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.


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.

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 pro-Islamist left on Zionism and Islam – a study in double standards.

I recently gave a talk to the local Student Atheist society on the subject ‘Is it racist to criticise Islam’.  A title inspired by the seemingly inevitable accusations of racism a consistent atheist can expect to receive if they stray from Christianity and critique Islam. This brought forth a far from unexpected storm of accusations of racism and inciting violence from Muslims and the pro-Islamist left. Such as:

Assorted meetings critiquing; Christianity, Catholicism, Religion in general, Scientology… elicited barely a murmur of complaint yet when the Atheist Society dared have a meeting on Islam the floodgates opened.

The reasoning would seem to be: Muslims are a minority in the west, a minority which experiences some discrimination is subjected to crude abuse by the far right and even violent attacks. Therefore any and all criticism of Islam is racist and contributes to violence against Muslims.

As it happens this is by no means the first time that people have falsely accused me of bigotry and inciting violence in an attempt to try and cow me into silence. Back when I was at Uni I was chair of the Palestine Society and we were regularly accused of being ‘anti-semitic’ and ‘contributing to anti-semitic violence’ simply for arguing that Palestinians are people who should have their basic human rights respected.

The reasoning behind these attacks followed a similar pattern: Jews are a minority in the west, a minority which experiences some discrimination is subjected to crude abuse by the far right and even violent attacks. Therefore any and all criticism of Zionism is anti-semitic and contributes to violence against Jewish people.

Back then no Muslims or members of the far left seemed to find this logic convincing. They would nod when I pointed out that it’s perfectly possible to critique the ideas contained within the ideology of Zionism the ethnic cleansing and other abuses of human rights being carried out by true believing Zionists without being motivated by anti-semitism or contributing to anti-semitism.

Muslims and members of the left  in the audience also tended to agree when I pointed out that by no means are all Jews Zionists and that in fact most Zionists aren’t Jewish at all but American Christians (who’re ironically often rather anti-semitic) who want all the Jews in the world to return to Israel to kick start the 2nd coming.

Members of the left and Muslims would concur when I argued that the undoubted existence of crude anti-semitic attacks upon Jews in general and the state of Israel didn’t automatically render any and all criticism of Zionism as anti-semitic. They would further agree when I argued that cynically using the term ‘anti-semite’ as a weapon to try and frighten people into silence was eroding the power of the term ‘anti-semite’ that could backfire in the future.

Overall there seemed to be a general acceptance from Muslims and members of the left at meetings I spoke at that criticism of an ideology, in this case Zionism, isn’t the same thing as inciting hatred against people who subscribe to that ideology.

Yet strangely for some Muslims and members of the far left this ability to differentiate between an ideology and people seems completely absent when it comes to Islam and Muslims.

That double standard aside the way in which unequivocal condemnations of the EDL were interpreted as support for the EDL was rather perplexing, as was the odd accusation that:

 “your stupid meeting is a racist fest. You are racist, pretending to be humanists. You have no idea what atheism means”

As if the society members had been organising meetings upon Atheism, Christianity, Catholicism, the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, Scientology. Creationism… for all this time as a rather convoluted cover to one day launch a racist attack upon Muslims under the cover of atheism.

Another thing I found a little confusing was the way in which the Student Broad Left & Socialist Action members kept on making specific attacks on the meeting in blissful ignorance of the actual contents of the talk:

“the argument is that the Atheist society presents Islam (not even certain Muslim clerics…) as almost the sole source of oppression against the LGBT community. I’d say it has the least influence.”

“This meeting assumes there is no debate and disagreement amongst Muslims about the many interpretations of Islam.”

Now I tend not to make detailed attacks upon a talk, article, book, film… until I’ve gone to the trouble of hearing/reading/watching it. Sure it takes a little more effort than condemning what you imagine what the content might be but even so I think that effort is worth it. It would seem Socialist Action/Student Broad Left have no time for such niceties.

If SA/SBL members actually cared about evidence they’d have spent a little time researching the society they were attacking and learnt that  the Atheist Society has long standing critiques of the homophobia of many faiths & particularly the Christian Churches campaigning against gay marriage and that the talk included passages such as this:

“When critiquing minority faiths we have a particular responsibility to be clear of the range of beliefs encompassed within that faith. Most Brits know atleast a few Christians and so they know that the “God Hates Fags” crowd for example are not typical Christians. Whereas they may well not know any Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims… to provide a counterexample. This doesn’t mean that we can’t critique religions other than Christianity, it just means we have to take additional care when doing so.”

Given that such intemperate attacks were a major motivation to hold the meeting in the first place the abuse we received for daring to hold such a meeting is sadly only to be expected. This doesn’t make the way in which some muslims and members of the pro-Islamist left are so determined to cry wolf and throw around accusations of racism to try and bully people into silence in such a cavalier manner any less depressing though.