Take a Left to Corbyn’s Hamas.

July 14, 2015

There is increasingly a bizarre section of the Left that often fights so hard in Western countries for equal rights and for the fall of oppressive power structures, but that completely abandon those principles if the abusers of those principles happen to dislike Israel or the US. Indeed in this case, the hatred for Israel is so penetrating that liberal values are shelved in order to join hands with those with an equal hatred for Israel regardless of motives or aims. The values of the enemy of the enemy are either pushed aside entirely, or excuses are made for them, highlighting wonderfully that which Bertrand Russell referred to as the fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed. Jeremy Corbyn did this in 2009 shown in the video above, in which he – now famously – refers to Hamas as his friends.

Corbyn was scrutinised on these hideous comments last night by Krisnan Guru-Murphy, whereby he deflected blame onto the media outlet for doing their job by scrutinising him – a man standing for leader of a Party, and hoping to be Prime Minister – rather than Israel. He goes on to insist that he only meant that Hamas should be brought to the table for discussions on peace. Which is of course contradicted, given that in the same video from 2009 a few moment later, Corbyn goes further and comments on their principles by insisting that Hamas are – and yes, he seriously says this – dedicated to “social justice” and “peace“. On Channel 4, Corbyn when questioned says:

“The wider question is Hamas and Hezbollah are part of a wider peace process. Even the former head of Mossad says that there has to be talks involving Hamas.”

– A wonderfully creative deflection; simply tell the interviewer what he should be saying in order to take attention away from yourself. I’m sure when you’re scrutinised for claiming an organisation dedicated to re-establishing a Theocracy over the entire region, is rabidly homophobic, and teaches kids to hate Jews.. is actually “dedicated to social justice“…. the ‘wider discussion’ becomes one in which attention is deflected from you.

One wonders which of his friends in Hamas are committed to “social justice” and “peace“. Perhaps it was Hamas’ former Minister for Culture Atallah Abu Al-Subh, who gave a sermon in which he states:

“The Jews are the most despicable and contemptible nation to crawl upon the face of the Earth, because they have displayed hostility to Allah.”

– Or perhaps he’s close friends with those beacons of social justice over at Hamas’ Ministry of Refugee affairs, when asked to comment on the UN’s plan to include teaching the horror of the holocaust to Palestinian refugee children:

“We cannot agree to a programme that is intended to poison the minds of our children…Holocaust studies in refugee camps is a contemptible plot and serves the Zionist entity with a goal of creating a reality and telling stories in order to justify acts of slaughter against the Palestinian people.”

– Or perhaps he enjoys a friendly chit-chat with Hamas MP Ahmad Bahr, who – dedicated to “peace” as he most definitely is – said:

“If the enemy sets foot on a single square inch of Islamic land, Jihad becomes an individual duty, incumbent upon every Muslim, male or female. A woman may set out (on Jihad) without her husband’s permission, and a servant without his master’s permission. Why? In order to annihilate those Jews. Oh, Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters.”

– Everyone knows we liberals should support anyone who believes land is to be owned and controlled by one single religion, that women require permission to go out the house, that servants and master’s is an acceptable social hierarchy, and the death of anyone who doesn’t fit its narrative. It’s “social justice” after all. Or perhaps Corbyn is really close friends with Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar, a man who in 2005 described his theocratic dream:

“We are part of Allah’s promise that Islam will enter Palestine and every home in the world, with a revelation of the power of Allah the Omnipotent, and a revelation of the inferiority of the infidels. Hamas is leading this plan in Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1948 territories, and the Muslim Brotherhood is leading it everywhere else. This is part of Allah’s predestination.”

– This, by the way, is the same Mahmoud Zahar whose idea of “liberation” doesn’t extend beyond his own sexuality, referring to the LGBT community as:

“…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

– The LGBT community of Palestine – completely abandoned by people like Corbyn – who are just as Palestinian, as anyone else there, just as entitled to civil protections and human rights, are obviously not to be considered in this “liberation” movement for Palestinians, given that in April 2011, Hamas’s Al-Aksa TV presented Syrian Writer Muhammad Rateb al- Nabulsi, who grotesquely said:

“Homosexuality involves a filthy place, and does not generate offspring. Homosexuality leads to the destruction of the homosexual. That is why, brothers, homosexuality carries the death penalty.”

– Back to Mahmoud Zahar. Zahar who spoke at the funeral of suicide bomber responsible for the murder of four people Reem Riyashi (an attack that attracted widespread criticism in Palestine, including by her own brother-in-law) to say:

“She [first Hamas woman suicide bomber] is not going to be the last because the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic flag is raised, not only over the minarets of Jerusalem, but over the whole universe.”

– This, by the way, is the same Mahmoud Zahar – co-founder of Hamas – who explained what it is he doesn’t like about Israel, and reflected the words of Hamas’ Charter:

“We don’t recognize the state of Israel or its right to hold onto one inch of Palestine. Palestine is an Islamic land belonging to all the Muslims.”

– If Jeremy Corbyn was any sort of liberal, democratic, secularist, he would denounce Hamas as a theocratic organisation using terror as a means to an end. That end being the submission of the entire region for the privilege of one sect of one religion. A homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic death cult that cannot and will not rest until the land and everyone in it is wholly owned by a religious sect of thugs. To call them his “friends” is one thing, but to misrepresent them as dedicated to “social justice” and “peace” is a betrayal of both liberal principles, and the human beings who would – and do – ultimately suffer at the supremacist hands of terrorist groups like Hamas.


Corruption aside….

April 24, 2015

Sometimes it’s better just to admit you might have backed the wrong man. You might have made poor excuses for him, and you might have been taken in by his manipulations. Unfortunately, humans have a great deal of pride, and so it was inevitable after the Election Commission found former Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman guilty of election fraud yesterday, that his ardent apologists would be trying to salvage their misguided – and frankly wrong – picture-esque view of a man found to be using religious intimidation, and vote rigging to win power. So I thought I’d share some of the desperation of those who cannot quite bring themselves to admit they might have been too quick to cry Islamophobia:

Predictably Mo Ansar is convinced of a shady conspiracy of fear involved:

moansar

The leader of the shady conspiracy, is of course, Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who rightfully documented Rahman’s dealings over the years:

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– “Corruption aside“. Let’s just put aside the fact that the allegations of corruption turned out to be true, put that aside guys, move on. If not; Islamophobia.

Critics of Rahman have now for years been dismissed as ‘Islamophobes’, for basic scrutiny of a public official. If one was to highlight Rahman’s backing from the Islamic Forum of Europe (working for “Islamic social, economic and political order”) and the diverting of funds to IFE fronts, they did so because they’re ‘Islamophobic’. Legitimate scrutiny had been reframed as racist. Ansar continuing that now false narrative, highlights the intellectual bankruptcy of Rahman’s apologists.

Lee Jasper of the ironically titled Respect Party played the Galloway-game of invoking Western imperialism to explain away misdeeds:

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– The implication is that Rahman was never to be given a fair trial. An oppressed victim of the megalithic colonial, racist, judge. If you’re playing apologist bingo at home, you will only need “neo-cons!” to get a full house. Keep a look out for that one.

Ansar and Jasper are not the only ones to imply that the suspicion that Rahman was far less than admirable was in fact an ‘Islamophobic’ colonial smear campaign. Back in 2010, Mehdi Hasan gleefully wrote:

hasan
– This was in response to some of the excellent work Gilligan did investigating the shady dealings Rahman had taken. For example, Gilligan helped to document – and rightly so, given that he’s a journalist, and Rahman isn’t immune to scrutiny – Rahman’s links to the Islamic Forum of Europe. He further reported on the awful campaign leaflet from the Rahman campaign that included the false claim that his opponent – Helal Abbas – was a ‘wife beater’. One wonders if Hasan was equally appalled at the amount of time Gilligan spent investigating claims of the ‘sexed up’ Iraq dossier a decade ago. I suspect not.

Cage – famed for blaming Mi5 for Islamists beheading aid workers – joins Jasper in suspecting a racist element, and have now decided that it isn’t Rahman’s fault at all. He’s actually the victim of neo-con (BINGO!) ‘white supremacists’:

cage
– Unsurprising from CAGE, whose managing director – Muhammad Rabbani – was once a senior activist for the Islamic Forum of Europe. But an utterly absurd comment nonetheless. The implication is that Andrew Gilligan and others like him investigated Rahman, because of his ethnicity, and not at all because he was running one of the most appallingly corrupt and aggressive campaigns in a very long time. Perhaps the fact that he turned out to be corrupt, was just a coincidence.

The absurd claim of ‘white supremacy’ was dismissed by one of the petitioners who had called for the Mayoral election to be declared void. Azmal Hussain said:

“The people who have really suffered are ordinary people of all races who were supposed to accept corruption because it comes from someone claiming to be against racism. It is corruption, pure and simple, and it should be challenged.”

Cage then went on to retweet a comment by Moazzam Begg (but narrated by Middle East Eye during a debate on radicalisation) that I’m still yet to fully comprehend:

Cage2
– Bizarrely, this implies that full scrutiny of corrupt officials, if they’re Muslim officials, increases the chance of radicalisation. Is this to be considered true for all different forms of identity? Does investigating corruption in the Catholic Church lead to more Catholics becoming radicals? Perhaps Woodward & Bernstein should be dismissed as Republicanophobes radicalising US Republicans. It is as if the book shelves of Hizb ut’Tahrir across the World have replaced Qutb’s rantings, with the journalism of Andrew Gilligan to inspire the resurrection of the Caliphate.

The tone is one of complete denial, that usually comes accompanied with deflecting blame. From Mo Ansar’s implied shady conspiracy, to claims of colonialism and white supremacy, the narrative is designed to paint Rahman as an innocent victim of an undefined ‘Islamophobia’, because to accept that they might have been wrong, is to accept that the victim narrative up until now had been entirely misjudged. So the charade has to continue. Indeed, the tone is a sort of inability to comprehend the idea that trying to couple legitimate scrutiny, with anti-Muslim hate – under the umbrella term ‘Islamophobia’ and then further building on that flawed idea with absurd shouts of white supremacy and radicalisation – will, as cases like this highlight, inevitably prove to be an entirely false narrative. The ‘supremacy’ is not in subjecting officials (or doctrine for that matter) of a particular faith to scrutiny, the ‘supremacy’ is in fighting to protect those officials & doctrine from scrutiny, because they’re of a particular faith.


“The sun has perished”: The creative myths of an eclipse.

March 20, 2015

600px-Sun_and_Moon

A couple of days ago, Pastor Mark Biltz – in 2015 – warned that the solar eclipse – a natural phenomena that we can predict and understand – was actually a sign from God, warning humanity. Biltz, using what can only be described as flawless logic, said:

“When we look at where the darkness will be, it will be in northern European countries like England and Sweden where we see the rise of Islam and anti-Israel sentiment.”

– That’s right. An eclipse that would have happened anyway, actually happened because there’s a few Muslims in England. If we can say anything about God, it’s that His ‘signs’ are often very ambiguous, and irritatingly – for His devout followers – far better explained scientifically. The creative rethinking of Pastor Biltz when it comes to natural event is not unique to a few devout believers, but the gap in which supernatural explanations reside is growing ever smaller.

The racecourse not too far from my house, has for the past 24 hours been streaming with stargazers, waiting to catch a cloudless glimpse of the solar eclipse; the moment the Sun blocks out the light of the Sun, and for a brief moment our city is plunged into darkness. Driving home tonight, I passed several amateur astronomers picking out the perfect spot. Today we watch the universe, not for the mystery of the unknown, but for the beauty of reality. Science has allowed us to understand a natural phenomena, that has a wonderfully creative history in the minds of humanity. With the Sun having long been considered a source of life, it is not surprising that most myths used to explain a solar eclipse, were more often than not, based on fear.

Babylonians were so fearful of eclipses, they would protect the King by placing a substitute King on the throne at the time of an eclipse, just in case. Over in ancient Greece, Homer’s Odyssey may perhaps be referring to an eclipse when it says:

“The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world.”

– Several centuries later – around 500bc – the Greeks developed a method to predict eclipses, and Hipparchus used an eclipse to predict the distance between the Earth and the Moon to only 11% away from the distance as understood today. Similarly, The Vikings interpretation of an eclipse, was based on fear. The Vikings believed two wolves – Skoll and Hati – were chasing the Sun and Moon, with an eclipse occurring whenever a wolf caught up with either celestial body. Vikings would bang drums, scream loudly, throw rocks, and make as much noise as possible in order to scare the wolves away. A few centuries later, when King Henry I died just after an eclipse in 1133ad, the country was sure it was a sign from the heavens. Much like Pastor Biltz, the Islamic website onislam takes the fear of eclipses into the 21st century and gives the myth a bit of an update when they say:

The Muslim reaction to lunar and solar eclipses can be summarized as follows:
1. Solar and lunar eclipses are reminders of the Day of Judgment, when the sun, moon, and stars will all lose their light.
2. Being a reminder of the Last Day, the eclipse is a time for Prayer, charitable acts, and generally remembering Allah and seeking His forgiveness.

– The eclipse itself is no longer directly linked to a myth in itself, but instead, is based on the larger myth of Islam in general. This is perhaps the difference between the ancient myths – that tended to have the Moon and Sun as personified objects fighting or being chased (Willcox and Littman’s book “Totality” explores this idea further) – and monotheistic myths – that tend to be linked to the overall faith, manipulated by an outside force. In the Islamic example, an eclipse is encompassed into the Islamic narrative, without first proving the basis of the Islamic narrative to be true. It is in essence absolutely no different to Vikings believing in hungry celestial wolves.

A wonderful trait of human-kind, is our natural desire to understand. We look in wonder at the sky, at the Earth, at the seas, and we need to know how it all works. To this day, religious folk will remind you to ‘just look around’ if you inquire as to why they believe a God exists. When we don’t understand, we create often wonderful quick-fix myths, adding more mystery to the actual original mystery. Creative and ingenious myths grew up around natural phenomena, later becoming religions in themselves. The scientific method has grounded our desire to understand, in reality, distinguishing what we’d like to be true, with what is actually true. To continue to insist upon adding a supernatural agent to an explainable natural event, is to complicate nature, with unnecessary and unanswerable questions for the sake of preserving the religious narrative and ultimately its power structure. The wonderful thing about the abandonment of such myths, is that the reality is often far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than the myth.


God: The ‘fine tuning’ problem.

March 3, 2015

fine tuning, atheism

“One does not have to appeal to God to set the initial conditions for the creation of the universe, but if one does He would have to act through the laws of physics”.
– Stephen Hawking.

At first glance, one may be forgiven for presuming that the physical constants that make up our universe, are clear evidence for a very precise designer. Paley argued as much with his watch. In these more enlightened times, the physicist and author Victor Stenger, writing in ‘The Fallacy of Fine Tuning‘ wonderfully dismantles the presumptions that inform the ‘classical proof’ using the physics itself. Supporting Stenger’s critique – and far more in keeping with the theme of this article – is the “The God Argument” by A.C Grayling. In it, Grayling provides a simple, rational dismantling of the fine turning argument, that coupled with Stenger’s critique, must surely put an end to the use of the argument as evidence for the existence of a creator.

To highlight the problem with the fine tuning argument for the existence of God, Grayling states that if his great-great-great grandparents had not lived the exact life that they had, had they lived ever so slightly differently, circumstances would perhaps not have permitted his own life. The intense number of coincidences that are required to line up in order to result in the life of A.C Grayling, are amazingly unlikely…. in retrospect. And yet, one would not suggest that the history of Grayling’s family was specifically finely tuned to arrive at his life. The fine tuning argument for the existence of a creator is retrospective in exactly the same way.

The point Grayling raises, is that it is both arrogant and irrational to believe the history of your family was specifically designed in order to produce you, looking back retrospectively, and simply because you exist. Similarly – and perhaps more so – it is arrogant and irrational to retrospectively argue that 14 billion years ago, the universe was ‘created’, took 9 billion years in order for the Earth to develop, an Earth that is uninhabitable in large parts and contains the ability for natural disasters to destroy life, alongside 99% of species since that time dying out, and humanity struggling to survive the harshest of conditions, just so religious philosophers can presume it was all designed with them in mind; a species that – in the context of the time scale of the universe – exists for such a short pin point of time. Indeed, life – human life – on planet Earth is such a small momentary blip in the history of vast open of space-time, that the universe seems anything but created with life at the forefront.

But I think even before we feel obliged to move on to the logical problems with the intricacies of the fine tuning argument, before we need mention Grayling’s family history, before we note that the vast majority of the universe – throughout time – is uninhabitable, we must note that the very premise of the argument in the first instance is in fact, self defeating in a couple of ways. Let’s assume for the moment that the ‘creator’ posited in the fine tuning argument is given the traditional attributes of the God of the Judeo-Christian traditions – omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence – it would necessarily follow that such a creator could ensure life existed for any possible tuning of the universe. If that creator could not create life to exist in any possible tuning of universe, it would at the very least suggest that the creator’s actions are dictated by the conditions of life – conditions that ‘He’ has no control over. Thus, the creator did not create life, life (as we know it, because we’re here) can exist with or without the ‘creator’, requiring only the conditions to be right. The ‘creator’ is thus defeated by the very fact that the natural laws that ‘He’ must adhere to in order for life to flourish are – by definition – greater than ‘He’ because they precede ‘He’.

But even that is one big step further than we need to take to discard the ‘fine tuning’ argument as self defeating. Indeed, if a creator did in fact create the conditions for the existence of intelligent beings, the creator must have done so – and thus, existed ‘Himself’ – in conditions that permit existence, other than the conditions that He has now created. The conditions for existence, thus exist prior to the creator. And so before we even discuss whether or not a creator should be able to create life to suit any and all possible universes, we must note that the conditions for existence must precede the creator.

If human life were transplanted from Earth, to 99% of the rest of the universe, it would instantly perish. Indeed, just outside of the boundaries of our own atmosphere, we encounter radiation that would kill us in an instant. If human life were transplanted to a past state of the Earth throughout most of its history, it would not survive. And so, it is no great exaggeration to say that the ‘fine tuning’ argument for the existence of a ‘creator’ is the weakest of all the classical ‘proofs’. It is self defeating, it depends largely on our bizarre assumption that the universe – largely uninhabitable and violently opposed to life – is created with us – a split second in cosmic time – in mind, and falls apart before we even have to analyse the actual cosmological constants that permit you to be sat reading this right now.


Charlie Hebdo & the importance of free expression.

January 15, 2015

For the most part, the response to the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, has been one of staunch solidarity with the values that separate the civilised from the barbaric. The freedom to express ones thoughts and ideas, the right to criticise and satirise ideas, the rule of law; values that were attacked that day in the centre of Paris. This includes the freedom for religious folk to believe and express ideas that I myself find incredibly offensive. But every so often, we hear voices referring to themselves as liberal, or as progressives, making excuses for the violence whilst trying desperately to insist that they’re not making excuses for the violence. As the new edition of Charlie Hebdo went on sale this week, with a picture of Muhammad on the front, Sky News apologised for showing it live on air, and several commentators referred to it as needlessly ‘provoking‘ Muslims. The excuses tend to start with a line like “There can be no excuse for murder, but….” followed by a tirade of victim blaming. For example, Mehdi Hasan’s obscene article for the Huff Post here in which he begins by suggesting it is those who pronounce “Je suis Charlie” who are playing an “us vs them” game, and then himself goes on to play that very game far better than anyone else, by manipulatively implying that Charlie Hebdo focused entirely on Islam, when in reality it mocks the Pope often, Judaism, and Christianity, along with political figures across the World… Here:

“And why have you been so silent on the glaring double standards? Did you not know that Charlie Hebdo sacked the veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet in 2008 for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark? Were you not aware that Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published caricatures of the Prophet in 2005, reportedly rejected cartoons mocking Christ because they would “provoke an outcry” and proudly declared it would “in no circumstances… publish Holocaust cartoons”?
Muslims, I guess, are expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren.”

– He must have been asleep (or, as he puts it “so silent”) when Charlie Hebdo printed this:

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– He must also not be aware that Catholic organisations have attempted to sue Charlie Hebdo on countless occasions for ‘offending’ them. So you see, contrary to Mehdi’s false game of us VS them, Islam is one in a list of ideas that Charlie Hebdo satirised. After this manipulation, Mehdi then proceeds to inform us that he isn’t sure why we’d feel the need to mock religions, but not the Holocaust. One being a 7th Century idea, the other being 6 million people murdered less than a century ago.

There are then several issues I take with the response outlined above. Firstly, I think it is vastly counter-productive. It implies that Islam is in some way different, and must be treated differently to other ideas, and that a protected space must be carved out specifically for one ideological framework of power (in this case, Islam), that no other system of belief is granted. That sort of subtle demand, is then backed by false narratives, like Mehdi’s. There was no anger or claims of racism when Charlie Hebdo mocked Catholicism. If Have I Got News For You mock conservatism, it isn’t usually followed by the suggestion that the show has ‘taken free speech too far’, nor Mehdi Hasan suggesting that Have I Got News For You should consider satirising 9/11 just for some balance. These ideas – Catholicism, conservatism, liberalism, Hinduism, capitalism – are all rightly granted no implied protection. Thus, they are considered on a level playing field, open as they should be, to criticism, mocking, and satire (despite the Pope’s bizarre insistence today that we shouldn’t ‘offend’ religious beliefs). There is no legitimate reason to protect religion – or a single religion – from the forms of criticism that all others are open to. It is in fact vital, that all religions – and in fact, ideas in general, be open to that criticism and mocking. Contrary to what detractors may assume – anti-Muslim hate (that is, the abuse of Muslims, the denial of rights, the demand for denial of equal rights, dehumanising) is not in any way to be compared with mocking the religion. One is violence aimed at human beings, the other is dis-empowering an ideological narrative, & system of morality. To conflate the two, is deeply problematic for a whole host of reasons, and the complete antithesis of secular, liberal inquiry and free expression.

In other words, it is not those of us who openly criticise, or mock Islam that create a taboo around that particular faith. On the contrary, we treat it like any other ideological framework of power. We do not seek to deny Muslims equal rights, we believe those who commit anti-Muslim hate, those who attack Mosques, are grotesque human beings lacking any sense of decency, and we will always defend equal rights & dignity for all, including Muslims. People deserve that, not ideas. Ideas must be open to critique and satire. It is those who seek to protect Islam from mockery (whilst themselves defending the freedom for the religious to continue to believe and express a belief in offensive ideas to the rest of us), that not only create a taboo out of the faith – hence, counter-productive – but also give credit to the extreme idea that one must be a little less forthcoming with our expression on one particular idea, if it might ‘offend’ believers in that one particular idea.

I would also suggest that it is a betrayal of those Muslim voices fighting for secular, liberal values, & free expression against a poisonous narrative within their faith, for liberals who should be on their side of the fight, instead choosing to give credit to the narrative on the extremes.

Secondly, it is a reflection of the authoritarian nature of a religion, when its followers suggest we should either unquestioningly respect the faith, or else keep quiet. Which, in turn, means it is vital that it be open to criticism and satire. If satirising that religion is even a matter of debate, it already has far too much power.

Indeed, your freedom to believe that non-believers are destined an eternity of violent torture in the pits of hell – alongside our apostate and LGBT friends – is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief. The freedom for Mehdi Hasan to refer to believers as keeping the moral high ground, whilst non-believers as those who “live their lives as animals“, is my freedom to express a distinct lack of respect for that particular moral anchor. Any less, implies that your belief that I am morally lacking, to be eternally tortured, is deserving of a level of unquestioning respect, that my objection (however I express that objection) simply isn’t. Further, if your religion – or political ideal – in any way, extends beyond the individual, to the lives of others (be it non-believers, apostates, the LGBT community) – not only in belief, and writing, but also in practice in many countries on this planet – then it is absolutely vital that that religion be open to the same criticism and satire as every other system of oppression. Indeed, the greatest indicator that a religion so desperately requires being opened up to free expression in all its forms, is if it can result in your murder for doing so.

Islam – like Christianity – is a system of power, regardless of how it is framed by those seeking to protect it. When it has any sort of political power, it is oppressive. This is why it is vital to stand up for the necessity of free expression. But on a purely individual basis; if your religion insists that I am to be burned for eternity in hell for non-belief, then I’m afraid you’re not going to get away with telling me that it is I who is the one being ‘offensive’ for mocking that belief. The freedom to express one, is the freedom to express the other.


France’s March for Unity: A who’s who of global oppression.

January 12, 2015

jesuischarlie, world leaders at french unity rally

It has always bewildered me the level of hypocrisy necessary to demand curbs on expression deemed ‘offensive’ to an Islamist ideological World-view that itself daily offends apostates, non-believers, women, Muslims that aren’t considered Muslim enough, and the entire LGBT community. Nevertheless, Paris was at the centre of the World last week when three gunman brutally murdered 17 human beings for publishing cartoons. France – including all sections of society – reacted in a show of unity, strength and respect for the fundamental right to free expression. But among the marchers were those who seem so entirely out of place. Indeed, Islamists were not the only ones to display hypocrisy this week in France.

The unity march – including 1.4 million people – through the streets of Paris included over 40 World leaders, some of whom, are not too keen on the fundamental human right to free expression:

Queen Rania of Jordan.
Linking arms with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Queen of Jordan presides over a country that is far from an advocate of free expression. In Jordan, if you happen to dislike the King, and you express that particular dislike, you can face up to three years in prison. Similarly, if you ‘insult’ Islam, you may face up to three years in prison (predictably, you may use the Qur’an to insult non-believers with threats of eternal torture). In 2006, two Jordanian journalists were imprisoned and fined for reprinting the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. In 2003, the newspaper Al Hilal was closed for two months and three of its journalists arrested for publishing an article discussing Muhammad’s sex life. In February 2009, student Imad al-Ash was arrested for sharing “controversial religious opinions” online, and sentenced to two years in prison.

Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it an offence to insult ‘Turkishness’. In 2008, this was changed from “Turkishness” to “The Turkish Nation”. It brings with it a two year jail sentence. Internet regulation from 2014 allows the Telecommunication and Transmission Authority to ban websites it deems inappropriate. This includes websites that ‘insult’ the state. In 2007, Turkey banned YouTube, for a video that insulted Ataturk. They demanded YouTube remove the video. Rightfully, YouTube refused. In 2008, richarddawkins.net was blocked in Turkey. In 2014 Tayyip Erdogan insisted he’d “wipe out Twitter”, and subsequently, Twitter was blocked.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Bill that includes three years in prison for ‘harming another person’s dignity‘ in a video or voice recording. This includes political satire. The law further makes it an offence to harm “the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra.
Algeria – that enshrines Islam as its state religion, and bans anyone from spreading any other religious idea, punishable with three years in prison – is run by its longest serving President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Under his rule, the newspaper ‘Le Matin’ was censored and closed down, and its journalist imprisoned for exposing corruption. Journalists can be fined for insulting foreign diplomats or politicians, under reforms the media law of 2012.
Article 144 ratified June, 2001:

“It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian Dinars — or, one of these two punishments only — whoever insults the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), any of the other Prophets, or denigrates the practices or rituals of Islam, regardless of whether it is through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.”

In 2006, 26-year-old Samia Smets was arrested and imprisoned (later overturned) for blasphemy for accidentally dropping a Qur’an into some water. At the 2008 Algiers Book Fair, the Ministry of Religious Affairs banned over 1000 books that they deemed to contain blasphemy. Al Jazeera was banned in 2004. Web services providers can be fined for granting access to sites that are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” It is bizarre to me that the Algerian government believes it has a monopoly on morality, and that ‘public opinion’ is a static concept free from challenge.

UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In 2008 three Filipino workers were imprisoned for ripping out a page of the Qur’an. Their right to work in UAE was revoked. Further, The Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information and Culture bans any books, leaflets, or in fact, any form of written literature, if it is deemed offensive to Islam. Access to websites supportive of democracy & secularism is prohibited.
Article 312:

“Shall be punishable by confinement and by fine or by one of these two penalties any individual who commitsany of the following offences:
1. Offence against any of the Islamic sacred things or rites.
2. To insult and revile any of the recognized divine religions.
3. To portray disobedience in a positive light, to incite thereto, to promote it or to procure any meanssusceptible of tempting people to disobey.
4. To knowingly eat porkmeat while being a Muslim.
Where any of the above offences is committed in public, the punishment shall be either confinement for aminimum period of one year or a fine.”

– Whilst UAE’s foreign minister marched in unity in France this weekend, back home it is illegal to dare to speak your mind, if your mind does not conform to the religious dogma of those who have taken it upon themselves to declare their beliefs supreme.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia.
The interim Prime Minister joined the march, and also signed the book of condolence at the French embassy in Tunisia on Saturday. This, despite the fact that Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was tried for insulting state officials and sentenced to three years by the military, for criticising the military on Facebook. Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice makes it an offence to criticise the “dignity, reputation and morale” of the army. In 2012 Jabeur Mejri was jailed for posting ‘insulting’ pictures of Muhammad on Facebook… or, as the the courts in Tunisia call it; “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order“. He was released in 2014 after two years in prison.

Whilst it was pleasing to see so many people stand together in defence of free expression during the Paris march for unity, it is equally worrying that so many World leaders linking arms that day operate incredibly oppressive restrictions including violence for criticism they can’t handle, perpetuating the notion that ‘blasphemy’ should be restricted & punishable, enshrining one religion into the framework of state, whilst so shamefully out in a show of unity for that same free expression they can’t themselves handle.


The nature of religious privilege…

December 29, 2014

On BBC local radio here in the UK after the Sydney cafe siege, the presenter had a conversation with a local Imam on the subject of religious extremism. The Imam reiterated that the attacker was a lone nut, who didn’t represent Muslims. The conversation was one of damage limitation and worry for Muslims who may be abused and attacked in the aftermath. The rise of anti-Muslim hate must be addressed – one would hope with the promotion of civil rights & protections for all – but I was unsure that the conversation on BBC local radio that day was particularly helpful, when at one point, the presenter insisted that ‘all religions promote peace and love‘. To begin from that uncritical premise – as if it is a matter of undeniable fact – is just as problematic as beginning from the premise that all religions are violent and oppressive. The problem of religious dogma – that is, the chaining of morality to a single time and place (usually very patriarchal, middle eastern tribal squabbles) – is suddenly dismissed, and other explanations for extremism take its place. The rise of ISIS was blamed on Blair, Bush, and the Iraq war, sometimes on Israel, but little attention payed to religious dogma. It is almost as if it is too uncomfortable to accept that such ingrained religious traditions & much loved religious ideas may present issues within themselves and autonomous of surrounding context. And so it is a distinct religious privilege, to free its problematic dogma from shouldering any blame for extremism, instead blaming everyone else for its problems. No other ideological framework of power has that privilege. But it isn’t the only privilege religions currently enjoy…

When the debate over same-sex marriage came up before Parliament last year, the only dissenting voices – and those who believed themselves to have the privileged right to tell others whom they can and can’t marry – were those of the religious. It is as if “it’s unnatural, because Leviticus says so” is a legitimate argument in a 21st century that has extensive knowledge of the natural spectrum of sexuality. It is therefore a religious privilege for Christians to believe that firstly they own the institution of marriage; Secondly, that they and they alone have the right to tell others whom they can and cannot marry based on discredited myths; and thirdly, that breaking the barriers to equal rights and freedoms regardless of sexuality, is an assault on Christianity.

It is breathtakingly delusional to believe that extending rights that you have always enjoyed, to those traditionally oppressed by your faith, is oppressing you. It is even more delusional to assume that the institution of marriage is a solely Christian, unchangeable institution. Hebrew society engaged in polygamy much of the time, it certainly wasn’t frowned upon. Monogamy in a marriage is a pretty new development. We know that the Mohammad married Aisha when she was 6 years old. In Ancient Rome, marriage was civil, it was not overtly religious. In India, if the bride was born when Mars and Saturn are “under the 7th house”, she is considered cursed and could end up murdering her husband. And so to break the curse, the bride must first marry a tree, the tree is then destroyed, and the bride is free from the curse forever. In the Tidong community in Northern Borneo, after marriage, the couple must not urinate for three days. Marriage is not official within the Neur tribe in Sudan, until the bride has had two children. It was only in 1967, that the US allowed interracial marriage. By 1910, Arizona, California, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah had all banned interracial marriage. And what was used to justify anti-miscegenation laws in the US? Of course it was the Bible. The destruction of all other concepts of marriage, to the benefit of just one concept – the Christian concept – and then attempting to ensure that single concept reigns supreme, is wildly oppressive to say the very least.

A couple of months ago on the Bill Maher show over in the United States, in a debate on extremism Sam Harris referred to Islam as the ‘mother lode of bad ideas‘. Consequently, actor Ben Affleck- also appearing on the show – referred to Harris’ statement as ‘racist‘. It is a curious criticism and one that had me considering the unique nature of religious privilege, the language that sustains it, and its lashing out – by among other things, demonising criticism – when challenged. It is a religious privilege to be able to claim racism at criticisms of an idea. As a secular liberal, I define racism as the institutional disenfranchising and denial of equal civil rights based on ethnicity. Language can & does of course further add to the perpetual dehumanising of an ethnicity. Also as a secular liberal, I believe all ideas must be up for inquiry, criticism, satire, and mockery. Religions are not immune to this, nor should they be. Racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a religion. Much like racism is not criticism, or even complete contempt for a political ideology. Further, and by implication, I would argue that if words that offend a religion are to be deemed racism, then equally words that offend non-believers must also be deemed racism. And so, left-leaning commentators like Mehdi Hasan would be deemed racist, for rants like:

“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”

– I am quite certain that if Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris had referred to all Muslims as ‘living like animals’, Hasan would be the first to call racism. Further, the New Testament, Old Testament, and Qur’an would be deemed incredibly racist books. Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with God explaining how great he is (a little arrogant), followed by a lovely little description of the fate that awaits those of us who have not been convinced that a God exists:

“[10:4] To Him is your return. This is Allah’s promise that will certainly come true. 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.”

– Whilst Sam Harris simply referred to a religion as a bad idea and was deemed racist for doing so, Holy Books go beyond criticism, and become threats of eternal torture for non-belief. This of course would also mean that the idea of a Caliphate – in which non-believers are barred from highest office – is institutionally racist. It would mean that South Carolina was institutionally racist when Herb Silverman ran for the post of Governor in 1992 but was discarded from the race for refusing to swear an oath to God. It took five whole years for the courts to rule in his favour. It is therefore a massive religious privilege to demand and expect respect for a book that threatens people like me, with religious institutions that disenfranchise anyone ‘outside’ of the religion, whilst yelling racism if I am to call that book the ‘mother lode of bad ideas’. If one is to be considered racism, so must the other.

Along with compulsory worship in schools, and a Monarch whom also happens to be head of the Church of England, it is a religious privilege in the UK, for over 25 Bishops to have a permanent position in the national legislature, as if they have some sort of natural right to consider legislation based solely on which invisible being it is they believe in. To be called ‘Lords Spiritual‘, as if spirituality is a supernatural phenomena consigned to the religious only. The perpetuation of privilege based on the bizarre belief that a deeper understanding of a very unproven deity somehow grants one a position to legislate above the rest of us. It is worth noting that no religious scholar has any more of an idea about what happens after we die, than the rest of us, and that filling in that gap in human knowledge with myths is a ‘science’ consigned to the history books in every other realm of human understanding, yet when it comes to this particular question, we put Bishops in the Lords for their adherence to 1st Century Palestinian myths. It is also worth noting that spirituality does not in any way require a belief in God, or an afterlife, and is a perfectly natural and human trait. Religious supremacy has no more place in a national legislature, than racial supremacy, sexuality supremacy or gender supremacy. The very fact that structures of religious supremacy are not treated with the same contempt as those of racial, or gender supremacy, is in itself, a vast privilege milked for every drop it is worth by those in positions of religious power.

Often, religious privilege is sustained by the powerful few, & the denial of many. Those who are so invested in their religion, refuse to accept that it might be flawed. Jumping back to the racism theme, not too long ago Twitter exploded in rage at Lady Gaga wearing a full face veil. The charge was that she – a white westerner – had ‘appropriated’ a cultural symbol of the Islamic east. It is a wildly hypocritical religious privilege to claim the veil for one religion, thus dismissing it from every other culture that has ever used the veil, whilst refusing to acknowledge that Islam has appropriated Christian & Pagan stories, Temple Mount, the Hagia Sofia, the Palestinian freedom cause (Palestinians are all who live there – not simply heterosexual Muslim men), every piece of land deemed to be “Muslim land” (no land belongs to a religion), and when Mo Ansar recently mentioned the French invading Muslim Tunisia in the 19th Century as an act of western imperialism, he neglected to mention that Tunisia was only “Muslim” by the 19th Century, because imperialist Arab Muslims had invaded it and established the Arab Aghlabids dynasty in the first place. It is a religious privilege to rewrite history by deflecting onto others, the often violent ‘appropriation’ of cultural symbols into its own black hole.

It is a religious privilege for Christianity to be so enshrined into state constitutions, that it requires a national constitution to protect everyone else:
Arkansas’ Constitution:

No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this
State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland Constitution, Article 37:

That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi Constitution, Article 14, Section 265:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State.

South Carolina Constitution, Article 17, Section 4:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee Constitution, Article 9, Section 2:

No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.

Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 4:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

The list of religious privileges is endless. It includes Jehovah’s Witness families torn apart if a member decides they don’t believe any more. It includes apostates dehumanised and abused for leaving Islam & then referred to as ‘Islamophobic’ if they dare to speak out. It includes women covered from head to toe so as to not arouse the apparently uncontrollable lust of men. It includes Uganda’s Christian Minister for Ethics condemning homosexuals to a life of fear, whilst insisting that the rape of young girls in his country is, and I quote:

“… the right kind of child rape. It is men raping girls and that is natural.”

– It includes Pakistan’s grotesque blasphemy laws that punishes the ‘offending’ believers, whilst institutionalises the ‘offending’ of non-believers. It includes the Boy Scouts of America prohibiting the inclusions of atheists and whose charter states:

“The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.”

– It includes ‘In God we trust’ and ‘One nation under God’ placed on US institutions in blatant disregard of the secular founding. It includes Iran murdering gay people because an ancient, unenlightened, out-of-date myth condemns homosexuality and is taught to impressionable young minds as truth – despite the fact that many of those young minds, will be gay – whilst neglecting to teach the actual biology and genetic base for sexuality. It includes all of these things causing little uproar, whilst a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, or a “There is no God” billboard on the side of buses causes the religious to insist that their faith is under severe attack. It is the moment the religion of one, extends to control the liberty of another. In short, the nature of religious privilege.