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Reinventing the Sacred for a Godless Age

Mar 25th, 2009 | By Kenan Malik

This is an extract from From Fatwa to Jihad, Atlantic, published April 2.

The argument against offensive speech is the modern secularized version of the old idea of blasphemy, reinventing the sacred for a godless age. Until the abolition of the offence in 2008, blasphemy was committed in British law if there was published ‘any writing concerning God or Christ, the Christian religion, the Bible, or some sacred subject using words which are scurrilous, abusive or offensive, and which tend to vilify the Christian religion’. The origins of the law go back a millennium. After the Norman Conquest of 1066 two orders of courts were established.

Church courts decided all ecclesiastical cases, under the guidance of canon law, which … Read the rest

Free Speech: Liberty and License

Mar 12th, 2009 | By Nigel Warburton

Nigel Warburton is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University, as well as the author of a number of bestselling books on the subject. Below is an excerpt from his latest book, Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction, on liberty versus licence to say what you want.

Defenders of free speech almost without exception recognize the need for some limits to the freedom they advocate. In other words, liberty should not be confused with licence. Complete freedom of speech would permit freedom to slander, freedom to engage in false and highly misleading advertising, freedom to publish sexual material about children, freedom to reveal state secrets, and so on. Alexander Meiklejohn, a thinker who was particularly concerned to … Read the rest

The One Law for All Rally

Mar 11th, 2009 | By Maryam Namazie

Nearly 600 people joined the One Law for All anti-racist rally against
Sharia and religious-based laws in Britain and elsewhere and in defence of
citizenship and universal rights in Trafalgar Square and marched towards Red
Lion Square in London. Hundreds then joined our public meeting to discuss
and debate Sharia, Sexual Apartheid and Women’s Rights. Our protest was met
with widespread support and left many feeling inspired and invigorated. It
was also covered by the mainstream media, including BBC Radio 4, BBC 5Live,
BBC Wales, and the Times.

The rally of several hundred heard a number of speakers denouncing the
policy of accommodation and appeasement of the political Islamic movement. A
C Grayling in his speech said: ‘Once you start … Read the rest

The Plight of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia

Mar 4th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

More than 50% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce is made up of migrant workers (around 8 million of them) and the situation they find themselves in is often dire. Having none of the (limited) rights of Saudi nationals, these migrant workers find themselves as second class citizens at best and if ever there were a situation in which Apartheid analogies were appropriate, this is it.

Impoverished foreign workers are drawn to Saudi Arabia with the promise of a better life and the chance to send money back to their families. Workers come to Saudi Arabia using a sponsorship system, whereby their future employer agrees to certain conditions of employment and accommodation and on arrival takes possession of the worker’s passport, who … Read the rest

The Weight of a Mustard Seed

Mar 3rd, 2009 | By Max Dunbar

The human cogs of the torture machine seemed as unhappy as their victims. Which meant, I thought as I scribbled in a notebook, ‘There’s no rational explanation for the machine’s existence at all.’

Not least of the problems facing coalition authorities after the fall of Saddam Hussein was the question of ‘de-Ba’athification’. In a country where there was one agent of the state for every twenty civilians, where the five secret police forces were themselves monitored by additional secret police forces, where almost everyone from military generals to primary school teachers were forced into collusion with Ba’athist ideology… where did you draw the line? Where does the forced complicity of the Iraqi barber forced at gunpoint to inform on his … Read the rest

Wilders Has a Right to Express Appalling Views

Feb 23rd, 2009 | By Azar Majedi

Geert Wilders, the right wing Dutch MP, was refused entry to the UK on Thursday, on the grounds that his presence would threaten public order and damage community relations. It was said that any extremist will be refused entry to the UK. This is a dangerous statement. It is a real threat to individual and civil liberty. By this argument any one who espouses any idea regarded as extreme by the British government will be banned from the UK.

This is the world after September 11 and the world which has been pulled into a so-called “war on terror” by the neo-conservative US government. “Any thing goes!” Under the guise of security, any violation of human rights, human dignity and … Read the rest

The Idiocy of ‘Defamation of Religion’

Feb 16th, 2009 | By Russell Blackford

Anti-liberal actors in the international arena, such as the Muslim states of the Middle East, are pursuing a path of attempting to suppress what they call “defamation of religion”. Their campaign is achieving some success, and I believe we must take it very seriously.

The whole idea of defamation of religion is nonsense. Taken literally, it would mean that I could not utter any falsehood that is damaging to the reputation of a religion (so, it might lead people to leave the religion or doubt its doctrines, or fail to be convinced to convert to it). But a religion has no right to flourish, be believed, retain adherents, gain converts, or anything of the sort. On the contrary, it is … Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The Qur’an, Muslims believe, is the final revelation of the creator of
the universe, a book dictated by an angel to the final in a long line
of prophets sent by Allah to guide human affairs and to make known the
will of the creator for how we should order our lives. Indeed, time and
again, it makes this bold claim, so this really seems a non-negotiable
article of faith and statement of reality. As such, it is said to be
a book whose message is universal in scope, and whose message is not
historically or geographically specific or conditioned, but which speaks
with equal relevance to us all, in all places and at all times. Islam,
the … Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The Qur’an and the ‘Abrahamic religions’

In modern discussions of religion and its place in a pluralistic
society, much is often made of three ‘great monotheisms’ – Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam – and their apparent similarities. Liberal apologists
for Islam in particular like to refer to the shared backgrounds of these
‘Abrahamic faiths’ and to claim that the Qur’an shows respect for Jews
and Christians as fellow ‘people of the Book’. As it turns out, when
looking at what the Qur’an actually says, it is by no means clear that
Muhammad had a lot of respect for Jews and Christians, and there is little
consistency in his message regarding them and their respective religions.

According to the Qur’an, it contains … Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

Warfare in the Qur’an: Defensive and Offensive

In the Qur’an there are a number of passages dealing with how warfare
should be conducted, and it is worth quoting from some of these at length:

And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you,
and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed
the limits.
And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence
they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do
not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in
it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of
the unbelievers.

Read the rest

A Critical Examination of the Qur’an

Feb 6th, 2009 | By Edmund Standing

The ethical and legal rulings of the Qur’an

Islam is a religion founded on the principle of unquestioning submission
to the supposed will of God; indeed, the word Islam means submission. On
the topic of how human beings should conduct their lives, the Qur’an explicitly
demands an unthinking, uncritical acceptance of its rulings. As such, it
presents a totalitarian vision of the ordering of human affairs. Of Allah,
the Qur’an states that ‘He cannot be questioned concerning what He does’
(21.23) and that ‘the command of Allah is a decree that is made absolute’
(33.38). Likewise, Muhammad appears to be beyond criticism and beyond question:

The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have
on themselves (33.6).

Read the rest

The BBC and PBS: A Contrast in Complaints Procedures

Feb 4th, 2009 | By Allen Esterson

What procedural process does the BBC have in place to deal with serious complaints about one of its programmes? I recently have had the opportunity to discover this from the point of view of a complainant. The background is as follows.

In April 2008 I posted an article concerning a BBC World Service radio programme that gave a completely one-sided account of the reception in Britain of a lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in which he floated the notion of some recognition within the British legal system of certain civil applications of Sharia law that are currently practised under the auspices of the Islamic Sharia Council. (Given the characteristically convoluted expression of his views, what … Read the rest

On Rights and Sexuality

Feb 3rd, 2009 | By Alexander Park

The combination of the passage of proposition 8 in California and Barack Obama’s decision to have Rick Warren give the invocation at his inauguration caused an outcry on the left concerning the issue of gay rights. Among the various arguments that arose during this time, one ideological split struck me as particularly noteworthy, and potentially troublesome. On the one hand there seemed to be a certainty on the left that homosexuality is rooted in biology. On the other hand the right seemed just as certain that homosexuality is not rooted in biology but is instead freely chosen as a “lifestyle.”

My specific concern with this split pertains to the short-sightedness on the part of the left when advancing the argument … Read the rest

AIDS Denialism’s House of Cards

Feb 1st, 2009 | By Seth Kalichman

AIDS was first reported by US physicians in New York and California in 1981 when young men and women were falling ill of diseases that are usually kept in check by a healthy immune response. It was soon apparent that these individuals’ immune systems were failing. Within just a few years the causal agent of the mysterious disease was discovered; a human retrovirus that would come to be named HIV. Soon after the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, an antibody test became available and over the past 25 years more than two dozen drugs have been approved for treating HIV infection. HIV treatments improve the health and extend the lives of millions of people worldwide. Despite the thousands … Read the rest

A Nation of Believers And Nonbelievers? – A Letter to President Obama

Jan 28th, 2009 | By Ronald Aronson

Mr. President, Your stirring inauguration speech
was a great moment for all Americans. When you
said, “We are a nation of Christians and
Muslims, Jews and Hindus ­ and nonbelievers.” it
was an especially heartening moment for atheists,
agnostics, secularists, and humanists. Treated
as invisible throughout the 2008 election
campaign, we were enormously cheered to hear you
including us as you took office. This should
remind every American how important it will be to
have a president genuinely devoted to reaching
out to people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

But, as you begin your term, we nonbelievers are
still troubled by much that has gone on during
the last year. You know how offensive to gays was
your choice of … Read the rest

The Choice of Hercules

Jan 26th, 2009 | By Max Dunbar

Two attractive women approach you. Introducing themselves, one tells you that she is the personification of Duty, and invites you to follow her down the road of virtue, piety, sacrifice and hard slog. The second beauty represents Pleasure: she wants to guide you down a path of indolence, vice and hedonism. Which do you choose?

This was the famous ‘choice of Hercules’, put to him while he was a farm labourer in exile: appropriated by various religions and mythologies, it can be argued that millions of people who have never read the classics still think of life in these terms of virtue versus pleasure: the good life versus the Good Life. A C Grayling’s achievement is to expose this dichotomy … Read the rest

Rocks, Hard Places and Jesus Fatigue

Jan 18th, 2009 | By R. Joseph Hoffmann

The following comments are not a direct response to Bruce Chilton’s very helpful article on the Jesus Project but in many ways anticipate and respond to some of his observations. I offer it as further commentary on the pros and cons of undertaking yet another “quest,” at a time when New Testament scholarship, in the eyes of some, is a mission without a guiding purpose. JH

Crouching somewhere between aesthetic sound byte and historical detail is Michelangelo’s famous statement about sculpture. “The job of the sculptor,” Vasari attributes to il Divino, “is to set free the forms that are within the stone.” It’s a lovely thought—poetic, in fact. If you accept the theory of Renaissance Platonism, as Michelangelo embodies … Read the rest

Taking Relativism Seriously

Jan 12th, 2009 | By Andrew Taggart

Why is there wavering in my voice when I say that something is ‘wrong, period’? It may be that in the back of my mind I hear someone retort, “But that’s just your opinion” or “Who are you to say?”, skeptical charges to which I have no immediate reply. Or it may be that I expect my interlocutor to go to great lengths to point out to me that somebody who can make that sort of proposition has to be smug, overconfident, and immodest, none of which, he will assuredly imply, are very becoming.

It is common today to hear people speak about wanting to get other people’s perspectives. By definition, perspectives are ways of seeing the world from different … Read the rest

Fighting Straw Men: Mary Midgley and Scientific Discourse

Dec 27th, 2008 | By Tauriq Moosa

Mary Midgley’s publisher Routledge calls her a fighter of “scientific pretension” – but what remains with the reader is her passion for science’s defamation.

Observe two of her statements: “Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous”[1] and “Reason’s just another faith”[2]. In many of her writings, she refers to scientists as “prophets”, science as an inclusive institution, or evolution as religion[3].

Many will know the typical antiscience mantras – cropping up like weeds in what should be a growth of knowledge and not its stifling. Creationists or anti-Darwinists play the victim-card, stating the scientific community ostracizes anyone who “dares” speak out against the “doctrine” of Darwinism. Of course, if they simply went to any … Read the rest

Medical Mistletoe Myths

Dec 26th, 2008 | By Colin Brewer

The season of consumerist indoctrination, dietary excess and Panglossian sentimentality is approaching its peak, so here is a heart-warming little Christmas story. Actually, its roots – literal and metaphorical – go back well before the intrauterine innovations that traditionally attended the conception and birth of Christianity’s founder and it will warm principally and selectively the hearts of cheerful cynics and pessimists like myself (and, I assume, like many readers of B and W) in whom any habits of optimism have long been replaced by a null hypothesis as the default mode. One of the favourite hobbies of People Like Us is saying ‘I told you so’ and we derive additional schadenfreude from noting that even in the current financial crisis, … Read the rest