. It wasn’t like that. It was programatically the opposite of that.

Much attention is paid to detail. Place settings are measured to perfection with a ruler, the footmen’s buttons absolutely correct, yet everything important is absolutely wrong. Start with the labour: what we see is pleasant work by well-manicured maids in fetching uniforms, healthy and wholesome, doing a little feather-dusting of the chandeliers, some silver polishing, some eavesdropping while serving at table and some pleasant cooking with Mrs Patmore. There is even time for scullery maid Daisy to sit at the kitchen table improving herself with home education. In Downton the hierarchical bullying of servants by one another is replaced by the housekeeper and butler’s benevolent paternalism: what a nice place to work.

Except for Thomas and O’Brien. But still, she’s right – it’s all very prettied up and sentimentalized. (I wasn’t there, but I have read a good deal on the subject, and I’m familiar with the way the upper classes talked about servants.)

What we never see is bedraggled drudges rising in freezing shared attics at 5.30am; slopping out chamber pots, heaving coal, black-leading grates, hauling cans of hot water with hands already made raw by chilblains and caustic soda. We never dwell on the hardship of scrubbing floors, or scrubbing clothes, or scouring grease; in pre-detergent days, they were up to their elbows all day long. And yet they had virtually no water or time for washing themselves. Servants were often sooty and dirty. They smelled strongly of sweat, with few clean clothes, says Dr Lucy Delap, author of Knowing Their Place: Domestic Service in Twentieth-Century Britain.

Of course they did. They couldn’t nip off to Boots for deodorant and lavender soap.

Downton’s conservative aristocrats would have been far more abusive – verbally and actually: mocking, sneering and complaining about their servants was standard Edwardian and inter-war conversation. Instead we see the Crawleys’ deep concern for their staff’s welfare, compassionate when one is charged with murder and another revealed as jailed for jewellery theft. In life, they would have been turfed out without references at any whisper of scandal.

Definitely…although I can perhaps just buy it that Bates is an exception because he was with the Earl in the Boer War. But all that friendly chat and confiding between Anna and Mary, as if they were buds? Please.

Anachronism stalks every corridor of Downton, polishing up history to make the class divide less savage. The Crawleys’ prejudices and snobberies exposed in the raw would be as unbearable to the modern ear as if they were speaking in authentic 1920s accents. Then, as now, upward mobility is a necessary part of the myth, to hide the reality of class rigidity. So the Crawleys see their daughter marry their chauffeur, only for him to ascend upstairs with barely a ripple in the social fabric. Another Crawley daughter bears an illegitimate child, but is befriended by her starchy grandmother, the child accepted by his lordship who divines the truth with hardly a blench. Rose marries into a rich Jewish family, but only one absurd relative expresses the antisemitism that was so rife – and still is, in upper-class circles.

On the other hand Cora is based on an actual Rothschild, so that complicates the picture. On the other other hand would the Crawleys have allowed an American Jew into the family if they hadn’t been desperate for her money?

History is important: it was funny when a plastic water bottle was left on Downton’s mantelpiece, but Downton’s plastic social history is misleading whitewash.

Does it matter? Isn’t it just a bit of fun? Well, what would we think of a prettified series about British colonialism, whose heroes were cleansed of racism, violence, oppression or imperial snobbery? The implanting of falsely comforting memories of a better bygone era disguises fundamental things about the way we live now.

As it is, there is still a widespread misperception of the nature of class and destiny. Inequality is rising on an ever upward trajectory, yet people are easily deceived by a veneer of modern classlessness: the end of deference and forelock-tugging makes class less obvious and more insidious, though every statistic shows how deeply entrenched it remains.

Give me Poplar any day.

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

More background

Apr 7th, 2015 4:48 pm | By

And here’s more background from last September, by Qasim Rashid in the Huffington Post.

It is no secret I’ve been critical of Muslim leadership for their deafening apathy and silence over the 125-year worldwide persecution of Ahmadi Muslims. To add insult to injury, every time a new atrocity emerges I’m bombarded with standard anti-Ahmadi talking points in a shameless attempt to justify the violence. Just recently in Gujranwala, Pakistan where four Ahmadi Muslims (including three young children) were murdered when their homes were burned down, insults followed the anemic condemnations. Those who bothered acknowledging the attack refused to recognize Ahmadis as Muslims, thus holding the same view as those who attacked and murdered the young children in the first place.

Well the first step here would be to say it’s not ok to murder people for being or not being any particular religion or non-religion. It’s not ok to persecute people or attack them or murder them. All of that is right out.

As one Sunni Muslim friend confessed–his own family told him “not to worry about it” because Ahmadis were “wajib ul qatl” (required to be killed) anyway.

No no no no no, that’s where people go wrong, thinking anyone is “required to be killed.” Get rid of that kind of thinking. Nobody is required to be killed.

This misinformation and prejudice must stop. If the Muslim world expects to advance in pluralism and tolerance, we must embrace principles over prejudice. This must start from the top, i.e. from Muslim leaders; otherwise Muslim youth have little hope of developing into positive well-rounded individuals.

Quite. No killing! No persecuting! However much you disagree with people over religion, you do not get to kill them. If god wants them dead god can make them dead. Leave it to god. What good is a god who needs your help?

He gives a list of 10 fabrications about Ahmadi Muslims.

Fabrication 1: Ahmadiyya is a new religion

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a sect of Islam. It is not a new religion. It was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian in 1889. Ahmad claimed that he was the awaited Messiah and Mahdi prophesized by Prophet Muhammad and foretold by the Holy Qur’an. Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, are known as Ahmadi Muslims. We adhere to the same Islamic declaration of faith, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger. We likewise observe the same 5 Pillars of Islam and same 6 Articles of Faith.

In short, it’s a sect of Islam, not a new and different religion.

Of course many people will insist on seeing a sect as worse than a truly different religion, because it’s a betrayal and insubordination and disloyal and god knows what – but they need to get over it.

Fabrication 2: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be greater than Prophet Muhammad

In an effort to arouse anger in the minds of unlearned Muslims, clerics make this fabrication often. In reality Ahmad considered himself insignificant compared to the grandeur and majesty of Prophet Muhammad. Ahmadi Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad was the Seal of the Prophets, and therefore God’s greatest creation. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad famously wrote, “The Prophet is Muhammad, the chosen one, who is higher and more exalted than all Prophets and is the most perfect of Messengers and is the Khatam ul Anbiya, and the best of men.”

Bottom Line: The Messiah Ahmad was clear that Prophet Muhammad was the greatest of God’s creation. You can read Ahmad’s extensive writings in praise of the greatness and perfection of Prophet Muhammad here.

Well that sounds tedious. I have a hard time sustaining a sympathetic view of this kind of thing, because honestly – all this stuff about perfection, and then extensive writings in praise of the perfection – what is even the point? If it’s perfect what is there to say? It’s complete, it’s lacking in nothing, it’s perfect – end of story.

It’s not for me. I’m too human. All I know is imperfection; perfection is just like a blank smooth wall, and I can’t get interested in it, much less in extensive writings about it.

But the fundamental point remains – killing and persecution are not ok.

Fabrication 3: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad insulted Jesus Christ

As with the previous fabrication, this is a common allegation some Muslim leaders espouse to create anti-Ahmadi Muslim sentiment. As Islam requires Muslims to love and revere all God’s prophets, Jesus Christ is no exception. Ahmadi Muslims love Jesus more than we love our own parents or children.

There again – I think that’s terrible. It’s terrible to love a character in a book more than one’s own parents and children. It’s also terrible to make a virtue of it.

Nevertheless – no killing.

That’s enough background for now, I’m afraid. It’s not my idea of a good time.

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

Regarded as heretical

Apr 7th, 2015 4:15 pm | By

In 2010 the BBC offered some background on the Ahmadi movement, aka the Ahmadiyya community.

[I]t is regarded by orthodox Muslims as heretical because it does not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind, as orthodox Muslims believe is laid out in the Koran.

Well there’s your problem right there: thinking “heretical” is a meaningful and useful word. Let’s face it, nobody knows whether Mohammed was the “final prophet” or not, or whether he was a “prophet” at all, or how they would know he wasn’t one. It’s all just claims all the way down. That, I suppose, why there’s so much venom about the claims.

The Ahmadiyya community takes its name from its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in 1835 and was regarded by his followers as the messiah and a prophet.

Ghulam Ahmad saw himself as a renewer of Islam and claimed to have been chosen by Allah.

It was ok for Mohammed to do that in the 8th 7th century but it’s not ok for Ahmad to do it in the 19th. Why’s that then?

In 1947, the community moved its religious headquarters from Qadian in India to Rabwah in Pakistan.

Then in 1953, orthodox Muslim groups in Pakistan came together to form what they called the “anti-Qadiani movement”.

Described by rights organisations as one of the most relentlessly persecuted communities in Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya have seen their personal and political rights erode steadily over the years under pressure from orthodox Muslim groups.

So six years into Pakistan’s existence as a country, they got started on persecuting the Ahmadiyya.

In 1974, under severe pressure from clerics, Pakistan’s first elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduced a constitutional amendment – known as the second amendment – which declared Ahmadiyya non-Muslims.

A decade later, a new law was brought in barring Ahmadis from calling their places of worship mosques or from propagating their faith in “any way, directly or indirectly”.

Anticipating the impact of the new law, the community moved its headquarters to the UK.

According to Islam and the Ahmadiyya Jamaat, by Simon Valentine, the movement stresses non-violence and tolerance of other faiths.

Well we can’t have that. No wonder the “orthodox Muslims” hate them and persecute them.

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

Panem et circenses

Apr 7th, 2015 2:19 pm | By

We have a crappy public sphere in the US, as any fule kno. Public schools, public libraries, public parks, public broadcasting – they all have to struggle and beg to get minimal funding. They’re public, you see, and that’s socialism, and that’s the devil.

Norman Lear in the New York Times points out that PBS is starving its documentary shows in favor of soapy entertainment like Downton Fucking Abbey.

At issue are PBS’s two flagship independent documentary series: “POV,” founded in 1988, and ITVS’s “Independent Lens,” started in 2003. Both take on huge topics of public urgency. “Food Inc.” (2010), from “POV,” exposed harms in the food industry. “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” (2011) cast a spotlight on harsh prison sentences for minors, while another “Independent Lens” film, “The Invisible War” (2012), led to changes in the military’s handling of sexual assault.

In October 2011, PBS moved the two series from Tuesday to Thursday evenings. Ratings plunged, by as much as 40 percent.

There was an outcry, and PBS blushed and put the series back where they could thrive.

Inexplicably, the two series are under assault again. In December, PBS’s flagship station, WNET (Channel 13) in New York, proposed bumping the series from Monday and shifting them to the same time slot on its much smaller sibling station, WLIW (Channel 21). The two programs would be broadcast on WNET as reruns — nearly a week later, at 11 p.m. on Sundays. WNET wants to devote Monday night to arts programming, a driver of financial support for member stations; its decision could prompt PBS to shift the two series away from the prime-time schedule across much of the country. Amid a new outcry, PBS and WNET have put off a decision until May.

This is crap. Downton F Abbey is commercial; it’s a pretentious soap opera that appeals to everyone’s fantasy of living in a huge house with a large butler. The Public Broadcasting Service shouldn’t be treating that as its showpiece.

Moving the films out of prime time means fewer reviews, and less publicity. It also threatens funding: When filmmakers apply for grants from foundations or philanthropies, the promise of a robust distribution platform is crucial. The proposal also sends the signal that nonfiction films on challenging subjects are less important to PBS and WNET than costume dramas.

“Independent Lens” and “POV” take on critical social issues overlooked by commercial outlets. They leverage the power of television to expand freedom of expression for people whose voices are not easily heard in American media. Freedom of expression is hollow if you can’t be seen or heard.

Yeah but they’re not Luxury Porn, so the hell with them, right?

At town-hall-style meetings inSan Francisco, New York andChicago, filmmakers and their supporters have called on PBS and WNET to go back to their roots: serving diverse audiences and expanding the national dialogue on critical social issues. The controversy has also been debated at the Sundance Film Festival and South by Southwest.

In a world of expanding mobile platforms, high-speed streaming, infinite cable channels, iTunes, Netflix and YouTube, broadcast television still counts. It’s still one wireless technology available to nearly every American.

PBS, for almost a half-century, has been one place on the spectrum in which decisions were based on something far more fundamental and timeless than ratings and earnings: the public interest. Its member stations and programs get substantial government funding. Diversity, community and accountability are cornerstones of its founding charter. PBS should keep those principles in mind and keep independent documentary films where they belong: in prime time.

But as long as everyone’s more interested in where Lady Evangelina left her underpants, PBS probably won’t.

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

The words spoken

Apr 7th, 2015 12:02 pm | By

Friendly Hemant says PZ gets Ayaan Hirsi Ali all wrong, because she didn’t say that, she said the opposite.

I’ve seen complaints online about how Hirsi Ali was minimizing problems caused by conservative Christians, as if they weren’t as big a deal as those caused by extremist Muslims. PZ Myers called it “fatwah envy” and said Hirsi Ali was suggesting “we should meekly accept the lesser injustice because of the threat of the greater” and trying to “silence those who strive for respect and dignity in their lives.”

But when I watched her speech (because I actually did that instead of relying on a couple of sound bites and tweets), I didn’t get that impression at all.

Well what impression one got or didn’t get isn’t the issue. The issue is what she actually said.

Through her examples, she compared the religious concerns we often deal with on a regular basis with those we may not understand because of our geography. We’re undoubtedly familiar with LGBT-rights issues in the U.S., but she wanted to call our attention to injustices perpetrated by people in the name of Islam — injustices she’s all too familiar with.

It’s a funny thing – that was actually the subject of my talk at the American Atheists Convention in 2013. I spelled it out pretty much the same way. It was on the Sunday afternoon, so one of the last talks, so I started with something along the lines of “we’ve heard a lot about religious bullshit here in the US and I want to tell you about some activists working on religious bullshit elsewhere in the world.” Then I talked about Maryam Namazie and others. But it was an “and” not a “but.” It was meant as an addition to everyone’s understanding of the fight against religious bullshit, not as a replacement of everyone’s understanding with a different understanding. I didn’t say forget your issues, pay attention to these issues instead. I just said here’s some more religious bullshit and some more people fighting it.

A few weeks later I introduced Dave Silverman to Maryam Namazie at Women in Secularism 2, and she was a speaker at the 2014 Convention.

Hemant quoted from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk:

I understand, I empathize, and you have my support in fighting religious bigotry. And in Christian America, there’s probably a lot to do. But I want to draw your attention to a different kind of religion. If you become a Christian apostate, the highest price you’ll pay is that your family, your neighbors, your communities will disown you. And trust me, I understand that pain…

Yet given the limited resources we have, the limited time we have, and the potential energy and force and magnitude and resources of the Islamic threat, I wanted to draw your attention to the religion that threatens us the most in 2015.

If you are gay, today in the United States of America, the worst the Christian community can do to gay people is not serve them cake… I tweeted Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, whom I think is very brave by going out there and describing what it is that the LGBT community faces in predominantly homophobic communities. The discrimination is subtle, and it lurks in the shadows. But I just want you to think about being Muslim and gay today. In the worst case scenario, you’ve seen it on television, on YouTube… if you’re accused of being gay, you are marched to the tallest building in town and bullies throw you off that building and there’s a crowd of people waiting there

Emphasis his.

So that’s AHA not “suggesting ‘we should meekly accept the lesser injustice because of the threat of the greater'” according to Hemant.


I’m sorry but that’s exactly what it looks like to me. Or, at least, to put it less rhetorically than PZ did, it does look to me as if she is saying that because Islam is much worse therefore we should be devoting our limited resources and time to issues related to Islam. It looks that way to me because that’s what she said.

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

Everything hurts the religious feelings

Apr 7th, 2015 11:00 am | By

Kashif Chaudhry is tired of seeing his friends and relatives jailed for being Ahmadis.

Yesterday, a very close family friend – someone I have always considered an uncle – was arrested in Pakistan. His crime: he had printed verses from the Holy Quran in an Urdu publication.

My uncle is an Ahmadi, and under Pakistan’s notorious anti-Ahmadi laws, he committed a ‘crime’ punishable by at least three years imprisonment and a fine. The law states that an Ahmadi who “poses as a Muslim hurts the religious feelings of Muslims”.

In the late 80s, three of my maternal uncles spent time behind bars under these same anti-Ahmadi laws for the crime of saying the Kalimah. Thousands of Ahmadis – and every Ahmadi family have their own story to tell – have been imprisoned for their basic religious profession since the promulgation of these laws in 1984. Tired of my friends and family being jailed for their religious freedoms, I am writing this to seek answers. I am addressing you, the constitutionally accepted Muslims of Pakistan.

The state shouldn’t be deciding who is a Muslim and who isn’t.

The Pakistani state claims that you, the constitutionally recognised Pakistani Muslims, are hurt by my religious freedom.

As an Ahmadi, I am not permitted to refer to myself as a Muslim in Pakistan, not even in many otherwise liberal publications. The state tells me that this “hurts your religious feelings”.

I am not permitted to refer to my place of worship as a mosque because the state tells me that this also “hurts your religious feelings”. I cannot risk being caught reading the Holy Quran or saying my prayer because I am told this offends you too.

I cannot say the Islamic creed or Kalimah openly. Apparently, such profession of the oneness of God and the truth of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) message also “hurts your religious feelings”.

I cannot use Islamic epithets. I cannot risk saying the Salam openly. I have to make sure I only say it in the presence of people I trust. I cannot risk printing words like Insha Allah and Masha Allah on wedding cards. The state tells me you find this equally distressing. It tells me that you have the sole copyright to these epithets. As a constitutional kafir, I have no right to use such sacred terms.

In fact, any statement or act of mine that can remotely be interpreted as “posing as Muslim” hurts you in one way or another. And for hurting your feelings, the state believes I must be punished with at least three years in jail on top of a hefty fine.

That’s what you get with a theocracy. As we see every day, it’s a terrible arrangement.

Kashif Chaudhry suggests that the people of Pakistan should protest the arrangement.

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

Each tweet paints a powerful portrait of loss

Apr 7th, 2015 10:18 am | By

The Guardian reports on #147notjustanumber.

Using the hashtag #147notjustanumber and #theyhavenames, friends and families of the victims, journalists and others on Twitter have begun to honour the lives of those who died – sharing the photographs, names, ages and character portraits as the details become available.

Each tweet paints a powerful portrait of loss.

They include tributes to Leah N Wanfula, who at 21 was the first of nine siblings to go to university. There’s Gideon Kirui, 22, whose entire family saved up for him to continue his education; and Selpher Wandia, 21, who was studying to become a teacher.

It was Gideon Kirui’s entire village that contributed money to his education. The link goes to this tweet:

Ory Okolloh Mwangi ‏@kenyanpundit
Jackson Mibei searching for his 22 yr old son Gideon Kirui. Whole village had raised money for him to go to University #147notjustanumber

The other two I posted yesterday.

In an effort to make sure each student is honoured a public google document has been created “to ensure we never forget the names of victims of internal and external acts of mass violence”. It also contains tabs for other al-Shabaab victims, including the ones on Mandera Quarry in 2014 and the Westgate shopping mall in 2013.

Coordinated by a Kenyan blogger known as Owaahh, the document is acting as an open-source database. The public are asked to add any information they have about the Garissa students, including quotes from family members and personal Facebook pages.

Owaahh’s team is also asking for links to source and verify the information collected. It currently lists the details of 71 victims, not all of them are verified.

Kenyans on social media have also started to share details of a vigil “to remember and mourn the Kenyans who lost their lives”, which will be held this evening in Uhuru Park, Nairobi. People have been asked to volunteer at the event and those attending to bring hand written tributes.

Remember and mourn.

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

At Uhuru Park, Nairobi

Apr 7th, 2015 9:09 am | By

There’s a vigil at Uhuru Park for the 148 people, mostly students, killed at Garissa University College. People are tweeting from there.

Maud Jullien ‏@MaudJullien 9 minutes ago View translation
Vigil at Uhuru park Nairobi for #garissa victims #147notjustanumber

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Idris-Speaks @IdrissMuktar 39 minutes ago
#147notjustanumber at Uhuru park. Kenyans holding a vigil at Uhuru Park in honor of the lost souls.

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Idris-Speaks @IdrissMuktar 40 minutes ago
this lady came with a baby to honor lives lost

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Idris-Speaks ‏@IdrissMuktar 36 minutes ago
honor of the lost students, young ambitious Kenyans

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Idris-Speaks ‏@IdrissMuktar 12 minutes ago
people posting pictures of loved ones and messages of condolences #147notjustanumber @robynleekriel

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Idris-Speaks @IdrissMuktar  19 minutes ago
#147notjustanumber crosses to signify the lives lost

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

The ghairat brigade

Apr 6th, 2015 6:38 pm | By

On the other hand, the interview with Ayaan HA alerted me to this article by Asra Nomani on the silencing of criticism of Islam which tells me some things I didn’t know.

In 2004 a Muslim man she knew told her to stop writing. She did not comply.

It was the first time a fellow Muslim had pressed me to refrain from criticizing the way our faith was practiced. But in the past decade, such attempts at censorship have become more common. This is largely because of the rising power and influence of the “ghairat brigade,” an honor corps that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam. It meets even sound critiques with hideous, disproportionate responses.

I’m well aware of that, of course, but what I didn’t know is that it’s organized by the OIC.

The campaign began, at least in its modern form, 10 years ago in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a mini-United Nations comprising the world’s 56 countries with large Muslim populations, plus the Palestinian Authority — tasked then-Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu with combating Islamophobia and projecting the “true values of Islam.” During the past decade, a loose honor brigade has sprung up, in part funded and supported by the OIC through annual conferences, reports and communiques. It’s made up of politicians, diplomats, writers, academics, bloggers and activists.

In 2007, as part of this playbook, the OIC launched the Islamophobia Observatory, a watchdog group based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, with the goal of documenting slights against the faith. Its first report, released the following year, complained that the artists and publishers of controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad were defiling “sacred symbols of Islam . . . in an insulting, offensive and contemptuous manner.”

And on it went from there.

Alongside the honor brigade’s official channel, a community of self-styled blasphemy police — from anonymous blogs such as and to a large and disparate cast of social-media activists — arose and began trying to control the debate on Islam. This wider corps throws the label of “Islamophobe” on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion…

The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. They bank on an important truth: Islam, as practiced from Malaysia to Morocco, is a shame-based, patriarchal culture that values honor and face-saving from the family to the public square. Which is why the bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism.

There’s also the political aspect – being called “Islamophobic” is akin to be called a racist, so many people back down.

The OIC helped give birth to a culture of victimization. In speeches, blogs, articles and interviews widely broadcast in the Muslim press, its honor brigade has targeted pundits, political leaders and writers — from TV host Bill Maher to atheist author Richard Dawkins — for insulting Islam. Writer Glenn Greenwald has supported the campaign to brand writers and thinkers, such as neuroscientist and atheist Sam Harris, as having “anti-Muslim animus” just for criticizing Islam.

Most of the criticism takes place online, with anonymous bloggers targeting supposed Islamophobes. Not long after the cable, a network of bloggers launched LoonWatch, which goes after Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists and other Muslims. The bloggers have labeled Somali author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a born Muslim but now an atheist opponent of Islamic extremism, an “anti-Muslim crusader.” Robert Spencer, a critic of extremist Islam, has been called a “vicious hate preacher” and an “Internet sociopath.” The insults may look similar to Internet trolling and vitriolic comments you can find on any blog or news site. But they’re more coordinated, frightening and persistent.

One prominent target of the honor brigade’s attacks was Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper where several staffers were recently killed by Islamic extremists. According to some accounts, as the killers massacred cartoonists, they shouted: “We have avenged the prophet Muhammad.” The OIC denounced the killings, but in a 2012 report, it also condemned the magazine’s “Islamophobic satires.” Its then-secretary general, Ihsanoglu, said the magazine’s “history of attacking Muslim sentiments” was “an outrageous act of incitement and hatred and abuse of freedom of expression.”

That’s how it’s done.

[I]n so many Muslim communities now, saving face trumps critical thinking and truth-telling. This is why reform from within Islam is so difficult. In my experience, if you try to hold the community accountable, you’re more likely to be bullied and intimidated than taken seriously.

Two years ago, Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, was so battered by online attacks aimed at silencing her that she experienced a physical response to the stress and anxiety, and ended up in an emergency room. When I met her in her office near the White House, she pulled up her sleeves to show me the marks left by IV injections that the hospital staff had administered to get her necessary fluids.

“The attacks just killed me,” Al-Suwaij said, wearily.

Bullying this intense really works. Observant members of the flock are culturally conditioned to avoid shaming Islam, so publicly citing them for that sin often has the desired effect. Non-Muslims, meanwhile, are wary of being labeled “Islamophobic” bigots. So attacks against both groups succeed in quashing civil discourse. They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells, avoiding important discussion.

It’s very interesting to know that some of this is being orchestrated by the OIC. Very interesting indeed.

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

Vigil tomorrow in Uhuru Park

Apr 6th, 2015 6:09 pm | By

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

Wasting their victory on “trivial bullshit”

Apr 6th, 2015 6:00 pm | By

More about that Daily Beast interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The interviewer is Cathy Young, who writes for Reason magazine among others and is great buddies with Christina Hoff Sommers – in short, she’s a conservative and she takes a very jaundiced view of feminism. She asked Ayaan HA questions carefully shaped to elicit the politically correct (in conservative terms) answers.

Her introduction, for instance, helps to set the tone.

Never one to shy away from battles, Ali has also made a foray into America’s gender wars: Last November, in a speech before the right-of-center Independent Women’s Forum, she declared that feminism in the West has “won” and that feminists were wasting their victory on “trivial bullshit”…

Yes, and this is the very thing we take exception to.

But to be fair, she also says some good things.

So you’re very hopeful about what’s happening right now.

I just want to remind the free world that there was a time when they were not free—Europeans and Americans were not free. There was a time when Christian theology and Jewish theology was used to commit atrocious acts. Remember the witch hunts, remember the Protestants. I think Americans associate religion with something positive. In Europe, Protestants were killing other Protestants, Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics, just as the Sunni and the Shia are doing now. That is now in the history books. I look forward to a time when atrocities committed in the name of Islam will be in history books and museums and movies, but not happening to real people in real time.

I have no quarrel with that.

But then they move on to feminism.

You’ve had some reactions from Western feminists to your statements about Islam that you’ve found a bit disconcerting.

We are seeing that Western feminists are shy about pointing out the misogyny that’s committed in the name of the religion of Islam, because they feel we can’t impose our ethnocentric or Eurocentric or American-centric ways. If you read the [faculty] letter at Brandeis, that’s the core of it. Which is—don’t be ridiculous. It doesn’t matter where you are as an individual human being; freedom is freedom. Nobody likes to be oppressed. Human rights are universal. Individual rights are universal. This is the message to American feminists and other Western feminists: the best thing to share is the outcome of the emancipation.

Yes but that’s not feminism per se, and it’s not all of feminism. Much of the left is like that, but not all of it, and feminism is mostly on the left, so some feminists are squeamish about criticizing Islam, for a mix of good and bad reasons. But it’s only some. Yes I know; notallfeminists; bite me.

One women’s issue that you write about and work on is honor violence. Do you think it’s less of a problem in the United States than in some immigrant communities in Europe?

It is a huge issue, and we see—at my foundation, the AHA Foundation—more and more girls and young women coming to us with the exact same problems that we’ve been seeing in Europe. The minute they reach puberty, they are stopped from going to school, their movements are controlled. There are honor killings and there is honor violence. Honor violence is when you’re not allowed to get out of the house. When you have a boyfriend, you’re beaten until you give him up. You’re over 18 years old and your parents don’t allow you to go to college; they get someone from the country of origin and force you to marry that person, and if you speak against it you are threatened with death. I don’t think the story of honor killings and honor violence in the United States has yet been told. And that’s because of the honor brigade. Because every time you start talking about these things, you get these people clamping down on everything—[slams hand] on the press, on the government—saying it’s not Islamic, or it’s Islamophobic even to discuss it, or that you’re racist if you talk about honor violence. Unbelievable.

Once again, you get an argument from some Western feminists who will say that it’s not that substantially different from domestic violence and sexual assault, which also happens in our society, so it’s unfair to single out [Muslim cultures].

What’s feminist about a woman who makes a statement like that? A person who makes that statement is basically saying, let’s change the subject, there’s nothing wrong. And so they are completely letting down that victim who cannot speak for herself, who is voiceless, who has to deal with the entire family, male and female, who are silencing her. It’s for those of us who have the platforms and the voice, and can articulate what’s going on, to talk about it. And the woman who sits there on her faculty saying, “Oh, yeah, this and that”—what’s so feminist about it, honestly?

Nothing, but again, it’s not feminism as such, and it’s not a reason to tell feminists here that feminism has “won.”

Presumably, they would say that we should take all violence against women more seriously, whether it’s honor violence or not.

They can chitchat as much as they like, but they shouldn’t call themselves feminists.

What? Feminists who say we should take all violence against women more seriously shouldn’t call themselves feminists?? That’s an outrageous thing to say – so outrageous that I wonder if she misunderstood what Cathy Young said, or lost the thread. I agree with her that feminists over here should not ignore violence against women in the rest of the world, but that doesn’t rule out also agreeing that we should take all violence against women more seriously. She seems to be saying we should take violence against women over here with scorn and belittlement, and that can’t really be what she thinks. She must be letting her indignation run away with her and let her say things she doesn’t actually think.

The feminist project was a struggle for the rights of women. And now we have those equal rights by law, and most of us are enjoying it and most of us are able to take advantage of it. But we have a large immigrant community—and, by the way, not only Muslim—who are being denied these rights here in the United States. Let’s not silence it.

No. We do not have “those equal rights” by law, not all of them – because it’s not that simple. Having good laws doesn’t just magically fix all problems. She’s right to say let’s not silence immigrant women who are denied right, but she’s dead wrong to say feminism here has done its work.

You’re giving the keynote speech at the American Atheists National Convention [on April 3]. Are you going to talk about Islam primarily?

I am. And I think I have the same message as I have for feminists and for other groups who are addressing various issues in the world we live in today. For atheists, it’s: You address the issues of organized religion and atrocities committed in the name of organized religion. And I want them to focus on Islam today, because it’s in the name of Islam that most lives are taken, that most subjection, most intolerance is spread around the world. So for my fellow atheists, it’s a matter of: Listen, it’s one thing to protest about Christmas trees on December 25, but it’s quite another to witness fellow human beings in cages and burned alive, and women taken as slaves, again, in the names of this religion. So it’s very much a matter of organizing our priorities.

Sigh. That’s just insulting. It’s not only Christmas trees. It’s enormously more than that. And I don’t think she lost the thread in that answer, because it’s about her speech, which she’d had time to think about.

And she does more belittling. Young asks about prejudice against atheists. AHA says there is some, but it’s not like the kind she faced.

There is a massive difference. Same thing with the feminists. Listen, if you’re not allowed into a golf club, that doesn’t sit well with me, but if I were to prioritize, I would say: This girl, she’s just been denied her right to school, she’s just been forced into marriage, she’s just been genitally mutilated. That’s the sort of thing that we need to be, as women, signing up against—and as atheists. And by the way, the LGBT community—I think it’s awesome, and it’s taken some great steps. But in the name of Islam, gay men, or men who are accused of being gay, are put on the roofs of buildings and thrown down by a mob shouting “Allahu akbar!” doing this in the name of their faith. And it’s time that the gay community stood up to this. HIV is no longer the biggest killer of the gay community; it’s [violence] in the name of Islam, and no one’s talking about it.

So that’s feminists, atheists, and LGBT people who all need to stop paying so much attention – or maybe any attention – to local issues, and pay attention to violence in the name of Islam instead.

The American Enterprise Institute would like that, wouldn’t it.

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

Not just a number

Apr 6th, 2015 2:47 pm | By


Edith Honan @edithhonan 12 hours ago
Leah N Wanfula, 21, missing from Garissa, 1st of 9 to go to college, popular, loved Christian activities, mathematics

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Leah Wanfula

Ian @ianmslim 8 hours ago

R.I.P Ivy Betty Wanjiku (Shiko) 1st yr student #GarissaAttack #147NotJustANumber cc @Maskani254

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Ivy Betty Wanjiku

Edith Honan @edithhonan 9 hours ago
Gideon Mwakulegwa, 21, died in Garissa. He loved football, to dance, to sing. “He was my bro, I’ll never replace him”

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Gideon Mwakulegwa

Maskani Ya Taifa @Maskani254 2 hours ago
Selpher Wandia, 21. Her dream was to be a teacher. #147notjustanumber #TheyHaveNames via @edithhonan

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Selpher Wandia

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