Secularism and the face veil.

May 28, 2014


In my many debates with the Islamic community on how secularism benefits the religious, a repeatedly made assertion is that secularism in fact oppresses Muslims. To highlight this, they point to the ban on face-covering in France. Often two things happen if I attempt to provide a secular perspective after this issue is raised; firstly I’m told that I don’t understand Islam, and secondly I’m told that I’m a white male and so bizarrely this precludes me from arguing back, despite the fact that they raised the issue with me in the first place. As it stands, I am secularist, and all of my arguments on politics and religion stem from that premise. And so when it comes to secularism and the face veil, I thought I’d address the line of argument from Muslims that secularism oppresses Muslims here.

I should start by pointing out my prejudices. I dislike the full face veil. I’m not a fan of anyone telling others what is to be considered “dignified” or “modest” according to their religious beliefs. I’m also not a fan of the subtle hint that it is a woman’s duty to ensure a man doesn’t sexually assault her, by covering up. I’m also not a fan of the apartheid history that the face-covering veil has, and continues to perpetuate in authoritarian and patriarchal households and states. But here’s the thing; it absolutely doesn’t matter what I think of any item of clothing that someone else freely chooses to wear. It it not my place to tell someone else that they are oppressed, if they are freely choosing to wear something. It is not my place to tell them that they are not freely choosing to wear something on the basis that I find their religion itself to be oppressive. Secularism ensures freedom of religion for you, as much as it ensures freedom from religion for me. It ensures you are free to wear what you wish, and I am free to criticise all articles of faith (including what it is I believe the veil stands for). All must be free to wear whatever they wish, without someone else restricting them according to personal beliefs.

The enforcing of the wearing of the face veil, is a different matter entirely, and the one’s doing the enforcing – thus controlling the lives of others – should absolutely be subject to state punishment for what is essentially the hijacking of someone else’s life. It is true that this is a massive problem in nations in which Islam is enshrined into the framework of state, but also in the homes of Muslims in Western countries, and it is a very difficult situation to address. It is however entirely self defeating to seek to free people, by oppressing them. The perpetrator of the coercion is the one violating the liberty of the individual. The coercion is the problem. The belief that coercion is acceptable, is the problem. Restricting individual choice is not a solution. Indeed, seeking to restrict the choice of all women, because some men are viciously abusive, is the essence of victim-blaming, counter-productive, and vastly anti-secular.

(Note; In a place – such as a trial or an airport security check or children in a school – where facial recognition is essential; the rule of law and security must not be sacrificed for religious belief, the face veil should be removed).

The fight to free human beings from those enforcing the wearing of the face veil, is one in which the conclusion must not be caging people by enforcing the non-wearing of the face veil. The conclusion must be freedom of choice for the individual. That is the goal of secularism as I know it. Challenging the narrative of divisive, oppressive structures and instead offering individual freedom – including choice – is the basis of a secular society. Any deviation, is the opposite of secular. My right to wear something that a religious citizen may find ‘immodest’ or ‘offensive’ does not permit that religious person the right to prevent me from wearing it, and so the same right must be extended to all.

I differ somewhat from Anne Marie Waters from the ‘One Law for All’ campaign, where she stated:

“But I have a question — even if it is a choice, so what? I choose to round up every niqab and burka on the planet and bury them in the deepest pit under the deepest ocean in the world — will this choice be honoured? Of course not, so what makes these women’s choices so much more important than mine?”

– She seems to be suggesting that ‘individual choice where it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of others‘ and ‘interfering with the liberty of others by theft, and restricting personal choice of all others in adherence to my beliefs‘ are two concepts that should be regarded equally. To round up and bury every niqab on the planet, requires stealing, and then telling others you’re doing it for their own good according to your own beliefs. This can in no way be twisted to represent secularism. Much the opposite.

I also think Maryam Namazie makes a similar mistake when she compares the face veil, to female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation relies on the clear violation of the individual’s right to her own body. If someone wishes the right to mutilate another human being, then they must also accept the right for others to mutilate their body, whenever those others see fit. The person being viciously mutilated has exercised no choice, and has had their most sacred liberty molested. Similarly, if the face veil is forced upon another human being against their will, this clearly violates their right to personal liberty, and lacks all choice. In both cases, the punishment should be on those who commit the offence against the other person’s liberty. Force is the problem. Not choice. Seeking to prevent force, by preventing choice by force, is absurd. Force is not to be conflated with someone freely choosing to wear a face veil. State punishment for all Muslim women, because some men force other Muslim women to wear clothing against their will, is a deeply oppressive measure. It is the punishing of someone for freely wearing the face veil, that is in the same camp as violating all other individual liberties.

When we on the secular left often point to conservatives (especially in the US) wishing to withhold the right for women to be free to control their own reproductive system, without interference from the state, it seems hugely hypocritical to then wish to withhold the right for women to be free to choose what to wear without the interference of the state. You do not fight oppression, with oppression.

It has been four years since the French introduced the ban to the country. Since then, Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali have both been fined for wearing the face veil, others who freely choose to wear the face veil are scared to leave their house through fear of punishment or threat. It is particularly difficult to consider the fining of someone and fear of punishment for freely choosing to wear an item of clothing, as “freedom”. It seems the opposite to me. It seems that innocent people are forced to endure unnecessary abuse, because others don’t like the veil. Ahmas said:

“My quality of life has seriously deteriorated since the ban. In my head, I have to prepare for war every time I step outside, prepare to come up against people who want to put a bullet in my head. The politicians claimed they were liberating us; what they’ve done is to exclude us from the social sphere. Before this law, I never asked myself whether I’d be able to make it to a cafe or collect documents from a town hall. One politician in favour of the ban said niqabs were ‘walking prisons’. Well, that’s exactly where we’ve been stuck by this law.”

– Further, a report by “Open Society” contains quotes from Muslim women – who freely choose to wear the veil – who have faced increased persecution in France since the ban. Karima from Marseilles said:

“I particularly miss going out. Now you have to think twice before going out and I’ve really withdrawn into myself a lot because when you go out people are really very, very nasty. Before, it was kind of OK. You had some stares, sometimes people took liberties and said certain things, but not as much as nowadays, especially since it’s been covered so much in the media.”

— The point is clear. State punishment for freely choosing to wear an item of clothing, creates criminals out of peaceful people who have harmed nobody, is just as oppressive, and leads to persecution and a feeling of being dehumanised in the exact same way that state punishment for freely choosing not to wear an item of clothing does so too. Muslim women in France freely wearing the veil, are being blamed and having basic rights restricted, for the patriarchal abuse of women forced to wear the veil elsewhere.

William Langley, completely ignoring the people victimised by the law, at The Telegraph said:

“…the public overwhelmingly sees the ban as right for France, beneficial to its Muslim communities and justified.”

– This is irrelevant. Secular civil liberties are the starting point that mustn’t be breached, including the freedom to express oneself according one’s own conscience where it doesn’t interfere with the same liberty for others. The ‘community’ does not get to tell individuals what it is that is ‘beneficial’ to their personal life. If every French citizen minus one wished to ban the item of clothing that the one individual freely wishes to wear without harming the same liberty for anyone else, the majority are no more justified in punishing that person than the individual is justified in forcing the majority to wear that same item of clothing. Indeed, if 99% are forced to wear an item of clothing, and 1% choose to wear it, that 1% should not be punished. The people enforcing it upon the 99% should be punished. In this case, it is those coercing that are in the wrong, not the 1% freely exercising their liberty.

Langley goes on:

“This, as Mme Amara painstakingly tries to explain, is the problem with all those charming liberal pieties about allowing women to choose how they wish to dress. Large numbers of the women who wear the burka – whether in France, Britain or anywhere else – don’t have a choice.”

– The implication is that we wont deal with those doing the forcing directly. We’ll instead punish those who choose freely to wear the face veil. I think he summarises his entire article, when he refers to the liberty for all to choose – regardless of gender – what it is they feel comfortable wearing, and to express their beliefs in their own way as “…allowing women to choose“. As if women should thank right winged men for “allowing” them certain liberties. At the heart of it, it is a very patriarchal, and ironically, very Islamist line of argument.

France is not secular. Neither are those who seek to ban choice. The state intrudes upon the personal freedom of the choice of the religious, where that personal freedom does not interfere with the liberty of others, and so it is by definition anti-secular. It is the state – through enforcing restrictions of wearing the veil – imitating the role of those who force the wearing of the face veil through threat, blaming the one’s they seek to oppress in the process, whilst claiming they do it for their freedom. It is the state controlling the private choices of the individual, and so it is a different side of the same coin that demands punishment for those who do not wear the face veil. The state should be enhancing a framework to help those forced to wear the face veil by abusive family members or partners, and focusing on educating children and adults away from perpetuating oppressive structures, whilst advocating secular democratic civil liberties for all across the World. The state should not on punishing those who freely choose to wear an item of clothing. They are not at fault in any way. Punishing the innocent, for the crimes of the abusive, is not a secular principle. It is also therefore vastly disingenuous for Muslims to conflate secularism, with oppression of Muslims.

Trolling UKIP: #WhyImVotingUKIP

May 21, 2014

It’s a day before the European election, and the #WhyImVotingUkip Twitter trend has spectacularly backfired on the Party this morning. Once you make your way through the three pro-UKIP tweets, you find yourself in a forest of wonderful satire. And so, here are a few of my favourite #WhyImVotingUKIP tweets so far:















At least, I think these are satire. Given the frequency by which Tea Party-esque comments are publicly made by UKIP members, all of the above tweets could just as easily be actual UKIP comments.
Tomorrow is election day. Get out and vote!

The right to blaspheme.

May 20, 2014


I’m deeply suspicious of those who believe their God expects them to do His dirty work in punishing blasphemy, without their God first offering conclusive proof that He exists. His followers seem to be affording themselves a privileged position – a position in which they free themselves to oppress – based on nothing more than how much they believe in their particular God, and how much the rest of us don’t. Indeed, for those of us who aren’t religious, we see no reason why you shouldn’t be free to believe in faiths that offend our every principle, at the same time as we’re free to ridicule that offensive faith. Neither you, nor I get to privilege ourselves by defining what is and isn’t to be considered universally ‘offensive’ when it comes to beliefs.

Today is international draw Muhammad day. Whilst argument persists about the nature – is it ‘Islamophobic’? Isn’t it? Who cares? – of the idea of ‘draw Muhammad day’, I’m left wondering why no one is concerned about the atmosphere that leads to this sort of a protest in the first place. It is the 21st century, and billions across the World continue to be denied the fundamental human right to express their view, if it happens to contradict the often far more vicious views of those who believe themselves inherently privileged on account of their religion. An atmosphere that appears to afford a bizarre “right” to not be offended – even among Western ‘liberals’ who clearly feel uneasy at offending religious concepts or arguing the superiority of liberal, secular values – a position of higher dignity than the right to self expression.

It is bizarre, because when it comes to individual liberty, only one of those previously mentioned presumed ‘rights’ is by its nature oppressive. When we express, we do not rescind the civil liberty of anyone else, and nor should anyone else – whether in the majority or not – rescind your civil liberty, for expressing contrary opinions. Our civil rights are equal, we are protected, I am simply expressing an opinion that is contrary to yours. I choose the way that I express that opinion, but I have no right to injure your liberty in the process. You might be offended by my expression, and that’s fine. Nothing happens. That’s it. You’re offended, and you move on with your life. Your liberty is protected, as much as mine is. The same is not true, of the presumed “right” to not be offended. This obnoxious presumption can only manifest itself in the removal of civil liberties – through blasphemy laws – of others, and so the privileging of your view above all others. Why – for example – should you have a right to believe in a faith that offends me, yet I shouldn’t have a right to offend that faith? This is you privileging your faith, or faiths in general, claiming ownership over my voice, this is supremacy, and it is by its nature, oppression. It is the claiming of ownership not only of the voices of others, but of skepticism in general. The very fact that you may seek to privilege your specific belief, protecting it from forms of criticism arising from skeptical inquiry on account of how deeply you believe it to be true, is the exact reason it must be open to criticism; to deflate its authoritarian desire to control my freedom to express.

For example, the anti-secular group ‘Christian Voice’ freely expressed their displeasure at homosexuality this week, when they grotesquely stated:

“The Eurovision Song Contest sank to a new low on Saturday night as a bearded homosexual drag artist swept to an overwhelming win.”

– So, given that ‘Christian Voice’ utilises the freedom to express and perpetuate their beliefs without reproach, one has to wonder why they refuse to support that same freedom for others. In 2005 ‘Christian Voice’ threatened to picket outside of the cancer support centre ‘Maggie’s Centres’ if the centre took a £3000 donation from ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’, because it was full of “filth and blasphemy”. The donation would have been used to provide a better standard of palliative cancer care for sufferers and their families. ‘Christian Voice’, not content with dehumanising the LGBT community, also took £3000 away from vital cancer research. This is what happens when the religious claim ‘offence’. Not only do they seek to restrict the liberty of others to express opinions contrary to their own, they’re willing to put lives at risk for that privilege.

Similarly, Rashid Rehman – a lawyer in Pakistan representing a Professor accused of blasphemy – was shot and killed by armed men posing as clients, for defending blasphemy. In Pakistan, for even defending the right to a fair trial for someone accused of simply expressing their opinion, will get you killed. These people appear to be under the curious impression that harming another human being for words, is acceptable. The implication is that Islam must be considered privileged and protected, simply because believers in Islam say so, and you will die if you openly express disagreement. The irony is that one must be severely insecure in one’s beliefs – almost blasphemously so – if seeking to completely eradicate criticism of the faith, and only permitting a single narrative.

Those who seek to punish those deemed to be ‘offending’ faith, tend to be the most offensive people on the planet, themselves. You will find that most religious sects that position themselves as a political entity, seek to restrict criticism of their faith to some degree, whilst freely and happily expressing their own offensive views in public. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Uthman Badar argued that Prophets and religions should be protected from insult. The same Hizb ut-Tahrir that called for the eradication of Jews, and followed on by insisting that homosexuality is an evil that destroys societies. Such is the nature of the child-like followers of organised religion; the hypocrisy, and self indulgent tantrum is breathtaking.

It is worth noting again, that you should be free to believe whatever it is you choose to believe, according to your own conscience, where that belief doesn’t manifest in shackling others to your belief. The state has no inherent right to restrict your personal belief, where it pertains to your life only. But the freedom to express, is as true for me as it is for you. And so if you choose to believe in a faith that seeks to, or has a long history of, condemning all those who don’t quite fit its narrow spectrum for salvation, then you must expect dissent. You must expect criticism and you must expect to have your beliefs offended. You must expect the life and words of your role model and the person you seek to emulate – be it Moses, Abraham, Jesus or Muhammad – critically examined. You must expect to accept that defending the dignity of your God, is irrelevant to those of us who don’t believe, and we won’t be told what we’re entitled to say about your God, by you, especially if the rules laid out by that God offend our principles. You must expect those who abandon a belief in your God, to speak out on their experiences free from harm. You must expect those who have been shackled by your beliefs, to fight to break free from those shackles. You must expect those who find your religion to be morally corrosive, to express exactly why they came to that conclusion, in their own way, and in a way that does nothing to harm your liberty. If your religion is strong, it will combat the falsity of the contrary opinion through reason, rather than force. That is the nature of the basic human right to inquire, to believe, and to express without fear. It comes hand in hand with your right to believe and to express that belief.

Blasphemy laws are an archaic expression of religious supremacy, an irrelevant, and irrational power structure that cannot deal with challenges to its authority in the modern World. We know better now. And so if you are more offended by blasphemy, than you are by the violent removal of the basic human right to expression, your principles desperately require redress.

Creationists: Give equal airtime to P’an Ku.

May 15, 2014

P'an Ku - Creator of the universe, according to ancient Chinese mythology.

P’an Ku – Creator of the universe, according to ancient Chinese mythology.

Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ has been given a wonderful new life with Neil deGrasse Tyson resurrecting the popular series this year. But not everyone agrees. As we’re all aware by now, creationists across the US are incensed that ‘Cosmos’ only relies on an abundance of scientific data, rather than Bronze aged myths.

Whilst the complaint appears to be that ‘Cosmos’ doesn’t allow for the possibility of ‘creation science’, they specifically seem to mean Christian notions of young earth creation. As if scientific data, and the Book of Genesis, offer equally as viable explanations. But it seems to me that Christian creationists are guilty of the same charge they throw at ‘Cosmos’. Creationists should also be asking: Why aren’t Christian creationists willing to offer equal air time, and a place on the school science curriculum for the ancient Chinese creator of everything; P’an Ku.

China is rich with beautifully crafted mythology, framing the cultural heritage of one of the oldest civilisations on the planet. In the third century, the Chinese author Xú Zhěng wrote of the creation of the heavens, the earth, and everything on it from a Taoist perspective (A Buddhist perspective of the myth differs slightly). The creator is P’an Ku. As with most creation myths, a great void preceded P’an Ku, until the chaos of that void pulled together to form an egg. The egg lasted for 18,000 years. Inside the egg existed the elements of the universe, working to balance the concepts of Yin and Yang, until they perfectly aligned. Once aligned, the egg began to open and P’an Ku emerged. P’an Ku worked tirelessly with the perfect principles of Yin and Yang to create opposites; wet and dry, day and night, male and female.

The top part of the shell that cracked open as P’an Ku escaped, became the sky. The bottom part of the shell became the earth. Another 18,000 years passed as P’an Ku pushed up the sky, and pushed down the earth, as they grew larger and larger each day. Each day, P’an Ku grew six feet taller than the day before. P’an Ku parted the heavens and the earth (a claim that Muslims – like Zakir Naik – like to believe comes directly from the Qur’an and is evidence of their holy book mentioning the big bang; in reality, it’s a concept that preceded the Qur’an, existing in a plethora of creation myths).

Once the sky and the earth had been created, P’an Ku died. His body fell apart, and collapsed down to the earth. His final breaths became the wind that would forever circle the planet. His roaring voice became thunder. His teeth and bone marrow became metals. His blood became the waters in the rivers; the rivers controlled the earth before humanity. One of his eyes became the sun, and the other the moon. His head became the mountains. This idea of the dead body of the creator becoming a part of his creation, is reflected in the Norse creation myth of Ymir, whose flesh becomes the earth, and his blood becomes the rivers and seas. One must also note the similarity with the body of Jesus becoming the bread, and his blood becoming the wine served at the Eucharist. Unlike the God of Christianity, P’an Ku didn’t create humans, that was left to the Goddess Nüwa; the creator of humanity.

Nüwa was lonely on the earth by herself, so she started to create sheep, and horses among other creatures, to keep her company. After a while, she hand crafted humans out of clay. This process became tiresome, and so Nüwa dunked a vine in clay, and swung it around, with each droplet becoming a human. At times, she continued to hand craft humans out of clay, and those chosen few became the nobility.

And that is story of P’an Ku, and the creation of everything.

Humanity is a wonderfully creative and curious species. The Chinese merged those two together, to form the story of P’an Ku. Creation myths are beautifully creative, and expertly crafted works of art. They exist as an example of humanity’s ceaseless quest for understanding and explanation, in the primitive age of our species. But they are not testable explanations or predictions that can be applied reliably, and so they are not science. This is as true for the myth of P’an Ku as it is for the Biblical creation myth. If creationists wish to see equal airtime given to Christian creation myths as to science, or to be taught as science in schools, there is no reason the curriculum – or ‘Cosmos’ – shouldn’t also include every other possible creation myth – including P’an Ku – throughout history. All the more so, in a secular country.

Dear Aliff Asyraf of ISMA: You were right!

May 14, 2014

Dear Aliff Asyraf,

Thank you for your touching reply to my article for ‘The Malaysian Insider’, where you declared yourself “better” than me, on account of your belief in Allah. As it turns out, you and the rest of ISMA were right! I had a revelation from God. Not your God. It turns out your God isn’t the true God at all. I know this, because my God – FutileGod – told me so. It says so in FutileGod’s book, FutileBook Chapter 2 verse 5:

“And lo, there was no Allah. Muhammad made it all up. FutileGod is the one true God, and Her word is the truth. The disbelievers will face a fiery torment!”

– So, as you can see, your whole life has been a lie. Not my words, I didn’t make it up. The words of the one true FutileGod. Sorry to break it to you. But now you accept the truth (why wouldn’t you? It says so RIGHT there in the book), you will of course accept that as a believer, I am better than you, and so I now have the inherent right to force you to live my by divine rules. As you so rightly claimed, this isn’t an ideology, because it comes straight from the one true God – unlike Islam, which as we have heard from FutileGod, is entirely man made – and so it is natural for you to live by the rules of FutileGod, even if you don’t believe in Her.

So, when you said that people shouldn’t be allowed to dress as the opposite gender, thus oppressing their liberty to self expression and to feel comfortable in the clothes they wear simply due to your personal beliefs; Or when you said that people shouldn’t be free to wear clothes that might “distract” you, you were right! As a believer in the truth of FutileGod, I absolutely have a right to tell others – including you, because I’m better than you on account of my belief – how they should dress. FutileGod for example tells us through his truth (and it is truth, because I said it is), that the niqab and hijab are completely unnatural. And so they must be banned. Muslim women must not be allowed the liberty to dress in a way that offends FutileGod. They also might distract men who are attracted to women in a niqab and hijab. And of course men shouldn’t feel the need to confront their own inability to control their sexual desires, it should be women punished for that. FutileGod has spoken.

FutileGod – whose message is the truth – says your eye colour is unnatural. It is against the laws of FutileGod. According to FutileGod, you must be subjected to psychological treatment to change your eye colour to a natural colour, thus completely freeing you to realise your true purpose; the worship and obedience to FutileGod. If you don’t repent, the punishment will be death. This is how FutileGod dealt with FutileSodom – a very real place, in which people all had your eye colour, like the filthy deviants they are.

Also, FutileBook Chapter 2 verse 12:

“And the one true God decreed: “Anyone called Aliff, must forever wear clown make-up on his face”.

– As per your logic, me and you Aliff are treated equally under the law of FutileGod here, because if my name was Aliff, I too would have to wear clown make-up on my face at all times. Personally, I don’t understand the reasoning behind this law, but who are we to challenge the master plan and “objective morality” of FutileGod? We cannot comprehend Her greatness! So, get putting your make-up on, as is your natural inclination, having been born “Aliff”.

When you told me that I would be free to marry the woman that I love even if she’s Muslim, as long as I convert to Islam, or that you’d be free to marry a non-Muslim, as long as she converted to Islam, and that this meant you and I are treated equal; you were right! According to FutileGod, you are absolutely free to marry the person that you love, that you wish more than anything to spend your life with, who you would do anything for; as long as you swear allegiance to FutileGod and publicly announce that Muhammad was a fraud. You are not oppressed by this, because if I want to marry the person that I love, they’d have to do the same. Equality!

Also, FutileBook Chapter 7 verse 2:

“And so it was heard, FutileGod said: “ISMA is banned. It is the unnatural work of FutileShaytan, working to destroy civilisation! Members of ISMA must leave immediately, and accept the authority of FutileGod.”

– I hate to contradict you when you said that Islam “constitutes civilisation” by dictating what is right and wrong, but the one true God says that your group is the work of FutileShaytan. Who are we to argue with the TRUTH? (that’s right! Not only does FutileBook say it’s the truth, I also capitalised the word ‘truth’! How can you deny it now?) I trust you will be renouncing your membership immediately, after this unambiguous divine revelation.

When you said that you and I will be treated equally under the law of Allah in an Islamic state, and that means you don’t get privileged after all; you were right! Under the true state of FutileGod, I will be punished, the same as you if I read a Qur’an (the punishment is death, by the way) because reading the Qur’an is against the word of FutileGod, who forbids it. Therefore, this clearly means that you (as a Muslim likely to want to read the Qur’an) are entirely equal to me (as a non-Muslim, unlikely to care much for reading the Qur’an) under the law, when it comes to our FutileGod given rights. And so, neither of us are privileged or oppressed. Great! So put down the Qur’an, or the state has a right to execute you. I’m glad we agree on this.

When you said that I’m free to believe whatever I want, as long as it is in accordance with your God’s rules; you were right! But not according to your God’s rules (as we have seen, your God is not the true God), but according to the rules of FutileGod. So, you’re absolutely free to believe in Islam, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rules of FutileGod, including the prohibition on reading the Qur’an. Oh, and the name “Muhammad” is banned from being spoken. I find this particular rule a little harsh, but who are we to judge the moral goodness of the one true FutileGod? Any claim that this is a harsh rule, is a man made claim, and so not legitimate. We must follow our creator FutileGod’s laws, as this is our natural disposition. Note; if I say “Muhammad”, the state will punish me too, so you and I are both equal under the law, meaning you are not oppressed by this.

When you said that we must not cross taboos, including “offending” Islam in the “name of freedom and liberty”; you were right! If you deny the legitimacy of FutileGod – and of my right to power – over your life, you have offended FutileGod, and so must be punished. The right to criticise or mock powerful man-made ideas and ideologies is one thing, but to mock, or criticise FutileGod in anyway, we believe to be a grave FutileSin, an abuse of ‘free speech’ which must be punished. We, however, reserve the right to believe and to publicly speak the word of FutileGod, even when it “offends” or threatens you.

So, to recap; you were right! FutileGod does not restrict your liberty at all. You’re free to wear whatever you want, as long as for women it isn’t a hijab, or niqab (those crazy women, distracting men). You’re free to change your name, if you don’t want to wear clown make-up forever. You’re free to marry the person that you love, as long as you renounce Islam and publicly shame Muhammad. You’re free to have any eye colour you want, as long as it isn’t the eye colour you currently have (that eye colour, is from FutileShaytan and resulted in the historically accurate destruction of FutileSodom). You’re free to believe whatever you want, as long as you don’t read the Qur’an or say “Muhammad”. You must also immediately leave ISMA. You are free to express yourself, but not to “offend” FutileGod. To break any of these rules, the state should punish you. How can you not see that FutileGod is liberating you?

Alternatively, we could both accept that your right to your own life, does not end where my religion begins. We could both accept that my belief in FutileGod must only apply to my life. Not to yours. And once we accept that, by extension we accept that your belief in Allah must only apply to your life. Not to mine. The state therefore should remain neutral, privileging neither my belief nor yours, and ensuring – through civil, secular protections – that your liberty is not injured by my belief – regardless of how deeply held that belief is – in FutileGod. That all authoritarian ideas must be open to criticism, satire, ridicule, especially where they seek to control the lives of others. This is how to constitute a diverse and free society.

I hope this helps.



God does not love you.

May 11, 2014

'The Sacrifice of Isaac' by Caravaggio.

‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’ by Caravaggio.

This morning I found a collection of old photos of family, and myself as a child. My mum has less of a 1980s Bon Jovi haircut going on these days, but nevertheless is still looking pretty similar, whilst my dad hasn’t changed a bit (though he has thankfully opted to ditch the three top buttons undone on his shirt these days). Another similarity between my parents of the ’80s and my parents of the 10s, is that neither were religious back then, and neither are religious today. And yet, the picture depicts my family all smartly dressed and me as a baby, on the day of my Christening into the Church of England.

I was baptised almost entirely because of my mother’s fear. Fear that if I died young, and the Christian God really did exist, there’s a chance He might send me to the pits of hell simply because a man in an old, elaborate crucifix shaped building hadn’t dunked my head in water. It is the hideous notion that a baby – far from obtaining the age in which they can reason – has angered God simply by existing. The sin of Adam, passed onto a completely innocent child, that now requires a bizarre ritual to cleanse, or eternal punishment. This is not a ‘love’ that any parent would wish to emulate and inflict upon their child, because it is not ‘love’ by any definition of the word.

The element of fear is doubtlessly a factor driving people to baptise not only their children, but themselves, in times of danger. In 2003, the Chicago Tribune posted an article entitled: “Facing uncertain fate, troops line up for Baptism”. It includes a quote from Cpl. Jason Irving, that reads:

“If I don’t get to see them again here on Earth, I want to make sure that I am all right with God, so I can see them in heaven.”

– The implication being that if his head is not dunked in water, there’s reason to suspect that the God of Christianity will forever keep him apart from his children in an afterlife. For myself growing up through years of school prayers, and hymns, hearing stories of what seemed to be good people destined for hell, the “love” of the Christian God seemed confusing at best, and today it seems absurd to me to claim that God loves you.

If we are to start from the premise that God is the single, infinite cause of everything (which apparently, doesn’t encompass ‘everything’, if we play by the illogical features of the commonly utilised cosmological argument), and thus has full control over all of His creation, then it seems self evident to me that human beings, and every living creature on the planet, are just small parts of a rather grotesque game. We are ‘valued’ as a pawn on a chess board might be valued, and sacrificed, and discarded, in a game of chess that God is playing against himself. We have no choice but to be chained to this game, to follow rules that are completely His invention, for a supposed ‘higher purpose’ that He created and has the full ability to achieve without the suffering He inflicts, and all appear to be for no other reason than to stroke His ego by insisting upon unquestioned worship and reverence – like a slave holder – on fear of eternal punishment.

The Christian God offers us His ‘love’ at the small price of suspending all of our natural faculties of reason – something He endowed us with in the first place. We are a species that values criticism and doubt in order to progress. Indeed, criticism and doubt are the essence of reason. God must have been aware of the cruelty of this. Like dangling bread in front of a starving child, and threatening to punish him if he eats it. We do not then get to claim we had a higher purpose all along. It is not ‘love’, it is blatant cruelty.

The disciple Thomas – as described in John – seems to have been a very wise, reasonable and curious man. He was not convinced by the other disciples that Jesus had returned from the dead, and so rightfully demanded proof. Thomas thus reflected the curiosity of Adam and Eve, forever punished for wishing the freedom to learn and to question according to our natural curiosity. If there’s one thing that oppressive power structures do abundantly well, it is policing thoughts and expression, for their own ends. Later, Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him his hand and side wounds in order to provide Thomas with the evidence he demanded. Upon seeing the evidence, Thomas is convinced. Jesus says:

“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

As with Genesis, Jesus seems to be condemning doubt, and blessing unquestioned belief. Thus, both Genesis and Jesus (according to the Gospel of John) punish humanity for our natural condition, whilst demanding the suspension of that natural condition in order to achieve his blessing. A sick and completely unnecessary game of abuse. We are not free if our minds are chained. A worthwhile teacher does not teach children to believe exactly as they’re told without evidence. A worthwhile teacher inspires curiosity and a yearning for knowledge, to engage their natural desire to understand without bias or dogma. There is no love in demanding unquestioned obedience. It seems to me that if we are to indulge our curiosity and inquire into the nature of God’s ‘love’, and it is a love we identify with, it is all the more stronger if backed up with evidence, rather than a claim of ‘love’ that we are demanded to accept without question. The latter suggests that God may be a little insecure about his concept of ‘love’.

After endowing humanity with curiosity, the ability to reason and to doubt, and yet failing to recognise that we might use that natural disposition to question His demands, God sets out to fix it. In order to correct His mistake (the mistake of a seemingly unintelligent designer), He refuses to accept any responsibility, and chooses instead to violently torture to death a 1st century Palestinian Jew, and claim it was all for us. Christians today tend to argue that this was a heartbreaking ‘sacrifice’ for God to have made. To me, it seems the opposite. A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if the ‘victim’ rises three days later, walks around for a while, and ascends to heaven to join God as a judge for eternity. And again, this is all part of His design, His game, nothing and no-one else is responsible, it is all Him. Any deviation from his apparent plan, reflects His inability to think and plan ahead. But he can’t accept that, He refuses to accept responsibility for his dreadful workmanship, and instead punishes his creation for it. A victim blaming mentality. Indeed, absolving sins requiring a torturous death, is also His concept, His broken rules, and His idea of a fitting punishment, no one else thought this up. He may just as easily have told us that forcing Jesus to wear sandals that are too big for his feet, is the punishment required to absolve our sins. It’s all his silly little game, not ours, we didn’t ask for this badly planned dictator-like game. And what a stunningly ineffective punishment the sacrifice of Jesus to atone for sins was, given that Christians spent the next 1700+ years killing each other, forcing conversions, and building oppressive empires. It spawned just as bad, if not worse oppression, than it replaced.

All of this, a few centuries after asking Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion, before stopping him at the last minute. What needless and self indulgent cruelty to inflict upon a child. In the years between Abraham and Jesus, God chooses to make Jephthah follow through on his promise to sacrifice his child in return for victory in battle, rather than renegotiating a far less horrific deal, thus freely choosing to violate the sacred life of a completely innocent young girl. This is a God that appears to think that showing love and devotion, is intrinsically linked to torturing and murdering family members. Appeasing a problem that He created in the first place, is apparently redeemed not by accepting that His plan may not have been the most wisely conceived plan in history, but by the suffering of others; whether Adam and Eve, their progeny, Isaac, Jephthah’s daughter, Jesus, or the rest of mankind; we are all liable to be punished for His mistakes.

The predictable answer from Christians, is that we cannot know God’s love. It is a divine ‘love’ beyond our limited understanding. We are finite beings unable to conceive of the love God has for his creation. I find this to be a cop out. After all, God must know that this World is all we know, and so it would make sense for his dealings in the material World, to be sympathetic and sensitive to our condition in order to cause us the least suffering and pain. Instead, He is fine with intervening according to His own standard, knowing the suffering and pain it causes His subjects. God must be aware that by way of its cruelty, the ‘love’ he offers, is a love that no reasonable person would strive to emulate with people that we love. And in fact, in many cases – human sacrifice as a sign of devotion for example – if we were to emulate His divine standard as reflected in His example to us, we’d be condemned to Hell.

To conclude, even if we discard the horror of God’s ‘love’ for us, it would still seem to me that a finite human being, with such precious little time on this Earth, offering to spend that time loving you for just being you, is a far greater love than an infinite being, unrestricted by time, offering to love you or torture you depending on how well you adhere to His list of demands. A human being’s love for another human being, is therefore greater than God’s ‘love’ for humanity. To the Christian God, you are simply an ant struggling to survive, and God has his foot hovering just above your head, waiting to crash down upon you if you do not sufficiently beg him not to. God does not love you, God tortures you.

Secularism VS Islam – Terry Sanderson VS Abdullah al Andalusi

May 7, 2014

I recently watched this debate between Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, and Abdullah al Andalusi of the Muslim Debate Initiative:

Around the 9:20 mark, Abdullah al Andalusi argues that same-sex marriage, is in fact anti-secular, in that it imposes humanist values on society. I will use this brief article, to point out the flaw in his logic:

“Recently there was a discussion about gay marriages and they said that it should be allowed. That gay marriages should be allowed, and so on. But that’s actually not the state being neutral to the issue of how humans should organise themselves. The state is now saying that marriage now means something, that we’re going to give it a different value or a different meaning to it a and now we’re going to implement this as law. This issue of same gender marriage is an example of the state getting involved in the issues of society. And now that they try to teach in school… to children [he says this in a tone that suggests disgust]… that gay marriage is an acceptable life path, that is also getting involved in the values.”

– Contrary to al Andalusi’s assertion, legalising same sex marriage, and teaching kids that no single sexuality is privileged, is absolutely the state remaining neutral on matters of religious belief, by not permitting religious belief to interfere with civil and individual rights. This is not to claim that the state remains neutral on how a society should organise itself, simply that my liberty should not be at the mercy of your religious beliefs. It is the opposite of religious privilege. It is quite simple; secularism provides equal protection for all, establishing a line of equality, whereby no one individual belief permitted the privilege of controlling the life of another.

In the case of same sex marriage, it seems to me that there are two distinct options:

Firstly, the state concedes to the demands of a religious sect, permits a right – in this case marriage – to one specific group, and erects barriers to that same liberty for others. It is therefore a right the privileged few enjoy for themselves, whilst denying it for others. This is the opposite of secular, and completely unjustifiable, simply because the followers of a single religion have permitted themselves the privileged right to decide upon who gets the the same rights as they themselves enjoy. To injure the liberty of others, you must provide a reason that isn’t simply based on your belief. For example, I give up my liberty to steal from you, because I don’t want you to steal from me, and so we enshrine this mutual pact into law. To restrain the right to marry, for two loving and consenting adults who are not in anyway harming your liberty, whilst you yourself enjoy the right you seek to restrict for others, would be the equivalent of me presuming the privilege of banning you from your right to disagree with me, whilst I myself enjoy the liberty to disagree with you. This is how supremacist systems work; it is how racial supremacist systems operated, and it is how religious supremacist systems operate. It is by definition, oppression.

The second option is the opposite; if I enjoy a specific right – in this case, as a heterosexual man (and so, already privileged through much of history, for no justifiable reason) – I have no inherent right to prevent your equal enjoyment of the same right. To do so, would be to presume I am deserving of a privilege that a homosexual person isn’t. To presume this, requires ideology, or in this case, religion. For the state to stay neutral, it must not grant me the privilege that I seek to enjoy a liberty whilst denying it others according to my religious beliefs. This is equally true for you, and does not impose itself upon your liberty. You – as a religious individual opposed to same sex marriage – still have the exact same rights you’ve always had, and are not forced to live according to anyone else’s dictates. Afford others the same. The state breaking down the barrier to sexuality equality, is not the same as the state oppressing a single right of yours. You lose nothing that you could justify keeping, when the state opens the cage door and frees those that your religion has locked inside for far too long. To put it simply, one of these options is to chain the right to life, to your individual belief. The other, is to free people from the chains of your individual belief. The latter, is how the state remains neutral, not the former.

On the issue of education; no one is claiming that the state is not ‘getting involved in the values’ of society. The value is simple; no single religious belief is permitted a privileged state position, including the privilege to institutionalise through state education, the dehumanising of human beings (including children in that room) that they dislike, simply because according to ancient myth (and not reality), God destroyed Sodom. You are fully entitled to that belief, you just aren’t entitled to make life hell for the group you personally dislike. To highlight this concept another way; in a classrom, Child A is not allowed to strike Child B, despite Child A believing he has an inherent right to strike Child B but that Child B has no right to strike him back. Child A believes the teacher should permit him the right to strike Child B, but that he himself should be protected from Child B invading his own liberty not to be struck. The restriction of Child A’s demands for privilege, does not qualify as the teacher not being neutral. It is the opposite.

I’m sure we’d both agree that the state shouldn’t be educating children to believe that being Muslim according to one’s free conscience is not an acceptable lifestyle path, if someone in the country has a God that tells them Muslims are evil. This would be the state privileging other beliefs, and oppressing Muslims. Or that having blue eyes is not an acceptable lifestyle path, because someone in the country has a God that tells them people with blue eyes are evil. This would be the state privileging all other eye colours, and oppressing those with blue eyes. Similarly, ensuring that children are not taught that heterosexuality is inherently ‘right’, whilst homosexuality inherently ‘wrong’, is the very essence of a secular education. In the same way that the state doesn’t teach that being white is inherently ‘right’, and any other ethnicity inherently ‘wrong’. To do so would be to provide state privilege based solely on the personal belief of those seeking the privilege.

The state remains neutral, by its line of equality, ensuring no child is inherently deserving of discrimination simply on account of sexuality, ethnicity, gender, or belief, where it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of others, and so allowing the individual talents of that child to be free from religious oppression. It is the protection of all, from all. This is secularism.

This is where it seems – like many Theists – Abdullah al Andalusi does not understand secularism.