left biblioblography: November 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Some Folks Just Won’t Mind Their Damn Business – Mormons Up In Arms

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasismormon-archaeologists

These damn crazies just get right up my nose:

The Mormon church won't drop its opposition to gay marriage

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (more commonly known as the Mormon church) recently reneged on its commitment to stay out of the gay marriage fight.

For those who need a reminder, the LDS church was the major force – financial and otherwise – behind California's Proposition 8 that passed five years ago to deny marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples. While the supreme court overturned Prop 8 this year, the issue is still very much alive in many states.

The image conscious Mormon church received such a pounding from all it did during the Prop 8 campaign that they decided they better play nice and quit all their gay-bashing. The church's own pollster Gary C Lawrence told the Washington Post that after Prop 8, the Mormon church lost 5% of its public support and was tied with Muslims as the least popular of major religions in America.

While the church's image suffered badly, the other reason the Mormon church was sitting out last year's gay marriage debates was so that it would not jeopardize in any way shape or form what was deemed the "Mormon moment". That was their long-held desire to elect the first Mormon US president, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. That plan went up in smoke after he lost badly to President Obama a year ago.

Now that Romney is not a factor anymore, the Mormon church is back fighting same-sex marriage. We discovered two letters that were read to all Mormon church members in Hawaii as the state was considering whether to legalize same sex marriage. The letters signed by high-ranking Mormon leaders asked church members to give of their "time and means" in order to defeat a bill. Fortunately, Hawaii didn't listen to the Mormon church. It passed the bill earlier this month, becoming the 15th US state to allow gay marriage.

People are, of course, allowed to have their own views on same sex marriage or any other issue. But it gets complicated when an official religious organization meddles and lobbies so prominently in politics. I sent a letter to the Hawaii Ethics Commission asking them to investigate whether there were Mormon church employees who had worked over five hours in a month to defeat the bill, or if the church had spent more than $750 on lobbying expenses. If the church met either threshold, they would be required to register more of their employees as lobbyists. We are awaiting the results of that investigation.

The Mormon church even pulled out its top law professor, Lynn Wardle, from church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. They flew him to Hawaii to testify against the gay marriage bill. Professor Wardle has long been the church's leading legal mouthpiece in fighting gay marriage across the country.

The recently released official Mormon church documents published by Mother Jones, show that church has been acting more like Exxon-Mobil or AT&T than a religion. They have had up to 23 lobbyists in 23 states all over the country working to pass laws and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and opposing each and every marriage equality bill.

It is astounding that the Mormon church appears to use tax deductible donations given to the church to lobby and run political issue campaigns. Official LDS church documents show the measures the LDS church took to keep its involvement secret and obscure the source of its funds.

Perhaps it's time that the US Department of Justice and the IRS take a closer look at the Mormon church's political activities to determine if its tax-exempt status allows for this. If the Mormon church wants to act like a corporation and not a religion, then its income should likely be taxed.

This is a serious consideration for this century: if churches involve themselves in politics, they should lose their tax-exempt status. Imagine that – Utah might actually crumble to its knees if that happened. Hell, the Catholic Cee might very well pack up their belongings in toto and leave for the Vatican, stranding their followers.

One can only hope.

I for one would like to see religion finally brought down to an even-playing field – a country where nobody get free passes graded on societally favored delusions.

Till the next post then.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Ding Dong The Bitch Is Dead: Another Liar Bites The Dust

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it – Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 4brownbullshit

There is perhaps few emotional crimes worse than pandering to a person’s grief with promises of falsehoods. And while I usually try to empathize on this sort of topic, I really can’t.

Sylvia Browne is dead.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

She was a liar, a fraud, a snake-oil salesman, a confidence man*. In short, she made millions on the ghoulish garbage known as the afterlife. Pandering to the lowest common denominator of poor education, she raked in undeserved riches with her scam. Her history is risible: let’s take a look;

Psychic readings

Browne started to give psychic readings in 1974, and performed thousands of one-on-one readings for a wide variety of groups and individuals. As of 2008, she charged $850 for a 20- to 30-minute telephone session.

More than prostitutes charge per hour. And likely less satisfying.

Browne was the author of dozens of books on paranormal and spiritual topics. She discussed a wish for people to feel that they are loved by God. Browne claimed that God comprises both a male and a female part, named Om and Azna respectively. She stated that the entity of God loves all people and living beings equally, no matter what one's specific religious or spiritual beliefs are. According to Browne, this includes atheists, people who do not believe in a god or gods. Browne wrote that people's actions and intentions define a person and soul, and that people of all religions, spiritual beliefs, and non-beliefs may go to "the Other Side", as she referred to Heaven. Browne wrote that she presented her beliefs in a way that allows readers or listeners to take what they want from her teachings and leave behind what they do not agree with.

Wow – she must’ve learned that in psychobabble city.

Paranormal claims

Browne claimed that she knew what it is like in Heaven. In her book The Other Side and Back, she says the temperature is a constant 78 °F (25.6 °C), that there are no insects unless one wants there to be, that pets go to Heaven, and that a house can be built wherever one wants. She asserted that the "other side" exists approximately three feet above ground level and at a "higher vibrational level" and that this makes it difficult for humans to perceive. Like a number of other psychics, she claimed to have been born able to perceive a wider range of "vibrational frequencies".

Browne declared that she could see angels, and that they looked similar to depictions in paintings but had different traits depending on their "phylum." She also claimed that they do not speak. Browne professed the ability to speak with her spirit guide, "Francine," and gave details of 54 of her own former lives as divined by her.

Yeesh – self-involved much, lady? So she sees shit, knows the thermostat, and claims to have had 54 lives? 54 separate personalities is closer to reality.

Here’s where the hilarity really begins:

False predictions

Browne made many public predictions which have subsequently been proven false, including the following:

  • In 2002: Browne told the parents of 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, who had disappeared earlier that year, that Shawn was dead and had been kidnapped by a dark-skinned man with dreadlocks. Hornbeck was found alive in 2007; his kidnapper was Caucasian and short-haired. In June 2008, UK television network ITV2 was sanctioned by Ofcom for re-airing the Montel Williams episode featuring Browne's original prediction.
  • In November 2004, to the mother of kidnapping victim Amanda Berry, who had disappeared 19 months earlier: "She's not alive, honey." Browne had claimed to have had a vision of Berry's jacket in the garbage with "DNA on it." Berry's mother died two years later believing this to be the case. Berry was found alive in May 2013.
  • On Larry King Live in 2003, Browne predicted she would die at age 88. She died in 2013, aged 77.

Aye caramba! A psychic who can’t even predict her own death! Who’da thunk it?

Funnier still:

In 2000, Brill's Content examined ten recent Montel Williams episodes that highlighted Browne's work as a psychic detective, spanning 35 cases. In 21 cases, the information predicted by Browne was too vague to be verified. Of the remaining 14, law enforcement officials or family members stated Browne had played no useful role.

In 2010, the Skeptical Inquirer published a detailed three-year study by Ryan Shaffer and Agatha Jadwiszczok, examining Browne's predictions about missing persons and murder cases. Despite Browne's repeated claims to be more than 85% correct, the study reported that "Browne has not even been mostly correct in a single case." The study compared Browne's televised statements about 115 cases with newspaper reports, and found that in 25 cases where the actual outcome was known, she was completely wrong in every one. In the rest, where the final outcome was unknown, her predictions could not be substantiated. The study concluded that the media outlets that repeatedly promoted Browne's work had no visible concern about whether she was untrustworthy or harmed people. Among the predictions examined in the study were the following:

  • In 1999, Browne said that six-year-old Opal Jo Jennings, who had disappeared a month earlier, had been forced into slavery in Japan. Later that year, a local man was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Jennings. In 2003, an autopsy of Jennings' remains found that she had died within hours of her abduction.
  • In 2002, Browne claimed Holly Krewson, who had disappeared in 1995, was working as an exotic dancer in a Hollywood nightclub. In 2006, dental records were used to positively identify a body found in 1996 in San Diego as Krewson's.
  • In 2002, Browne claimed Lynda McClelland, who had disappeared in 2000, had been taken by a man with the initials "MJ"; was alive in Orlando, Florida; and would be found soon. In 2003, McClelland's son-in-law David Repasky, who had been present at Browne's reading, was convicted of murdering McClelland; her remains were found near her home in Pennsylvania.
  • In 2004, Browne said that Ryan Katcher, a 19-year-old who had disappeared in 2000, had been murdered, and his body could be found in a metal shaft. In 2006, Katcher's body was found in his truck at the bottom of a pond, where he had drowned.

In a 2013 follow-up article, Shaffer reviewed more recent predictions by Browne, as well as predictions whose outcomes had been earlier classified as undetermined but were now largely resolved. According to Shaffer, Browne was mostly or completely wrong in 33 cases and mostly accurate in none.

I take it back – this isn’t funny, it’s horrifying. The American people will listen to any idiot with a good lie, regardless of how often the person in question is proven wrong.

What I love, is how James Randi braces these bozos:

Scientific skeptic James Randi, a retired stage magician turned investigator of paranormal claims, was a vocal critic of Browne, and claimed her accuracy rate was no better than educated guessing. On September 3, 2001, Browne stated on Larry King Live that she would prove her legitimacy by accepting the James Randi Educational Foundation's $1,000,000 challenge to demonstrate supernatural abilities in a controlled scientific test. However, by April 2003, Browne had not contacted Randi to make testing arrangements.

On May 16, 2003, in another appearance on King's show, Browne said she had not taken the test because Randi refused to place the prize money in escrow. Randi responded by mailing a notarized copy of the prize account status showing a balance in excess of one million dollars; Browne refused to accept the letter. In late 2003, despite challenge rules that money could not be placed in escrow, Randi announced that he was willing to do so for Browne; Browne did not accept or acknowledge this offer. In 2005, Browne posted a message online that she had never received confirmation of the prize money's existence, despite Randi's claim that he had a certified mail receipt showing Browne's refusal of the package. In 2007, on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360°, Browne's business manager Linda Rossi stated that Browne would not be taking Randi's challenge "because she has nothing to prove to James Randi."

Wow – squirm much, you fucking ghoul?

I consider these people to be beneath contempt. Unemployable (or too lazy to go out and get a REAL job), they scam and flim-flam the gullible public (we can perhaps blame this on TV’s ubiquitous garbage, but that’s another topic). Psychics are lower than priests, rabbis, imams, or ministers. At least most of the latter think they’re doing the right thing – but a psychic? If they’re not mentally wrecked, they’re lying scumbags.

I am terribly tempted to go pee on her grave. And see if her ‘psychic’ son Christopher Dufresne can actually track me down using only his mind.

Just kidding – there’s no such thing as psychics.

Till the next post, then.

*An side to the PC police – I use the terms purposely, and independently of gender. So spare us all your semantic objections.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

End Of Days? And The Bleat Goes On…

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
nutjobFrankly, I’m surprised that his handlers let him off his leash.

George W. Bush to Raise Money for Group That Converts Jews to Bring About Second Coming of Christ

Next week, former President George W. Bush is scheduled to keynote a fundraiser in Irving, Texas, for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains people in the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The organization's goal: to "restore" Israel and the Jews and bring about about the second coming of Christ.

Messianic Jews have long been controversial for Jews of all major denominations, who object to their proselytizing efforts and their message that salvation by Jesus is consistent with Jewish theology. Last year, Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, told Politico that former Sen. Rick Santorum's appearance at an event hosted by another Messianic Jewish organization, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, was "insensitive and offensive." And Commentary magazine, which bills itself as a "conservative American journal of politics, Judaism, social and cultural issues," noted, "it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly." Many Messianic Jews are Christians who have adopted aspects of Jewish ritual observance; others are Jews who share the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Asked about Bush's upcoming appearance at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) event, Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said, "It's disappointing that he would give his stamp of approval to a group whose program is an express effort to convert Jews and not to accept the validity of the Jewish covenant." Foxman was traveling overseas and unavailable to comment.

(After this story published, Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles' Sinai Temple, whom Newsweek has called the most influential rabbi in the country, tweeted, "This is infuriating." On Monday, he published a story in Forward on the subject, writing, "the sudden rise of ‘Messianic Jews’ owes more to a clever way of misleading untutored Jews than to making theological sense. It should not receive the imprimatur of a former President of the United States.")

Based in Dallas, the MJBI claims that it acts like the Apostle Paul in helping to "educate Christians in their role to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and thus save some of them (Romans 11:11-14)." It has Bible schools in 12 countries, an online school of "Messianic theology," and programs to train Messianic rabbis and pastors. Its logos feature a star of David and a menorah, and its website promotes the weekly Torah portion, a "Yiddish Mama's Kitchen," and links to purchase Judaica and books, such as Christ in the Old Testament. The nonprofit organization brought in approximately $1.2 million in revenue in 2011, the last year for which records are available.

At the November 14 event, which will be held at the Irving Convention Center, Bush will discuss his White House experiences, according to promotional materials. Bush, the group says, will "share his passion for setting people free." Last year, Glenn Beck was the star of the group's fundraiser, which was held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

This year's event is designed to bring in funds for the group's proselytizing operations. And the former president is helping out with more than just speech-making. The most expensive of the ticket packages, which range from $100 to $100,000, includes 20 invitations to a VIP reception and photo opportunity with Bush, 10 signed copies of Bush's book Decision Points, and passes to tour the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Alisa Stephenson, MJBI director of events and partner relations, would not say whether Bush is receiving a speaking fee for his appearance. "We cannot have any outside advertising or any media whatsoever involved in this, so I most likely cannot answer any of your questions," she tells Mother Jones.

At last year’s MJBI fundraiser, Beck received a "Defender of Israel" award. During Beck's time as host of his Fox News program (which ended in 2011), hundreds of Jewish leaders denounced his on-air rhetoric as anti-Semitic—particularly his repeated invocation of Nazis and the Holocaust to demonize political adversaries and his accusation that George Soros is a "puppet master" who collaborated with the Nazis. "One of the reasons why I love Israel so much is I'm a guy who's for the underdog," Beck told the audience. "I'm a Mormon, which is kind of the Jew of the Christian world."

Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas, which Beck attends, introduced Beck as a "prophet" at the event. Morris told the crowd that his church has supported MJBI because "when we do this, the Bible tells us, it's going to change the whole world. That it's going to hasten the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it's going to bring about worldwide revival."

When asked how the MJBI managed to secure Bush to keynote its fundraiser, Stephenson cited its track record of drawing influential speakers, pointing to the appearance by Beck.

At last year's event, members of the MJBI's board of directors explained the organization's mission of converting Jews to an audience of hundreds who were seated on a professional football field, wearing formal clothes, and eating pork barbecue. Rabbi Jonathan Bernis, a leading Messianic Jew and televangelist who chairs MJBI's board of directors, maintained that "our numbers are growing and growing," because "the Bible predicted that the day would come when the blindness would come off the eyes of the people it all began with." He was referring to Jews. The Bible, Bernis continued, "tells us that the day will come when all of Israel will be saved." The MJBI, Bernis said, "is one of the ministries that God has raised up to bring that to pass." Other featured speakers last year included David Barton, the religious right's discredited "historian," who this week used Beck's radio show to announce that he won't challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in next year's Republican Senate primary.

Another MJBI board member, Rabbi Marty Waldman of Baruch HaShem, a Messianic congregation in Dallas, described his own conversion experience before making a pitch to the audience to donate money to MJBI. Money, he explained, is needed to hasten the return of Jesus. With the funds it collects, Waldman said, MJBI trains "people to preach the good news of the Messiah to the Jewish people." That's important, Waldman noted, because when there are "enough" Jewish people who call Jesus their savior, "some sort of a trigger will go off in heaven, and our father in heaven will say, 'Okay, son, it's time to get your bride.'"

Even if these nimrods get their wish, and every Jewish person on earth starts hollering ‘Jebus is the Meshach’, I can guarantee the same thing will happen that happens every day: nothing. From sea to shining sea, life will go on as if no momentous event has occurred. Because it didn’t. And it never will.

And seriously, if these clowns wanted to get any kind of intellectual props, they lost it by bringing on Glenn ‘Dreck’, and actually stooping to have the former Commander-In-Thief come by and spew his usual version of glossalia all over the place.

There won’t be a Second Coming. Hell, nobody’s going to even be breathing heavy. Of course, religions are great at the anticlimax thing. All foreplay, and no release.

Till the next post, then.


Saturday, November 09, 2013

Allegories Gone Wild: The Mad Hatter Joins The Tea Party

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.madhatter
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'

Much as I detest the bible, one quote springs to mind: “If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

There is perhaps no better illustration of this than this bit of profound stupidity:

Government shutdown just the start for America's Biblical revolutionaries

John Cornyn, the US senator from Texas, has been a stalwart of conservative causes. He did his best to destroy the Affordable Care Act. He opposes reproductive freedom and same-sex marriage. His voting record gets a perfect grade from the NRA, and he explained that cutting government benefits helps the poor because they "need a hand up, not a hand-out".

But apparently, he WASN'T "conservative" enough for many Republicans in Texas. Over the past few weeks, Tea Party activists floated the idea of replacing Cornyn with David Barton, the evangelical activist who has done more than anyone else to advance the "Christian Nation" myth. Although Barton withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday, Glen Beck (among others) is still holding out hope that a "true conservative" might step in to take down the perfidious Cornyn.

The fact that this kind of discussion is even taking place helps put to rest two very common misperceptions about the right wing of the Republican party. The first is that the Tea Party is primarily about fiscal and economic issues. It is not; it is also about religion.

The second misperception that Barton's abortive candidacy exposed is that the Tea Party is a conservative and patriotic force in American politics. In fact, it is a radical movement that seeks to destroy our present system of government. There is nothing comparable to it on the left or the right in American politics.

Let's take a closer look at what David Barton really stands for. He presents himself as a historian, but by now, no serious person can buy that characterization. His most recent book, The Jefferson Lies, turns out to have been filled with distortions of the actual facts. The book came under criticism from numerous conservative Christians – most notably, Grove City College professors Michael Coulter and Warren Throckmorton, who published a detailed refutation of the book titled Getting Jefferson Right: Fact-Checking Claims about our Third President. In August 2012, Barton's Christian publishing house, Thomas Nelson, stopped production of the tome, announcing that they had "lost confidence in the book's details".

But the facts have never stood in the way of Barton's "history", because the history merely serves as a platform for more ambitious goals.

Barton's political agenda couldn't be clearer. The organization he founded, Wallbuilders, holds the idea that church-state separation is a myth as its chief talking point. Barton also launched the Black Robe Regiment, an association of clergy members and "concerned patriots" whose goal is to establish "the American Church" as "overseer of all principalities and governing officials, as was rightfully established long ago".

Barton's ideas spread well beyond American's system of governance. In his worldview, global climate change is God's punishment for abortion. He also takes some interest in economic issues, usually to offer a "Biblical" perspective. People are on welfare, he announced on Wallbuilders Live, because they don't read Bible!

If Barton were some out-in-the-woods extremist, we could appreciate him as a colorful detail in the diverse and vibrant landscape of American religion. But he is on a first-name basis with Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Michele Bachmann. One of Barton's go-to organizations is the American Renewal Project, which is closely aligned with the fundamentalist policy group the American Family Association and whose "pastor briefings" bring rightwing clergy together with politicians.

The immediate cause of Barton's rumored run for office had to do with the government shutdown. Specifically, it had to do with Cornyn's failure to throw his support behind Cruz and push the button on an economic meltdown.

It would be wrong to characterize those who were itching to push that button as the "fiscal conservatives" in the room. Instead, the appeal of the shutdown to folks who follow Barton is precisely its apocalyptic nature. They want to create a crisis because they understand intuitively that the kind of change in our society that they wish to bring about can really only happen in the context of some major crisis.

Which brings up the second lie that Barton's candidacy exposed: that he and the forces he represents are conservative and patriotic. The separation of church and state that Barton decries as a "myth" has been at the foundation of the American system of government for more than two centuries. The claim that Barton and friends want to "take back" America is nonsense; they want to turn America into something it never was.

According to Barton, God is punishing American for its grievous sins, like granting women reproductive rights. Clearly, Barton's God is mad at America. But it isn't hard to see that Barton is doing the judging. He really doesn't like the electorate that returned Barack Obama to power. He doesn't like our diverse, pluralistic society that worships many Gods and no God. He doesn't like our nonsectarian public schools. And if he bothered to study the works of some of our Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, he probably wouldn't like them, either.

Some establishment Republicans might take solace in the fact that Barton has decided not to burden the Texas GOP with a nasty primary battle, just as they might rejoice in the defeats suffered by the Tea Party in the elections this week. But they shouldn't be overly optimistic. The predictable defeats of Tea Party stalwarts in 2010 and 2012 didn't stop the Tea Party and its raging base from being a persistent force in American politics, and we shouldn't forget that true Tea Partiers, such as Ken Cuccinelli and Dean Young, came within only a few percentage points of defeating their much better-financed rivals. The civil war within the GOP is by no means over, and if, as the Tea Party believes, you've got God on your side, it takes a lot more than a few narrow losses at the ballot box to stop you.

And David Barton has earned the title of ‘Mad Hatter’. How so? Despite the multitudinous quotes and speeches where many presidents have stated that SOCAS is indeed a reality (from Jefferson and Madison to Kennedy and Obama), Barton has declared that SOCAS is a myth. And who told him so? Everybody’s favorite imaginary sky-daddy, that’s who.

He’s had books pulled off the shelf because they were jam packed with lies, he’s also affiliated with racist theocrats like the Christian Identity, and to top all that off, he also is lecturer for Glenn Beck’s online university (another lowly fucktard who also makes too much money off of his moronic lies).

Luckily, Barton has declined – the thought of that particular crazy asshole running for office had me seriously considering purchasing a handgun. Why? Because they’ll pry the SOCAS out of my cold dead hands, that’s why.

That a sane person would even listen to either of these people means that the state of American education is crumbling into sound bites, madness and half-truths.

Till the next post, then.


Saturday, November 02, 2013

Khatana: The (Hopeful) Death Of A Barbaric Nonsense.

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
stopfgmOne of the more obnoxious and idiotic things in this country, is the knee-jerk response when you point out the deficiencies/inadequacies/stupidities of a religion (just name any religion – though most folks nowadays laugh and nod when you point out how stupid Scientology is).

And of course you can’t drop a laundry list on the retards who say stupid ass things like ‘it’s sheer arrogance to criticize someone else’s beliefs, because there’s either an awkward pause, followed by some semantic sophistry, or an ‘I don’t want to talk about this’, or [insert incredibly ubiquitous reply here].

One of those that top my own laundry list is the misogynistic treatment of women in a religious patriarchal society. One of those horrors follows here:

FGM: 'It's like neutering animals' – the film that is changing Kurdistan

A young girl is given a plastic bag of sweets and a bottle of lemonade after being genitally mutilated … the story of the 10-year fight against female genital mutilation by two film-makers has been made into a hour long documentary by the Guardian and BBC Arabic and will go out across the Arab world from Friday, reaching a combined global audience of 30 million viewers. This is the Guardian's shorter web version of that film

It started out as a film about a practice that has afflicted tens of millions of women worldwide. It culminated in a change in the law.

Ten years after they embarked on a documentary to investigate the extent of female genital mutilation in Kurdistan, two film-makers have found their work changing more than just opinions in a fiercely conservative part of the world. Partly as a result of the film, the numbers of girls being genitally mutilated in the villages and towns of Iraqi Kurdistan has fallen by more than half in the last five years.

Shara Amin and Nabaz Ahmed spent 10 years on the roads of Kurdistan speaking to women and men about the impact of female genital mutilation (FGM) on their lives, their children and their marriages. "It took a lot of time to convince them to speak to us. This was a very taboo subject. Speaking about it on camera was a very brave thing to do.

"It took us weeks, sometimes months to get them to talk and in the end it was the women that spoke out – despite the men," said Ahmed.

The result was a 50-minute film, A Handful of Ash. When it was shown in the Kurdish parliament, it had a profound effect on the lawmakers.

The film-makers' work began in 2003, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The stories they were told had a numbing consistency. In one scene in the documentary a young mother with her children sitting beside her tells Shara that in their village: "They would just grab the little girls, take them and cut them, and the girls came back home. I can still remember I was sick, infected for three months. I could barely walk after I was cut."

A mullah tells the film-makers that "Khatana [the Kurdish term for FGM] is a duty; it is spiritually pure." That is the position of the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam that is practised by Iraqi Kurds. It is the same branch of Islamic law that predominates in Egypt, where studies show that up to 80% of women have been mutilated. But FGM is not just confined to some Muslim countries in the Middle East – it is also widespread in parts of Africa and
Indonesian. It pre-dates Islam or Christianity and is on record since
the time of the Pharaoh.

"It is about controlling women's sexuality and keeping them under control," said Nadya Khalife, from Human Rights Watch.

There are an estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide living with the effects of FGM, the World Health Organisation estimates.

"There were a lot of kids in the room," one 18-year-old woman told the film-makers. "My mother and sister took hold of me. They were taking off my trousers and separating my legs. I screamed 'What are you doing to me?' My mother said 'nothing dear, just a little pain'. They put me on the ground and the pain started between my thighs. Everything turned dark. When they wanted to raise me to my feet, I couldn't stand. My thighs were covered in blood."

Another woman took them to her sister's grave. "One of my sisters got an infection and died. She was cut with a dirty blade. She had an infection for two days so we took her to a doctor. He couldn't treat her and she died. She is buried here."

"It's not something that families discuss. It's just something that is done, and is forgotten about," said Khalife. "Countless generations of girls were sentenced to lives lacking in sexual pleasure or fulfilment and cheerless marriages."

One Kurdish couple encountered by Amin and Ahmed illustrated this underlying sadness with extraordinary, raw honesty.

Hawa, a seamstress, and Erat, a farmer, have been married for 10 years and have three children. Hawa said she and her three sisters were mutilated at her grandmother's insistence.

"My two sisters and I, three of us, we all had khatana [cutting]. Believe me, my mother did not care about the practice, never insisted. But my grandma insisted. She would always say food and water served by their hands would be haram [impure] if the girls were not cut."

Asked about the extent of her mutilation, she said: "My husband always says 'nothing is left of you'."

Hawa's husband said FGM had destroyed his marriage. "I was not aware of this when I married her. If I had known, I swear to God even if they paid me $10,000 I would not have married her. Because it is a problem for me.

"This circumcision is similar to neutering animals," he said. "It's a major problem. There is no sensation. It feels like lying next to a cold fish."

Piroza, now 15, recalled what was done to her when she was five. "They said: 'Come here, we brought beads for you.' They took me into a room. There was an old woman. There was a razor and ash, and they cut me."

The film-makers found that when they first started the project they were visiting villages where every one of the girls had been mutilated. The Iraqi Kurdish government denied that it was widespread but the film-makers' testimonies found otherwise. In many cases, all the women in a village had been mutilated – usually between the ages of five and nine. Most alarmingly, the fall of Saddam Hussein had led to a resurgence of the practice – FGM was seen as a mark of national cultural independence for the Kurds.

The film-makers, both in their 30s and ardent campaigners against the practice, joined forces with Wadi, a small German-Iraqi non-governmental organisation dedicated to eliminating FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan, and took their campaign film to parliament. They were invited in but only female politicians turned up to the viewing. Nevertheless, the showing sparked a campaign by the Kurdish parliamentary women's committee to outlaw FGM.

It took three years and it was not until Human Rights Watch published a devastating report into the scale of FGM in Kurdistan, and pressure was applied on the Kurdish government from Brussels, that the law was implemented in 2011.

It then sparked a debate with the Muslim clergy. A key turning point was when a leading Kurdish cleric, Mullah Omar, told a conference organised by Human Rights Watch: "Female circumcision is an injustice. It is a crime against women." A fatwa, or edict, was declared against it and word began to filter down to the villages.

One midwife who practised FGM for 20 years, Pura Sewa, said: "We have been advised not to practice mutilation and we have obeyed that. They said not to mutilate or you will be taken to jail. They took away my licence and I stopped. But if they hadn't taken it away, I would still be performing khatana for Islam."

Female genital mutilation – the facts:

• Female genital mutilation (FGM) is carried out in 29 countries, according to the World Health Organisation. Although prevalent in many Muslim countries in the Middle East, it is also widespread in Africa and Indonesia.

• Some 140 million girls and women globally currently live with the consequences of FGM, according to the WHO.

• FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and the age of 15.

• More than 18% of all FGM is performed by medical professionals – and this trend is increasing.

• FGM varies from the the cutting the clitoris in some countries, such as Kurdistan, to removing all the external genitalia.

• More than 66,000 women and girls living in Britain have undergone FGM, according to the NHS, but there has not been a successful UK prosecution since it was criminalised 28 years ago.

• Human Rights Watch calls FGM a practice to control women's sexuality.

• There are several degrees of mutilation. In the most extreme form, the sexual organs are removed and the vagina is sewn up and narrowed. It is thought to reduce a woman's libido and thus to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts.

• Long-term consequences can include infertility and an increased risk of childbirth complications and deaths of newborns. Complications can also result in the need for later surgery. • In December 2012 the UN general assembly approved a resolution calling for the elimination of FGM.

• In most countries the prevalence of FGM has fallen, and an increasing number of women and men where it is practised support ending the practice.

While the fact that this barbarity is still practiced, it is heartening that someone somewhere is actually doing something about it.

Till the next post, then.