Time to reshape the Supreme Court.

February 27, 2014

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Duncan Lock, Dflock (Own work).

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Duncan Lock, Dflock (Own work).

It is no big secret that the President has struggled to get his executive branch and judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate over his time in office. The incessant blocking effort by the minority Senate Republicans halted any attempt to diversify the courts prior to Reid’s ‘nuclear option’. In fact, over half of all filibustered nominees for executive branch and judicial positions – since before the White House was even built – have taken place during President Obama’s five years as President. The effect of this staggering conservative grip on power can be seen in most evidently in the decisions handed down by the courts. From those decisions, we can see that corporate America has a dedicated team batting for their side in the courtrooms of the United States.

In 2010, the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee threw up a surprising result, in which the US Supreme Court used the First Amendment to strike down restrictions of corporations and unions using treasury money to finance political expenditure. This contradicted several previous court precedents, and Judge Stevens – one of the four Supreme Court dissenters – argued that the winning conservative majority had expanded the scope of the question they were addressing, to give themselves an opportunity to change the law. The dissenters argued that the threat of big moneyed corruption – essentially, vast sums of money spent on campaigns exchanged for Congressional votes – was a big enough reason to place limits on corporate expenditure. This was ignored, and the court applied First Amendment rights to corporations; entities that can’t vote, can’t be thrown in prison, are completely amoral, and whose purpose it solely to make money, and have never taken too kindly to democratic accountability. The court essentially decided that corporations are people.

In 2007, the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. led to the US Supreme Court finding in favour of corporate interests discriminating on basis of gender. Lilly Ledbetter was hired by Goodyear in 1979, retiring in 1998. During those years, she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts. This led to further inequality in her social security, and overtime pay. She only learned of this inequality toward the end of her career. The Supreme Court ruled that because she didn’t file suit within 180 of her first paycheck, she couldn’t sue for gender discrimination. The Supreme Court thus ruled in favour of corporate interests, when it conflicts with gender equality.

In 2011, the case of PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, the Supreme Court ruled that generic-drug companies cannot be held liable under state law, for failing to give full label warnings of potential side effects of the drugs they produce. This came about after Gladys Mensing sued PLIVA for failing to report the dangers of the drug they were producing, which led to Gladys developing a completely irreversible neurological movement disorder. The Supreme Court found in favour of PLIVA, even if PLIVA failed to notify the FDA of new health risks.

Time after time, the Roberts court in the United States rules largely in favour of corporate interests, ignoring past precedents, or just completely overturning previous finance, labor, health, environment, and tort law. Citizens United, Ledbetter, PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, Exxon-Valdez, Sorrell vs. IMS Health, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, Gross v. FBL Financial Services AT&T Mobility v. Concepción. The list is endless. And usually results in a 5-4 decision in favour of corporate interests. This is a direct result of the conservative grip on power over the courts in the US.

The constant threat of filibuster meant the President’s field of eligible candidates significantly withered, and professional diversity, nonexistent. According to research by the Alliance for Justice, of President Obama’s 281 judicial nominees, only 10 have experience in representing labor and worker interests in disputes. Only four of the 56 circuit judicial nominees have worked as public defenders, compared to 21 as prosecutors. Around 85% of President Obama’s judicial nominees to be confirmed have worked as Corporate attorneys or prosecutors. Of the 177 judicial nominees to the district courts, only 8 worked previously in a public interest role. A staggering 71% of President Obama’s district court nominees have worked primarily with corporate interests. The problem is clear; the courts lack professional diversity.

It is perhaps true that Reid’s Senate ‘nuclear option’ opened opportunities for incredibly talented judges from all walks of life, with experience representing individual workers and consumers rather than just corporate interests, to enter the district and circuit courts without fear of filibuster, but as it stands right now, the courts of the US lack that much needed diversity. As of today, there are 29 vacancies for the district courts, and six for circuit courts. Selection committees for the judiciary on a state level should be using this time to promote professional diversity, and specifically encouraging those with public interest backgrounds to apply. Reid’s nuclear option – requiring a simple majority to confirm nominees rather than a filibuster proof majority – presents a wonderful opportunity for Democrats to push for a far more diverse judiciary – not just in terms of racial, gender, and sexuality diversity, but also professional experience – and a unique opportunity to change the power balance in the US for the better.

Uganda’s ‘Red Pepper’ – defending the indefensible.

February 25, 2014

redpepperIn 2011, the unfathomably brave gay rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered in Uganda, after a newspaper in the country published his name and photograph and demanded his execution. In 2014, A day after Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda signed the anti-gay bill into law, the nations homophobic tabloid newspaper ‘Red Pepper’ launched a brand new witch hunt, by releasing a ‘top 200 homosexuals’ front page, designed to incite the same hate and violence toward the LGBT community in Uganda that led to the horrendous death of David Kato.

It is very difficult to reason with the mentality of people who, when asked why they care more about what two consenting adults do in their home, rather than the growing number of child abuse cases, said:

“Ah, But it is the right kind of child rape. It is men raping girls and that is natural.”

– Simon Lokodo. Uganda Minister for Ethics & Integrity. Here is a man who seeks to oppress the rights of the adult gay community, whilst championing the sexual abuse of children. That is the nature of the men who currently run Uganda. Men that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children. And so it is perhaps futile to reason with them, but reason can be a powerful weapon and it is worth trying.

‘Red Pepper’ in their support for the anti-gay law, posted the warped and child-like reasoning of the President on their Twitter feed here:

– I thought I’d address both points. Both points are of course primarily hateful rather than based on reason, and so even if the claims were true, would be no excuse for oppression and hate. But I wanted to focus on the points specifically, given that this is their attempt to defend the indefensible.

The second point is the easiest to dismiss. A state has no inherent right to abuse its citizens without consequence, in much the same way that a parent – let’s call that parent ‘Simon’ – does not have an inherent right to abuse his children without consequence, or without others stepping in to stop the abuse from continuing. The gay community in Uganda should not have to live in fear for their lives, or to have to live without the basic human need to express love and enjoy happiness, and they should absolutely be protected by the international community. It is not a ‘Western value’ to not oppress others. It is a universal right to be free from such vicious oppression. It should be considered far more important to defend that right, than it is to ‘respect’ a government’s decision to abuse that right. The Ugandan government does not own those people, it is not free to abuse and oppress the fundamental human rights of anyone. The rights of all should not be at the mercy of the religious dictates of anyone else. There is no inherently supreme sexuality that has the right to command others to do as they say. The spectrum of sexuality is amoral. I have no more right to oppress the rights of a gay person, than a gay person has the right to oppress me. Heterosexual privilege is therefore not natural, it is ideological. Much like white supremacy is not natural, it is ideological. The government of Uganda and Red Pepper are the abusive parent, endangering the lives of their citizens, simply for whom they fall in love with. It is ideological and nothing more. National borders – like the four walls of the home – do not change the oppressive and abusive nature of the ‘parent’. Uganda has legalised abuse, discrimination, and oppression based on supremacist ideals of one group. Completely absurd, dangerous, and unjustifiable.

On the second point, ‘Red Pepper’ and the President promoted the line of reasoning taken up by the sponsor of the bill, Ugandan MP David Bahati, who said that homosexuality was a:

“…behaviour that can be learned and can be unlearned”.

– This is of course, not based on reality, but on an attempt to enshrine Christian ‘values’ into law. It’s simply what Christian extremists would like to be true. We should be under no illusion that ‘Red Pepper’ or those who back the anti-gay law have any justification based on anything but tribal myths. As with most enforced religious morality, if human dignity, human rights, justice or reason conflict with those tribal myths, they are considered less valuable and to be oppressed. As with all ideologies that seek state power; there are always those who are considered less than equal. Whether it be Jewish people in a Fascist state, or gay people in a Theocratic state. The powerful in an ideology-drive state, will always oppress those who do not fit its dictates. In this case, the right of Christians to oppress, is given supremacy over the right of those who don’t fit its antiquated system of moral righteousness, to not be abused. This is indefensible.

Contrary to what ‘Red Pepper’ tweeted, the scientific community is fully aware that sexuality genetic natural spectrum with no one sexual orientation being “right” and another “wrong”. That isn’t how nature works. That’s how ideologies work. We know that sexuality is a spectrum echoed throughout the natural World. Since a review by Canadian researcher and biologist Bruce Bagemihl in 1999, it has been widely understood that at least 1,500 species have been shown to exhibit homosexual tendencies. At least 10% of the population of domesticated sheep, are exclusively homosexual. A study in London by M.J Cole noted that homosexual behaviour in Giraffes tends to be more common than heterosexual behaviour. The African Lion has been noted to have homosexual tendencies.

On human sexuality, A wonderful in-depth study by Binbin Wang et al, found that allele types differed greatly between homosexual men and heterosexual men. A further study by Sven Bocklandt et al, found that mothers of gay sons, have higher rates of extreme skewing of X-Chromosome inactivation, than those without gay sons.

Another study – and more recently – showed that a section of the X Chromosome called Xq28 influenced sexuality. The same is true of an area of chromosome 8. The theory being that genes in the region of Xq28 – passed from mother to son, and linked to sexual orientation – make women who carry them far more fertile, hence surviving the harsh realities of natural selection. Here is a further study that links genetic material passed down on the X Chromosome, to both homosexuality, and the fertility of the female. Study after study after study show that genetics plays a role in determining sexuality, that it isn’t a “behaviour”, it is a natural spectrum. To suggest otherwise, is both uneducated, and based solely on the advancement of an oppressive ideology.

Dr. Jerome Goldstein, Director of the San Francisco Clinical Research Center, says:

“Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, it is primarily neurobiological at birth.”

– Goldstein continues:

“Using volumetric studies, there have been findings of significant cerebral amygdala size differences between homosexual and heterosexual subjects. Sex dimorphic connections were found among homosexual participants in these studies.”

In fact, there is not one reputable scientific source that will in any way suggest that sexuality is merely a ‘behaviour’ as suggested by the Theocrats in Uganda who seek to justify the unjustifiable. None. This includes:
The American Psychiatric Association, The World Health Organisation, The American Psychological Association, The American Medical Association, The Academy of Pediatrics, The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists Council on Child and Adolescent Health, The British Psychological Society, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. All of these intensely reputable sources, with a wealth of research and evidence, will all tell you that sexuality, is part of a natural spectrum. There is no debate here. The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists released a statement to:

“…clarify that homsexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”

– Further, Alfred Kinsey, the great biologist noted:

“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

– This fundamental fact of nature is only ever opposed by those who seek to harm others. I cannot imagine how terrified gay individuals in Uganda must be right now. No one deserves to be abused, everyone deserves the right to love, and to pursue their own happiness, free from supremacist oppression based on any ideology. .

Therefore, both points promoted by ‘Red Pepper’ and President Museveni do not stand up to simple scrutiny. They exist only as a smokescreen to mask the true intent; to promote the supremacy of one ideology, and abuse and oppress those who don’t fit its violent and irrational dictates. It is a weak attempt to justify the inherent desire to control others, through abuse. This is echoed in the chilling comment on child abuse, by the horrendously named Minister for ‘Ethics and Integrity’.

Like an abusive parent full of excuses, the powerful in Uganda have given themselves the ‘right’ to abuse others. The international community should work to protect the LGBT community of Uganda from the extremists that wish them harm. That is the absolute right thing to do.

The Theocracy of Arizona.

February 24, 2014

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Visitor7.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Visitor7.

One can only imagine the outrage that would grip the Christian communities of the United States if signs across the businesses of the nation started appearing that insisted “Christians will not be served here”, or perhaps firefighters refusing to serve the needs of Christians in trouble, or teachers refusing to teach kids who identified as Christian. Screams of anti-Christian discrimination would take over Fox News and the World would be treated to hour after hour of journalists asking for Sarah Palin’s vacant opinion. And yet, this same discriminatory tone is exactly what the Christian-right in Arizona is attempting to force upon the LGBT community and non-religious folk in the state.

Arizona’s now infamous SB1062/HB2153 law allowing businesses to deny services to the LGBT community, passed by both the Republican controlled Arizona State Senate, and House is proving to be a disaster for the GOP. The response from Republicans in the State Legislature and beyond, has been almost as shameful as their willingness to pass such a vicious piece of Theocratic and bigoted legislation in the first place. It isn’t the targeting and dehumanising of gay people for discrimination – in a very Jim Crow like manner – that has bothered their conscience over the past couple of days; it has been the national and international attentional the state has received for the hideous Bill.

According to the Bill, religious freedom is only fully recognised if religious folk have the legalised right to oppress those they don’t particularly like, and deny those people equal rights. During the debate, Democrats tried to amend the Bill so as to not include firefighters and police (the fact that this was even up for debate, is horrendous in itself). Republicans voted against the amendment. As it stands, the Republicans in Arizona have revoked equal protection under the secular, constitutional law, if Christians don’t like them. Creeping Theocracy, framed as ‘religious freedom’. The same horrendous argument was used to permit an Arizonan constitutional amendment in 2008, banning same-sex marriage. Christians with the right to marry, restricting the same right for same-sex couples to marry, is hard to describe as anything other than Theocratic and a belief that Christianity must be considered supreme. It is the institutionalising of Christian ‘values’ above all others. The same is true for SB1062/HB2153. Christian supremacists in Arizona are targeting an unprotected group that they take great pleasure in oppressing, for the sake of further empowering their ideology, in much the same way that white supremacists took great pleasure in protecting their privilege by oppressing the rights of anyone with darker skin. Arizona’s Christian conservatives, have publicly set fire to the United States Constitution, and replaced it with Leviticus.

Republican State Sen. Steve Pierce – a man who voted to legalise anti-gay discrimination and enshrine Christian privilege into law – has decided he now hopes Gov. Jan Brewer will veto it. You may think he’s had a change of heart? You may think he now acknowledges that there is no fundamental right to oppress that overrides the right to equal protection and citizenship under the law. Perhaps he believes it is wholly wrong to institutionalise discrimination. Perhaps he’s accepted that Christians have no privileged right to decide who should be treated as a second class citizen based on sexuality, in much the same way that white Americans had no privileged right to decide who should treated as a second class citizen based on skin tone. Maybe Republican State Sen. Steve Pierce had a change of heart. Well, no. In explaining why he now opposes the Bill, Pierce said:

“I don’t like the negative picture of Arizona, and I’m on board asking the governor to veto the bill.”

– Steve Pierce is far more concerned about looking bad, and the negative attention that comes with legalising discrimination, than he is with legalised discrimination itself. Pierce then signed a letter, along with Senators Bob Worsley, and Adam Driggs.

“While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance. These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm.”

– Yes. It’s pointing out the theocratic and bigoted nature of the Bill that is the problem. Their complaint is that they aren’t allowed to discriminate in peace. Following the line of ‘a shield’ protecting all citizens’ religious liberties; if this bill were active in Texas, it would afford the right for a business owner of a member of the congregation of the Appleby Baptist Church in Nacogdoches – who believe in racial segregation based on the ‘curse of Ham’ – to place a ‘whites only’ sign in his shop window, and claim it on ‘sincerely held religious belief’.

I’m almost certain the same Republican state representatives don’t take issue with their salaries being partly funded by LGBT taxpayers, or the roads they drive on, or the state education their children receive, or the police protection they enjoy. Conveniently, I’m sure none of that violates their ‘sincerely held religious belief’.

But the State Republicans aren’t the only ones to provide awful responses to the controversy. Kristin Jarnagin, vice president of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association said:

“We have already lost untold amounts of tax dollars due to the negative perception that this legislation attaches to our state’s image, and the bill hasn’t even been signed into law yet.”

– Similarly, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council said:

“With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world’s stage. This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts.”

– Yes! That’s the problem! Tax dollars and the effect on a sporting event. Apparently bigotry is fine, if it doesn’t interfere with tourism. That’s what they seem to have decided is the problem. Not the further institutionalising of heterosexual privilege and legalisation of bigotry and bullying. Not the subtle message sent out that the rights of all non-Christians should be secondary to the rights of Christians, and dependent on the demands of those Christians. This legislation not only legalises discrimination against the LGBT community – and, well, anyone else that Christians decide they’re not too keen on – it tells the LGBT community and non-Christians that they are not to be considered equal citizens, will not be entitled the same rights as Christians, and that their right to equal citizenship and protection should be decided upon by Theocrats, on the basis of Biblical ‘morality’. It is the grotesque concept of the state recognising and establishing religious intolerance at the expense of equal rights. Completely anti-constitutional. It is the state placing the supremacy of the Bible, above the Constitution. It is the state creating two classes of citizen; the religious, and the non-religious, with the former to be given a privileged societal position above the latter. This is illegitimate and extremely dangerous religious (and so, Christian) supremacy, in much the same way as Jim Crow was illegitimate and extremely dangerous white supremacy.

It seems to be the case that conservative Christians struggle to identify the difference between being persecuted for their faith, and challenges to the supremacy of their faith. The latter, is not the same as the former. The Bill authorises persecution, for the sake of the supremacy of faith. A state based on the supremacy of one religion should be considered as vile and dangerous as a state based on the supremacy of one skin tone. It is vastly anti-secular, and vastly anti-American. It is a dehumanising bill that should offend all who value equality, human dignity, secular protections, and the Constitution. There is so much wrong with this Bill, and the response to it, that it’s difficult to know where to even begin.

The Power of St Peter.

February 23, 2014

Source:  Wikimedia Commons Author: By Emilio García from Parla, Spain (cropped version of San Pedro vigila).

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Author: By Emilio García from Parla, Spain (cropped version of San Pedro vigila).

It is ten years this year since my first trip to Rome. A friend of mine had given me ‘Rubicon’ by Tom Holland to read. It’s a book that chapters the fall of the Republic and the rise of Octavian. The epic nature and the timeless names of the final years of the Roman Republic, with all its contradictions, had me hooked from the first page of the book, and I endeavoured to visit the city. At that time, it never occurred to me that Rome was the cradle of not just one masterful empire, but two.

The Via della Conciliazione leads from Castel Sant’Angelo to St Peter’s Square. It’s a relatively narrow street given how central its location to Papal power. Far narrower than the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace in London. It feels like a tunnel that comes to an end at the vast opening of St Peter’s Square. St Peter’s is an odd contradiction. A beautifully crafted plaza surrounded by stone Saints and the genius of Bernini, yet funded by the hideous robbery of the poor by the church through the sale of indulgences. It was the sale of indulgences that started the ball rolling of the rejection of Papal authority, through what became the reformation.

Inside the walls of the Vatican stands St Peter’s Baldachin. Bernini’s towering Baroque structure is said to stand directly above the tomb of St Peter, which apparently – though very doubtful – lies underneath St Peter’s basilica. The giant structure and its placement echoes the power and supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, built upon the ‘rock’ of St Peter. Which leads to the question, what is the Biblical justification for the presumed power and supremacy of Rome, and for the legitimacy of the line of succession from St Peter to Pope Francis, and all in between who have had such vast power and influence?

You will have to excuse my overlooking of the question of whether the Biblical Peter actually visited Rome at all, or in fact, actually existed. I want instead to focus on presumed Papal authority and its fundamental justifications.

Paragraph 882 of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church says:

“… the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

– The problem with this declaration is twofold. Firstly, there is no Biblical reason to accept that the Church in Rome was considered supreme in authority over any other sees. There is likewise no early Christian writings that establishes Rome as the supreme centre of Christendom for at least a century following the death of Peter. And even then, Irenaeus’s suggestion at the power of. Roman Catholic authority is dubious, due to its many translations. Secondly, there is no Biblical justification for a line of supreme authority succession from the Roman “Vicar of Christ”.

On the first point, it is generally argued that ‘1 Peter’ establishes – by Peter – the episcopal see in Rome as the supreme church governing all churches, with this particular verse that Peter supposedly wrote to several churches throughout early Christendom:

“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.”

– It is this that the Vatican uses primarily to place Peter in Rome. The common argument is that ‘Babylon’ was an early Christian code-word for Rome. The Book of Revelation similarly calls Rome ‘Babylon’, and this is used as further evidence that Peter thus used ‘Babylon’ as code for ‘Rome’. Though there is a vast difference between the writing style of Revelation – figurative, mythological – and the reference to ‘Babylon’ in 1 Peter – a plain, rather boring, matter-of-fact salutation. Revelation is also written decades after the death of Peter, and there is no reason to think Christians at the time of Peter were already using “Babylon” as a code for Rome. Also, Revelation is not speaking directly to any group in particular. Peter is tasked with speaking to Jewish communities. We know from Josephus, that Babylon had a great number of Jews at that time, and it isn’t unlikely that Peter was writing from the actual Babylon on the Euphrates itself.

The Vatican’s insistence that Rome was established as the supreme church is curious for several more reasons than just the writing style of 1 Peter. Firstly, Peter isn’t only thought to have established the episcopal see in Rome, but also the episcopal see at Antioch. And by early Christian standards, Antioch was a far more important place than Rome. And if we are to consider the idea that the word ‘Babylon’ in 1 Peter refers to another city, I’d suggest it’s far more likely to refer to Antioch, than to Rome:

Rome isn’t mentioned once as an important Christian city in the New Testament, but Antioch plays a vital role. Indeed, the importance of Peter in the early spread of Christianity, is echoed in the importance of Antioch. In Acts 11:26 we see just how important Antioch was for the early Christians:

“…And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.”

– The concept of being ‘Christian’ comes to us from Antioch. ‘Prophets’ – whomever they are – came specifically to Antioch all the way from Jerusalem, suggesting that Antioch was a city with great importance and influence for the early Christian communities across the empire at that point. This is also where Peter specifically chooses to establish a Church.

The fascinating pre-Christian history of Antioch brings up an unexpected link with Babylon. It was Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus I Nicator that built and established Antioch as his city of governance for the new Seleucid Empire in the fourth century BC. Seleucus established himself in Babylon in 312bc, which is the year given for the beginning of the Seleucid Empire. The importance of Babylon at that point cannot be overstated. Seleucus soon noticed that the Western section of the empire including Syria, and Turkey, had considerably more advantages than the Eastern section. The Eastern section contained Babylon. The Western section needed a Babylon of its own. So Seleucus had Antioch built in the West, and soon flocks of people from the east – including a great number of Babylonians – were now moving west, to Antioch. The establishment of Antioch and other cities by Seleucus was one of the key reasons for the decline of Babylon. Indeed, it was the Babylonian Priests that dominated Antioch at that time. Antioch was so incredibly Babylonian a few years later, that the historian Franz Cumont noted:

“There can be no doubt that Babylonian doctrines exercised decisive influence on this gradual metamorphosis and this latest phase of Semitic religion. The Seleucid princes of Antioch showed as great a deference to the science of the Babylonian clergy as the Persian Achaemenids had done before them.”

“It was Babylon that retained the intellectual supremacy, even after its political ruin. The powerful sacerdotal caste ruling it did not fall with the independence of the country, and it survived the conquests of Alexander. The researches of Assyriologists have shown that its ancient worship persisted under the Seleucids, and at the time of Strabo the Chaldeans still discussed cosmology and first principles in the rival schools of Borsippa and Orchoe.”

– From the clear influence of Babylonian culture on the foundations of Antioch, and from the clear central importance of Antioch to the early Christians, I would suggest that if we are to follow Papal reasoning, that Peter was not referring to Bablyon – then the reference to ‘Babylon’ in 1 Peter is more likely a reference to Antioch, and not to Rome. The Seleucid’s may have moved to Antioch, but remained the Kings of Babylon. This seems too significant for me, to simply overlook.

So, if we cannot reasonably suggest that Peter had established the church in Rome as the supreme authority, and placing aside the translation issues of the often quoted Irenaeus passage for the supremacy of Rome from around 120 years after the death of Peter – is there any Biblical reason to presume the supreme authority of Peter, and that of the established line of Papal succession?

Biblical scholars date the Gospel of Matthew to between 80ad and 110ad. At best, around fifteen years after the death of Peter in Rome, and at worst around half a century after the death of Peter in Rome. Between the death of Jesus, and the Gospel of Matthew, there is no hint of justification for the supremacy of the Bishop in Rome. Whilst Peter is given a special place among the apostles in spreading the message of Jesus, his establishment is never suggested supreme over all others, and the other apostles certainly are not told that they are subordinate to Peter.

The authors of the letters of Paul and Peter themselves appear to have no conception of Roman church supremacy. As shown, there is certainly more reason to suggest the primacy of the Church at Antioch, than Rome. Paul certainly isn’t preaching the supremacy of Rome, and in fact appears to consider himself to be the authority on early Christian doctrine especially in relation to gentiles. It is Paul who by his own words rebukes Peter over Peter’s apparent hypocrisy. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul says:

“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

– Paul here – and later – argues that old Jewish laws should not apply to gentiles. Peter didn’t seem to know where he stood on certain Theological questions of the early Christians, which Paul then goes on to argue and address. The only mention of Peter, by Paul, is an argument between the two, and Paul rebuking Peter. It is afterall not the case today, that Christians must observe the laws of Moses.

Indeed, the author of 1 Peter himself seems to hint that Christians in Asia Minor are also to be considered stones upon which Churches are built, in much the same way as Matthew describes Peter:

“4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

– Later in the same chapter of 1 Peter, the author’s use of language is not demanding – as one might expect from the supreme leader of the Church over all other Churches – but simply one of an advice giver:

“11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”

– He ‘urges’. There is no authoritarian demands, as one might expect from the single authority of Christian dogma. There is simply suggestion. He has no authority to demand. He isn’t ever claiming to be an authority on the entire church.

It is clear from the Gospels that Peter doubtlessly plays a more pronounced role in the spread of Christianity, but not as the single supreme authority on the new faith. There is no hint in Peter’s letters in the New Testament, that he considered himself to be the supreme head of the entire Christian faith. This idea seems to come from one brief and ambiguous passage in Matthew – written decades after Peter’s death, and presumptions of superiority due to his elevated status among the other apostles. There is no hint anywhere in the Bible that Peter ever set out to establish a supreme Church to rule all the churches, from Rome. There no hint in the Bible or in the writings of Peter or Paul, that an apostolic line of succession for the Bishops of Rome would forever be the ultimate Christian authority. There is nothing from Paul to indicate that he had any idea of the supremacy of Peter – indeed, Paul rebukes and argues with Peter – or the necessity for a central authority in Rome. This has no basis in anything but later conjecture, that seems to begin with the Gospel of Matthew and – as usual – relies heavily on cherry picking.

So the question remains; for such a powerful institution that has controlled and influenced the land, the art, the expression, the sexuality, the thoughts and the lives of so many Christians and non-Christians over the centuries, on from clear Biblical basis does the Roman Catholic Church derive its power?

Republican hero Ted Nugent in his own words.

February 22, 2014

“If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!”
– Sarah Palin’s reason for endorsing Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign in Texas.

It’s been a terrible twelve or so months for the Republicans. An objective commentator might point out that the shift too far to the right, or to the left, will always spell trouble for a political party. Most voters are not looking to radically shift the direction of the country to either extreme, and so the more a party appears to offer such a shift, the more voters will turn away. Instead of addressing the issues that Republicans seem to have in connecting with anyone who isn’t a white, middle aged, Christian, heterosexual male, they instead have weirdly chosen to embrace that mentality of exclusivity. An extreme ideological mentality – moulded and set by overly paranoid conspiratorial ‘analysts’ like Limbaugh – that will without doubt see them fall further from electability and harm the party in the long run. Nowhere is this more pronounced than their odious courting and embracing of Ted Nugent by Republican Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign in Texas.

So here is the GOP’s new hero, Ted Nugent, in his own words:

Ted Nugent in 1992 on anyone who wasn’t born in America:

“… Yeah they love me (in Japan) – they’re still assholes. These people they don’t know what life is. I don’t have a following, they need me; they don’t like me they need me … Foreigners are assholes; foreigners are scum; I don’t like ’em; I don’t want ’em in this country; I don’t want ’em selling me doughnuts; I don’t want ’em pumping my gas; I don’t want ’em downwind of my life-OK? So anyhow-and I’m dead serious …”

Ted Nugent on those fighting to break down barriers to gender equality:

“What’s a feminist anyways? A fat pig who doesn’t get it often enough?”

Ted Nugent on the murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin:

“Trayvon got justice.”

Ted Nugent’s letter to the girlfriend of a guy he’d met, who wouldn’t let him go hunting:

“I wrote her something and I said ‘Drop dead, bitch’… What good is she, trade her in, get a Dalmatian. Who needs the wench?”

Ted Nugent after explaining how he dodged the Vietnam draft:

“But if I would have gone over there, I’d have been killed, or I’d have killed all the Hippies in the foxholes. I would have killed everybody.”

– Instead, the ‘Patriot’ Ted Nugent worked up a plan to dodge the draft, whilst fellow Americans put their lives on the line.

Ted Nugent on rappers:

“MTV is a liberal lump of hippy snot. They are embarrassing. Those big uneducated greasy black mongrels on there, they call themselves rap artists.”

– Yes. The new hero of one of the two major political parties in the US, referred to people as “uneducated greasy black mongrels”.

Ted Nugent on what constitutes “real” Americans:

“You know what I’m on top of? I’m on top of a real America with working hard, playing hard, white motherfucking shit kickers, who are independent and get up in the morning.”

– In the same interview, and following this quote, when told that African Americans were just as hard working as white Americans, Nugent said:

“Show me one.”

Ted Nugent on President Obama:

“communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.”

Ted Nugent and Confederacy nostalgia:

“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

– The South. You know, the region fighting specifically to uphold the institution of slavery.

Ted Nugent on Hillary Clinton:

“You probably can’t use the term `toxic cunt’ in your magazine, but that’s what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”

Ted Nugent’s violent, misogynistic rant on what he’d like to do with his machine guns and women in politics:

“Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these [machine gun] into the sunset, you worthless bitch. Since I’m in California, how about [Senator] Barbara Boxer [D-CA], she might want to suck on my machine gun. And [Senator] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? ”

Ted Nugent – having exhausted Confederate nostalgia, racism, and misogyny – now turns to repugnant homophobia:

“I got to tell you, guys that have sex with each others’ anals cavities – how can we offend guys that have anal sex?”

Ted Nugent solution to those people crossing the border from Mexico:

“In an unauthorized entry, armed, like they are right now, invading our country, I’d like to shoot them dead.”

Ted Nugent on Hillary Clinton:

“Our politicians check their scrotum in at the door. Even Hillary, but obviously she has spare scrotums.”

After Nugent’s most recent vile Benghazi tantrum, in which he referred to the President as a “chimpanzee” and “subhuman mongrel”, Texas Governor, Republican Rick Perry said that he didn’t take offence at the comment, and:

“That’s Ted Nugent. Anybody that’s offended sorry, but that’s just Ted.”

– A few hours later, it would appear that Perry had a change of heart, when he then told CNN:

“That is not appropriate language to use about the president of the United States.”

– A bit of an odd choice of words. I’d suggest it’s not appropriate language to use about anyone, not just the President. It’s horrendously racist terminology.

The cynic in me might argue that Perry issued this second comment on the controversy, because Nugent’s ‘chimpanzee’ and ‘mongrel’ analogy is incredibly damaging to the Republicans, and to the campaign of Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. It was perhaps Perry’s way of attempting to create distance between the Republican Party, and a horrifyingly racist, misogynist, homophobic, Confederacy sympathiser. Greg Abbott on the other hand, will be continuing to campaign alongside Nugent. It is frightening that in the US, in the 21st Century, Wendy Davis – a great advocate of women’s health rights – will almost certainly be defeated in Texas’s gubernatorial race, by a Republican candidate who has fully embraced a venomous human being like Ted Nugent.

The love affair between Ted Nugent and the GOP, reflects perfectly the hideous direction the Republican Party has taken in recent years. Indeed, Nugent is the personification of the Tea Party influence on the Republican Party; his violent, misogynistic, racist, homophobic rhetoric, subtly masked with conspiratorial (Benghazi) tones as its weak justification, is the very essence of the Tea Party. It is a brand new Republican Party falling over to the political extremes more and more by the day. It is therefore a Republican Party unlikely to win the White House again in a very, very long time.

Living by Leviticus.

February 17, 2014


Take a second out of your day to spare a thought for those who live according to the dictates of the book of Leviticus. Life is tough for those righteous few, who have decided that Leviticus is a book for all times, rather than a mythical tribe of Moses centuries back. We may only ever notice them for their incessant use of chapter 18 Verse 22 of Leviticus, to justify oppressing the fundamental rights of same-sex couples. But we must assume from this passionate plea, that their demands for strict adherence to Leviticus 18:22 is just one part of their complete adherence to the entire book of Leviticus, otherwise they’d simply be inconsistent, and surely that can’t be the case.

A typical day for a follower of Leviticus starts with breakfast. The same as all of us, except he must provide a salt offering to God, as demanded in Leviticus 2:13:

“Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.”

– We can be sure that all those who use Leviticus 18:22 to oppose gay rights, without fail provide a grain offering to God, laden with salt. If not, we must reasonably conclude that they should be banned from marriage, to protect our children from their immorality.

There is another clause; breakfast laden with salt cannot include fatty foods. No bacon. No sausage (pork is strictly forbidden anyway). Leviticus strictly forbids the eating of fatty foods, as noted in Leviticus 3:17:

“This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fat or any blood.”

– In fact, this is one of the only quotes from Leviticus that tells us it is a rule that is for generations to come. Which in turn suggests the other rules – such as Leviticus 18:22 – were not meant for those other than the generation of Israelites with Moses, at that moment in time. But 3:17 is absolutely meant for future generations. No fat foods. We can therefore assume that all those who use Leviticus 18:22 in opposition to gay rights, do not frequent fast food restaurants, and stay away from all meat. In fact, anyone who does eat fatty foods, should not be allowed to marry, for they are an abomination, lacking the correct morals as set out by the Lord.

After breakfast, the follower of Leviticus may then go to Church. He goes alone this time. Usually he would be accompanied by his wife, but yesterday she gave birth to a baby girl, and so she must not under any circumstances go to Church for 66 days:

“….she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days. When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.”

– The Churches of America must be full of new mothers on the Christian-right bringing a lamb and a pigeon to the Priest to be set on fire.

During her 66 days of being unclean, she notices that she has a bit of a swollen area on her body that she’s not too sure about. It’s brighter than the surrounding skin, and very worrying. Naturally, a doctor might be a good option right now, but not for this lady. For she is a follower of Leviticus! And only one man is qualified to deal with someone with a light swollen patch on skin:

“3 The priest is to examine the sore on the skin, and if the hair in the sore has turned white and the sore appears to be more than skin deep, it is a defiling skin disease. When the priest examines that person, he shall pronounce them ceremonially unclean. 4 If the shiny spot on the skin is white but does not appear to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest is to isolate the affected person for seven days.”

– That’s right. Any unnaturally bright swelling on the body, can only be sorted by a Priest locking her away for a week. Being locked away gives her time to go through her wardrobe, to ensure there are no garments of mixed materials:

“Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.”

– We must assume that all of those opposed to gay marriage due to Leviticus 18:22, strictly adhere to the command banning them from wearing garments with mixed materials, and wish to ensure that the state bans the sale of garments of mixed materials, for the sake of preserving the moral fabric of the nation. Consistency.

Whilst the new mum is preparing a lamb to be burnt by the priest at the end of her 66 days of being unclean, and her further week locked away for being ill, her husband is now back at home making sure his beard and hair are growing out nicely, as stated in Leviticus 19:27:

“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”

– This seems a pretty straight forward commandment. Do not cut your hair at the sides of your head, or clip the edges of your beard. There’s no ambiguity there. God does not like clipped beards, or cut hair. Naturally this further means that those with unclipped beards and uncut hair have the privileged right to decide whether or not to grant those without beards and with cut hair, equal rights. Such is the nature of presumed biblically ordained supremacy and privilege, even within secular systems. So imagine my surprise when anti-gay columnist for The Blaze, Matt Barber – as well as all the people tweeting in the tweets at the top of this article – appears to be remarkably well groomed for someone who puts so much emphasis on the commands of Leviticus:

– I’m sure I must have just misunderstood the situation. Perhaps Matt Barber’s hair and beard are naturally that way, and he has in fact not in any way cut the hair at the sides of his head or clipped off the edges of his beard. Because that would be inconsistent. And we’d have to ban him from marriage, for upsetting the Lord and being a moral deviant. Matt Barber wouldn’t do that. Matt Barber is a follower of Leviticus.

Life gets even more complicated if the follower of Leviticus happens to be sat down on a chair at the same time as an elderly person walks by. According to rules, the follower of Leviticus must always stand up whenever an elderly person is near by:

“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.”

– After standing up anytime an elderly person is close by, the follower of Leviticus spends time writing to their Representative in Congress in the hope of persuading them to oppose gay marriage. An elderly person walks by. The follower of Leviticus stops his writing, and stands up… the elderly person has gone, so the follower of Leviticus can now sit down and carr… another elderly person walks by. After several times sitting and standing, the follower of Leviticus manages to get a second or two before the next elderly person appears, to pen his letter to his Representative. Alongside banning gay marriage, the letter also demands the Representative push to overturn the entire judicial system, and replace it with punishment-in-kind justice, as sanctioned in Leviticus 24:17-21:

“17 Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. 19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.”

– From this command, we can reasonably assume that all of those members of Congress, or members of state legislatures, that have ever cited Leviticus 18:22 for their opposition to homosexuality in general, and their desire to enforce that Biblical prejudice into secular law, also wish to overturn the entire justice system and replace it with a form of justice demanded by God in Leviticus 24:17-21. This brand of Biblical justice includes the death penalty for adultery, as commanded in Leviticus 20:10. If those Representatives do not push for this complete overhaul of the justice system, including the death penalty for adultery, we may be forced to conclude that their inconsistent use of Leviticus when it pertains to homosexuality, would seem to suggest nothing more than anti-gay bigotry.

A few years ago, the follower of Leviticus was on a bad path in life. He was a thief, and ended up in prison several times. He served his time under the secular law, and is now out of prison, and a reformed man. He’s a born again Christian, and follows Leviticus often citing 18:22 as reason enough for the secular state to ban gay marriage. And so for the sake of consistency, he now realises he has to pay the Biblical price for theft, according to Leviticus 6:5-10:

“5. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. 6 And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. 7 In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.
8 The LORD said to Moses: 9 “Give Aaron and his sons this command: ‘These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar. 10 The priest shall then put on his linen clothes, with linen undergarments next to his body, and shall remove the ashes of the burnt offering that the fire has consumed on the altar and place them beside the altar.”

– It’s around 3pm in the afternoon when the reformed criminal leaves a ram with the local Priest to sacrifice upon an altar the next morning with a raging fire, whilst wearing linen clothes. The follower of Leviticus and the Priest are sat down. An elderly man walks past. Both the follower and the Priest stand up abruptly, so to please the Lord. The Priest spends much of his day dealing with animals on fire from new mothers, and ex-convicts. But that’s the price for following Leviticus word for word, as they absolutely all do!

It is now time for dinner. The follower of Leviticus is a farmer, and their food is all from their own farm. Dinner time is a stressful time in the Leviticus household. After the animal has been slaughtered, any trace of fat must be extracted immediately. Though the follower of Leviticus have already left two dead animals for the priest at the church that day, the book of Leviticus demands that once an animal has been slaughtered, the one who slaughtered it must take it to the church as an offering to the Lord:

“Whatever man of the house of Israel who kills an ox or lamb or goat in the camp, or who kills it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the door of the tabernacle of meeting to offer an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, the guilt of bloodshed shall be imputed to that man. He has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people, 5 to the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, to the priest, and offer them as peace offerings to the Lord.”

– American Christian-right farmers must be queuing up every night outside of the church to offer their slaughtered livestock to the Lord as a peace offering. But this is how life is if you follow Leviticus word for word.

So you see, living strictly according to the dictates of Leviticus – as those who continually make use of 18:22 to pronounce their opposition to homosexuality, must do – is a very difficult life of moral piety. Perhaps we should cut them some slack. They’re far too busy taking dead animals to be set on fire at church every day, standing up every time an elderly person walks past, offering salt to God with every meal, and trying to reinvent the entire justice system, to spend time educating themselves on the perfectly natural spectrum of sexuality.

The de-secularisation of Turkey.

February 15, 2014

Pro-secular rally in Istanbul.  Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Miguel Carminati.

Pro-secular rally in Istanbul.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Miguel Carminati.

“I don’t believe that Muhammad was a prophet. I don’t believe in the existence of a prophethood institution. I find it absurd that anyone could claim receiving special revelations from god. To me, that’s impertinence. Muhammad must have either lied or had hallucinations.”

– It is victimless declarations of non-belief such as this by Turkish intellectual Sevan Nisanyan, that resulted in his harassment by officials, to the point where Nisanyan is now serving a prison term on trumped up charges relating to construction regulations, masking the real reason for his incarceration; blasphemy. He isn’t the only non-religious person in Turkey to be punished in recent times for ‘blasphemy’. In April 2013, Turkish composer and pianist Fazil Say, received a 10 year suspended sentence for tweeting a poem deemed offensive to Islam, by 11th century poet Omar Khayyám.

The crackdown on secular freedoms in Turkey has increased over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s reign. The Prime Minister is arguably the most powerful since Ataturk, and the most likely to radically change the direction of the country. It is clear that Erdogan is fostering religious polarisation in Turkey to an inevitable violent and oppressive end. He appears to regard secularism as Muslims having the privileged and inherent right to grant and rescind protections to minorities, rather than equal protections under the law with no single faith or ideology – including his own – permitted that privileged position. This of course, isn’t secularism. It is tolerance, offered by a prevailing religious ideology whose adherents have decided they are the ones with the inherent and privileged right to grant tolerance. They offer no justifiable explanation for this God-like mentality. Erdogan is cut from the same anti-secular cloth as all other supremacists who demand special protections for their one particular ideology.

As part of his crackdown, the Prime Minister announced that mixed gender dorm rooms would be outlawed, and a policy of gender segregation implemented by the end of 2014. In recent years, he has also attempted to criminalise adultery, and ban alcohol in certain areas. Turkey under Erdogan ranks 154th out of 179 on press freedom (below Afghanistan). All clear attempts to impose strict Islamic ‘morality’ on a secular country. Perhaps Erdogan’s most worrying stance is on blasphemy, for which he demanded:

“…international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion”

– In essence; Blasphemy laws. Erdogan, the Prime Minister of a secular country, wishes to enforce restrictions of what he deems to be ‘offensive’ to religions. No other concepts – political ideologies – seem to be a concern for Erdogan. Does he deny that people also hold political beliefs to be as sacred as religious beliefs? What is considered an “attack”? Cartoons? Critiques? Who has the right to define that? Well, apparently the Prime Minister has decided what is and isn’t an “insult”. Speaking to Kanal D TV’s Arena program, Erdogan said:

“These descriptions [the term “moderate Islam”] are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”

– If you identify as a moderate Muslim, the Prime Minister of Turkey believes you have insulted the faith. To insult the faith, Erdogan believes the state should be in the business of punishing this.

As seems to be the case with all of those demanding blasphemy laws protecting their specific religion; there is often a very clear double standard. There is never a demand to punish those who burn the American flag, or antisemitic rants by Muslim media outlets, or threats of state punishment for Muslims who insist that non-believers will infact burn in the pits of hell, or for putrid homophobia.

Throughout history, and across national borders, antisemitism often begins at the premise of a vast Jewish conspiracy lurking in the shadows, waiting to control the World, different from the rest of us and plotting to destroy. Today, it is the mantra of the far-right; both political and religious. In the past, Martin Luther perpetuated the sentiment in the 16th Century with his 1543 work “On the Jews and their lies“, which I write about here. Erdogan seems more than willing to demand blasphemy laws when it offends his religious sensibilities, whilst at the same time being as offensive as possible to other groups:

“The Jews have begun to crush the Muslims in Palestine, in the name of Zionism. Today, the image of the Jews is no different than that of the Nazis.”

– This is a quote from 1998. Further back, in 1974 Erdogan wrote, directed, and starred in his own play entitled “Maskomya”, an acronym for “Masons, Communists, Jews”. The historian Rifat Bali, who specialises in the history of Jewish Turks, said of the play:

“…a theatrical play that was staged everywhere in the 1970s, as part of the ‘cultural’ activities of MSP Youth Branches. The unabbreviated version of Mas-kom-Ya is Mason-Komunist-Yahudi [Mason-Communist-Jew]. It is known that the play was built on the ‘evil’ nature of these three concepts, and the hatred towards them.”

– It is without doubt that the antisemitism of the Prime Minister fuels the antisemitism of the wider population in Turkey. In March 2005, Arslan Tekin, a writer for Yenicağ, not so subtly made it clear to readers that he believes Jewish people themselves should feel responsible for the rise of Hitler:

“Can a Hitler rise in America? It can happen… What was [true] for Germany before Hitler came to power is [now] exceedingly true for America. Big banks, big TV organs, big newspapers, all the tools that can trap the public opinion are in the hands of the Jews… Politics is run by them too.

“What is the proportion of the Jewish [population] in America of 200 million [sic]. Must not even be two percent. They have an image beyond what their numbers merit. I am sorry for the Jews… How come they do not think about the effect their disproportionate ‘grandeur’ would have on the majority of the [American] people! In Germany, Hitler did not rise just single-handedly. He only answered the questions asked by his people.

“Hey Jews! The world cannot bear to have another Hitler [because of you]. Your disproportionate [presence]; your recklessness; your daring to burn the world for [even] one Jew, makes the American people and everyone in the world ask the question: ‘what’s happening here?’ Do you know how the US is seen now? [It looks like] the biggest Jewish empire of the world.

“I, like everyone else, am seeing this situation… Hitler’s Mein Kampf must be read especially by the Jews.

“A madman like Hitler does not just come about [without a reason]… The book which you define as ‘nonsense’ has set the world on fire. The Jews should think about the reasons [why].”

– A Turkish, Islamist writer here has managed to blame Jewish people for the horrifying events of the holocaust and the imperial desires of Hitler. I’m not sure it gets more insulting than that. This is absurd victim shaming, coupled with bigotry and hostility that tends to go hand in hand with Islamists of all nationalities. It is similar logic to extremists blaming their tendency toward blowing people up, on the country that those victims come from.

Similarly, columnist Yusuf Kaplan of the daily Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak, wrote conspiratorially:

“Jewish desire to dominate everything in the Western countries, and the way they easily and arrogantly exploit organizations and individuals to serve Jewish interests, may end up causing a short circuit within the democratic institutions of the West. Their nosy interference with everything, and their actions beyond the reach of their size, have already started to draw serious reactions in the Western countries. Because the Jewish paranoia is blown to extreme, forced and artificial dimensions, it can explode any day and take care of them [the Jews] and cost them dearly.”

– It is an ironic peace on paranoia. Ironic, because it is actually the paranoid delusions of non-Jews over the centuries, convinced of a World-wide Jewish conspiracy, that led directly to the inevitable conclusion, with the rise of Hitler. Had this same piece been written in order to shame Muslims, and claim an Islamic conspiracy for World domination, the writer would now most definitely be in jail in Turkey, and the piece used by anti-secularists like Erdogan, to promote his attempts to enforce blasphemy legislation.

The paranoid delusions continue, with Erdogan himself who, on commenting on the suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, said:

“What is said about Egypt? That democracy is not the ballot box. Who is behind this? Israel is. We have the evidence in our hands.”

– The ‘evidence’ later turned out to be Bernard-Henri Lévy – a French man, also happens to be Jewish – in 2011 telling a news conference that he doesn’t like the Muslim Brotherhood. For Erdogan, this was enough to claim a vast Israeli conspiracy. Such irrational, absurd, and dangerously paranoid people should not be in positions of power. They should be in therapy.

As a result, growing numbers of Jewish people in Turkey (there are currently around 15,000 Jewish people in Turkey, mainly in Istanbul) are beginning to leave the country, through fear of the social consequences of the government’s promotion of antisemitism. The deputy chairman of the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, Nesim Güveniş, told Hürriyet:

“Look at the environment in Turkey at the moment. We are uncomfortable with being ‘othered’. I am more Turkish than many. But we couldn’t make them believe it.”

– This is the result of de-secularisation. The poisonous notion that minority groups that are in some way conflicting with the prevailing ideology, are not to be considered equal to adherents to that prevailing ideology, whose rights are then oppressed, or who are at least made to feel less of a citizen. Secularism is the only defence against such a hideous notion.

It isn’t just Jewish people that are victims of the emerging antisemitic, Islamic supremacist ideals in Turkey. The BBC tells the story of an ex-Muslim, who converted to Christianity, and was secretly filmed at a Christian summer camp by Turkish media, who then branded him “an evil missionary”, which in turn resulted in him losing his family. I am yet to find an example of any Muslims in Turkey being similarly harassed for preaching Islam to non-Muslims.

In 2007, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal – both converts from Islam to Christian – were arrested and on trial for “insulting Islam” by trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The appalling deed? Well, apparently they had said that Islam was a:

“…primitive and fabricated religion.”

– State punishment for words that offend authoritarian ideologies, is so utterly grotesque, no secularist would seek to justify it. The government of Turkey is working to ensure that Islamic supremacy replaces secularism as the base ideology upon which all other considerations – sexuality, gender, expression – must be held against under the law. This is dangerous.

In 2010, after several nations began to refer to the Armenian genocide as a genocide (genocide as a term dates to 1943, not 1915; the beginning of the Armenian genocide by the Caliphate), Erdogan issued a threat to restart the genocide if we all insist on calling it a genocide:

“In my country there are 170,000 Armenians. Seventy thousand of them are citizens. We tolerate 100,000 more. So, what am I going to do tomorrow? If necessary I will tell the 100,000: OK, time to go back to your country. Why? They are not my citizens. I am not obliged to keep them in my country.”

– This nasty little threat summarises the mentality of the Turkish Prime Minister perfectly. It is the mentality of a dictator who thrives on controlling others. Indeed, Turkish novelist and screenwriter Orhan Pamuk was taken to court for daring to utter his belief that the genocide, was a genocide. The charges were dropped the week the EU began a review of the Turkish judicial system, predictably.

And so, if you’re Jewish, a Christian convert from Islam, a non-believer, a moderate Muslim, a critic of the long dead Caliphate, or Armenian; the “secular” Erdogan is more than willing to threaten your fundamental rights whilst claiming this to be secular in nature.

As previously noted, when a state – especially a state like Turkey, with almost a century of secular governance – works to protect one authoritarian ideology, when it punishes criticism or satire of that one authoritarian ideology, when the state’s values start to mimic the dictates of that one ideology, when that one authoritarian ideology starts to creep into judicial procedure, when that one authoritarian ideology is permitted privilege above all others; the result will always be social unrest and oppression. This is true in Turkey. Less moderate Muslims in Turkey suddenly seem to have a new found sense of superiority. The Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul has been bombed in recent years; in 2007 three Christians – Necati Aydin, Tilmann Geske and Ugur Yuksel – were kidnapped, bound, and brutally murdered by religious fundamentalists; Father Andrea Santoro was shot dead in Trabzon by a 16 year old with “Islamist sympathies”. Being Jewish, or an ex-Muslim in Turkey is becoming increasingly dangerous. Similarly, non-Muslims and secular Muslims, take to the streets, as they did in 2013, to protest an increasingly anti-secular, authoritarian system of governance. The predictable result, was government brutality.

One thing is certain; if a state becomes increasingly supremacist, under the power of an increasingly despotic, paranoid, bigoted and oppressive anti-secular leader; its accession to the EU should not be considered.

Uthman Badar: Rationalising the irrational.

February 7, 2014

“Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.”
– Robert Ingersoll.

In November last year, Recital Hall in Sydney played host to a debate with the motion: “God and Prophet’s should be protected from insult”. Arguing for the motion was Uthman Badar of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Naturally, Badar’s position was one in which he attempts very weakly to rationalise the irrational, advocate oppression, whilst trying to appear not just to be having a bit of a tantrum. I thought I’d address several of Uthman Badar’s claims in this article.

I was immediately struck by this incredibly hypocritical line from Badar:

“Here’s a frank memo to the liberals…. enough of the self indulgence.”

– If this isn’t the most ironic statement made by someone who advocates a global Caliphate based on the supremacy of his particular ideology above all others… I don’t know what is. It isn’t liberals who punish apostates, or call for the execution of those who make jokes out of our ideas. It isn’t liberals who poison and injure the minds of children with dogmatic stories of eternal torture for non-belief. It isn’t liberals who burn down embassies if someone publishes a cartoon we don’t like. It isn’t liberals who insist on banning people from marriage if they don’t have the specific set of genitals we deem to be ‘acceptable’. So it is perhaps prudent of Uthman Badar in future to look closer to home when it comes to centuries of religious self indulgence before churning out the pitiful line that it is liberals that are the self indulgent ones.

“Free speech is a liberal position. It is an ideological liberal position. Not some logical, universal position”.

– Very simplistic. Free expression absolutely is a logical, universal position. Liberals didn’t invent the idea of not being punished by oppressors for words that those oppressors don’t like. Oppressing expression requires an ideological framework of power, like, say, religion. Oppressing expression does not extinguish the thoughts, it simply reduces the person who has those thoughts, to silence through fear. It chains the tongue and instills fear into the mind. This is incredibly unnatural, very dangerous, and completely contemptible. The erected oppressive barrier is thus simply a form of control over others. Liberals may have broke down that oppressive barrier in periods of enlightenment and emphasis on human rights and individual liberty. It is the barrier itself that is not a natural one. Nature does not inherently permit the oppression of thoughts and expressions that run contrary to the dictates of a 7th Century Middle Eastern sect. The thoughts and expressions of others, are not the property of any ideology.

To be free to express oneself is a natural condition that is only subject to oppression in some form or another from ‘outside’. We erect walls of oppression around the freedom to express oneself that must also be reasonable and logical if they are to be acceptable to us collectively; defamation for example. I know of no one who would argue that defamation laws are not beneficial to us all, or that they restrict others in their pursuits. They protect us equally from damage to our reputation by those who seek to harm us. It is more than expression in that respect. Similarly, threatening through words to murder someone has implications to the safety of the person, and so is likely to encourage a visit from the police. This is entirely different from words that someone may find offensive about the ideas they quite like. We are not naturally restricted in how we express ourselves. Those who wish to do so, simply seek to enslave the mind of those they cannot win over any reasonable way.

It is therefore the burden of those seeking to erect barriers to that natural liberty, that must explain why they have that privilege, why they believe our lives are theirs to play with, and why the rest of us must acquiesce. Free expression is not ideological, it is natural.

We are also endowed with curiosity. This is expressed in terms of critiques (like this article), or artistically – through music, or comedy, or theatre, or any other form of self expression. It is this self expression – and primarily through comedy/satire/mocking – that Uthman objects to. What then Uthman Badar is arguing for, is the legitimacy of erecting further walls of oppression over a natural human condition, based solely on what he deems to be “offensive” for what he holds as sacred beliefs. It is no different to a non-Muslim advocating the banning of Islam or the Qur’an, if they find it to be offensive. For me, this is intensely irrational and dangerous. Why must we take Badar’s supremacy seriously, but not the individual wishing to restrict Islam? (Similarly, I have defended the right of Muslims to build a Mosque in Bendigo, when other supremacists demanded it stopped).

We know what happens when defensive, insecure and paranoid religious folk have power over the cogs of state. Currently, 72 year old Brit Masud Ahmad – part of the Ahmadiyya sect – faces three years in a Pakistan prison for reading the Qur’an out loud. Apparently blasphemy if carried by a ‘non-muslim’. The logic behind just what actually constitutes blasphemy in Pakistan, is irrelevant. The very fact that someone can face jail time for “blasphemy” is so utterly abhorrent, and enough to remind us of just why a state should never be governed along religious principles. When a state is governed by religious principles – the dogmatic adherence to moral ‘rules’ set out centuries ago by one group in one place in one time – human freedoms quickly erode, human progress quickly erodes, replaced by personal beliefs of the dominant group and the inevitable oppression of others.

Badar never actually explains why causing offense to a religion – blasphemy – should be off limits, yet other forms of offense shouldn’t. He never offers an explanation as to why his particular authoritarian idea – that includes political control over others – should be protected from the mocking words of those they seek to control. Defamation is quite clear cut and covers us all. Trying to ban offending someone’s beliefs isn’t as clear cut, and only seems to cover religious beliefs. If Badar’s demands for a ban on offending religious beliefs, doesn’t extend to offending political beliefs, or indeed, any form of offense that one might cause someone else through any medium including practically all forms of comedy; then immediately his argument falls down through a massive hole of inconsistency, and he is relegated to simply having a silly little child-like “I hate blasphemy” tantrum. 

Indeed, every human being ever condemned as a heretic or a blasphemer, and violently punished or killed as such across the centuries, must today be considered a hero in the cause of human freedom.

“To insult others is to treat them with gross insensitivity, insolence, or contemptuous rudeness. Those who want to allow this, the onus is on them to prove that such depravity should be allowed.”

– Yes. Exactly right, to insult others. Though it shouldn’t be banned by the state, insulting others for the sake of it certainly shouldn’t be encouraged and should indeed be discouraged. As adults, we should of course regulate ourselves as best we can. For example, Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman failed miserably on that, when he said:

“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”

– This Kuffarophobic bigotry should indeed be discouraged. I wouldn’t wish to see Mehdi Hasan punished for expressing his bigoted views toward people he’s never met. He is entitled to hold those views and to say them. I should not be trying to punish that. And I wouldn’t wish to silence the words of his God, who considers me someone of “no intelligence” apparently. This is insulting to me as a person. Not to my beliefs, but to me as a human being. Insulting other human beings is entirely separate. Challenging authoritarian ideas and concepts – be them political or religious, with critique and satire, with criticism and poking fun – should be considered uncompromisable and absolutely necessary. Authoritarian ideas like Islam must not be afforded the opportunity to regulate our thoughts and our expressions. Humanity is not to be chained by a single ideology.

In his follow up article (it’s the same wording as the video, with a few tweaks), Badar says:

“…Would we accept white people using the “n word” against blacks?”

– No. The issue here isn’t the expression, the issue is the sentiment behind the expression. The sentiment behind the expression is one rooted in the history of an oppressive, supremacist ideology based on race. It is supremacy that is the problem. Racism is institutional supremacy, and its partnered language further goes to solidify those supremacist notions. For example, if a group – such as the one Badar represents – was to openly suggest “eradicating” Jews from the Earth, we may say that the words themselves are not the issue, the issue is the sentiment behind it. A very neo-nazi sentiment seeped in violent, oppressive history.

Secularism ensures a line of equality. It affords the same rights for you as a person as it does for me as a person. My gender, my sexuality, my race, or my beliefs have no more right to oppress you, as your gender, sexuality, race or beliefs have a right to oppress me. It is the only safeguard against supremacy. Anything that deviates from that line – the elevation of one race above another, or the elevation of one system of belief in a place of power above all others – is supremacist. This is the problem. This is what Badar advocates.

Badar says:

“Insulting another person’s beliefs does not encourage them to think. Instead, it makes them more entrenched, defensive and prepared to retaliate – that’s human nature.”

– Two problems with this quote also. Firstly, Badar makes the mistake of presuming that offending religious beliefs, is primarily about trying to encourage people to think about those beliefs. Why does he presume that’s the case? I am quite certain that the ‘Life of Brian’ or ‘Father Ted’ were not intended to encourage people to think. They exist to make people laugh. Political satire equally is there to make people laugh, not primarily to make people think. Though, some is. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show exists to make people laugh, but also – as with the Kramer interview – to encourage thought. Still, Stewart mocks political ideas. For Badar, this is unacceptable.

Badar appears to believe any criticism of ideas must only be encouragement to think. I reject this wholeheartedly. Indeed, even when it is presented as a thoughtful discussion, it tends to be claimed to “insult” those who hold beliefs to be sacred. Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” was so insulting to Christians, that in Britain he was condemned:

“…as an enemy of proper thought and of the morality of decent, enlightened people.”

– In this respect, Paine was writing to make people think, and simultaneously managed to insult people. Centuries earlier, the Syrian al-Ma’arri wrote poetry that openly mocked religion, but it is also conducive to thought and understanding; the history of non-belief in this case. This immediately shows just how mistaken Badar was when he claimed insulting beliefs does not encourage thought. It doesn’t have to be primarily about encouraging thought, but often when that is the primary point, it is still considered insulting anyway. It is often true, that most great leaps forward intellectually, were considered incredibly insulting and offensive when first proposed.

Secondly, in insisting that insulting another person’s beliefs is fundamentally wrong, Badar appears to be disagreeing with his own God. And he goes on to contradict the words of his own Holy Book again later, when he states:

“When it comes to critique – as opposed to insult – I’d say, bring it on. Any attempt to quash or stifle serious debate is unacceptable in Islam.”

– And yet, the Qur’an begins almost every chapter with a vivid description of the punishment awaiting we non-believers if – even through serious debate – we conclude there is no God. Here, a quick example:

“Surely it is He Who brings about the creation of all and He will repeat it so that He may justly reward those who believe and do righteous deeds, and those who disbelieve may have a draught of boiling water and suffer a painful chastisement for their denying the Truth.”

– Essentially, let’s debate it… but if you don’t end up agreeing with me, you will be tortured forever. This should be insulting to anyone who values free thought, and critical inquiry. It is insulting to me as a non-believer. It is a threat. I am insulted by this. It isn’t encouraging me to think. It is nothing but intimidation. When I point this out to Muslims, most say “You don’t believe it, so you shouldn’t be offended.” This cop-out completely misses the point. Just as it is not my place to tell you that you shouldn’t be offended by a cartoon of the Prophet, it is not your place to tell me I shouldn’t be offended by what is written in a Holy Book I find to be repugnant. And if a Holy Book spends so much time insisting that I as a non-believer deserve to be tortured for eternity, then I absolutely reserve the right to mock it. It deserves nothing less from me. There is no inherent right for this one particular ideology to be respected without question. It must earn our respect, and for me it has managed the complete opposite.

Further, the suggestion seems to be that if we non-believers do not inherently respect your religion, and your Prophet, then we should be forced to respect your religion, and your Prophet through threat of punishment. It seems rather obvious to me, that if you need to force people to respect your religion through blasphemy laws – chances are, it’s not a respectable religion.

Indeed, what I defend as a freedom for myself to express without force or punishment, I defend for those whose actual existence I am so vehemently offended by. I am insulted that Hizb ut-Tahrir wishes to establish a Theocratic system whereby I am relegated to a social rank below Muslims who are to have power over me, protected by a thoroughly Islamic constitutional framework. I am offended by Badar’s expression of this goal, but I do not wish to punish him for having it or expressing it. The same freedom that allowed for Graham Linehan’s wonderful ‘Father Ted’ blasphemous comedy, allows for Hizb ut-Tahrir to announce on their East Africa website that:

“Homosexuality is an Evil that Destroys Societies!”

– This is insulting on such a grand scale. Incredibly offensive. It is this that we can compare to use of the “n word” Badar mentioned earlier. When I read this statement, it is like reading a KKK white supremacist pronouncement of the evils of those with darker skin. It is supremacy based on the idea that one biological trait is supreme and must have control over others, for the benefit of that one trait. This is hideous to me. Sexuality, like race, is largely genetic and a vast spectrum that has no “right” or “wrong” and the only reason sexuality has been oppressed so viciously over the centuries, is entirely down to religious supremacy; a heterosexual male dominated sphere of influence. Similarly, the only reason those with darker skin tones have been so viciously oppressed over the centuries, is racial supremacy. The poison is the same; the irrational oppression of freedom forged by those with power over those with no power, in order to ensure conformity to that particular oppressive ideology.

It is because of that inherently oppressive nature of supremacist ideologies – they are not just ‘beliefs’ if they seek control over others – that I maintain that not only should mockery and criticism not be punished by the state, but if that mockery or criticism is aimed at supremacist ideologies with a long history of oppression and with very imperialist, supremacist doctrines that I find offensive – then mockery and criticism become vital and necessary. Similarly, I absolutely support Badar’s right to offend my views on the superiority of secular democracy and human rights. The line of equality is essential.

If Uthman Badar wishes me not to “offend” his God, or his Prophet, then I demand with equal passion, that the Qur’an be rid of all references to the vicious eternal punishment awaiting we non-believers. Why is me feeling insulted by the words promoted in a book that believers have long used to oppress people like me, less important than the feelings of muslims with delusions of the importance of their doctrines? Why, if I find an ideology so repulsive to my own ideas of human freedom and rights, must I keep that to myself? When that faith no longer demands power over the lives of others through the mechanism of the state, when it longer seeks to indoctrinate children, when it no longer punishes apostates, when it doesn’t tell my gay friends they’re “unnatural” or shouldn’t be allowed to marry, when we’re not constantly told how awful the “kuffar” are or how evil the “west” is….. when all that self indulgence and Islamic supremacy stops, then I might cease criticising and mocking Badar’s ideology. Until then, I reserve the right without fear of punishment, to believe that all authoritarian ideas – of which Islam is certainly up there – should be open to criticism, mocking, and satire. And that those like Uthman Badar, a danger to the very basics of human liberty and dignity. Blasphemy is not just acceptable, it is absolutely vital to extinguishing the illegitimate power of religious oppression and supremacy.

It is quite simple, if you are not secularist, if you do not believe in a line of equality regardless of faith, race, gender, sexuality, then you are by definition advocating the power of one race, or one faith, or one gender, or one sexuality above all others. In Badar’s case, he advocates a state in which his particular ideology deserves power over the lives of us all, should be given special privileges over all others, simply because he believes its premise to be true. This is the advocating of oppression, regardless of how it is dressed up. No supremacist – to my knowledge – including Uthman Badar has ever provided a reasonable position as to why we should all accept their particular brand of supremacy as legitimate over our lives.

Let us be clear; free expression, freedom of belief, human and civil rights based on racial, religious, sexuality, and gender equality are not “liberal” principles. They’re not “Western” principles. They’re just not oppressive Theocratic principles. Those of us who hold those ideals; those of us with a respect for human beings before ideologies; those of us who believe in equal treatment under secular law… we should be intensely proud of those values.