Islamists confusingly protest against ‘Insults’ and for ‘Global Civility’ – With signs that allege Google founder ‘Larry Page supports Terrorism’

Pretty much everything about this protest was of course wrong but I was particularly struck by the incongruity of  the “Campaign for Global Civility” featuring so many placards distinguishing the “Freedom to Insult” from the “Freedom of Speech”, complaining about Google’s lack of manners and of course claiming “Muslims campaign for Global Civility” whilst other placards proclaimed “Larry Page Supports Terrorism” and “Google Supports Terrorism”

The attempt by one of the speakers to justify such signs is simply nauseating:

Sheikh Faiz Al-Aqtab Siddiqui, told The Daily Telegraph: “Terrorism is not just people who kill human bodies, but who kill human feelings as well. The makers of this film have terrorised 1.6 billion people.

“Organisations like Google are key players and have to take responsibility for civility. You can’t just say it doesn’t matter that it’s freedom of speech. It’s anarchy.”

And is on a level with Lord Carey’s equation of Equal Marriage campaigners to Nazis with it’s cynical attempt to use crimes against humanity to make petty political points.

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On Female Genital Mutilation, “Designer Vaginas” and Consent

A surprisingly common apologist response to my recent post on the relationship between religion and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) has been to try and draw an equivalence between FGM and cosmetic surgery,  as epitomised by the following post by Halibut on Sheffield Forum:

This is a practice growing in use within the West, in America and in the UK and among wealthy, white largely nominally Christian people.

They pay large sums of money to plastic surgeons to do it for them.

The thread has since been removed by mods so sadly I can’t provide a link.

This argument is so transparently fallacious that it practically rebuts itself but given it’s seemingly popularity it requires a response.

There are all manner of activities which adults voluntarily take part in and sometimes pay money for that we rightly regard as both immoral and criminal when they are done to children, the key factor which distinguishes the two is of course consent.

Adults, many of them “wealthy, white largely nominally Christian” regularly indulge in all manner of sexual behaviour with each other, on occasions “they pay large sums of money” to sex workers to facilitate this behaviour. So long as they’re all freely consenting, practising safe sex, not betraying a personal commitment to fidelity or hypocritically secretly indulging in practices they condemn in others I have no objection to this and certainly don’t think the criminal law should be involved. The key proviso there is ‘freely consenting’, it is the lack of consent which makes rape wrong and (amongst other things) it is the lack of a capacity of children to consent to sexual activity which makes paedophilia inherently immoral.

I’d hope that Halibut and his fellow travellers wouldn’t defend paedophilia on the grounds that “wealthy, white largely nominally Christian” adults in “the West, in America and in the UK” perform the same acts on each other. The same applies to physical abuse of children, which isn’t rendered moral by the fact that adult boxers and other martial artists habitually punch and kick each other.

Consent is the key factor which can render all manner of practices (some of which like cosmetic vaginal surgery I disagree with and make me feel rather queasy) perfectly moral. Take tattooing and other forms of body modification for instance, an extreme example of which can be seen on the right. Doing that to an non-consenting adult or child would be monstrous,  yet such body modification is rendered moral when freely chosen by adults.

The same principle is what distinguishes FGM from some women’s quest for a ‘designer vagina’ and what makes trying to equate the two to excuse the former so disgusting. If I became aware that a female acquaintance of mine was contemplating having a facial tatoo, getting a labiaplasty or some such procedure I may well contemplate trying to dissuade them from doing so but respect their right to do what they want to their own body.

There are other objections to FGM of course such as the way it is so often carried out by untrained practitioners, in appallingly unsanitary conditions, with no follow-up care. Consequently, mutilated girls not uncommonly suffer all manner of infections and ‘complications’ including death. In other cases girls’ genitals are mutilated by accredited doctors in well kept modern surgeries with extensive follow up care. Consent however and the lack of it is what really matters.

Credits for Photos:

Tattooist : piercing (Chris Willis) / CC BY-NC 2.0

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.

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.

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.

The Daily Mail’s Self-Defeating War on Sexualisation – An Analysis

I don’t make a habit of reading the Daily Mail, in fact I only do so when a justifiably outraged friend has sent me a link to some unusually extreme and unpleasant bigotry, most recently the “Homosexuality IS a departure from the norm: We must beware of our civilisation being battered by the PC brigade” opinion piece which charmingly referred to homosexuality as “an aberration” and compared it to kleptomania and a propensity to violence. The article has since been pulled but can still be read here.

Whenever (against my better judgement) I do click on a link to the Mail, when I’m finished being annoyed by the proudly chauvinistic writing in question, I’m always struck by the profusion of wholly gratuitous images of women in states of undress down the right hand side of the screen. Whilst I’ve got nothing against photos of attractive women, the sheer abundance of them in the Mail seems rather incongruous given that when I encounter prominent Mail writers such as Melanie Philips, Richard Littlejohn and Peter Hitchens on the TV or Radio, they often as not seem to be railing against ‘the permissive society’ the ‘sexual revolution’, ‘sleaze’ and most recently ‘sexualisation’.

This incongruity is heightened by the way that ‘liberal media’ outlets such as the Guardian and the Independent that the Mail so likes to blame for everything just don’t have anything like as much female skin on display. Sure, rarely does a heat wave pass without the Guardian and the Independent printing a shot of a photogenic woman enjoying the sun in a bikini and so forth, but despite their rampantly ‘permissive’ ways when it comes to “outrageous” “raunchy” images of “starlets”, the liberal media can’t hold a candle to the Mail.

Vexed by this apparent hypocrisy I searched the Mail’s site for ‘sexualisation’ and got 619 hits. The ones I checked were almost without exception both consumed with anger at sexualisation and liberally illustrated with ‘sexualised’ images of attractive young women with little on in ‘provocative poses,’ to an extent that I really don’t think can be justified by the off chance that the readers have never seen an image of Rihanna, Beyonce, Britney Spears or some other female celebrity trying to look sexy. Of the articles I looked through the worst offender was:

Is this what they mean by the ‘sexualisation of teenagers’? Taylor Momsen whips her young fans into a frenzy with lewd act 

The ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ was simply outraged at “a raunchy show” performed by Taylor Momsen (who I must confess I’ve never heard of) in Barcelona the previous night. This expression of outrage was even more lavishly illustrated than usual with a scant 444 word article and 6 large images. I don’t mean to boast but I think I’d got a pretty good idea of what this concert was like and of Ms Momsen’s general appearance after a single photo, I’d certainly got the idea by the 2nd, so the following 4 really didn’t seem necessary.

I decided to do a little analysis of this article so screen capped the article and combined the images. Imported at 96dpi the entire body of the article ran to 133cm. Of this, 110cm (a not inconsiderable 82% of the body of the article) consisted of photos of Ms Momsen “herself only 17… gyrating on the lap of one of her fans as a group of half-dressed, similar aged girls were whipped into a frenzy behind her”.

As if that wasn’t enough, 60% of the huge number of articles (430cm worth) advertised with large thumbnails down the right side of the page, far beyond the end of the article, appeared to be sexual in nature. 88% of these seemed little more than flimsy excuses to show gratuitous photos of A to Z list celebrity women, the subject of the article often as not seemingly how sexually attractive the ‘starlet’ in question was or involving sex in some manner:

Carol Vorderman has worn the same dress more than once! If that isn’t an excuse for lots of leering photos what is?

6% of the articles seemed feeble excuses to show photos of attractive male celebrities.

Another 6% were about sex in some way but the thumbnails at least didn’t heavily feature ‘sexualised’ images.

Below is a shrunken image of the entire page. I’ve highlighted the ‘sexualised’ images of Taylor Momsen & other women in red, men in blue and articles about sex but without ‘sexualised’ images are highlighted in black, to give you some idea of just how much of this fine upstanding paper is given over to the very thing it campaigns against.

Another article;Sexualisation of our children is a crime that is endemic in our celebrity commercial culturecontained the photo on the right with the following caption:

“Endemic: A Gucci Fashion advert, showing a half naked man, run in magazines, many of which are aimed at or accessible by children”

It’s a good job that Mail readers always lock their papers safely away from their kids and that you have to prove you’re over the age of 18 before you can browse the Mail’s website otherwise that complaint would seem somewhat lacking in self-awareness.

Given the Mail’s habit of not only wrapping itself in the flag but increasingly bearing a cross (with all its whining about the supposed “war on Christianity”) you’d have hoped that the thought might have occurred to someone on the Mail’s staff that they were getting perilously close to one of those mote in the eye situations warned of in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

But of course, as with all that is said in the bible about economic justice – rich men, heaven, camels, the eyes of needles and so forth – such passages are of no interest to the modern day champions of Christianity. No, apparently to them preventing civil marriage for homosexuals, about whom Jesus never so much as speaks a word in the bible, is what really matters.

The death of innocence: How the crude sexualisation of pop music, TV and fashion is destroying childhood” warns:

“As children we quickly picked up that, for a woman, being thin and beautiful equals sexy and successful. In our lifetimes, we’ve seen the explosion of reality stars, WAGs and manufactured girl bands who have sent out the message that you can be rich and famous without an iota of talent.

As these celebrities have racked up continuous attention and impressive wealth — which reality TV has made seem within the grasp of everybody — have we also signed up to the idea that our daughters need to look a certain way to get on in life? …

From the moment our girls recognise their reflections in a mirror, we need to start teaching them beauty is a small part of what they are, not who they are. If we don’t, the price is high for our girls. We will be letting them fall into the traps today’s society has laid for them.

Eating disorders, self-harm, depression, casual meaningless sex, teen pregnancy and under-age drinking are just some of the side effects when girls judge themselves only by their appearance and sexual experience.”

All that said with images of “reality stars, WAGs and manufactured girl bands” and older stars being judged upon their fading looks down the side of the screen.

It’s like being given a lecture on the evils of deficit spending by Gordon Brown. The anguished author of that piece goes on to warn:

“As the first gatekeepers who most influence our children’s values, attitudes and aspirations, we also have to look to ourselves to work out how it reached this state of affairs.”

If you’re truly worried about this stuff and you read the Mail then perhaps you might like to consider if that’s a factor.

The Sliding Scale of Militancy: Aims & Actions

As a skeptic I long ago grew used to people calling me ‘militant’, ‘extremist’ and so forth simply for expressing my doubts that astrology, homoeopathy… work or that god, ghosts… exist. The double standard by which skeptics are judged far more harshly than purveyors of woo in all its forms (though religion in particular) still vexes me though so I’ve drawn up some scales of “Militant Aims” and “Militant Actions” to highlight this double standard.

The Sliding Scale of Aims

The Sliding Scale Actions

If you actually look at both his aims and actions Richard Dawkins for example is extremely moderate in comparison to many of the theists who habitually accuse him of being a “shrill”, “militant” “extremist”. However he comes across as “militant” to many as he (quite rightly) treats religion as just another subject to be critiqued and openly discussed without the undue deference theists are so used to demanding and receiving.