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.

Freedom of expression on the Internet

Mar 13th, 2015 4:09 pm | By

Michael De Dora at the UN Human Rights Council today.


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

Give them victory over ‘Qawm -el Kafiroon’

Mar 13th, 2015 3:18 pm | By

Tarek Fatah wrote a column in the Toronto Sun in January that tells me something I didn’t know.

One of the reasons I avoid attending Friday congregations at mosques is a specific ritual supplication uttered by Imams at many mosques in Canada and around the world, just prior to our formal Friday community prayer, the Juma’a.

In the supplication, the cleric prays to Allah for, among other things, to grant “Muslims victory over the ‘Qawm al-Kafiroon,’” the Arabic phrase that lumps all non-Muslims — Jews, Hindus, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists and Sikhs — into one derogatory category, the “Kuffar”, or non-Muslims.

Well that’s gross. For one thing there’s the lumping, for another there’s the derogation, for another there’s the “victory” – which, given that there’s not One Big War on with Muslims on one side and the Kuffar on the other, must mean domination. Imagine the yelling there would be if the pope prayed for god to grant Christians victory over the Muslims. It’s an ugly prayer with an ugly thought behind it.

This supplication is not obligatory. Not uttering this prayer would in no way adversely affect the holiness or solemnness of the collective community prayer.

I have long argued with my orthodox and conservative Muslim friends and family that at least when living among non-Muslims, we should avoid praying for their defeat at the hands of Muslims.

It’s not great when not living among us, either, especially since even majority-Muslim countries have plenty of non-Muslims in them. It’s even more bullying when Muslims are the majority, in fact.

He has friends who agree with him, but they’re afraid to act on their agreement.

Inside the mosque, I was hoping that in wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the cleric would have the good sense not to speak about non-Muslims as adversaries or enemies, but my hopes were dashed.

Far from condemning the acts of terror, the cleric, speaking in English, thundered that Islam “will become established in the land, over all other religions, although the ‘Disbelievers’ (Jews, Christians, Hindus and Atheists) hate that.”

It’s just bullying. It’s dominance-display. It’s nasty.

At the end of his “khutba” (sermon), the cleric repeated the ritual praying to Allah to grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims. That prayer is:

“O Allah, pour patience upon Muslims, strengthen their feet and give them victory over ‘Qawm -el Kafiroon’ (Non-Muslims).

“O Allah, give victory to our brothers the Muslims, the oppressed, the tyrannized and the ‘Mujahedeen’ (those who fight jihad against non-Muslims)”.

Then we all stood up in orderly rows, turned towards Mecca and followed the imam as he led us in the ritual prayer that is obligatory for all Muslims.

As I left, I knew I would not be returning to that mosque again.​

Always jockeying. Give ME the biggest ice cream cone, give ME the best seat, give ME the adoration and worship, give ME authority and power.


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


Mar 13th, 2015 12:18 pm | By

Look at the nice treat Femina Believe sent out for International Women’s Day –


All you superwomen who shop at the mall, and clean the house, and keep men from being lonely. Happy International Women’s Day 1953.

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

From the archive: Of Course You Can, Except When You Can’t

Mar 13th, 2015 9:04 am | By

And one more, because it’s just so unchanged and so infuriating – the bait and switch. Yes you can have free speech, no you can’t say harsh things about religion. What’s the problem?

Of Course You Can, Except When You Can’t

February 4, 2006

Back to the real world, where cartoons ‘are’ representations of Mohammed – some depressing oxymoronism from Jack Straw. Of course we respect free speech, but you can’t say that; of course everyone has a right to free speech, but no one can insult religion. Well which is it, bub? It ain’t both! I’m not a free speech absolutist, as I’ve said many times, but this idea that free speech is okay as long as it doesn’t offend anyone is sheer jam tomorrow. If we can’t say anything that might offend someone, our speech is pretty damn restricted, isn’t it!

Speaking after talks with the Sudanese foreign minister, Mr Straw said: “There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong. There are taboos in every religion. It is not the case that there is open season in respect of all aspects of Christian rites and rituals in the name of free speech.

Oh? Really? What does he mean? That it’s illegal to say ‘offensive’ things about some aspects of Christian rites and rituals? (Perhaps he’s thinking of the dear blasphemy law.) Does he mean that if one says ‘offensive’ things about some aspects of Christian rites and rituals, the result will be violent riots and death threats, and that that’s a good thing? If neither of those, what does he mean? What, exactly, does he mean?

Nor is it the case that there is open season in respect of rights and rituals of the Jewish religion, the Hindu religion, the Sikh religion. It should not be the case in respect of the Islamic religion either. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect in this situation.

Do we? Why? And why doesn’t that work the other way? Why don’t people who want to prevent free speech on the subject of religion have to be very careful about showing the proper respect for our beliefs? Because we don’t chant ‘”7/7 is on its way” while also waving placards and burning flags, during a march through London to the Danish, French and German embassies’? Because we don’t threaten to blow up 57 random people as revenge for our feeling offended?

More bullying oxymoronism, this sample from Bunglawala.

UK Muslims have denied that the reaction to the cartoons’ reproduction has been a threat to freedom of speech. It was a “question of exercising good judgement”, said Inayat Bunglawala, from the Muslim Council of Britain…”Of course Europe has the right to freedom of speech, and of course newspapers have the right to publish offensive cartoons. This was really a question about exercising good judgment,” he said. “Knowing full well the nature of these cartoons, they were offensive, deeply offensive to millions of Muslims, these newspaper editors should have exercised better judgment.”

But of course Europe has the right to freedom of speech, and of course the reaction to the cartoons is not a threat to freedom of speech. How silly! Of course you can have your pesky freedom of speech! You just can’t say anything we don’t like, that’s all! What is the big stinking deal?

That is a really massively irritating trope – that saying you can have free speech and then instantly saying the opposite, in the very same breath. At leas they could have the honesty to say what they mean – ‘No, you can’t have free speech, because you say things we don’t like, so you have to shut up. And shut up about your free speech, too.’

I’ve had exactly the same thought Mediawatchwatch has had – remembering Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival last summer, talking with Hitchens, talking about the two words that have taken on a creepy resonance (and I knew what they were before he said them), ‘offended’ and ‘respect’. And I can hear him saying what Mediawatchwatch quotes him saying – ‘So you’re offended. So fucking what?’

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

From the archive: Tinkerbell

Mar 13th, 2015 8:49 am | By

Then there’s one on February 4 2006 wondering what anyone even means by “images of Mohammed” anyway.


Wait, hold on – something has just crossed my tiny mind. These cartoons – that are so ‘offensive’ because they are cartoons of Mohammed – how do the people who are so offended know they are cartoons of Mohammed? There aren’t, like, photographs of him, right? Not to mention the fact that it’s a no-no to make pictures of him anyway, so that if there were photos of him, they’d all have been thrown away by now. But surely it’s much more likely that they weren’t taken in the first place, and that drawings, paintings, watercolours, engravings, etchings, and silhouettes were not made either. And even if they had been they’d probably be pretty dilapidated by now. Pretty crumbly and curly at the edges and faded – at best. And then who knows how accurate the artists would have been, if they had taken any likenesses, which they probably didn’t, on account of how it was taboo (as we keep being reminded, because we’re so likely to forget, with all this shouting going on)? So – let’s face it – nobody knows what the guy looked like. It was fourteen hundred years ago after all. It’s like Jesus. People think they know what he looked like, but they don’t really – they know what Raphael and Rembrandt and people like that thought he looked like. But they didn’t know, see, so that doesn’t help.

There’s not, like, an unbroken chain of accurate portrayals of Jesus going all the way back to 35 CE, is there. Same deal with the prophet. Nobody knows what the guy looked like. No idea. Now I know what you’re thinking – well he looked like the cartoons! Mediterranean, bearded, kind of burly (because he was a powerful guy), kind of impressive-looking, a mensch – dark hair, big features – kind of like – oh, Anthony Quinn, say. Well no doubt you’re right, but I have to tell you, we don’t actually know that. Seriously. Nobody does. (Don’t forget the taboo thing.)

So what I’m wondering is, why on earth do all these offended people think the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because the cartoonists said so? Because they have, like, ‘Mohammed’ scribbled somewhere along the edge or on the bottom? Because of the pose and the turban? Well – that’s not much of a reason! I can do that! I can draw a picture of a dog or a cat or a bag of carrots or a teapot (no, not the one that orbits the sun, a different one) and say it’s a drawing of Mohammed, but what good does that do? Me just saying it’s Mohammed doesn’t make it Mohammed, does it. So why does a cartoonist saying it’s Mohammed make it Mohammed?

Now that I’ve had my fun, that’s actually a serious question, as well as a mocking one. Really – why do all the offended people accept that the cartoons are of Mohammed? Because a bunch of non-Muslim Danish cartoonists say they are? But how would they know? And what are they, magic? They can transform a drawing of some generic bearded guy in a turban into a representation of a specific person who died fourteen centuries ago? How? By saying so, by writing his name underneath, by the context of the jokes. But that still doesn’t make the cartoons cartoons of the actual Mohammed – not for people who just don’t accept that that’s what they are. Why don’t all the infuriated Muslims just laugh and shrug and ignore the whole thing? Why don’t they just say ‘those goofy Danish cartoonists, pretending they’ve drawn pictures of Mohammed – like they have any idea what he looked like. I’m so sure’? Why don’t they just say ‘you guys don’t know what Mohammed looked like any more than we do, and probably less (because we have this like inner intuition, which is denied to non-Muslims), so dream on – draw your stupid little pictures if you want to, we don’t care, it’s nothing to do with us’?

Actually the whole taboo is empty, it’s a taboo without a referent. It’s like a taboo on walking on water, or a taboo on sleeping on the wing of a jet plane when it’s in flight. Nobody can make a representation of Mohammed, it’s quite, quite impossible – so why worry about it? Just making representations of a man and naming them Mohammed doesn’t make them Mohammed – so why on earth worry about it?

Because the cartoons were a provocation, were meant to offend, and so on and so on. Hmm. Not really. The shouting is all about the guy himself, and how terribly terribly forbidden it all is. So – why don’t they just wake up and realize that those cartoons are not Mohammed, not in any way, because they can’t be? Why not just laugh at the pretensions of cartoonists and forget all about it?

This occurred to me while looking at the cartoons on Groep Wilders’s blog. Surely it must have occurred to a lot of people. Those are just lines on paper. We all have to buy into the idea that they are cartoons of Mohammed; otherwise they just stay lines on paper. Why buy into the idea if you don’t like it then? Very odd, people are – we believe our own lies.

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

From the archive: Nothing sacred

Mar 13th, 2015 8:43 am | By

A B&W post from February 2, 2006, to show how little has changed in 9 years.

Paul Goggins went on the Today programme on the day the religious hatred bill was passed in the Lords version not the government’s version, to explain why the bill (particularly, in the government’s version, with the language about ‘recklessness’, instead of the Lords’) was necessary and a good idea. After some pressing he articulated the basic (I take it) point.

Well I accept, Jim, and we always have accepted that there are fine balances to be drawn here, but religious belief is an important part of identity, and the expression of that religious belief is important to many people, and that others should set out intentionally to stir up hatred about those people because of those religious beliefs has no part in our society, so for all the difficulty in getting the balance right we think it’s right to press ahead with this legislation.

That’s it. Religious belief is an important part of identity, and expression of that belief is important to many people (no! really?!?). Therefore stirring up hatred about those people because of those religious beliefs should be made a crime – but stirring up hatred about people because of any other beliefs should not. Because…?

The expression of other beliefs is not important to many people? No, that can’t be right, because it’s not true. Because other belief is not ‘an important part of identity’ (whatever that may mean)? No, because that’s not true either. To the extent that ‘identity’ means much of anything in that phrase other than cuddly feelings about oneself, other kinds of belief and other beliefs are also an important part of identity. Religion may be an important part of identity, but you’ll notice Goggins didn’t say it was the most important part of identity, much less the exclusive source of it. So – why are religious beliefs special? Why does their part of ‘identity’ have to be protected if other parts don’t?

Because they’re special? Because they’re sacred? Because they make people go all red in the face with rage and offendedness and outrage and hurt feelings if anyone makes fun of them? Maybe; probably; but there again: why? Why do they make people go all red in the face and self-righteous, and why do so many people think they have every right not only to feel that way, but to demand that the rest of the world join them in feeling that way? Well – because they’re sacred. Oh dear.

I saw a comment yesterday in this article, which Allen Esterson sent me a link to, which included a comment that apparently disappeared when the article was updated. Someone in what is generally (and I think rather patronizingly and communalistically) called ‘the Muslim world’ said that the right to freedom of speech ought to be balanced with – wait for it – the right to protect the sacred. Er – no. That is just exactly the one thing it must not be balanced with, because that is the one thing that would render it null and void. Refusal to ‘protect the sacred’ is the very essence of free speech. And the mindset that thinks great big holy circles need to be drawn around ‘the sacred’ and policed day and night by indignant men with large guns, is a mindset that if left unchecked will suck all our brains out and leave us like pod people.

Rowan Atkinson answered what Goggins said on the same ‘Today.’

You can’t draft a piece of legislation with the intention of just picking off a few nasty people, because the very nature of law is that it applies to us all. And there’s absolutely no doubt that this bill is seeking to provide immunity from criticism and ridicule to religious beliefs, and I’m a great believer that you should be able to say whatever you like about religious beliefs and practices, and if the practitioners and believers are caught in the crossfire, then they just have to accept that. If the exposure of hateful or ridiculous religious practices is there and is done, then the religion’s followers are just going to have to accept responsibility for those things.

That’s a big problem with this whole idea right there. What Goggins said would seem to imply that religion is the first thing that should be protected and given immunity, but in fact it’s the last thing that should. Religion is in need of constant vigilance and interrogation and steady unrelenting pressure, so that maybe someday in some other happier time, it will stop being a source of misery and deprivation and oppression for so damn many people, especially women. So bring on criticism, mockery, cartoons, robust discussion, and whatever else it takes.

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

Amnesty International sold out the Danish cartoonists in 2006

Mar 13th, 2015 8:02 am | By

Rosie Bell alerted me (and us) to the fact that Amnesty International issued a statement in February 2006 basically (albeit periphrastically) saying that the Danish Motoons should be illegal under international law. I can’t find the statement on the AI site, not nohow, but I did find what appears to be the full statement on a Yahoo group.

Here it is:

Public Statement | 8 February 2006

Freedom of speech carries responsibilities for all

Events of recent weeks have highlighted the difficult question of what should be the legitimate scope of freedom of expression in culturally diverse societies.

While different societies have drawn the boundaries of free speech in different ways, the cartoon controversy shows how, in today’s increasingly global media space, the impact of actions in one country can be felt way beyond its borders. Today, more than ever, societies are faced with the challenge of asserting universal human rights principles in an area where there has traditionally been a tendency to defer to the domestic laws of a particular state and the values they enshrine.

Set against the backdrop of the rising climate of intolerance and suspicion between religious and other communities in many parts of the world, including in Europe, two conflicting sets of principles are being advanced in this controversy.

Newspaper editors have justified the publication of cartoons that many Muslims have regarded as insulting, arguing that freedom of artistic expression and critique of opinions and beliefs are essential in a pluralist and democratic society. On the other hand, Muslims in numerous countries have found the cartoons to be deeply offensive to their religious beliefs and an abuse of freedom of speech. In a number of cases, protests against the cartoons have degenerated into acts of physical violence, while public statements by some protestors and community leaders have been seen as fanning the flames of hostility and violence.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression should be one of the cornerstones of any society. This right includes “the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19). For more than forty years, Amnesty International (AI) has defended this right against attempts by governments across the globe to stifle religious dissent, political opposition and artistic creativity.

However, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute — neither for the creators of material nor their critics. It carries responsibilities and it may, therefore, be subject to restrictions in the name of safeguarding the rights of others. In particular, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence cannot be considered legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Under international standards, such “hate speech” should be prohibited by law.

AI calls on the government officials and those responsible for law enforcement and the administration of justice to be guided by these human rights principles in their handling of the current situation.

AI also calls on those working in the media to act with sensitivity and responsibility so as not to exacerbate the current situation. This incident highlights the power and reach of the media and AI calls on those in the media to apply greater political judgement, taking into account the potential impact of their output and the range of often competing human rights considerations involved.

While AI recognises the right of anyone to peacefully express their opinion, including through peaceful protests, the use and threat of violence is unacceptable. Community leaders must do everything in their power to defuse the current atmosphere of hostility and violence. Culture and religion are of central importance to many people’s lives, but they cannot be used as an excuse to abuse human rights.

Shame on you, Amnesty.

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

It is an incredibly dishonest statement

Mar 12th, 2015 6:16 pm | By

KB Player wrote a post yesterday about a correspondence she had with Amnesty International UK.

I’m a member of Amnesty International and wrote expressing my concern about their association with CAGE.  I got this reply back:-

Amnesty International UK’s Director Kate Allen, said

“Amnesty no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles and serve to undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International.”

But don’t go thinking they’re accepting that Gita Sahgal was right. Oh no. They’re not doing that.

At the time that Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International, we commissioned an independent external review into our work with Cage and Moazzam Begg which concluded that it was reasonable for Amnesty to campaign with Cage and Moazzam Begg in his capacity as a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Gita’s view was that it was inappropriate for Amnesty International to share a platform with individuals and organisations whose religious or political views were inconsistent with the full range of rights and women’s rights in particular.  Amnesty International has never questioned the integrity of this view or the sincerity with which Gita held it. However, it is not uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others.

Yes, but an organization like Amnesty which is fundamentally about rights and freedoms should not work with a group that is about taking them away from various kinds of people.

Based on an extensive review of comments made by Cage Prisoners (as it was then known) then available to the public, we concluded that limited cooperation with Cage on the narrow issue of accountability for UK complicity in torture abroad was appropriate, given their consistent and credible messaging on this issue.

Comments made by Cage recently have clearly changed that assessment and have led to our decision to terminate such relations. But this does not alter the fact the decision in 2010 to continue this limited work was taken for good reasons and after extensive reflection.

Yes it does. That’s exactly what it does. You should have been able to see then what you see now. Your reasons for not seeing it then, and for kicking Gita out, were not good reasons. They were bad reasons.

Further to that, the refusal of a Cage spokesperson to condemn violence such as FGM and stoning – themselves examples of torture and degrading treatment that we are campaigning for an end to – is of huge concern to Amnesty and has made any future platform sharing with Cage impossible.

And should have done so five years ago.

KB continues:

Many have pointed out that CAGE hasn’t changed since 2010, and that Amnesty is being disingenuous in suddenly finding them an unfit partner because of unwelcome publicity.  A comment on Shiraz:-

The reply by Amnesty’s Kate Allen contains a contradiction in terms. While she is affirming that it isn’t uncommon for NGOs to enter into coalitions with other organisations or groups on one specific issue despite their disagreement on others, nevertheless now Amnesty is severing ties with CAGE over their views on violence and torture including FGM and stoning. Which one of the two Amnesty holds true – that their partners’ views on ‘other issues’ such as violence does not matter or that do matter? If they do matter now, how can Amnesty explain those views didn’t matter back in 2010 and they considered it perfectly normal to share a platform with CAGE. They either have to admit a gross incompetence and issue an apology to Gita Sahgal (though this is going to be difficult because Gita Sahgal warned them about CAGE’s views) or admit they acted in bad faith and hoped nobody will notice – in this case too, they at least have to issue an apology to Gita Sahgal.

Gita left the first comment.

Yes it is good that they chucked Cage, However, it is an incredibly dishonest statement. When did they do the extensive review of Cageprisoners? When they did their inquiry, the inquiry did not investigate Begg or Cageprisoners. They will climb into bed with the next set of Islamists. In fact, they already have.

And another, replying to comments saying Amnesty should put out a statement.

They don’t do public statements. I put out the agreed statement on my leaving. They hoped it would go away. They are shoddy as well as dishonest. Thank you for getting this from them. It is excellent that you made it public.

Well done KB.

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

They make a lovely couple

Mar 12th, 2015 5:29 pm | By

How sweet; the worst people in the world are joining forces. Daesh has accepted Boko Haram’s offer of allegiance. I’m sure that was a tense wait for Boko Haram, before the approval came through – would they be murderous and loathsome enough? But apparently Daesh has decided they have enough potential to be accepted.

Islamic State (IS) has accepted a pledge of allegiance from Nigeria’s militant group Boko Haram, according to an audio message.

In the tape, which has not been verified, an IS spokesman says the aim of establishing a caliphate has now been expanded to West Africa.

Last week, Boko Haram posted a message saying it wanted to join ranks with IS.

And then, shyly, it waited to hear.

In the tape, a man – who describes himself as IS spokesman Mohammed al-Adnani – says: “We announce to you to the good news of the expansion of the caliphate to West Africa because the caliph… has accepted the allegiance of our brothers of the Sunni group for preaching and the jihad.”

The spokesman also urges Muslims to join militants in West Africa, rejecting suggestions that Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition have recently had a series of victories against IS in Iraq and Syria.

IS has forged links with other militant groups across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

In November, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi accepted pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Maybe someday – and maybe soon – all of humanity will unite in a vision of death.


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

What the ACLU thinks

Mar 12th, 2015 5:13 pm | By

The ACLU of Oklahoma issued a statement yesterday on the expulsion of the two students involved in the racist chant on the bus.

The following is attributable to Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director:

While the facts continue to unfold regarding the recent expulsions and continued investigations, we are closely monitoring the situation and urge the University to keep its attention focused on the larger issues of racism on the University of Oklahoma campus.

Universities are one of the primary battlegrounds for learning about free speech and understanding how to combat bigotry. The best antidote to hateful speech is the exercise of peaceful speech in return. We have seen remarkable examples of students, faculty, administrators, and Oklahomans from all over the state join together in rallies, prayer vigils, and online forums to express their disgust at the racist chant and to call for a meaningful conversation about race and prejudice in all areas of campus life. We applaud their many voices and encourage them to continue the necessary and promising conversation about fighting prejudice and racism.

That looks like a muffled way of hinting that more speech would have been better than expulsion, but it doesn’t spell it out.

The following is attributable to Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director:

It is critical that any disciplinary actions by the University of Oklahoma are not viewed as magic bullets to cure the deeply embedded problems of racism and bigotry that this scandal has brought to light. Punishment alone does not change the hearts and minds of those we punish, or others like them. This is a teaching moment that requires a consistent commitment to honest and open dialogue that does not stop at simply punishing those who spew hate and prejudice on video, but rather, combats the core of that hate and prejudice. The University of Oklahoma has an opportunity to engage in just such a dialogue, and we need to ensure that we don’t miss that opportunity in the rush to punish racist speech.

It’s even less clear what that’s meant to be.

But that was yesterday; today they put out a statement that does say the expulsion probably wouldn’t stand up in court.

Last night’s town hall meeting was a powerful reminder that this moment is much larger than one video or one chant, it is about the need to have a conversation addressing prejudice and racism on the University of Oklahoma campus. Our country and our state have a long history of injustice and even violence toward communities of color. We need plans for long-term change and renewed commitments to diversity in order to right many wrongs. Now is a time for reflection and action, not just quick fixes. At their best, universities are places where students from different backgrounds and experiences come together and learn. To preserve that idea, the University of Oklahoma has an obligation to protect all of its students from a hostile learning environment that impedes their educational opportunities.

As a state-run institution of higher education, the University of Oklahoma must also respect First Amendment principles that are central to the mission of every university. Any sanction imposed on students for their speech must therefore be consistent with the First Amendment and not merely a punishment for vile and reprehensible speech; courts have consistently and rightly ruled as such. Absent information that is not at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which a court would side with the university on this matter.  We are closely monitoring the situation and will appropriately respond to new details as they emerge. In the meantime, we stand in solid support of the brave and thoughtful students whose public dialogue on race and the rights of all minority students in response to the incident have embodied the spirit of the First Amendment.

I think I probably disagree with the courts then.

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

Bonnes nouvelles

Mar 12th, 2015 4:46 pm | By

Seen on Ensaf Haidar’s Facebook wall –

Avocats sans frontière viendra en aide à Ensaf Haidar dans son combat pour libérer son mari. ‪#‎FreeRaif‬

Lawyers Without Borders will help Ensaf Haidar in her fight to free her husband.

Avocats sans frontières Canada

Avocats sans frontières Canada

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

Meant to be satirical

Mar 12th, 2015 1:26 pm | By

Newsweek must be very clueless. They have a story about the “Islamic Human Rights Commission” and its “Islamophobia” awards in which they treat the “Islamic Human Rights Commission” as a genuine human rights organization.

The chair of an Islamic human rights group has defended its decision to give the staff of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo an award for Islamophobia.

The London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) held its annual Islamophobia Awards, which are voted for by members of the British Muslim community, on Saturday.

What are “members of the British Muslim community”? How are they different from British Muslims? What’s the membership process?

Anyway that appears to be wrong – it appears that anyone can vote just by clicking a button on the IHRC website. It looks as if a kuffar like me could vote.

Charlie Hebdo was given the dubious honour of international Islamophobe of the year. In January this year, 12 people were killed after Islamist gunmen stormed the magazine’s offices in Paris. Brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi claimed that the attack was in retaliation for the magazine publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims find extremely offensive. After the massacre, the remaining staff published a special ‘survivor’s edition’ which featured a weeping Muhammad holding a ‘Je suis Charlie’ sign on the cover under the words ‘Tout est pardonné’ (All is forgiven). The magazine often publishes cartoons that mock a range of religious and political figures.

Massoud Shadjareh, who has been chair of the IHRC since 2011, says the award was not an endorsement of the attacks but was meant to be satirical.

Don’t be so gullible, Newsweek. IHRC is a bunch of Islamist shit-stirrers.

Shadjareh says it would be double standards to see the IHRC as condoning theCharlie Hebdo attacks, which he calls “barbaric”. He points out that the publication of the cartoons led to injuries and deaths in protest marches across the Islamic world, including in Pakistan and Niger, yet the magazine was absolved of any responsibility.

“You cannot have one side responsible and one side not responsible,” he says.

Fake analogy. Fakest of fake.

Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the anti-radicalisation thinktank the Quilliam Foundation, was given the UK Islamophobe of the year award. Shadjareh says that Nawaz adopts many Islamophobic positions and received an overwhelming majority of votes.

No one from the Quilliam Foundation was available for comment.

The Islamophobe awards have been running in their current format since 2011. Shadjareh believes they are an effective, tongue-in-cheek way of doing away with Muslim stereotypes.

“One of the reasons [for the awards] is to challenge the stereotyping that Muslims have no sense of humour, they are always angry, to show that we also can use humour and satire to address serious issues of our time.”

The awards have been praised by figures including former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and Peter Oborne, former chief political correspondent at the Daily Telegraph. They also include positive categories for individuals and groups who have worked to combat anti-Muslim prejudice. This year’s winners include the community of Cold Lake in Canada, who replaced anti-Muslim graffiti on the local mosque with messages of support.

Do your fucking homework, Newsweek.

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

“To a soldier of the Khilafah preparing to sacrifice my life for Islam”

Mar 12th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

An Australian teenager who converted to Islam and ran off to join Daesh apparently left behind a blog post explaining his wonderful reasons for his excellent adventure, the Guardian reports.

The 18-year-old Australian reportedly killed in a suicide attack in Iraq on Wednesday had previously planned to launch “a string of bombings across Melbourne”, according to a blog seen by Guardian Australia.

Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi was reported on Monday to be fighting with the Islamic State militia group in Syria and Iraq.

Social media accounts linked to the group posted photographs on Wednesday that appear to show Bilardi preparing to attack an Iraqi army unit in the Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The images have not been verified, but reports from Iraq have claimed that 10 people had been killed and up to 30 injured in a wave of up to 21 suicide attacks on Wednesday.

It’s good to have adventures at age 18. It’s possible to have adventures without murdering people.

Guardian Australia has found a now-deleted blog written under Bilardi’s nom-de-guerre, Abu Abdullah al-Australi, which appears to provide a chilling insight into how a precocious young man became obsessed with political injustices and embraced violent extremism as the answer.

The blog’s veracity could not be confirmed, but references to the writer’s age and origin in a non-Muslim family in Melbourne line up with reported accounts of the teenager’s life.

The blog includes claims that before fleeing to Syria, the writer drew up plans to launch “a string of bombings across Melbourne, targeting foreign consulates and political/military targets as well as grenade and knife attacks on shopping centres and cafes”.

Knife attacks – he was planning to kill people with a knife.

The attacks would culminate “with myself detonating a belt of explosives amongst the kuffar”, he wrote.

“The kuffar” – as one might say “the niggers” “the Jews” “the whores” “the dogs” “the vermin.” It’s an evil way to think.

His blog has been deleted but here’s the cache. Look how he begins:

With my martyrdom operation drawing closer, I want to tell you my story, how I came from being an Atheist school student in affluent Melbourne to a soldier of the Khilafah preparing to sacrifice my life for Islam in Ramadi, Iraq.

See what he did there? It’s his life that he’s “sacrificing.” There’s no mention of the other people he plans to murder, no mention of their lives that he plans to “sacrifice” for Islam. That tells you all you need to know about him right at the beginning.

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

We do not think this is a harmless hoax

Mar 12th, 2015 11:23 am | By

Jezebel has some new fodder for Christina Hoff Sommers: a Congresswoman actually expects the FBI to do something about Gamergate harassment. Brace yourselves for new videos from the “factual feminist” aka the former philosopher who now shills for a right-wing clubhouse.

[Katherine] Clark is the congresswoman for Brianna Wu, the Boston-based game developer who’s been relentlessly trolled for months by Gamergaters. Clark’s office, she says, has been “watching Gamergate unfold” for several months.

“We discovered this fall that Brianna was a constituent and reached out to her about what we could do,” Clark said. “That led us eventually speaking with the FBI about how they’re handling these cases.”

Wow. Imagine if Rebecca’s Congressional Representative had ever done that.

Or, you know, not handling them at all. It’s exceedingly difficult to get law enforcement to take online threats and harassment seriously. Danielle Citron, the law professor and author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, estimates that the DOJ has only prosecuted 10 cases of cyber-stalking between 2010 and 2013. (A Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that there are 2.5 million cases of serious and frightening harassment each year, though they don’t specify what portion of that is online.) To date, not a single violent threat made against Wu, Anita Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn has result[ed] in an actual, prosecuted criminal case.

Clark, a former prosecutor, says her office met with seven representatives from the FBI in February to determine how seriously the agency is taking the problem.

“It was disappointing,” Clark says. “This is clearly just not one of their priorities. For me as a former prosecutor, it echoed what we would see 20 years ago around domestic violence.” She said that while the FBI are obviously “committed public servants,” they didn’t seem terribly interested in the Gamergate problem.

Doesn’t that make us all feel special.

Clark is also aware that local police can be less than useful, she says: “We’ve heard from many women that local police are often well-intentioned and wanted to be helpful, but may not even know what Twitter was is never mind the power it can have and the real effects it can have on someone’s life and feelings of safety and ability make money. There’s also the chilling effect on their freedom of expression.”

And so Clark is politely going nuclear: in a press release today, she called on the DOJ to “prioritize” online threats against women. She’s also sent a letter to her fellow members of Congress and to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies—the entity that oversees the DOJ—asking them to put language in the 2016 appropriations act that specifically addresses online threats.

That’s heartening to see. Even if it’s just words added to an appropriations bill, it’s a step. A step is better than no step.

The economic impact on women is real, Clark says, and she takes it seriously as a threat to the national economy: “Many of the women [targeted by] Gamergate had to not accept lucrative speaking opportunities and decline public events where they received threats that were very specific,” Clark says. (Brianna Wu’s company Giant Spacekat pulled out of the gaming convention PAX East due to threats.)

“This is an issue that people are paying attention to,” Clark says. “We do not think this a harmless hoax. We think this has real-life implications for women, both personally in their feelings of safety and also economically as they try to put their careers together. There are very few careers choices these days that don’t have some intersection with your online presence.”

She’s been there herself.

Clark has also been threatened online, she says. “Not to the degree many women face, but when I was a state senator we had to have state troopers go out and talk to one person. That’s exactly why I’m bringing this up. As a member of Congress, the threats leveled at me would get a very different level of priority and attention. That should be available to women across the country as well.”

Threats aren’t just some harmless joke.

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


Mar 12th, 2015 10:56 am | By

Sweden has published online the address that Foreign Minister Margot Wallström planned to give in Cairo on Monday.

This is the part – the only part – where she touches on human rights and women’s rights, in a way that Saudi Arabia calls “offensive” and “blatant interference in its internal affairs.

I include the first three paragraphs only so that you can see what led up to the human rights and women’s rights part.


Democracy, security and economic development are interrelated. Without progress in one of these fields, sustainable results in the other cannot be expected.

Inclusive socio-economic development is particularly important. Educational and economic empowerment is the best antidote to radicalisation and terrorist recruitment.

Employment is crucial, especially for our youth. Youth unemployment is a key challenge, in Europe and in this region.


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

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

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

Not much interference in internal affairs there that I can see. It’s quite revealing that Saudi Arabia considers such a minimal statement an outrage, and that it prevented her from delivering the address at all.


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

Adjö Saudi Arabia

Mar 12th, 2015 10:09 am | By

Sweden has actually dropped an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Swedish government this week decided to scrap an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, effectively bringing to an end a decade-old defence agreement with the kingdom. The move followed complaints made by the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom that she was blocked by the Saudis from speaking about democracy and women’s rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo.

Tensions between Stockholm and Riyadh have grown so acute that Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Sweden on Wednesday. The Swedish foreign ministry had published Wallstrom’s planned remarks in Cairo, which made no specific reference to Saudi Arabia but did urge reform on issues of women’s rights. Nevertheless, the Saudi foreign ministry deemed the statement “offensive” and “blatant interference in its internal affairs,” according to the BBC.

Oh really – so now people aren’t allowed to talk about women’s rights in general because that’s “offensive” to Saudi Arabia?

The Saudis spent $39 million on Swedish military equipment last year.

That Sweden’s centre-left government has chosen to risk that sort of investment — and the ire of prominent business leaders at home — marks an important moment. For decades, Saudi Arabia’s vast energy reserves and strategic position in the Middle East have led Western countries to politely skirt around the issue of the kingdom’s draconian religious laws and woeful human rights record.

And not just the governments of Western countries, but also the media of same. S. Arabia’s horrifying human rights record has been horrifyingly under-reported over here.

The double-standard in Western attitudes toward Saudi Arabia has looked particularly glaring in the past year. After the Islamic State began decapitating American hostages in its custody, Saudi Arabia — a key ally in the US-led coalition against the jihadists — carried out beheadings of inmates on death row.

American politicians routinely hurl invective against Iran, accusing the Islamic Republic of fomenting terrorism abroad and maintaining a tyranny at home. But Saudi Arabia has an even less democratic system than that in Tehran, and  as the chief incubator of orthodox Salafism, has played its own unique role in the rise of fundamentalist terror groups around the Middle East and South Asia.

And it keeps women much much more confined and rightsless and dependent and subject to contempt and hatred.

Sweden’s decision came after months of “nail-biting,” reports Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky. But it’s likely just the start of a larger European conversation regarding the ethics of dealing with Saudi Arabia.

Well done Sweden!

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

Save the cornerstone

Mar 12th, 2015 9:44 am | By

A familiar theme – as the annual Commission on the Status of Women meets at the UN, some states try to water down the declaration while activists work to prevent that.

The two-week CSW, held in New York, will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations over the past two decades.

But last week, the Women’s Rights Caucus, which monitors discussions at the CSW, said it was concerned that the language in the declaration was being watered down by certain UN states.

The caucus called on organisations to add their signatures to a statement demanding the declaration be strengthened.

It is understood that Russia, the Holy See (which has a seat on the UN as a non-member permanent observer state), Indonesia, Nicaragua and the Africa group of countries have tried to limit references in the text to human rights and to remove mention of the role feminist groups play in advancing gender equality. These states argue that human rights was just one chapter of the Beijing platform for action, rather than an overarching theme. Caribbean countries are also understood to have failed to step up to support women’s rights.

Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Canada, Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Australia and the EU are believed to be among those that have repeatedly challenged any removal of references to human rights.

I wonder where the US fits in there.

The Holy See is also thought to have wanted mention of a standalone gender equality target proposed in the sustainable development goals removed from the declaration.

Any specific reference to women’s rights activists is expected to be lost.

The pushback on women’s existing rights from these states is not unusual in UN political statements, [n]or are their attempts to block any progressive moves forward.

Well let’s face it, the subordination of women is the cornerstone of family life, which in turn is the cornerstone of some other very important thing, so we can’t mess with it.

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

Baby Halder’s day

Mar 11th, 2015 5:16 pm | By

This is an extraordinary story.

It’s 11pm and Baby Halder’s day is just winding down. Dressed in a blue-and-white salwar kameez, the 39-year-old domestic helper finishes washing a pile of dishes, then mops the floor and turns off the kitchen lights before retiring to her small one-room flat on the terrace of her employer’s palatial, well-appointed house in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of India’s capital, Delhi.

But she is not yet ready for bed. Even though it’s late and she has to start work at 6am, Baby fishes out a notebook from the desk and begins to write. “It’s become a habit now,” she smiles. “I’ve got to write at least a few pages before I go to sleep. It’s fulfilling at the end of the day.” Baby has a lot of reasons to smile. Although she dropped out of school at the age of 12, the mother of three is already a popular author. Her first two books Aalo Aandhari (meaning Darkness and Light in Bengali) and Eshast Roopantar (Self-portrait) were literary successes in Bengali; her third book Ghare Ferar Path (The Way Home) was published by Dey’s Publishing, a Bengali publishing house, in December 2014 to rave reviews from the critics.

Aalo Aandhari, a thinly veiled autobiography published in 2002, was a success in Bengali. But it was its English translation, A Life Less Ordinary, published two years later, that made Baby a literary phenomenon after it sold more than a million copies. The book was translated into 24 languages including French, German and Korean and heralded Baby’s arrival on the literary scene.

And yet she works as a maid from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.?

Baby, who only completed grade 7 before she was married off by her father, smiles shyly when she recalls the praise she received. “It’s nice to know that the book was read by so many people,” she says, recalling how she met Bollywood stars such as actress Nandita Das during one of her book launches. She has invested the earnings from the royalties – around Rs2.5 million (about Dh148,000) over the years – into a house that she has built in her village in Kolkata. She has also put her children through school. The eldest Subodh, 26, works as a chef, while Taposh, 20, and Tia, 17, are in college. Tia wants to become a fashion designer and Baby is planning to enrol her into a design school with her literary earnings.

She is hoping they will be boosted by the English version of Eshast Roopantar, which was published in Hindi in 2010, and is expected to hit the stands later this year.

Baby, who has attended several major literature festivals in Frankfurt, London, and Jaipur, and dined and discussed literature with world-renowned authors including Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, admits that all three books of hers are autobiographical in parts.

One degree of separation; I’ve dined and discussed with Taslima too.

So, why does Baby – who has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian andBBC, earned decent royalties, and travelled abroad for book fairs, literary festivals and book launches – still toil as a maid in Prabodh’s mansion?

“I’m very superstitious,” says the author. “I have this great fear that if I stop working as a maid, I won’t be able to write at all. These are very frightening thoughts.

“Moreover my simple life suits me. There are no complications. My needs are few. I’m happy and comfortable. And if I change my lifestyle, where will I get the raw material for my books, which are essentially about marginalised people and therefore appeal so much to the common man? I’m averse to taking risks.”

Ok but couldn’t she work better hours? But it’s her life, not mine. Anyway her employer is part of the story.

She was married off at age 12 to an alcoholic who beat her; after 12 years she left, taking her children with her.

She found a maid’s job but changed employers frequently as she was overworked and underpaid.

Finally, 14 years ago, she landed in Prabodh’s home. “He was so kind and took me in with the children. He gave me a job and then allowed me to dream of becoming a writer.”

Leaning back in his armchair, Prabodh recalls how he spotted Baby’s inherent talent in the first week she began work.

“One morning I saw her near the bookshelf in my drawing room looking through the books, stopping to read a few pages in one then flipping through another while dusting the shelves,” he says.

Baby, who saw her boss staring at her, thought she would be rebuked for shirking her job and quickly promised not to waste time. “But I told her to relax and said she was welcome to read all the books during her free time.” He also gave her a pen and a notebook, and encouraged her to put down her thoughts on paper.

And that’s how she got started.

Baby could not believe it. “That was the first time after over 25 years that I was holding a notebook,” she says. 
“I love reading but I could never pursue it because there weren’t any books at home, nor did I have the time.” But now here, in Prabodh’s house, she was surrounded by books.

“I enjoy reading Bengali books and there were plenty here,” she says. After reading a bit, particularly books by Taslima Nasreen, Baby decided to follow Prabodh’s advice and write.

And she wrote beautifully, and her first book was a best-seller. Cinderella eat your heart out.

H/t Kausik Datta

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


Mar 11th, 2015 4:27 pm | By

Hurriyet reports that parents want a teacher of religion classes in northern Turkey to be fired for telling her female students that they “deserve rape” for not wearing hijab.

“You don’t cover your head anyway, so raping you or doing evil to you is permissible [in Islam],” the female teacher, identified by the initials L.Y.İ., told students at the Halil Rıfat Paşa Middle School in the province of Tokat on March 9, according to parents who spoke to Doğan News Agency.

That seems very harsh. It seems way out of proportion. Rape is a terrible thing to do to a human being; not wearing hijab is not a terrible thing to do to anyone, not even Mohammed or Allah. One of the things punishments should be is proportional.

According to the parents, the teacher also told the girls that they should have prayed for Özgecan Aslan – whose brutal murder in southern Turkey on Feb. 13 caused national outrage – instead of going to demonstrations to commemorate her.

Mahmut Demirbağ, the school’s headmaster, reportedly told the parents that the teacher “apologized” for the comments. However, some parents have continued to demand that she be dismissed, threatening legal action.

“She insulted 13-year-old girls for not wearing a headscarf during a Quran class, which is elective. This teacher cannot lecture my daughter,” a parent told the Doğan News Agency.

They’re not broken yet in Turkey. That’s good.

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

Guest post: Weaponized speech

Mar 11th, 2015 4:09 pm | By

Originally a comment by quixote on Hey the chant was on a school trip, so obviously no biggy.

Bigotry is harmful. Bigoted drunken chants are no exception. Bigotry uses speech to hurt, not to express a train of reasoning. It’s weaponized speech, and as such it stops free speech. It is the antithesis of free speech. The clearest example is not in racist speech but in gendered mobs aimed at women on the web, which is nastily effective at both hurting and silencing women while expressing no thoughts at all. It’s just plain old hatred and plain old hate speech.

This concept seems to be difficult mainly for some white males who are almost never the targets of weaponized speech.

To give an example of ideas that could be considered racist that are not weaponized, researchers (this was many years ago) wanted to study whether blacks were more violent than whites. They almost got shut down for racism, but ultimately managed to do an acceptable controlled study. (The short answer is no. Blacks as a group were actually slightly less violent than whites matched for age, gender, and income.) The difference was on the order of 13% vs 15% or something like that.

Of course, the great gaping chasm of difference was between males and females. 85% of violent attacks were committed by men, a little bit over 5% were not-directly-provoked attacks by women, and 10% were violence by women in response to attacks by men. I believe the numbers are still very similar.

And the fact that this vast difference was not being studied, while the piddling non-difference between races was studied woke up the sociology community to the fact that, yes, it really was a racist question. But my point is that you do have to ask the obnoxious question to see the answer. That kind of speech is and should be protected. There is an idea behind it. That is different from abuse and hate speech.

If we — meaning people like I’m-all-right-Jack Volokh — don’t wake up to the difference between abuse and speech, there’s not going to be any free speech for anyone except the Volokhs. Maybe that’s why he’s okay with it.

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