left biblioblography: November 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Without Consent: Islam’s Rape Culture In Action

It’s a far more common story, no matter how repellant it is:

Pakistan supreme court to decide fate of Hindu woman in Muslim marriage row

The fate of a Pakistani Hindu woman who claims she was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married against her will is to be decided this week, after weeks of campaigning by the country's Hindu minority.

The case of 19-year-old Rinkle Kumari has outraged Hindus from her small town in the south of the country, where community leaders accuse Muslims of preying on Hindu girls of marriageable age.

Some claim similar cases are helping to fuel a steady outflow of Pakistan's tiny Hindu community as families choose to move to Hindu-majority India instead.

In a hearing beginning on Monday, the supreme court in Islamabad will try to get to the bottom of the hotly contested versions of events.

The town's Muslims, backed by a powerful local politician, say Kumari freely converted to Islam to marry her neighbour, Naveed Shah, on 24 February. But her father, a primary school teacher, is adamant she was abducted in the middle of the night from her house in Mirpur Marthelo, in Sindh province.

"These people see beautiful young Hindu girls and chase them," said her uncle Raj Kumar. "For 15 days Naveed Shah had been shouting at Rinkle, threatening to kill her only brother."

Her case has won support from members of parliament and attracted widespread attention in the Pakistani media. According to the Frontier Post newspaper, Rinkle was seized "for reasons based in sheer lust and debauchery".

Throughout the whole saga Rinkle's voice has barely been heard, although both sides say she has made clear statements supporting their contradictory claims.

Her family says that when she first appeared at a magistrates court late last month the tearful woman made clear she had been forcibly converted and wanted to return to her parents. But the court failed to record her statement and put her in police custody after hundreds of Muslim protesters surrounded the court.

In a subsequent hearing – from which the family say they were banned – Kumari said she had freely converted.

In a sign of the enormous tensions created by the case, the Hindu minority only succeeded in forcing the authorities to open a case on the issue by staging protests, with shopkeepers striking and demonstrators blocking a highway. The intervention of the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, forced the police to act, say protesters.

Mian Mitto, the local member of parliament whom Kumari's family has accused of being intimately involved in the abduction and conversion, dismissed her initial court statement. "She may have been emotional, it is only natural to be upset after seeing her parents in court," he said.

Mitto's family control a nearby Sufi shrine which has a long history as a place where people come to convert to Islam.

In his version of events Kumari had long been in love with Shah. Speaking at his house in Islamabad, he produced telephone and SMS logs that apparently showed the pair were in regular communication, although Raj Kumar insisted the family was too poor for Rinkle to have a phone.

Whether she was abducted or went on her own volition, she arrived at the shrine late at night. Within hours she had converted to Islam and married Shah, Mitto said.

Amarnath Motumal, from the Sindh chapter of Pakistan's human rights commission, said many cases of forced conversion were covered up, but he believed there were at least 20 such incidents each month. He said: "They take them into these extremist madrassas and don't let the parents meet their families, claiming the girl does not want to meet kaffirs [unbelievers] – her own parents."

Another recent case involves a female medical student who was allegedly kidnapped on the streets of Karachi. "These people want to stoke a war between the Hindus and Muslims so that we leave the country," said Amarlal, chairman of the Progressive Minorities Commission, who uses only one name. "Local mullahs and fundamentalist people think that if they leave they can take their properties."

Only a tiny minority of Hindus live in the country after massive migration of Sikhs and Hindus out of Pakistan when the state was formed in 1947 to create a homeland for South Asia's Muslims. About 3% of the population are Hindus. Some Hindu community organisations claim that about 10 families leave Pakistan each month.

I’ve said it in the past, but it bears repeating: the barometer of a culture’s civilization can be measured by the treatment of women and children. In this aspect, the large majority of the Middle East fails horrendously. This sort of behavior (which is consistently dismissed by the accomodationists as “cultural”, or as an isolated example, which is the former but not the latter) is inexcusable. Unforgivable. And the imposition on one’s will upon another against or without consent, is a violation of basic human rights.

And it is these sort of events that we will continue to experience as long as we keep pandering to these people. Someone has a set of religious rules? Fine. But by no means are they anywhere near a proper jurisprudence, nor should they be equal or supersede the laws of the country that religious folk dwell in.

But this Pakistan – probably one of the top 10 worst violators of human, civil, and gender rights – it is the armpit of the world, a great ugly wart on the face of civilization.

And they make Western civilization look good by comparison.

But then the chains of anachronism and faith are hardest to break.

Till the next post, then.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is Science A Religion? Blurring The Lines Of Definition…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
One of the more icience-vs-religionrritating (and ignorant) statements of our time, is when some ignoramus says, “Science is the new religion.” It rankles me as much as the codswallop that the statement ‘we all create our own realities’ does, inasmuch as both are statements that reveal the utter cluelessness of the speaker.

So imagine my chagrin, when Andrew Brown announces,

The dictionary is wrong – science can be a religion too

John Sulston is one of the smartest men I know – well, he ought to be, as a Nobel prize winner – and last week I got him talking about religion in front of an audience for the Westminster faith interviews.

One of the things that came up in this, as so often before, was the definition of "religion". Sulston was brought up as a low church Anglican, and still feels that religion must involve God and a belief in the supernatural, and that ritual is secondary to theology.

I came up with my usual counter to this – that there are atheistic religions; that there was ritual long before there could be theology and that we ought to take scientists – even social scientists – more seriously than dictionaries. This last point because Sulston had gone to the trouble of looking up and printing out one of the OED definitions of religion, which he felt proved his point.

"Belief in or acknowledgement of some superhuman power or powers (esp a god or gods) which is typically manifested in obedience, reverence, and worship; such a belief as part of a system defining a code of living, esp as a means of achieving spiritual or material improvement."

I can see that it must be frustrating, if you have such a definition in front of you to get some slippery Durkheimian answer about religion being actually the way that society understands and defines itself. You might, if pressed, agree that Americans treat their constitution as a sacred scripture, of universal application to the world. But it doesn't seem properly supernatural.

He gets some of these things right – there have been atheistic religions (Buddhism and Raelism spring to mind). The problem here, is that he’s picking his own definition of the term. This is what is usually defined as religion:

Religion is a collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.

Many religions may have organized behaviors, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration of a god, gods or goddesses, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religions may also contain mythology.

So he goes on to a sloppier way to prove his point:

This is probably an argument that is impossible to resolve. But every serious thinker about religion has ended up with a definition as baggy as Durkheim's. There are just too many modes of belief and behaviour that can function as "religious" for this to be a simple category. And if the dictionary says different, then the dictionary is wrong.

No, one cannot declare that it’s an open-ended conundrum and then self-identify like that. It’s fairly cut and dried: belief in the supernatural. And spare me the theatrics of the “definition atheist” – I use that mostly when I get tired of parroting my talking points endlessly to an audience that is more interested in ‘saving my soul’ than listening.

Brown then goes on to say:

The same holds true, of course, for things like evolution: if I want to know what evolution means, I ask biologists, not dictionaries. The meaning that scientists use may not be more correct than the popular one – how would you measure that? – but it is going to be much more useful for investigations of the subject. So, I am quite happy to say that science could function as a religion, in some modes and in some societies, while at the same time functioning as science. And it ought to be perfectly possible to distinguish between the two uses.

As most authors go, they tend to veer off course without supplying both sides. In this case, Brown doesn’t bother with the definition of science. Hey, we all know what it is right? WRONG. I am shocked at how many people I talk to in real time can’t begin to provide a definition when quizzed. It’s usually my first response to ‘science is the new religion’. Next time you hear that idiotic statement, pin the declarer down by demanding the definition. The blank looks are startling. Here’s the basic definition:

Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning (found, for example, in Aristotle), "science" refers to the body of reliable knowledge itself, of the type that can be logically and rationally explained (see History and philosophy below). Since classical antiquity science as a type of knowledge was closely linked to philosophy. In the early modern era the words "science" and "philosophy" were sometimes used interchangeably in the English language. By the 17th century, natural philosophy (which is today called "natural science") was considered a separate branch of philosophy. However, "science" continued to be used in a broad sense denoting reliable knowledge about a topic, in the same way it is still used in modern terms such as library science or political science.

Then Brown goes on with an interesting, if somewhat broken analogy:

Scientific and religious explanations come together in an odd way at Stonehenge and similar monuments. They can be interpreted as megalithic calendars, or devices for astronomical prediction, as well as ritual burying grounds – and the reason we can reconstruct them as gigantic observatories is precisely that we can calculate today exactly what would have emerged from calculations done 4,000 years ago.

Yet to call Stonehenge a purely scientific enterprise is clearly wrong. When you consider the immense labour and complex social organisation required to put all those stones in place, you could be inspired to ask "where would the sun have risen at midsummer 3235 BC". But surely the much more interesting question is why this question should have been thought so important in that culture.

That seems to me a question that only historians and sociologists of religion can answer. What's more, although the scientific question and its answer are independent of any particular cultural and religious matrix, they can't be independent of all of them.

First, he is right about Stonehenge being a product of the cultural and religious dynamic of that particular time period. But incorrect to bring that analogy to anything present day. The ‘scientific question’ (as he so obliquely phrases it ) should most definitely be independent of any matrix whatsoever. Objectivity is and should be the defining principle of any scientific endeavor. Otherwise confirmation bias creeps in, and the facts are obscured by the preferred societal approval.

And he tops it off with this:

To come back to Sulston – anyone who had sequenced the same material as he did would have come up with very similar results. That's the scientific question and it's the one that interested him. But the money and the resources that made it all possible were not raised by an appeal to intellectual curiosity and probably could never have been. They were raised partly in the expectation of profit, and partly by politicians using a largely religious rhetoric about "The book of life" which all the scientists involved could have explained was nonsense and which would certainly be impossible for an alien archaeologist to reconstruct. Yet the funds would never have been voted without it. So: is the Genome Centre a scientific factory or a ritual centre? It's both, and that's why the dictionary is wrong.

It’s this constant conflation of structure with ritual – one is contingent on the other, but they are not synonyms, nor are they interchangeable. Structure is a building block, by which we as a species build our habits, our lives, and our perceptions. Ritual, however is defined as:

a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. The term usually refers to actions which are stylized, excluding actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers.

So mostly this article is pandering to the intellectually vacant, a long and vapid series of composition errors that presumes too much that all definitions are easily as loosely defined as the erroneous one the author provided.

So, in short, Brown is wrong, and the dictionary is right.

That, dear readers, is my nickel’s worth: spend it as you like.

Till the next post, then.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Atheist Threat? Another Atheist With Head Firmly Entrenched Up His Ass…

atheisthousemateCross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
One of the consistent issues I have with accomodationists, is that they tend to schmooze the ‘other side’ quite a bit, whinging on about civil discourse, the familiar nasal twang of ‘why can’t we all just get along, please?’, etc.

I have serious issues with this fellow, one Julian Baggini. He’s one of those guys that goes around saying ‘but look what wonderful things religion had done!’, which makes him an utter ass in my book, as religion is an ideology, not a person, landing that ‘argument’ directly in the obtuse world of reification.

And this article really just proves my point:

Is religion really under threat?

People with faith say secularism has become an aggressive and intolerant force in Britain. What has gone wrong? It should bring society together.

Should it? It’s not really a rallying cry, it’s a principle of fairness. Let’s look at the definition:

Secularism -

Secularism is the principle of separation of government institutions, and the persons mandated to represent the State, from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. (See also separation of church and state and Laïcité.) In another sense, it refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be unbiased by religious influence.

Should we be all on the same page? Of course. But sadly, few people are.

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of secularism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the pope, politicians from both the Conservative and Labour parties, Melanie Phillips ...

A fucking lie right out the gate: the actual quote is as follows:

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.

So – this is published on a public venue, right there on the Interwebs, and either this douchebag is intellectually honest, or just plain stupid. You decide.

And of course, he rolls with the lie:

It seems odd to borrow the opening words of Marx and Engel's the Communist Manifesto to describe secularism and to find them so apt. For someone such as myself who has always seen the secularist ideal as the most benign legacy of the Enlightenment, it's a bit like discovering that your cuddly teddy bear is being portrayed as a rampaging grizzly.

Not too good with the the metaphors, that’s for sure. And of course, he cites some boo-hooing to prove his point:

But there is no doubt that secularism is increasingly seen as a threat to liberty rather than its stoutest defender. Conservative party chairman Lady Warsi is the latest to raise the alarm, speaking of her "fear" that "a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies". She pulls no punches in claiming that "at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant" and that it "demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes".

Hey sorry – that’s the price the religious pay for having a choke hold on public opinion, anti-intellectualism, and the general oppressive atmosphere one submits a minority (ideological or otherwise) to. So my heart bleeds peanut butter for ya – get a thicker skin.

In a speech on Tuesday she will say: "My fear is that, today, militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in a number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings, and where religion is sidelined and downgraded in the public sphere.

Hey, these things happen when you wear your delusions on your sleeve.

"For me one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities."

Because hey! Religion’s always been tolerant of ‘multiple identities’. Are you joking?

During the visit, held to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the UK and the papacy, she will stress she is not calling for a theocracy but a more explicit role for religion in public life.

She shouldn’t be calling for any such thing. But the mark of the truly incompetent politician is the obvious crutch of piety.  

Some of the recent attempts by Christians to become involved in contemporary politics have been uneasy, including the near implosion of the administration of St Paul's Cathedral over the presence of the Occupy movement on its doorstep. There has also been sharp disagreements with the Church of England over secular issues such as bonuses and the role of banks.

Why is the CoE even involved in this?

Implicitly rejecting multiculturalism, Warsi, the first female Muslim to serve as a minister, will say that the best way to encourage social harmony is to put Christianity at the centre of public life.

I don’t care that she’s a Muslim – in fact, I could care less what delusion she practices in private. What she ‘believes’ has no bearing on the matter, nor does it lend her words extra weight.

She is taking six ministers to Rome, including Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, and Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary.


She will speak to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for the next generation of papal diplomats, at which she will argue Europe needs to be more confident in its Christianity.

Hard to be confident about something so silly.

"Too often there is suspicion of faith in our continent hinging on a basic misconception – that to create equality and space for minorities we need to erase our religious heritage," she will say.

That’s a huge misconception – nobody wants to erase anything. That would be tantamount to denying history. No rational person would do such a thing.

She will argue "people need to feel stronger in their religious identities, more confident in their beliefs". While individuals should not dilute their nations, nor should nations deny their religious heritages.

Neither should they suck up to them.

She will say that, "You cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you should or could erase the spires from our landscapes".

Problem is, most Western civilization has developed in spite of Christianity, not because of it.

She will deride the way in which across Europe and in the UK, "spirituality is suppressed divinity downgraded and where in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury faith is looked down upon as the hobby of oddities, foreigners and minorities".

Spirituality is not necessarily religious anyways. Divinity is piety without proof, belief without evidence, craziness with a stamp of approval.

And she will say politicians "need to give faith a seat at the table in public life", saying "intolerant secularisation has to be held back by reaffirming the religious foundations on which our societies are built" .

I find these ridiculous forays of the religious into our lives tiresome. We are the few who don’t applaud when someone blurts out stupidity, or hand out badges to the weak-minded for opening their mouths. Either you have proof or you don’t. And I for one don’t recognize any of these bizarre ‘holy texts’ as any kind of authority on anything – so I’d prefer that someone’s faith be left firmly out of the equation, thank you very much. Because religious people have had a long and terrible track record for making rational decisions.

This is a last gasp, a grasping at straws, and a not very good one at that. Both the author and the protagonist of this article are milquetoasts at the very least.

Till the next post then.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Five Years Later, A Singer Is Censored

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
religiouscensorshipJust when I was fresh out of outrage, more international news garbage:

Polish singer faces two years in jail over Bible-tearing stunt

Poland's supreme court has issued a landmark judgment against a heavy metal musician who tore up a Bible at a gig in 2007. Although the judges conceded that Adam Darski, AKA Nergal, did not intend to offend his audience, they ruled that he could still have "offended religious feelings", violating Polish law. If found guilty, the singer could face up to two years in prison.

Darski had released eight albums with his band, Behemoth, by the time of their notorious performance in Gdynia on 13 September 2007. Appearing in full costume and makeup, Darski tore up a Bible and described the Catholic church as "the most murderous cult on the planet".

"We'd been doing that for two years on tour before it happened in Poland," Behemoth bassist Tomasz Wróblewski told Decibel magazine (via Blabbermouth). "We [were] not offending any particular person. We [were] just offending the religion that we've been raised in."

Despite this intention, Darski was pursued by Polish courts for having offended Catholic fans. After being cleared by judges in 2010 and 2011, the singer/guitarist is again on trial. Officials in Gdansk asked the supreme court how Darski could be "offending religious feelings" if most of Behemoth's fans expected theatrical sacrilege?

"The crime of offending religious sensibilities is committed not only by he who intends to carry it out, but also by he who is aware that his actions may lead to offence being taken," the court said. Prosecutors have been permitted to pursue with the criminal trial.

"One should respect the court's verdict," Darski told journalists. But the Catholic church is also "immature", he said, "trying to gag people … [and] freedom of speech". Speaking to Reuters, Darski's lawyer said they would continue to oppose the charges: "We are still arguing that we were dealing with art, which allows more critical and radical statements," Jacek Potulski explained

Wait – so religious feelings are protected by law? Yikes. Didn’t the Polish Constitution ratify freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly? Because you can’t have freedom of religion, unless you have freedom from religion.

It’s a book, people. Once upon a time, I would’ve said it’s a book, a good book, but not necessarily the only book. Now? I sing a very different tune.

It’s a book of bright shadows, of ancient but convincing lies: its ubiquity in our (and other societies) is frightening. It is better fit for the lighting of fires than use as an operating manual for life. The whispers of ghosts that never were, that spawn bigotry and death and destruction and ignorance, it is a blood-soaked Necronomicon, a grim grimoire devoted to death but pretending to shed light and rainbows. A paean more to Man’s abysmal ignorance and arrogance in the days of darkness, than to our species eventual ascent from the muck of madness.

It is time that those of us who are members of the Abimelech Society should take a stand.  Rise up, take the next bible that’s handed to you, and tear it to shreds. Do it with a smile. The pre-amble goes a little like this: “First, I’m going to tear out the parts with incest” [riippp!], “Then I’m going to tear out the parts with genocide” [riippp!], “Then I’m going to tear out the parts with slavery” [riippp!]…I think ye ken me drift here.

If you rip up one bible in your life, you’re likely sparing the pollution of some gullible young mind, and maybe, just maybe, begin a counter-ripple in the great lake of life.

Till the next post, then.