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.

Nuisance flooding

Mar 9th, 2015 11:20 am | By

What parts of the US have the most to worry about because of climate change? Hm that would be coastal areas, wouldn’t it, especially low-lying, swampy coastal areas, like Louisiana and Florida. And yet

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Huh. That’s kind of like telling the Fire Department not to use the terms “fire” or “burn” or “hot.” It’s like telling the health services not to use the terms “bacteria” or “virus” or “infection” or “death.”

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said.

I suppose they’ll be allowed to use the words once Florida is actually under water. That’s a sensible policy. By the same token, we don’t need to fret about falling off great heights until we actually hit bottom. Until then, there’s just no telling what might happen.

This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, according to former DEP employees. Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Vinyard has since resigned. Neither he nor his successor, Scott Steverson, would comment for this article.

Various flacks said there is no such policy.

But four former DEP employees from offices around the state say the order was well known and distributed verbally statewide.

One former DEP employee who worked in Tallahassee during Scott’s first term in office, and asked not to be identified because of an ongoing business relationship with the department, said staffers were warned that using the terms in reports would bring unwanted attention to their projects.

“We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can’t reference it,” the former employee said.

Climate…progress? Development? Increase? Augmentation? I can think of lots of cheer-up words for it.

Some climate scientists asked for a chance to explain the science to Scott and he said ok, you’ve got 30 minutes. He spent ten of those minutes introducing people, and then sat quietly for the 20 minutes of scientists talking. Then he went back to doing real work.

Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist, had been proactive on climate change, forming a statewide task force and convening a national summit in Miami in 2007. But evidence the issue has fallen out of favor during the Scott administration is apparent.

One example is the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council’s Annual Research Plan, put together by DEP and other state agencies. The 2009-2010 report, published the year before Scott was elected, contains 15 references to climate change, including a section titled “Research Priorities — Climate Change.”

In the 2014-15 edition of the report, climate change is only mentioned if it is in the title of a past report or conference. There is one standalone reference to the issue at the end of a sentence that sources say must have slipped by the censors. “It’s a distinct possibility,” said one former DEP employee.

Instead, terms like “climate drivers” and “climate-driven changes” are used.

Climate chocolate sauce, climate flash mobs, climate tight pants.

Christopher Byrd said that he was warned not to use “climate change” and related terms during a 2011 staff meeting shortly after Scott appointed Vinyard as DEP director.

“Deputy General Counsel Larry Morgan was giving us a briefing on what to expect with the new secretary,” Byrd recalled. Morgan gave them “a warning to beware of the words global warming, climate change and sea-level rise, and advised us not to use those words in particular.”

Ah yes sea-level rise – you don’t want to go mentioning that in Florida of all places. God no! The time to mention that is after all the hotels and condos are built, not before. Just issue everyone an inflatable raft and all will be well.

in November 2014, the Coral Reef Conservation Program held a meeting to train volunteers to use a PowerPoint presentation about the threats coral reefs faced. Harper attended the meeting, held at DEP’s Biscayne Bay office in Miami. Doug Young, president of the South Florida Audubon Society and a member of the Broward County Climate Change Task Force, also attended.

Two DEP employees, Ana Zangroniz and Kristina Trotta, showed the presentation to the volunteers and then asked if anyone had a question.

“I told them the biggest problem I have was that there was absolutely no mention of climate change and the affect of climate change on coral reefs,” Young said.

He continued: “The two young women, really good people, said, ‘We are not allowed to show the words, or show any slides that depicted anything related to climate change.’”

Young and Harper said they could not participate if climate change was not mentioned. “The women kept saying, ‘Work with us; we know you are frustrated,’” Harper said.

On Nov. 19, 2014, the DEP’s Zangroniz wrote Harper and Young an email stating she had talked to her manager about their concerns.

“Unfortunately at this time,” she wrote, “we can’t make any alterations or additions to the presentation. … If you do choose to continue as a volunteer, we would have to request that you present the information as is. If you choose to add in an additional presentation or speaker that addresses climate change and coral reefs, there would have to be a very clear split between the two.”

Trotta left her position as a field and administrative assistant in January. She told FCIR that when it came to scrubbing the term “climate change” from projects, she was following orders. Those orders came from Regional Administrator Joanna Walczak during a staff meeting in the summer of 2014.

“We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise,’ ” said Trotta. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding.’”

Read the whole damn thing.

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

Bradford West

Mar 9th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Meet Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bradford West, Naz Shah.

I was only 6 when my father abandoned my mother with two young children and pregnant with a third when he eloped with the neighbour’s 16 year old daughter. I remember been thrown into the back of a taxi with black bin liners full of our belongings and packed off from the family home on Hartman Place to my granddads home in Kirkham Road. We never really saw the end of black bin liners over the next few years as we moved from squalor to squalor, 14 times in less than 2 years, from back to back houses where the toilet was outside to rat infested damp houses where we lived and slept in just one room.

Then her mother bought a house with the proceeds from selling her wedding jewelry, but the house was in the name of a man, Azam.

My mother’s attempt to provide her children with the security of a home came at the expense of being abused by Azam over years. A man that she thought would save her children from an uncertain and insecure future, little did she know he would be the exact opposite. My mother had sent me to Pakistan at the age of 12 when she felt I was at risk of his abuse. When my younger sister was growing up and my mother felt she was now at risk, and following years of anti- depressants, failed suicide attempts and feeling desperate and destitute she snapped.

She killed the man who abused her.

I remember how my days and nights became one, how my world was turned upside down, how I became a mother to my two siblings who were 11 and 13 at the time. Up until then the worst I had known personally was my own forced marriage through emotional blackmail when I was just 15 years old whilst in Pakistan.

Oh is that all.

She worked a crap job, then a slightly less crap one, then one where she could actually use her talents.

I became a carer for children with disabilities as my mother had also been a carer. I then went on to become an advocate for women with disabilities and their carers. I felt my calling was to help people and I then joined the Samaritans. I didn’t realise how much anger I carried inside me towards the ‘systems’ that failed me and my family because I had turned it into this force to change people’s lives. I would get emotional about the families I was helping and angry if they weren’t getting the right services, until one day my mentor pulled me to one side and asked me why was I so upset when families didn’t get the services they needed , how much of this is really about the failure you experienced? That conversation was a game changer for me.

I quickly realised to effect change I must be able to influence decision making and that’s when I joined the NHS. To begin with I managed giving out grants and ‘Patient and Public Involvement’ and we then started ‘commissioning services’. I found my niche when my manager recognised my talent and invested heavily in my leadership development. I fell in love with the idea of ‘Leadership’ and am still in love with the notion of it being the key to change society for the betterment of humanity

Beyond my own career I continued to fly the flag around violence against women through speaking at conferences and contributing to discussions. I didn’t really appreciate exactly how much I was using my own natural leadership and passion to influence policy and change.

Now, she’s running for Galloway’s seat. Let’s hope she wins!


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

An American Citizen for saving Americans for America

Mar 9th, 2015 10:10 am | By

A god-loving type resorts to sending bullying hate-mail to an elected official to demonstrate the glory of god. Or something.

All they wanted was a mash note to god inside a government building, and here’s this elected official whining about the separation of church and state. Get out the epithets!!

An Oregon city councilwoman who voiced her opposition to displaying “In God We Trust” inside a government building received a death threat from an individual calling himself an “American Citizen for saving Americans for America.”

Cool title. It sounds like irony, but given the nature of the message, I don’t suppose it actually is irony.

Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams mentioned displaying the motto in the county’s public hearing room last December, and David and Carol Warren ran with the idea. “We believe God wants us to do this,” Carol toldThe Oregonian.

Commissioner Mallams said he did not anticipate posting the motto to be a problem, since “it doesn’t say ‘the God of the Bible.’ It’s not ‘Allah.’ It’s not ‘the God of the Jews.’ It’s just acknowledging that there is a higher power out there that sets boundaries for what’s right and wrong.”

Oh “just” that, is it. “Just” “acknowledging” something that there’s no reason to think is true. There’s a hell of a lot more reason to think there isn’t any higher power out there that sets boundaries for what’s right and wrong than there is to think there is one. If there is such a higher power it’s doing a damn bad job of setting those boundaries.

As for atheists, Mallams and Warren said, “they don’t have to look at it.”

Well now that’s just an outright lie. Look again at what the plan is – Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams mentioned displaying the motto in the county’s public hearing room. Displaying. What does that mean? It means you do have to look at it. It means it’s forced on your attention. You can try to ignore it once you’ve seen it, but it’s flat-out not the case that you don’t have to look at it. The plan is to stick it in that hearing room so that everyone who enters it does have to look at it.

Seiler responded that it’s disingenuous to talk of a generic god when it obviously isn’t generic at all, and she mentioned the separation of church and state. Treason!

But according to the author of a letter Seiler received after penning the editorial, the United States was founded on “Christian morality.” The author then wrote, “Maybe we could have the privilege of seeing your wonderful Muslims behead your [expletive] ugly [expletive]!!!”

The author confuses atheists with Muslims. Nope. Atheists aren’t Muslims, and Muslims aren’t atheists. That’s just silly.

Anyway – god is love; that’s the important thing.


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

A person and an institution

Mar 8th, 2015 6:34 pm | By

The Guardian has an excellent long and sympathetic essay on Avijit Roy, by Oliver Laughland in New York and Saad Hammadi in Dhaka.

His friends told him it was too dangerous to go to Bangladesh, but he wanted to visit his mother.

Roy’s death led secular activists to take to the streets in Dhaka to demand justice and to refocus international attention on freedom of speech in Bangladesh. As violence and political tensions in the country re-emerged after a year of relative calm, the murder has exacerbated existing rifts between the country’s secular incumbents the Awami League and its rightwing opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, its Islamist ally.

“I think we lost not just a person, but an institute. He was a movement,” said Jahed Ahmed – a New York based co-founder of Mukto-Mona. “He created an online renaissance.”

He had a source of inspiration himself.

It was a family trip to the small town of Shantiniketon in West Bengal that first inspired Roy to write. The east Indian town was where the humanist author and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, the so-called “father of the Bengal Renaissance” had penned many of his most important works at the turn of the 20th century. The visit had a profound impact on the young man in his third year of an engineering undergraduate degree.

“It helped him come out of the mechanical attitude engineering students develop,” Ajoy Roy, Avijit’s grief-stricken 80-year-old father told the Guardian in Dhaka. “As he came closer to nature and Tagore’s peaceful and spiritual establishment, they instilled a literary mindset within him.”

“I encouraged him to write … about world identity, keeping Rabindranath’s views on background,” said Roy – himself a noted physicist and human rights campaigner.

Martha Nussbaum is a big admirer of Tagore’s, too.

But it was the internet that would allow Avijit’s talent to flourish. In 2000, while studying for a PhD in software engineering in Singapore, Roy would spend hours in Bengali expat forums, discussing (among others) the prose of the secular humanist poet and philosopher Taslima Nasrin, exiled from Bangladesh in 1994 and the works of prominent American atheist philosopher Paul Kurtz.

It sounds so familiar.

The death threats started around 2010 but, friends recall, were really only taken seriously after the murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider, a Dhaka-based atheist blogger murdered in a strikingly similar attack to Avijit’s in February 2013.

Haider, who had contributed to Mukto-Mona under a pseudonym, was dragged from his home and hacked to death by a gang of machete-wielding assailants in February 2013. His brutal murder happened as tens of thousands of people took to the streets demanding the death penalty for prominent Islamists who had recently been convicted of war crimes committed in the country’s Liberation war of the early 1970s.

“Avijit took the threats seriously [then],” Farid Ahmed recalled, “[But he said] we know that nothing comes easily. If we have to give blood, we have to give blood.”

It was around the time of Haider’s death that Roy first contacted Michael De Dora, director of public policy at the Washington-based Center for Inquiry, a global secularist NGO. The pair would frequently talk about the increasing death threats he had been receiving, particularly from Farabi Shafiur Rahman, an extremist blogger and member of the banned pan-Islamist outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir, who this week was arrested in connection with Roy’s death after posting death threats to Facebook before the attack.

A revealing March 2014 email exchange between De Dora and Roy, shared with the Guardian, shows that Roy appeared more concerned that the threats had resulted in his books being taken off the shelves than any fear for his life. Roy wrote:

I am astounded to see that no legal action has been taken against this maniac. Instead, Rokomari [an online bookstore that received death threats for selling Roy’s work] decided to withdraw my books from its store. This incident proves that even Facebook threats from figures as minor as Farabi work effectively in Bangladesh.

The bad people win, often.


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

Guest post: If you have the connections or cash

Mar 8th, 2015 5:57 pm | By

Originally a comment by lorn on Saudi Arabia has expressed “surprise and dismay”.

Saudi Arabia is well acquainted with duplicity. Many publicly devout men have a wet bar, mistresses, and engage in decidedly unislamic activities behind closed doors. They also are quite willing to lavish huge sums of money to smooth over discrepancies and conflicts.

As a matter of policy they have a very generous welfare state to help smooth things out.

I had a job offer there and the list of things allowed in the contractors’ compound was slightly more libertine than what is allowed in most US red light districts. The understanding was that none of this was done, or spoken of, in public and taking it over the fence would subject you to punishment up to and including death. As long as one of the main clans doesn’t object, western contract employees are routinely given an opportunity to flee the country after you pay a $100,000 to $500,000 fine.

A friend accused of off compound excesses was dragged into a police station, given a light thrashing and threatened with death. The contractor quietly paid $150,000 and the man found that after another questioning the door to his cell was left ajar. Taking advantage of this he slipped past a police officer who seemed deeply distracted by paperwork and out the front door where he found a friendly but insistent taxi driver who insisted he get in. He was driven to the airport where he was drive past customs and directly to the boarding ladder. He was the last person to board an airliner that had been delayed. Once in the US he learned he had been declared persona non grata by SA and if he ever went back he would be beheaded.

It is clear that SA might be hell for the poor who are unwilling to comply, or work very hard to keep their non-compliance under wraps. But if you have the connections or cash, the rules, or at least the punishment, might be sidestepped.


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


Mar 8th, 2015 5:36 pm | By

It’s an honor, coming from them.


5Pillars @5Pillarsuk 15 hours ago
Maajid Nawaz won the “UK category” at the Islamophobia awards @ihrc #IslamophobiaAwards2015

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

What next, How to Homeopathy?

Mar 8th, 2015 5:02 pm | By

Why is PBS showing “Wheat Belly Total Health”?

I suppose for the same reason they show Deepak Chopra saying things, but can’t anyone get them to stop? They’re supposed to be in some sense educational tv, so they shouldn’t be broadcasting woo.

William Davis is certainly chuffed:

Join me for a provocative and enlightening discussion about why the Wheat Belly lifestyle, coupled with the newest strategies revealed in the Wheat Belly Total Health, can help you achieve levels of health and weight control that you didn’t think were possible!

Here is the November schedule for the Wheat Belly Total Health public television special beginning Saturday, November 29th.

Be sure to show your support for your local public television station by making a generous pledge to allow them to continue to air programs like Wheat Belly Total Health. Special, exclusive-to-public-television Wheat Belly Total Health DVDs will be available to contributors to the local stations.

Many more stations, many more cities to come in December, 2014 and in 2015. Also, Canadians: Watch for the border cities that broadcast into your viewing region!

Massive free advertising, courtesy of public television. How nice for him.


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

Guest post: International Women’s Day – Dissenting Voices

Mar 8th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

Guest post by Iram Ramzan, cross-posted from her blog with her permission.

l-r Sandhya Sharma, Pragna Patel, Amal Farah and Gita Sahgal

l-r Sandhya Sharma, Pragna Patel, Amal Farah and Gita Sahgal

“It’s women who have to take up these issues. The left is not going to do it. The left are trying to silence us.”

You would be forgiven for thinking this statement was made quite recently. In fact, it is made by one of the women who appeared in ‘Struggle or Submission’, which documented the beginnings of Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF).

WAF was set up partly in response to the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, but also with the aim of challenging fundamentalism in all religions.

Human rights activist and co-founder of Southall Black Sisters Gita Sahgal made the documentary, which filmed women working and living at a women’s refuge in Brent, who wanted the choice to practice, or not practice, the faith which they were born into. Many of the Muslim women wanted to follow their own interpretations of Islam without any interference from male clerics – a debate that still continues to this very day. Some of those women could not understand how young women were taking up the veil after decades of fighting for the right to remove it.

The documentary was shown as part of an International Women’s Day talk at Central Library in Manchester, titledWomen Against Fundamentalism – Stories of Dissent and Solidarity’. It showed a group of women from all backgrounds marching in support of Rushdie as part of their own right to religious control, at a time when race made way for religion in identity politics. They were attacked by both the religious fundamentalists and the fascists simultaneously.

The three speakers were co-founders of SBS, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal, and Amal Farah, an ex-Muslim from Somalia. Sandhya Sharma, a Manchester-based activist, chaired the discussion.

How fitting that these women were talking about their challenges against both religious fundamentalists and racists alike while an EDL march was taking place in the city centre.

Pragna said that WAF predicted the rise of religious fundamentalism.

“We don’t take pleasure in the fact that we were right in our predictions,” she explained. “Everything we will say has already been said 25 years ago.”

Pragna Patel

Pragna Patel

This was echoed by Gita Sahgal, who added: “The things we talked about have remained valid.”

SBS was described as the “rebellious child of Thatcherism”, which “challenged the myth of the community”. Even today, we find that look at communities through the prism of faith, which means that we either ignore voices of dissent or deliberately shut them down. Dissenters were told repeatedly (and shamefully) by the left that “now is not the time to raise these issues”.

“The only tools we have are our voices of dissent,” Pragna said. “Suppression of dissent for women is literally a matter of life and death.

Amal’s family fled war-torn Somalian to Canada before settling in Britain. Her mother then started practicing a more austere version of Islam, swapping her Somali dirac – a kaftan-like garment – to the Islamic jilbab which covers women from head to toe.

To be Somali is to be Muslim, Amal explained. She describes having her first period as an end to what few freedoms she had had as a child and told of her secret passion for football, a sport which she was never allowed to play because a male could, by chance, walk past and see the females behaving ‘immodestly’.

“I was never a religious person, I just happened to be born into [Islam]”, she said. She came “out” as an ex-Muslim in 2004, much to her mother’s horror who then moved her siblings to Dubai and then back to Somalia.

Amal Farah

Amal Farah

Amal’s story is not that uncommon. More and more ex-Muslims are “coming out” and sharing their stories, though often they must do so secretly, for fear of reprisal. In fact, Amal was so scared of what could happen that she was not listed as a speaker at the event. Understandable perhaps in a Muslim-majority country, but in Britain in 2015? A travesty.

It is not the other, as Gita explained, but killing the other within. Minorities within minorities, who dare to speak out and challenge the status quo. Shamefully, such voices have been stifled by even our governments who willingly worked with “non-violent extremists” who were known to have “run death squads” abroad.

“Non-violent extremists – what a dangerous and ridiculous oxymoron”, Gita said. “The government knew what they were doing.”

She also expressed frustration at the fact that young people were joining ISIS and getting into trouble with the authorities while extremist leaders, such as Anjem Choudary, are able to roam free.

I asked the panel if they believe the media and the government have finally woken up to these problems. After all, the pseudo-human rights group CAGE has lost its funding from the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, after its research director Asim Qureshi claimed that the security services helped “radicalise” Mohammed Emwzi aka ‘Jihadi John’. Will we be having the same discussion in another 25 years’ time?

Gita replied: “Things have shifted. People say the tide is turning. At most we’re like pebbles on the beach being swept away. It’s a long struggle.”

Gita Sahgal

Gita Sahgal

It is hard for one not to feel disheartened when realising that what the likes of Sahgal and Patel are saying now has been said before and will continue to be said and no matter how hard activists drum home this message, some continue not to pay attention.

A good demonstration of this was when an Indian lady said she could not support SBS’ stance on the Charlie Hebdo killings, describing the magazine as ‘racist’. Pragna challenged this myth superbly and explained that “the victims of fundamentalists are also alienated and disenfranchised.

If the likes of Gita, Pragna and Amal are just pebbles on the beach, they are an important collection of pebbles. We may very well be having this discussion for decades to come, but the difference now is that more and more voices have been added to this debate, creating a mass movement to challenge fundamentalism. We will not remain the “other within” for much longer.

Happy International Women’s Day to the brave women who continue to speak out and do important work within their communities.

Iram Ramzan is a reporter and freelance journalist.


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

Saudi Arabia is surprised and wounded

Mar 8th, 2015 11:50 am | By

The Sydney Morning Herald also reports on Saudi Arabia’s shock and sorrow at being rebuked for torturing its citizens over their expressed opinions.

Saudi Arabia defended its human rights record in its first public reaction to international criticism over last year’s sentencing of liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to 1000 lashes and 10 years in jail for “insulting Islam”.

The first 50 of Mr Badawi’s lashes were carried out in January, prompting strong criticism of the kingdom’s rights record from Western countries, including its laws on political and religious expression and the status of Saudi women.

“Saudi Arabia expresses its intense surprise and dismay at what is being reported by some media about the case of citizen Raif Badawi and his sentence,” a statement attributed to an unnamed “Foreign Ministry official” said.

You shouldn’t be surprised, Saudi Arabia. You’re not that stupid. You live in the real world. You accept our money in exchange for your oil, and you know we don’t all share your views of what human beings owe to invented gods and their self-proclaimed prophets and dictators who claim to rule in their name. You know we don’t share your views of what is appropriate and reasonable punishment or what constitutes crime.

Hey, you want to return the favor? Rebuke the US for its outrageously huge prison population, its racist drug laws and enforcement of those laws, the racist “banter” of the Ferguson cops? Do it! Knock yourselves out. The US has a horrible record in many areas, and a horrendous one in the past. We were a slave country until a shockingly recent date! You can accuse us of all sorts of things, accurately. And we can accuse you.

The statement said Saudi courts were independent and that the kingdom’s constitution ensured the protection of human rights because it was based on Islamic sharia law.

But sharia isn’t about human rights. That’s what’s wrong with it. It’s about goddy rights. It doesn’t ensure the protection of human rights at all. It’s about what humans owe to god, not what we owe to each other.

“Saudi Arabia at the same time emphasises that it does not accept interference in any form in its internal affairs”, the statement said.

Yeah, and Daddy doesn’t accept interference in any form in his affairs, either, but once those affairs affect other people, it’s no longer just Daddy’s business or Saudi Arabia’s business.

[Saudi Arabia] does not permit the public worship of other faiths or allow them to maintain places of worship inside the country. In a new law last year, it included atheism as a terrorist offence.

It uses the death penalty for offences including blasphemy, apostasy and witchcraft.

Unacceptable. We get to say that. Liberal universalists get to say that, to Saudi Arabia or North Korea or Texas or anyone.

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

Saudi Arabia has expressed “surprise and dismay”

Mar 8th, 2015 11:08 am | By

Fucking hell. The Saudis are digging in.

Saudi Arabia has expressed “surprise and dismay” at international media reports criticising the flogging of a Saudi blogger for insulting Islam.

In its first official statement on the case the foreign ministry said it rejected any interference in its internal affairs.

The foreign ministry said it could not accept any impingement on the country’s sovereignty, or on the impartiality of its judiciary system.

“The kingdom unequivocally rejects any aggression under the pretext of human rights,” it added.

It’s not a pretext, you callous piece of shit.

Germany’s economic affairs minister and vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia, was urged by MPs and human rights organisations to take up Mr Badawi’s case while in Riyadh.

Before going into a meeting with King Salman, Mr Gabriel said “the harshness of this sentence, especially the corporal punishment, is something unimaginable for us and of course it weighs on our relations”.

That, yes, but so does the complete lack of anything resembling a crime. The criminalization of a perfectly reasonable and legitimate view on religion is abhorrent.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law and does not tolerate political dissent. It has some of the highest social media usage rates in the region, and has cracked down on domestic online criticism.

Saudi Arabia is a fascist theocracy. It’s hell on earth. Let’s not mince words.


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

Another bad idea for our consideration

Mar 8th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Another sinister document, this one the brainchild of the group MEND, formerly iENGAGE. It’s a “Muslim Manifesto” which the Telegraph reports was launched yesterday by Azad Ali of MEND,

joined in Parliament by the Labour MPs Yasmin Qureshi, Andy Slaughter and Gerald Kaufman and Sayeeda Warsi, the former Tory communities minister.

Behold the draft Manifesto.

The Institute for Muslim Community Development suggests the following points in no particular order for a Muslim Manifesto. Note where the suffering of the British Muslim community and its demands mirror those of other communities we would fully support them in achieving their rights.

That’s a tidy bit of obfuscspeak. Which “suffering” exactly? “Mirror” in what sense? What is meant by “communities”? What kind of “rights” exactly? Does that cash out to mean that the “we” in that sentence would support the demands of feminists and LGBT activists? What about secularists and atheists? Where exactly does the mirror intervene to exclude the wrong kinds of demands and rights? It must be somewhere, because demands of religious believers qua believers are going to be in tension with many of the demands and rights of feminists and LGBT activists, let alone secularists and atheists.

The manifesto offers many examples of how that is true. The very first item for instance is full of such tensions.

We would ask our parliamentary friends to:

  1. Defend the right to a Muslim way of life, including halal meat; religious clothing; circumcision; and flexible working to accommodate Ramadan and festival observance.

“Halal” meat is a problem for people who give a shit about the suffering of animals. “Religious clothing” in the context of “a Muslim way of life” refers to women’s clothing, which is treated inside the circle not as a right but as a command. We are of course meant to think of it as the “right” of girls and women to wear hijab or a burqa or abaya or niqab – but it also includes the “right” of fathers and brothers and husbands to insist or demand that girls and women under their jurisdiction wear hijab or more. This “right” is in tension, at the very least, with the right of girls and women to refuse to wear hijab or more.

“Circumcision” refers not at all to the “right” of someone to be circumcised or mutilated, but to the “right” of parents to impose circumcision or mutilation on their infants or young children. That’s not really a “right” as normally understood. Parents don’t have a “right” to carve random little chunks out of their infants’ arms or buttocks for no good reason, and it’s not clear why they should have a “right” to carve random little chunks out of their infants’ or young children’s genitals for no good reason.

The “flexible working” item is the only one that’s a nuisance but not exactly a violation of the rights of others…although it could be, given the demands of Ramadan, if non-Muslim workers have to pick up all the slack given to Muslim workers during Ramadan, in other words if Muslim workers basically get a month off that no one else gets.

And that’s just item # 1.

Some of the items are anodyne or empty or both. But others aren’t.

6. Affirm the importance of faith schools within the overall provision.

If “within the overall provision” is supposed to mean state schools, then no, don’t. “Faith schools” should be the job of religious bodies, not the state.

9. Celebrate and support Muslim heritage and cultural institutions.

All of it, no questions asked? No.

17. Introduce more robust legislation to curb media hate campaigns against Muslims.

Like this post I’m writing now, for instance? No, don’t be doing that.

18. Guarantee the Muslim community the opportunity to evolve independently of government social engineering programmes.

Social engineering programmes like preventing domestic violence for instance? No.

19. Acknowledge that the holy scripture of Muslims (the Qur’an) does not endorse terrorism and the murder of innocents.

Forget it. And what do you mean “innocents,” anyway? Does the Qur’an endorse the murder of guilties? Who decides who the guilties are? You? Daesh? Boko Haram? The Jeddah Criminal Court?

22. Encourage enquiry into the effects of oversexualisation of public spaces upon young people.

You mean, “tell all those sluts to cover up.” Nope.

28. Recognise Muslims have a distinct ‘way of life’ (deen) which opposes any understanding of religion or faith as separate from other aspects of life.

Oh no. No no no no no no.

Jeezis, dude, do you not even realize that that one demands a kind of separation and specialitude that would inevitably marginalize Muslims in exactly the way this manifesto complains of?

In any case it’s basically a demand to be allowed to do whatever you want to do because religion, and that’s not possible. Basic human rights make that demand impossible to grant. No can do.

It’s creepy as hell that Warsi signed up to this.


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

The moral amnesia that develops when a dictator dies

Mar 7th, 2015 6:17 pm | By

The Independent talks to and about Mona Eltahawy, who has a book coming out (which I get the privilege of reviewing for Free Inquiry).

Egyptian-American Eltahawy, who lived in the UK between the ages of seven and 15, believes the radicalisation of young Western Muslims is only partly explained by a “feeling of marginalisation and alienation” and being “lost between different cultures”.

“For some people religion becomes their only form of expression and opposition and it can take a very violent turn,” she says. “This is not a majority of people who identify as Muslim. We are showing you can still belong to this religion; you can still be a Muslim and find other ways of expressing your divisions that do not involve this horrific level of violence.”

She has just finished her first book – Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, which comes out in the UK in May. It is an extension of her essay Why Do They Hate Us?, which provoked huge controversy in 2012 for its examination of misogyny in the Arab world.

But Eltahawy, who lived in Saudi Arabia for six years after leaving Britain, is unapologetic about its themes and condemns the hypocrisy of world leaders who flocked to pay their respects after the Saudi King Abdullah died in January.

Damn right!

“I am horrified by the moral amnesia that develops when a dictator dies,” she says. Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving and cannot go anywhere without a male chaperone, is a “black hole of misogyny” that operates a system of “gender apartheid”.

Saudi human rights abuses, she argues, go ignored “because of oil and because they spend billions of dollars on weapons” – and also “because [the country] is home to the two holy sites of Islam”.

Well and also because it’s only women. Meh, you know? Who cares. Women are such bitches anyway, plus they’re stupid.

The same cultural relativism arguments – “this is their culture; we can’t touch it” – that are used to ignore abuses by Saudi Arabia are used in the UK to allow practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage to flourish, along with the rise of Sharia courts, Eltahawy says. Liberals in the UK have not spoken out for fear of appearing racist, leaving the field clear for right-wingers such as Nigel Farage.

Not all liberals in the UK, but far too many of them.

As a member of Musawah, an international group campaigning for equality and justice for women in the Muslim world, she is vocal in condemning the appalling levels of sexual violence against women.

“Slowly and surely we are beginning to talk about something that has never been talked about before, which is sexual violence on the street against women in Egypt, either from the state or from civilians. It has reached a terrible height of horror over the past few years since the revolution began. This revolution wasn’t about women’s rights.”

They never are. They never, ever are.

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

News from Manchester

Mar 7th, 2015 6:04 pm | By

Nazir Afzal has resigned his job as head of the Crown Prosecution Service for the north west. Too bad; he was apparently very good at the job.

The region’s top prosecutor has been in the spotlight for his high-profile comments on child sexual exploitation and grooming.

A CPS spokesman said: “We are continuing to reduce the number of staff employed across the organisation and Nazir Afzal is leaving the Service as part of this ongoing drive for efficiency.

He was responsible for all criminal prosecutions across Greater Manchester, Lancashire, and Cumbria.

He led about 700 lawyers, legal staff, and administrators.

Nazir has pioneered work to tackle honour-based violence and forced marriage, initially bringing this issue to the top of the public agenda through a CPS conference in 2004.

He has the national CPS lead on tackling these crimes and on tackling Violence Against Women (domestic violence, rape and other violent offences in which women are predominantly the victims).

That’s why it’s a pity he’s going.

Nazir was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours List in 2005 for his public service and involvement with the local community and was named Legal Personality of the Year by the Society of Asian Lawyers, which represents around 15,000 professionals.

In 2007, he received the CPS Public Servant of the Year award, the UK Government’s Justice Award and the Daily Mirror newspaper ‘People’s Award’, voted for by readers.

In recent years he has also received the Law Society/Bar Council Mentoring award and was selected for the Asian Power 100 along with the Muslim Power 100 list.

Seems like an efficiency too many.

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

What mercy looks like

Mar 7th, 2015 5:36 pm | By

The Saudi legal system, not surprisingly, subscribes to the same legal theory as does the most talkative rapist in the Jyoti Singh case: that women are committing a crime if they are outside on their own, and should be punished for being raped in those circumstances. The IBT reports that

A 19-year-old woman, who was reportedly violently gang-raped by seven men in Saudi Arabia, has been sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison…

Well, women are supposed to keep themselves safe from rape by never leaving home. Obviously if they are raped it’s their fault.

The so called punishment that the woman received was according to the Sharia law, which dictates a Saudi Arabian woman not to be in public without a male guardian – the rule that the 19-year-old apparently did not follow.

Other Muslims wouldn’t recognize that as Sharia, but then that’s the problem with goddy law; the supreme court is in some other dimension where living humans can’t appeal to it.

In the incident, which reportedly took place in 2006, two men got into the vehicle where she was present along with her friend. She was then driven far away to a secluded place and raped by seven men. Three of the rapists also roughed up the friend in question.

Initially, the woman was sentenced to about 90 lashes because of the “crime” of not following the reclusive country’s rules. The men who raped her, however were given minor custodial sentences, which led to the woman’s lawyer appealing to the Saudi General Court.

However, instead of overturning the punishment to the woman, the court reportedly more than doubled the punishment to the woman, and the same was done for the accused men.

I remember that case. I blogged about it at the time.

Allah is merciful.


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

The disenfranchisement of these young men

Mar 7th, 2015 10:47 am | By

The BBC did a conversation with Asim Qureshi of CAGE this week, and before the conversation they did a clip where he makes his case on his own. I hit pause because I wanted to interrupt him. After telling us that he worked with celebrity beheader Mohammed Emwazi, starting at 1:30 he says

What role does our society play in relation to the disenfranchisement of these young men, to make them feel like they don’t have the ability to actually use the system in order to effect change in the grievances that they have with British domestic and foreign policy?


I wanted to interrupt him to say bullshit.

There is no enfranchisement that could enable “these young men” (such as Mohammed Emwazi) to “use the system” to achieve their goals, because their goals are not attainable in a liberal democracy. Their “grievances” with British domestic policy for instance have to do with all the wicked infidel freedom that women have to walk around and make their own decisions without monitoring and control by men. There is no “enfranchisement” that will allow young men like Emwazi to change that. It’s not enfranchisement that could possibly make that happen, but only ruthless violence and destruction.

Qureshi is revoltingly, unctuously adept at using the vocabulary of liberal discourse to draw a thin veil over the disgusting mess of what Islamism is really about. He’s not talking about real disenfranchisement or legitimate grievances; he’s bullshitting.

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

IS destroy another ancient site

Mar 7th, 2015 10:08 am | By

Well that’s Iraq for you: it’s rich in historic sites, so Daesh has lots of fun projects. This time the ancient city is called Hatra.

Islamic State militants have destroyed ruins at the ancient city of Hatra, Iraqi officials say.

A tourism and antiquities ministry official said the extent of the damage at the Unesco world heritage site was unclear, but they had received reports that it had been demolished.

Hatra was founded in the days of the Parthian Empire over 2,000 years ago.

And now the Empire of Islam is obliterating everything that’s not itself.

Hatra, located about 110km (68 miles) south-west of Mosul, was a fortified city that withstood invasions by the Romans thanks to its thick walls reinforced by towers.

Said Mamuzini, a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) local official, said the militants had used explosives to blow up buildings and were bulldozing other sections.

“The city of Hatra is very big and many artefacts of that era were protected inside the site,” he said, adding that the militants had already taken away gold and silver.

Here’s some background on Hatra, with a slew of photos by Thomas Twohey.

The ruins of ancient Hatra lie about three kilometers west of Wadi Al-Tharthar and about 105 kilometers southwest of the city of Mosul, in Iraq.

The site of the city is a gentle depression in a semi desert land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates known as Al Jazirah. Due to it being in a isolated, near desert location little to no excavation work had been done on the site, until in 1951 the Iraqi government decided to begin examining the site. Prior archaeological expeditions had only measured and mapped the ruins. The excavations of the 1950’s resulted in the discovery of at least twelve further temples and since 1960 restoration work has been underway to preserve the structures, as well as continued archaeological excavations.

Most structures are built in limestone an gypsum and are a mixture of Assyrian, Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman styles.

The fortress city of Hatra arose in Al Jazirah, where it guarded the two main caravan routes connecting Mesopotamia with Syria and Asia Minor. The date of its foundation is subject of some debate. Most likely it was the Assyrians, but by the first century BC it had undoubtedly grown into a fortified city.

The present day remains date back to between the first century BC and the second century AD.

Fortification was immense. The city is guarded by two city walls. Once any enemy had crossed the first wall, he’d still be faced with a moat and the second wall. In fact the heavily fortified gates of the second wall can only be reached by ascending up ramps which run parallel to the wall.

Thomas Twohey

Excavated and restored, and now fascists have destroyed it.

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

Bombs kill 50 people in Maiduguri

Mar 7th, 2015 9:50 am | By

Another Saturday in northern Nigeria.

At least five blasts have killed 50 people and injured 56 in the city of Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria, an official has told the BBC.

Two crowded markets and a busy bus station were targeted by suicide bombers, witnesses said.

Witnesses in one of the markets described gory scenes with men, women and children lying on the ground.

In pieces, no doubt.

Boko Haram hasn’t said anything yet, but no one will be surprised when they do. They were pushed out of Maiduguri last year, and since then they’ve been in a forest nearby, making life hell for everyone.

The attacks took place over about three hours – the first one targeting the city’s Baga fish market.

The explosion was caused by a suicide bomber in a rickshaw, eyewitnesses told the BBC.

It was not clear if the bomber was male or female.

Later Monday Market came under an attack. A trader there told the BBC that two other female bombers seemed to have exploded devices.

One had a bomb strapped to her body that detonated as she was being scanned at the gate leading into the market, he said.

Another woman exploded the bomb she was carrying in a bag a few feet away, he added.

There was another bomb at a bus station. Markets and bus stations – not where the rich and powerful hang out, not where soldiers hang out, but the easiest of easy pickings. A school in Peshawar, a girls’ school bus in Mingora, markets in Maiduguri.

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

Meet your new teacher

Mar 7th, 2015 9:08 am | By

I wonder why this seemed like a good idea.

An Egyptian-born imam who in 2007 said that Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali should receive the death penalty for her criticism of Islam is now a Department of Justice contractor hired to teach classes to Muslims who are in federal prison.

According to federal spending records, Fouad ElBayly, the imam at Islamic Center of Johnstown in Pennsylvania, was contracted by the DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons beginning last year to teach the classes to Muslim inmates at Cumberland Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md.

Does the DOJ’s Bureau of Prisons also contract Nazis and KKKers to teach Christians?

It was April 2007 when ElBayly, the imam at the Islamic Center of Johnston, protested Ali’s scheduled appearance at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.

Because she’s critical of Islam.

Those comments have angered many, including ElBayly, who called Ali’s statements “poisonous.”

“If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death,” the imam told a local newspaper ahead of her university visit.

No, actually, that’s not how that works. You can be a socialist and then change your mind and criticize socialism. You can be a libertarian and then change your mind and criticize libertarianism. You don’t get so much as a ticket for doing that, let alone a death sentence. What a terrible religion Islam must be, to feel compelled to kill people for rejecting it.

And in any case Ayaan Hirsi Ali didn’t “come into the faith.” She was drafted into it at birth.

ElBayly was heavily criticized for his comments, which gained national attention at the time. He apologized in a letter to the newspaper and seemingly resigned his post.

But that resignation was temporary, it turns out.

The federal Bureau of Prisons requires religious services contractors to provide credentials and other background information in their applications. One section asks applicants to list their associations with established religious organizations. According to recent news reports, ElBayly is once again the imam at the Islamic Center of Johnstown.

An interview is optional, so the Bureau may have skipped its chance to get ElBayly to unburden himself of his thoughts on apostates and critics of Islam.

Besides the credentials, applicants have to provide two personal references and a letter of recommendation from their local religious organization.

Perhaps the highest hurdle for ElBayly to clear would be the program’s requirement to affirm, ”I do not endorse nor will I practice or use language in the institution that will support violence, terrorism, discrimination against other inmates.”

Oh well he will have just done the usual rationalization – it wasn’t language that would support violence or terrorism because reasons – she’s an apostate and a kafir so calling for her to be killed is entirely justified. That’s how it’s done.

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

Unoma Azuah has a book proposal

Mar 7th, 2015 8:28 am | By

Here’s a good Indiegogo project:

A book of Nigerian LGBT stories, told in their own words, in hopes that their voices will be heard.

Interview-based stories, so like Studs Terkel’s Hard Times for instance.

On the 7th of January, 2014, the Nigerian government passed a law that practically approved state-sanctioned homophobia. Since then, Nigeria’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) population have lived in mortal fear and damaged self-worth. They believe that if their stories could be heard, maybe they would draw empathy and understanding from their fellow compatriots.

My name is Unoma Azuah, a professor of English at Lane College, USA and a Nigerian by birth. Please help me fund “Blessed Bodies,” an anthology of Nigerian LGBT stories, captured in their own words.

The project will involve interviews with a diverse group of Nigerian LGBTs who reside in Nigeria and the diaspora. I have already started on my own but need support to continue. I humbly request the sum of $5000 which will cover:

· Flight fares to, from and around Nigeria ($2500)

· Accommodation, feeding and logistics ($600)

· Publication (e-copy and hardcopy) ($1500)

· Publicity ($400)

I hope that by this book, people around the world will have a first-hand insight into the plight of the LGBT Nigerian, and ultimately inspire calls for constitutional and policy reforms that protect the fundamental human rights of this marginalized community. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, and respect.

To find out more about me, please visit my website or read some of these articles below. Thank you.




She gets raves on Rate My Professor.

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

Nabu was the god of writing

Mar 6th, 2015 4:52 pm | By

A Cambridge archaeologist, Augusta McMahon, tells us more about Nimrud and why it mattered.

Ancient Iraq is famous for many global “firsts” – Mesopotamia gave us the first writing, the first city, the first written law code, and the first empire.

The people of Iraq are justifiably proud of this ancient heritage and its innovations and impact on the world.

The first writing. This thing I’m doing now – it was invented by the Mesopotamians.

Trashing Nimrud, McMahon says, is trashing the Iraqi people.

Nimrud was the capital of the world’s first empire, the Neo-Assyrian Empire of the 1st millennium BC.

Lying 35km (22 miles) south of the modern city of Mosul in north Iraq, Nimrud covers some 3.5 sq km (1.35 sq miles), with a prominent “citadel” mound within the city walls, on which are clustered the main administrative and religious buildings.

These buildings include the enormous palaces of several Assyrian kings and the temples of Ninurta, the god of war, and of Nabu, the god of writing.

They had a god of writing.

The Palace of Ashurnasirpal, also known as the North-West Palace, was first excavated by the British explorer Austen Henry Layard in the 1840s. His excavations are the source of the winged bull gatekeeper statues currently displayed in the British Museum.

Layard also recovered large numbers of stone panels that lined the walls of rooms and courtyards within the palace. These panels are of a local limestone, carved in low relief with beautifully detailed scenes of the king seated at state banquets, hunting lions, or engaged in warfare and religious ritual.

Extended excavations at Nimrud were next carried out in the 1950s-60s by Max Mallowan, the husband of crime writer Agatha Christie.

Mallowan and his team reconstructed the complex plans of the palace, temples and citadel, and his excavations recovered rich finds of carved ivory furniture, stone jars and metalwork, as well as hundreds of additional wall reliefs and wall paintings.

Remember back in December when some Greenpeace activists stomped on the Nazca lines in Peru? I was very pissed off about that, too, and they didn’t even do it out of deliberate malice. Destroying ancient artifacts is a terrible thing to do.

Large parts of Ashurnasirpal’s palace were reconstructed by Iraq’s antiquities board during the 1970s and 1980s, including the restoration and re-installation of carved stone reliefs lining the walls of many rooms.

The winged bull statues that guard the entrances to the most important rooms and courtyards were re-erected.

These winged bulls are among the most dramatic and easily recognised symbols of the Assyrian world.

They combine the most highly valued attributes of figures from nature into a complex hybrid form: a human head for wisdom, the body of a wild bull for physical power, and the wings of an eagle for the ability to soar high and far and to see and prevent evil.

The Iraqi restoration project also led to the dramatic discovery of several tombs of the queens of the Assyrian empire. These tombs contained astonishingly rich finds of delicate gold jewellery and crowns, enamel ornaments, bronze and gold bowls, and ivory vessels.

The technical skill and aesthetic sense of the artisans responsible are unrivalled in the ancient world.

So it’s too bad that Daesh saw fit to smash it all. Really too bad.

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