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On Sans and islamophobia

Feb 15th, 2011 | By Sara Larsson and Christer Sturmark

Helle Klein has instinctively labeled Sans magazine as islamophobic, solely on the grounds that its cover portrays a woman in a burqa. If that is the case, most articles and news stories from Afghanistan should be labeled islamophobic in the delusional world of Helle Klein, write Sara Larsson and Christer Sturmark, editor and editor in chief of Sans magazine.

The new cultural magazine Sans has recently been launched. Its theme is the religious oppression of women and in the issue’s main article, American feminist and author Ophelia Benson is interviewed. In her book “Does God Hate Women?”, Benson examines how women’s human rights are violated in the name of conservative religious traditions all over the world.

On Sans’ cover, which … Read the rest

Darwin and Others, and Apophatic Atheism

Feb 11th, 2011 | By Andrzej Koraszewski, translation Małgorzata Koraszewska and Sarah Lawson


To mark Darwin Day, which is galloping toward us at a rate of knots, I have decided to write about apophatic atheism.  

“Apophatic” (from Greek ἀπόφασις from ἀποφάναι – apophanai, “to show no”) – is a term used in apophatic theology, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophatic_theology ] according to which the essence of God and His mysteries is unknowable by way of pure reasoning, and therefore to know God you have to use a method of negation, paradox, antinomy, etc.

It states what God is not; for example, God is not mortal, God is not limited.

The first apophatic text which made a serious impression on me was written in 1956 by Leszek Kołakowski and was entitled “Socialism is not Truncheons”. The young … Read the rest

Helle Klein brands humanist criticism of ideas as islamophobia

Feb 10th, 2011 | By Sara Larsson and Christer Sturmark, translated by Harald Hanche-Olson

Published: 2011-01-23, Updated: 2011-01-24

The past days saw the launch of the new culture magazine Sans. The theme [of the premier issue] is religious oppression of women, and the main article of the magazine is an interview of the American feminist and author Ophelia Benson, who in the book “Does God hate women?” charts how women’s human rights are violated within conservative religious traditions around the world.

On the front page of Sans, which bears the headline “A God for women?”, we publish a picture of a woman dressed in a burqa.

The magazine has barely left the presses before the Christian think tank Seglora Smedja, run by Helle Klein among others, brands Sans as islamophobic. Apart from … Read the rest

Harris and Pigliucci: On moral philosophy

Feb 8th, 2011 | By Peter Beattie

Say what you will, Sam Harris knows how to stir a hive and send its inhabitants into a positive buzz. Some of them will turn this into an opportunity to get some intellectual exercise. Others may fly into a frenzy and sting at anything and everything, eventually disembowelling themselves intellectually in the process. Of the first, Brother Blackford (to co-opt a recently Coyned soubriquet) is a prime example: his ruminations are clearly valuable to the discussion. But where clarity is its own reward, the contributions of others need to be carefully disentangled from their ill-conceived targets, in order that everybody may see clearly where they went off course. Massimo Pigliucci has thankfully supplied us with such an opportunity—one is tempted … Read the rest

Sex, secrecy and religion in Africa

Feb 6th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

“Secrecy,” says American fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, “is the beginning of tyranny”. But I think, secrecy is actually the abode of darkness, ignorance, prejudice and confusion. Because whatever is held in secret is like something held in the dark- it can be anything, it can become anything. It can become nothing.

In Africa, so much secrecy prevails in the area of human sexuality. Sexual expressions are preferably done in secret or discussed in hushed tones. There is hardly any open honest debate or dialogue on sexual issues going on anywhere on the continent. All questions about sexual matters appear to have been answered and such answers are taken to be correct- absolutely correct. Sexual rules are taken to be beaten … Read the rest

An Encomium for Richard Holloway

Feb 2nd, 2011 | By Andrew Taggart

I admire Richard Holloway for his courage. Here is a religious man who, from 1986-2000, was Bishop of Edinburgh; a man of virtue concerned with his neighbor, with social justice, and with the common good; and, not the least, a contemplative man who somewhere along the way lost his faith but not his desire for transcendence. I don’t know when his doubts became so substantial that they compelled him to leave the Anglican Church, but I imagine that the decision came only after the crisis had become too acute to ignore and too great to bear.

What brought on this crisis, one that emerged, no doubt, over the course of many years only to reach critical mass in the past … Read the rest

Hundreds of rocks are thrown at her head

Jan 27th, 2011 | By Lauryn Oates

As the Afghan Government continues its wooing overtures to the Taliban, and Karzai whines about “foreign interference” in his latest meddling in Afghan parliamentary democracy, the Taliban execute a couple by stoning them to death in Kunduz province in front of a crowd of hundreds.

The crime? The couple fell in love and attempted to elope, beyond a community where relationships based on mutual love and attraction, and not on money and perversion, might have a chance of fulfillment.

The BBC has short clips of the horrific murders, noting that “most of the video is too graphic to be shown.” The event is described as follows:

The video begins with Siddqa, a 25-year-old woman, standing waist-deep in a hole in

Read the rest

A ‘Witch-Girl’ Rescued in Akwa Ibom State

Jan 24th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe


On January 11, 2011, I led a team of police officers who rescued an 8 year old girl, Esther Obot Moses, in a remote village, Nsit Ubium, in Akwa Ibom State in Southern Nigeria.

Esther, according to locals, was accused of witchcraft and abandoned by her family. She was sleeping in the local market till a 40 year old man, Okokon, ‘kidnapped’ her.

Police arrested Okokon who is believed to have some mental problems. He has been living with Esther in his shanty building since last year, and he raped her several times.

Both Okokon and Esther made statements at the police station at Nsit Ubium. Esther was later taken to Uyo and handed over to the Ministry of Women … Read the rest

My Arrest in Uyo

Jan 15th, 2011 | By Leo Igwe

On Tuesday January 11th around 5pm, I was arrested along with my driver and a photographer in front of a bank in Uyo Akwa State in Southern Nigeria . I arrived in Akwa Ibom on Sunday, January 9 to rescue two alleged witch children abused and abandoned by their families. One of the kids, 8 year old Esther Obot Moses, was living with a mad man who raped her several times. On that ‘fateful’ Tuesday, around 5.40 am, I stormed a dilapidated building in Nsit Ubium where the lunatic lived with two police officers and successfully rescued the poor girl. We went to the police station, made an entry and got a police extract.

Esther started vomiting on our way … Read the rest

Critical Thinking and the African Identity

Dec 28th, 2010 | By Leo Igwe

I start this piece by stating emphatically that if lack of critical thinking or inability to apply one’s common sense to issues is what makes one an African, then I am not an African. I say this – and I really mean it. That I hereby renounce my African identity if it means that I should not exercise my critical intelligence or apply reason and science in all areas of human endeavor. If being an African means I should suspend and shut down my thinking faculty and blindly accept whatever any person or prophet says or preaches, then, I say, count me out. Don’t count me as an African. I am making this assertion because very often blind faith, dogma … Read the rest

How “Hindu” is yoga after all?

Dec 25th, 2010 | By Meera Nanda

Yoga is to North America what McDonalds is to India: both are foreign implants gone native. The urban and suburban landscape of the United States is dotted with neighbourhood health clubs, spas and even churches and synagogues offering yoga classes. Some 16 million Americans do some form of yoga, primarily as a part of their exercise and fitness routine. Thus, when everyday Americans talk about yoga, they mostly mean physical, or hatha yoga, involving stretches, breathing and bodily postures, or asanas. Many styles of postural yoga pioneered by India-origin teachers are thriving, including the Iyengar and Sivananada schools, the Ashtanga Vinyasa or ‘power yoga’ of Pattabhi Jois, and ‘hot yoga’ recently copyrighted by Bikram Chaudhary. The more meditational forms … Read the rest

Akpabio and the Child Witch Commission

Dec 18th, 2010 | By Leo Igwe

In what appears to be another move to combat the allegations of witchcraft and child abuse, the governor of Akwa Ibom state, Chief Godswill Akpabio, has inaugurated a six member Commission to inquire into witchcraft accusations and child rights abuses in the state. He charged them to recommend appropriate actions to be taken to protect children from being branded witches and wizards in order to guard against future occurence. The governor asked the Commission to determine the veracity of all the allegations of witchcraft against children and infliction of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment upon such children and to examine the role and culpability of all the allegations and abuses or practices and make recommendations.

He then urged the people … Read the rest

Review of Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction

Dec 16th, 2010 | By Eric MacDonald

[References to Dixon’s book are to location numbers in the Kindle edition. There are 2548 locations in the book, so those using the print edition should be able to access the general page vicinity of the quote based on the percentage of the book traversed at the location number indicated. This, by the way, raises a question for publishers of ebooks. They should include page numbers for the sake of scholarly reference.]

This is a worryingly confusing and confused book, as I shall try to show in detail. It purports to be a very short introduction to a field of academic study, and yet it does not really address the question of whether or not there is such a field. … Read the rest

Court rules against Helen Ukpabio and the Liberty Gospel Church

Dec 13th, 2010 | By Leo Igwe

Today a Federal High Court in Calabar in Cross River State, presided over by Justice P.J. Nneke, dismissed the application by Helen Ukpabio and some members of the Liberty Gospel Church seeking to enforce their fundamental rights against Akwa Ibom state government, the Commissioner of Police of Cross River state, Assistant Inspector General of Police, Leo Igwe, Sam Ituama, Gary Foxcroft and others as respondents for daring to organize a workshop which they perceived to be critical of their activities. They asked the respondents to pay them 200 billion naira ($.1.3 million dollars) in damages.

The court wondered why Helen and her church members attacked some of the respondents and still came to court to enforce their fundamental rights for … Read the rest

Polygamy in Canada Should Remain Illegal

Nov 27th, 2010 | By Homa Arjomand

Polygamy is illegal in Canada but to date no one has been arrested or faced the consequences for being in a polygamist relationship.  This inaction has led to no enforcement of the law.  Such policies allow polygamist families to legally enter Canada by declaring the first wife as the legal wife and the second, third and fourth “wives” as dependents along with their children. Young girls are pushed into polygamy relationships by the leaders of their parents’ religion.  A wave of women involved in polygamy fled from Bountiful (BC) and presented their case publicly.  Books and articles were written by these brave women.  They discussed the effects of polygamy on their lives and their children, they talked about women’s oppression, … Read the rest

Scientists Anonymous

Nov 6th, 2010 | By Allen Esterson

I recently chanced upon Scientists Anonymous: Great Stories of Women in Science (2005), by Patricia Fara, Senior Tutor and Director of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Clare College, Cambridge. Aside from her several popular books on science, Dr Fara is relatively well-known in the UK for her contributions to Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 series “In Our Time”, on which she has featured on seven occasions in the years 2008-2010. Scientists Anonymous is published in the series Wizard Books (the children’s imprint of Icon Books), and is designed to be read by teenage schoolchildren. This to some extent dictates the style the author has chosen, and she succeeds in making it a very readable book.

As the title … Read the rest

The Islamic regime of Iran plans to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani immediately‏

Nov 1st, 2010 | By International Committee against Stoning
According to news received by the International Committee against Stoning and International Commitee against Execution on 1 November 2010, the authorities in Tehran have given the go ahead to Tabriz prison for the execution of Iran stoning case Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. It has been reported that she is to be executed this Wednesday 3 November.   We had previously reported that the casefile regarding the murder case of Ms Ashtiani’s husband had been seized from her lawyer’s office, Houtan Kian, and found missing from the prosecutor’s Oskoo branch office so as to stitch Ms Ashtiani up with trumped up murder charges. Ms Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, and her lawyer, Houtan Kian, have warned of the regime’s plan to do so on… Read the rest

The overlap between agnosticism and atheism

Oct 26th, 2010 | By John Shook

From John R. Shook, The God Debates: a 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between). (pp 16-18) Wiley-Blackwell 2010. Published by permission.

Nonbelievers who reject traditional theistic Christianity have many options for positive worldviews. Besides other nontheistic religions, there are many kinds of pantheisms, spiritualisms, and mysticisms, along with varieties of humanism and naturalism. Forming a positive worldview is hard enough; selecting a label for oneself from a limited menu is even harder. Demographers polling people in America and around the world consistently find that few nonbelievers prefer the label of “atheist” for labeling their own position (Zuckerman 2007). This reluctance probably has more to do with the perceived meaning of atheism rather than … Read the rest

Larry King: Now why don’t you interview Mina Ahadi and Sajjad Ghaderzadeh?‏

Sep 24th, 2010 | By Mina Ahadi and Maryam Namazie
Larry King’s overly cordial interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to press the head of a repressive Islamic Republic of Iran on many issues raised, including on the Iran stoning case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.   When asked about the stoning case, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replied: ‘This lady’s case has not been completely examined yet. No verdict has been issued yet. She is accused of being — of murdering her husband. And I don’t think in the world if someone is accused of murdering their husband, people would pour on the streets and rally in support of her.’ Without correcting the facts on the case, King then went on to say: ‘If they were going to stone her, they would.’ Ahmadinejad then said:… Read the rest

Idea and Violence

Sep 18th, 2010 | By Shaker B. Srinivasan

The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one pre-eminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.

— Amartya Sen. What Clash of Civilizations? Why religious identity isn’t destiny. Slate, March

Read the rest