But Female Genital Mutilation is Cultural not Religious… a Response

A common line of apologism for religion in general and Islam in particular is to claim that an objectionable belief or behaviour be it witch hunts, honour killing, FGM (female genital mutilation)… is cultural not religious. For some reason this argument never seems to be used if the belief or behaviour under discussion is in any way admirable, apparently good stuff is due to religion bad stuff that’s culture.

That double standard aside there are other issues with this argument. One is that religion is both part of people’s culture and a major shaper of that culture. To many believers round the world this distinction between their ‘culture’ and their ‘religion’ would be completely nonsensical as their faith touches most aspects of their life.

Another is that just because a particular practice such as FGM has only a tenuous or even no scriptural justification that doesn’t mean it isn’t part of someone’s religion. Some Protestants like to criticise aspects of Catholicism which seem to have no apparent connection with the bible and so far as I can tell (with my admittedly fundamentalist protestant bible training) they seem to have a point. However this doesn’t stop every aspect of Catholic doctrine and practice from being religious.

This isn’t to say that everything any given individual or group of people do should blamed on or credited to their religion, it’s a specific rebuttal to the selectively narrow interpretation of ‘religion’ that apologists adopt when trying to distance a given faith from a given practice. Clearly there are any number of folk practices that have nothing to do with religion, and the practitioners acknowledge this. The argument here though is that if a given group of people think a tradition such as FGM is part of their religion, and practice it in accordance with that belief then we should treat FGM as part of their religion. Whether or not a clear justification for the practice can be found in scripture is irrelivant.

As it happens a fair few Muslims, both lay people and clerics, sincerely believe that Islam and FGM have everything to do with each other. They believe this so sincerely in fact that they mutilate their daughters in accordance with that belief and exort others to do the same. A prime exponent of this understanding of Islam Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem was recently brought to my attention when he was invited by Sheffield Hallam Islam Society to give a talk to them somewhat perversely on “Pearls of Islam– Position of Women in Islam“.

Mr Hakeem is quite clear that he believes that FGM is Islamic and in the scriptures:

If female circumcision si sunnah can you tell me if one of the wifes or daughter of the prophet was made it?

It is an issue of dispute among scholars. Some say that it is obligatory like males and some say that it is not permissible. the most authentic opinion is that it is recommended but it is neither mandatory nor forbidden.

As for thr daughters and wives of the Prophet salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam, we don’t have any information on this.

He expands upon that answer on his TV Show:

That’s right he has a TV show, sadly as his bio demonstrates he isn’t just some lone nutter but seems to have quite a following. Recent moves by Egyptian Islamist MPs to legalise FGM to repeal the ban on FGM further are further evidence of this school of thought within Islam.

So long as there are clerics and lay people who believe Islam mandates FGM and act on those beliefs then like it or not FGM is part of Islam. When it comes to things like stoning ‘adulterers’ and homosexuals, subjugating women, suicide bombing and other crimes against humanity that have widespread support within Islam, apologists never seem to tire of telling us that Islam isn’t monolithic. They give ‘Islamophobic’ critics lectures about how we should acknowledge the rich, diversity of beliefs within Islam. The apologists are right in that Islam is diverse and by no means do all muslims fall in with the Taliban or the Mullahs of Iran on what should happen to gays, adulterers and the role of women in society. I just wish the apologists would show a little consistency and acknowledge that Islam is anything but ‘monolithic’ when it comes to things like FGM as well.

Another popular apologist argument is that even though a fair few Muslims seem to believe FGM to be Islamic it isn’t because FGM is also carried out by non-muslims. Now the premise of that argument is certainly true, assorted non-muslim peoples in North Africa and the Middle East practice FGM. Everything which follows is problematic though; Since when did a belief or practice have to be unique to be an authentic part of a religion? By this logic avoiding pork isn’t Islamic because Jews do it as well.

Regardless of the why people do it FGM is a brutal practice that the world would be better off without so please take a moment to check out Amnesty International’s END FGM Campaign.

edit. It’s recently been drawn to my attention that the ever active Avaaz are currently running a campaign to  Stop female genital mutilation in the UK! so please sign their petition to encourage the government to act.


A medieval entry for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day #3 Sunday 20th May 2012

This Medieval Persian illustration apparently shows Mohammed leading Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayer, kind of like a medieval Super Best Friends. It’s kind of impressive how a single devotional Shia image can manage to simultaneously offend the sensibilities of Jews, Christians and Sunnis. Apparently though it’s fine for Shiites to produce ‘offensive’ images such as this, if an atheists draws a stick man Mohammed on the other hand…

An early entry for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day #3 Sunday 20th May 2012

An early entry for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day #3 May 20 2012.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day #3 Sunday 20th May 2012

This coming Sunday will be the 3rd annual Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, it doesn’t seem to have caught on so much this year so please get involved as the fight to defend freedom of expression from Islamist intimidation is far from won.

In early 2006 the carefully whipped up controversy around cartoons of Mohammed published in Jyllands-Posten a Danish newspaper dominated the headlines for months, the media in Britain, Canada and the USA extensively covered the events yet failed to show any of the images, deliberately leaving viewers and readers in ignorance of what all the fuss was supposed to be about.

I don’t think the cartoons are any good, in fact as with most editorial cartoons I think they’re rubbish. But approval or otherwise of the cartoons is not the point. The sad fact is that the demands, backed by both the implicit and explicit threat of Islamist violence. From (a portion of Sunni) Muslims that everyone else ‘respect’, which in this case seems to mean obey, their belief that Mohammed should no be artistically represented. Have had such a chilling effect effect that coverage of the biggest news story in the world at the time was singularly lacking in some not insignificant details. Anyone who like me wanted to know what all the fuss was about was forced to search the internet.

Not only did the British media not show the public the cartoons but sections of it actually gave voice to those condemning the cartoons:

Prejudiced Danes provoke fanaticism

Publishing Kurt Westergaard’s cartoon was an aggressive act born of Denmark’s reluctance to respect religious belief

This is the same guardian that habitually publishes cartoons like the one on the right, note that both the Pope and Jesus are featured. This is the Guardian that gave Jerry Springer the Opera a 4 star review. Now I agree that the Pope & Jesus are fit subjects for cartoons and that Jerry Springer the Opera was really rather good, even though I know both those things upset some Christians. I just don’t see why the same standard shouldn’t apply to Islam. The BBC showed Jerry Springer the Opera but didn’t show the cartoons.

Sadly this chilling effect isn’t restricted to the mass media, in 2009 Yale University Press published The Cartoons that Shook the World, by Professor Jytte Klausen. Yale University Press officials removed images of the cartoons and historical pictures of Mohammed from the book. Self censorship is just threatening freedom of press but that other pillar of liberal democracy, academic freedom as well.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day wasn’t actually directly inspired by the Danish cartoons but by the controversy surrounding South Park episode 201 which was in a large part about the controversy of depicting Mohammed. That episode provoked the seemingly inevitable death threats despite being censored and never actually showing that particular prophet, though numerous other religious figures & supposed deities were shown.

Islamists may be able to intimidate a few media outlets but they can’t possibly target 1000s of private citizens, so I urge you to like Everybody Draw Mohammed Day 3 may 20 2012 and post your drawing next Sunday. I’d also like to urge some restraint in what you draw, the point is merely to break the taboo on depicting this particular prophet, a stick man with a label would serve that purpose admirably without undermining the point the day is trying to make.

This is my favourite image from the original EDMD

Below is a drawing drawing of Mohammed that I’m responsible for. The drawing itself is obviously of the kind a disappointed parent would dutifully stick to their fridge if their 3 year old gave it them. However it’s unlikely that any such parent, disappointed as they may be, would actually find the drawing objectionable or ‘offensive’. Yet supposedly the addition of a mere label stating that the smiling stick man in question is Mohammed means that the image is so ‘offensive’, so ‘blasphemous’ that death is a fit punishment for having drawn it.

The Archbishop of Guam has an acute case of Fatwa Envy

What sufferers of Fatwa Envy wish their faith could still inspire.

‘Fatwa Envy’ is a terrific but underused term that describes a disorder which seems to be  increasingly prevalent amongst Christians. I first encountered it several years ago on Pharyngula. If a Christian has ever angrily responded to some point or other you’ve made against Christianity with “you wouldn’t dare say that about Islam” then they’ve suffering from Fatwa Envy. What they’re really saying is that “I wish that like Islam Christianity still had the ability to inspire murderous intolerance and had the cultural power necessary to make failing to show deference to Christianity the preserve of the brave and foolhardy. Why can’t it be like  it was back in the good old days when Christians had enough faith to burn heretics?” As it happens I do “say that about Islam” but the absurd over estimation of the dangers of criticising Islam in the West isn’t the subject here, Fatwa Envy is.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently felt the need to compose a hate-filled article opposing the government’s equal marriage plans in which he charmingly called them “grotesque” and confusingly compared equal marriage to legalising slavery. This reminded me of a similarly unhinged screed the Archbishop of Guam wrote and circulated back in 2009 when Guam was considering equal marriage. The letter is so crazed you feel the need to read through it a couple of times just to make sure you didn’t imagine it and it is far and away the most extreme case of Fatwa Envy I’ve witnessed. A PDF of the letter can be seen here, an OCRed version can be read here. I’ll be discussing excerpts from the letter below but I’d recommend you read the whole thing, it’s not that long and is a wonder to behold.

I’ll start with the section of the letter which just reeks of Fatwa Envy:

The culture of homosexuality is a culture of self-absorption because it does not value self-sacrifice. It is a glaring example of what John Paul II has called the culture of death. Islamic fundamentalists clearly understand the damage that homosexual behavior inflicts on a culture. That is why they repress such behavior by death. Their culture is anything but one of self-absorption. It may be brutal at times, but any culture that is able to produce wave after wave of suicide bombers (women as well as men) is a culture that at least knows how to value self-sacrifice. Terrorism as a way to oppose the degeneration of the culture is to be rejected completely since such violence is itself another form of degeneracy. One, however, does not have to agree with the gruesome ways that the fundamentalists use to curb the forces that undermine their culture to admit that the Islamic fundamentalist charge that Western Civilization in general and the U.S.A, in particular is the “Great Satan” is not without an element of truth. It makes no sense for the U. S. Government to send our boys to fight Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, while at the same time it embraces the social policies embodied in Bill 185 (as President Obama has done). Such policies only furnish further arguments for the fundamentalists in their efforts to gain more recruits for the war against the “Great Satan.”

The admiration for the ‘self-sacrificing’ nature of one of the most murderously intolerant regimes ever to have existed aside, it’s rather telling that whilst he might step back from endorsing suicide bombing as a means of furthering the Vatican’s dark age social agenda, the Archbishop doesn’t distance himself from the way Islamists “repress such behavior by death”.

The mind also boggles that someone could condemn homosexuality as “the culture of death” and then immediately go on to compare it unfavourably to Islamic Fundamentalism which is at least a “culture that is able to produce wave after wave of suicide bombers”. Now if the latter isn’t a ‘culture of death’ then what is?

One almost has to admire the gall it must take to at one moment endorse the notion that your country may indeed by the “Great Satan” and then the next try to adopt a patriotic note with talk of “our boys”.

The upfront admiration of the Taliban aside, the letter is your standard batshit insane religious right homophobic statement.

  • a belief that sex and marriage have only a single legitimate purpose namely procreation – check
  • a fixation on male homosexuality, sodomy and it’s supposed risks – check
  • no mention of lesbianism and the fact that it is the safest form of sexual activity – check
  • evidence of repressed homosexuality on the authors part – check
  • a hysterical belief that homosexuality and/or civil recognition of civil partnerships will somehow destroy society – check

The letter starts and repeatedly returns to the idea that:

marriage is a union of a biological couple who unite themselves until death so as to be able to put their mutual love in the service of life. In this view, conjugal love and the generation of children are so intrinsically connected that to attempt to separate them would end up destroying them both. Given this presupposition, it should be no surprise that the Guam Code recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman since only they are capable of the marital act that begets children.

The popularity of this argument amongst those opposed to equal marriage has always confused me as it is so obviously a false one. When I got married I wasn’t asked to prove my fertility or vow a firm intention to have children, procreation wasn’t mention at all in the ceremony. Infertile people are allowed to marry, post-menopausal women can marry, men who’ve had vasectomies and women who’ve had their ‘tubes tied’ can marry. Not only that but as a (so far as we know) fertile married couple we get free contraception from the NHS. As it happens in the near future we do intend to have children but that was in no way a condition of us being allowed to get married.

The Archbishop then doubles down on the “intrinsic connection with the begetting of children” in a side rant against contraception:

Firstly, the culture of contraception denied that marriage has any intrinsic connection with the begetting of children. One may legitimately separate out making love from making babies. Once this link was broken, the intelligibility of biological gender was lost. Once marriage was simply about making love, the necessity for limiting sexual relations to persons of the opposite sex no longer appeared convincing.

Impressively once again managing to fail to notice the multitude of existing heterosexual, even Catholic marriages, for which this “intrinsic connection” simply doesn’t exist.

Later the Archbishop launches into some rather eccentric musings upon the nature of homosexuality:

The simple answer is that homosexuality is based on the notion that sexuality exists in order to get pleasure.

Really? I thought it was ‘based upon the notion’ that some people love people of the same gender.

An individual ought to be free to satisfy his sexual appetites with the preferred object of his sexual orientation. The partner appears only as the preferred object of sexual satisfaction, not as a person to be valued in his own right. The notion of self-donation to the other in pursuit of a good that transcends both parties and to which they mutual subordinate their private interest simply does not appear in homosexuality. In place of self-donation there is only self-gratification, self-interest and self-absorption.

This is a surreal argument against equal marriage, that seems to equate it with simply hooking up for a bit of casual sex, which is of course the polar opposite of why homosexual couples want to marry. Just as with heterosexuals they want to marry precisely because they do regard their husband/wife to be “a person to be valued in his own right”. If it was merely about hedonistic sex, why would marriage even be on the agenda?

Once homosexuality becomes a validated principle of civil law, the inversion of sexuality that it proposes will spell the eventual end of Western Civilization.

That’s too silly to really require a response.

Since homosexually is about receiving, not giving, its institutionalization will lead to the victimization of all those who are induced to embrace this lifestyle.

Is it just me or could only someone having difficulty repressing their own homosexual desires worry about people being “induced to embrace this lifestyle” should gay marriage be legalised?

The Archbishop then launches into an extended attack upon homosexual adoption:

When one has two fathers, he is condemned to be a motherless child. Moreover he will also be a fatherless child. With two men who present themselves as his fathers, with whom can he bond as his [emphasis in the original] father?

Such is the Archbishop’s fixation with hot and sweaty guy on guy action, the notion of lesbian couples never even crosses his mind, to him it’s all about men. This preoccupation with men having anal sex is further underlined in the following paragraph on the dangers ‘sodomy’ poses to ‘public health’.

A culture cannot flourish when a significant portion of the population is suffering diseases as a consequence of having been encouraged by the structures of civil law itself to expose themselves to the risks inherent in sodomy.

If the Archbishop could stop thinking about guys doing each other for a moment, he might have learnt that lesbian sex is significantly safer than heterosexual sex, which rather undermines this whole line of argument. Strangely he’s aware that the “self sacrificing…suicide bombers (women as well as men)” aren’t entirely of the male persuasion. Female suicide bombers, yes that he can comprehend, but female homosexuals on the other hand (whom I would suggest are rather more prevalent), well that’s just inconceivable.

The Archbishop tries to sign off with another appeal to patriotism, attempting to argue that legalising gay marriage will lead to the West losing its “struggle with Islamic fundamentalists”. Even so he can’t quite repress his admiration for the likes of the Taliban and the zealous way in which they fight the “forces that oppose marriage and the family”.

The West today is engaged in a struggle with Islamic fundamentalists who are not always in sympathy with democratic values that the West holds dear. They are resisting with all the force at their command those forces that oppose marriage and the family. If we do not do the same, they will win the contest by sheer numbers alone. History will judge your desire to secure your private self-interest at this moment in Guam’s history as appallingly petty in view of the damage it will do to the common good of Guam. By adopting Bill 185, you will have contributed to the end of Western Civilization.

The Archbishop’s reasoning is seemingly reliant upon the assumption that should gay marriage be legalised the birth rate will plummet as millions of people who would otherwise get heterosexually married and dutifully produce Christian Soldiers will be unable to resist the lure of homosexuality. Again it’s difficult to see how anyone but a repressed homosexual could possibly make such an argument.

Tragically gay marriage was considered and rejected in Guam, you’d hope that was despite not because of the almost comically OTT homophobia and fatwa envy of the Archbishop. To help make sure that the outcome is different here, if you haven’t already done so I urge you to go to the Coalition for Equal Marriage’s website, sign their petition, follow the link to the Home Office Equal Marriage consultation (it took me under 10 minutes to complete) and email your MP.

Adventures in Catholic Morality – Nun Excommunicated for saving a life whilst Paedophile Priests are shielded from justice.

I was reminded of this slide which I’d come up with a while back when in the last week I helped organise a Counter-demonstration to defend reproductive rights in response to a nationwide series of anti-choice ‘kerbside vigils’ organised by SPUC the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. SPUC is supposedly a secular group but is utterly dominated by the Catholic Church which is whilst being a supposedly anti-abortion group it campaigns against condoms and gay marriage.

Then just a few days later came the news that Cardinal Brady the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland was refusing to resign after a BBC investigation revealed that in 1975 Brady, then a lowly priest, was sent by his Bishop to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by paedophile priest the Reverend Brendan Smyth. Brady interviewed Brendan Boland who was the first of Reverend Smyth’s many victims to appeal to the Church to end Reverend Smyth’s abuse. Brady interviewed Boland and was given a list of children Reverend Smyth was abusing, Brady swore Boland to silence and informed neither the police or the children’s parents. No action was taken against Reverend Smyth who with the assistance of Brady and the Church’s broader cover up continued to rape children till he was finally arrested in 1991.

Far from being excommunicated for his many crimes The Reverend Smyth was protected for decades by the church which did everything it could to silence his victims, whilst moving Reverend Smyth into new positions where he’d have access to more children to rape. In stark contrast in November 2009 Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at a hospital, saved the life of a gravely ill 11 week pregnant woman by approving an abortion and was summarily excommunicated for doing so.

If the pregnancy had continued doctors warned there was “close to 100 percent” risk of the patient (who was incidentally incidentally a mother of 4) dying, this would obviously have resulted in the death of the foetus as well. For choosing one death over two and protecting four children who would otherwise have lost their mother Sister Margaret McBride was excommunicated. It would seem to the church that whilst ‘unborn children’ deserve protection actual children deserve protection from neither paedophile priests nor their parents needlessly dying.

Bishop Vernon Myer was excommunicated, not for raping children or enabling the rape of children but for taking part of the ordination of a woman!

Far from being excommunicated or in any way reprimanded for swearing victims of child rape to silence & not telling victims parents or the police about the active rapist in their midst Cardinal Brady’s career flourished.

You do have to wonder about the moral standing of an organisation which protects, enables and continues to employ paedophiles, promotes the protectors and enablers of paedophiles yet imposes it’s harshest penalties upon those who ordinate women and save the lives of dangerously ill pregnant women.

Notice the Difference – Kim Jong-il & Jesus

The details about supposed magical powers and so forth are intended to be just a bit of fun but there is a serious point to this which is that the central message of Jesus as set out in the gospels of ‘worship me or burn in hell’ is essentially the same as that of North Korea’s Kim dynasty. Yet strangely many people who rightfully condemn temporal dictators for demanding love and obedience on pain of torture seem to find the same behaviour from a celestial dictator both admirable and just.

The principle difference between the two is that you can escape the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by dying whereas if the bible is to be believed Jesus has eternal, inescapable torture waiting for those who fail to worship him.  For all the intolerance and brutality of the Old Testament it took Jesus and the New Testament to introduce the repugnant concept of infinite torture as a punishment for finite thought crime.

Hitchens of course used to make much the same argument in fact when I posted this on reddit Keoni9 found a video of him doing so with his usual eloquence.