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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Paul Newman: supporter of gay rights – and Humanist?

I was a great fan of Paul Newman – the American Oscar-winning movie star who died at the weekend, aged 83 – and not just for his acting ability. I found his blond, blue-eyed ruggedness extremely attractive.

He is probably best known for his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but my favourites are the filmed versions of the gay playwright Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth. In the former, Newman plays an alcoholic ex-footballer who, by implication, is gay. In the latter, the toy boy of a fading alcoholic female movie star played superbly by Geraldine Page.

Though clearly not gay himself (he enjoyed a long and happy marriage to the actress Joanne Woodward), I was delighted to learn from some quotations publicised on BBC Ceefax that he was a staunch support of gay rights:

I have never been able to understand attacks on the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being . . . By the time I get through with all the things I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it’s irrelevant.

I was also pleased and impressed by what seems his very Humanist stance on such subjects as charity and death.

On charity (and he was a very generous philanthropist), he says:

I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out. The concept that a person who has a lot holds his hand out to someone who has less, or someone who isn’t hurting holds his hand out to someone who is, is simply a human trait that has nothing to do with celebrity.

In 1982, he set up Newman’s Own – the premium food company that donates all its profits and royalties after taxes for educational and charitable purposes. It’s motto reads:

Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the Common Good.

On death, he had this to say:

I’d like to be remembered as a guy who tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life and tried to extend himself as a human being.

You've got it wrong, Miriam

We all love Miriam Margolyes (pictured), the award-winning actress, but I can't agree with her counselling against coming out by gays and lesbians.

She disclosed this week that coming out as a lesbian caused her mother to have a severe stroke. That was, however, 40 years ago. Times were different.

Apart from that, coming out is the most powerful thing a lesbian or gay person can do. It's especially important for those who might be role models to come out, too, because that will give young people the confidence to own their sexuality, to respect their sexuality, not to be afraid of their sexuality, ultimately to be proud of their sexuality.

The more we're out, the more we can come out, and the more of us can come out. Attitudes like this can only bring about the situation whereby prejudice justifies prejudice, and we're in a vicious circle. If there were not so many prejudices against gay people, there would simply be no need for the kind of caution Margoyles advises.

Now say you're sorry!

We learn from MediaWatchWatch, among others, that the author of The Jewel of Medina – the novel about Mohammed’s child bride – is demanding an apology from the nutcase who buggered things up for her.

(See all Pink Triangle’s posts on the book here.)

After Sherry Jones wrote the book, her publisher, Random House, sent a copy to an academic, Professor Denise Spellberg, in the hope of getting a quote for the blurb. Instead, Spellberg decided it was pornography (there aren’t any sex scenes in it, we’re told) and tittle-tattled to a Muslim colleague.

Well, you can imagine what the upshot of all that would be. Random House gutlessly pulled the book after consulting Muslim “scholars”, Muslims objected to the book, other publishers decided to take it on. Result: it’s got far more publicity and will best-sell throughout the world now.

Usual thing with Muslim nuts: someone does something (let’s say a cartoon, just as an example), Muslims object, the world and its blog get to know about it and whatever aspect of their dark religion they perceived has been offended gets “offended” all over the globe, before the eyes of millions rather than a few thousand.

Well now Jones is saying of Spellberg, “She used the most inflammatory language she could possibly have used. If you want to incite heated emotions from any religious group you just use the word ‘pornography’ in the same sentence as their revered figures.

“She ought to take back her words because it is in no way an accurate description of my book. There are no sex scenes in it. I have not dishonoured the Prophet. I wrote it with the intention of honouring him.”

Can’t think why anyone would want to honour someone who gave rise to this dreadful religion, but there you go.

No sharia here

Tories in the UK say they won’t allow sharia courts if they get into power. Oh, good. And they’ll also clamp down on Islamic extremism, according to one of their big cheeses.

She’s Pauline Neville-Jones, a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

“We are not going to have any status for sharia courts. Absolutely not,” she reassures us in a story in the Telegraph. (See also our previous posts here and here on the subject.)

After reading Ophelia Benson’s Butterflies and Wheels blog section this morning, you’d be hard-pressed not to say no to a mere hint that Islam is creeping ever further into our culture. She lays into authorities in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, who have banned male doctors from carrying out ECG and ultrasound scans on women, in case they become aroused or in case women take advantage.

US-based Benson has a way with words – especially adjectives. She’s fun to read, but also makes excellent points with no bullshit but plenty of rage.

“Listen, you stupid evil pile of dung,” she storms, “anybody could do anything.” She then warms to her point:

You could get a hard-on every time you open your foul malodorous mouth to explain why you and your horrible friends want to see women forbidden to use medical technology – and I bet you do. Men could derive sexual pleasure from rubbing themselves against the nearest goat, and some women could “lure” men by being alive within 50 kilometers of one – but that's not a reason to impose yet another idiotic prurient goggle-eyed jerk-off restriction on women and their ability to get health care.

Read the whole piece. It’s worth it.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Muslim sues Tesco over booze

If I were an employer, would I employ a Muslim? It’s something I’ve often thought about. It’s against the law to discriminate on the grounds of religion, but I’m sure I’d find myself looking for some way of saying no.

I’m not an employer, so the situation will never arise.

But many employers – and others – will be enraged by a story that comes from Leicestershire (it’s in the Loughborough Echo) about a Muslim who is suing Tesco because he had to handle crates of booze in a warehouse.

Poor, dear Mohammed Ahmed was employed at Tesco’s Litchfield depot in September 2007 to move stuff about on a forklift truck.

But the 32-year-old Saudi told an employment tribunal that he hadn’t been told that he would be moving alcoholic drinks.

What did he think he would be moving? The stores sell alcoholic drinks, so did he think that, by some magic, they wouldn’t be part of his job?

Ahmed moved to Derby in 2006. He made his complaint to Tesco in February (not when he was moving the alcohol about several months before?) and claims he was treated unfairly as a result. After eight months of working for the chain, he left in protest.

To the relief of his managers, I would guess.

Tesco say he was told he’d be handling booze. He says he wasn’t. Either way, why are we always having to bow to the sensitivities of Muslims (more than to other religions, it seems), as a couple were made to over the morning-after pill earlier this year?

Tesco say they have an open-door policy and try to be sensitive to people’s beliefs. Perhaps these idiot religious types should just be told, “Look, mate, the job’s yours if want it but you’ll have to do it – all of it. If you have any qualms, bugger off and find an employer in Saudi Arabia or somewhere, where your superstitions will be kowtowed to.”

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Matthew Mitcham (un)covered

Golden Boy! Cover Boy!

Just thought I’d let everyone know that the current issue of DNA magazine sports the Australian Olympic-diving champion Matthew Mitcham on its front cover (left).

And very hot he looks, too!

DNA is an Australian gay publication. Click here to preview the online edition, or here to subscribe to the print edition. You can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

Who’s gay?

Could the next Doctor Who be gay?

Sounds like a tabloid headline, doesn’t it? But could it be true? Well, to be more accurate and less sensational:

Could the next actor to play Doctor Who be gay?

This week saw the publication of Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – essentially, a chronicle of a year-long interview (via email) between Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook. Much of the press reaction to the book has centred on a suggestion from Davies that Russell Tovey (left) would make a suitable replacement Doctor when David Tennant decides to hang up his multicoloured scarf. Tovey, who came to prominence as Rudge in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, is openly gay. And, yes, it would be great to have an openly gay actor playing such a popular and iconic part.

But what about the naysayers?

Ever since the BBC brought back Doctor Who in 2005, malcontents and other bigoted saddos have accused the show’s outgoing head writer, Davies, of having some sort of gay agenda, presumably because he created a Channel 4 drama – Queer As Folk – about gay men in Manchester!

Their evidence of gay mis-goings on in Doctor Who? Well, every once in a while, there’s a passing reference to a character being gay, or possibly being gay.

It happened in Series 1, with the introduction of one of the Doctor's companions, Captain Jack Harkness – an “omnisexual” Time Agent from the 51st century – played by John Barrowman, who is himself (horror of horrors!) an openly gay man.

It happened again in Series 2, when Tommy (Rory Jennings) – the teenager who might be gay – helped out the Doctor while Rose was "off her face".

Then it happened in Series 3, when we met briefly a couple of dear old ladies – from the year 5 billion – who’d been “an item” for many years, and again when the Doctor made some quip to Frank – a young man from 1930’s New York, played by Andrew Garfield – about kissing him later.

Series 4 wasn’t immune either, with a minor Maurice-type subplot in a story about a unicorn, a giant wasp-like alien, Agatha Christie and a joke about a bottle of ginger beer!

These idiots also cite as evidence that Davies has cast lots of dishy young men in the show. Furthermore, now that Steven Moffat is to take over as head writer for Series 5 in 2010, they believe that the gay agenda will be no more.


The Doctor snogged every one of his female companions and most of them, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones and Sarah Jane Smith, were in love with him. What about the tear-jerking end to Series 2, when Rose was banished for ever to a parallel universe. And then, at the end of Series 4, she and the human version of the Doctor went off together hand in hand. Doesn't look much like a gay agenda to me! Where's the male companion falling in love with the Doctor?

Forget all those straight characters and straight relationships in the show. Forget the fact that the programme’s also full of older men, young women and older women. Ignore the fact that much of the character profile of Captain Jack was developed by Steven Moffat – a straight man with a wife and children.

If this was the gay agenda, I can't wait for the straight one because, by those standards, it's going to be wall-to-wall male companions snogging the Doctor, falling in love with the Doctor, walking off into the sunset with the Doctor!

May the Gods of Ragnarok preserve us!
UPDATE: I can’t believe I said “when David Tennant decides to hang up his multicoloured scarf”. It’s the sort of thing lazy journalists say. Tom Baker was the only Doctor Who to wear such a garment, and he left the show nearly 30 years ago!

Saturday (k)nights are hotter than Potter!

When I was a kid, Saturdays were the gayest, loveliest day of the week. In the summer (and although I hated sport), I’d often spend my time watching rugby at the club near to our home – fantasising madly about the hunky young rugby players there! In the autumn/winter, I’d wait patiently for teatime and then curl up in front of the telly to lose myself in the world of Doctor Who.

For some reason, Doctor Who has always been popular among gay men and boys – perhaps it’s the campness of it all – and a friend of mine once suggested it was something to do with the TARDIS representing the closet!

Sadly, Saturdays just haven’t been the same since Doctor Who finished its current run earlier in the (so-called!) summer. But, for those of us suffering withdrawal symptoms until the Doctor returns to our screens on Christmas Day, BBC Wales has come to the rescue with another fantastic 13-part drama series – Merlin. What’s more, it stars the cute and delicious Colin Morgan (as the young wizard – move over Harry Potter), who’s currently my Number One “Top of the Hots”.

Morgan (22) – a nominee for the Theatregoers’ Choice Newcomer of the Year award – made his professional acting debut in 2007, in the title role of the Young Vic’s Vernon God Little. He followed this with All About My Mother at the Old Vic, before returning to the Young Vic – naked and hot! – in A Prayer for My Daughter.

He made his television debut on Christmas Day in 2007 playing “a gay man, now” in The Catherine Tate Show Christmas Special. He followed this with a stint in “Midnight” (above), an episode of Series 4 of Doctor Who where, with his pale complexion, pitch-black hair and black nail varnish, he reminded me of a gorgeous gay Goth friend of mine.

In Merlin (left), Morgan’s rather sweet performance is more gay Emo than gay Goth and, while the first episode as a whole was a little lacking in some respects, the show has far more going for it than the Beeb’s Robin Hood now that the sizzlingly hot Harry Lloyd has hung up his Scarlet bow . . . and is a damn lot better than having to endure Simon Cowell and his interminable X Factor on ITV!

Hurrah (again) for Saturday nights!

Colin Morgan’s “Midnight” video diary can be viewed here, while one of his Catherine Tate Show “gay man, now” sketches can be seen here.

Virtue on "vice"

A three-hour public orgy of simulated sex acts, advertised gay bars, pornography vendors, male prostitution businesses with handouts to parade spectators that included condoms, sexual lubricant samples, and literature promoting a pornographic website . . .

Interested? Read on.

Actually, I should have put quote marks around that first paragraph, because these words are not mine, but those of David Virtue, who indulges in a one-man orgy of gay bashing on a website called VirtueOnline.

This website calls itself “the Anglican Communion’s largest Biblically Orthodox Online News Service, read by 3,000,000 readers in 45 countries each year. Challenging, controversial, never dull, VirtueOnline exists to keep its readers informed about the worldwide Anglican Communion and to preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

You can hear the hellfire preaching in his written voice, as he talks of the “blasphemous sex orgy” that was San Francisco Pride, and what upsets Virtue as much as this sacrilegious event itself is the fact that it “included a flotilla from the Episcopal Diocese of California and Bishop Marc Andrus”. Indeed, his headline is Diocese of California complicit in perverted “gay pride parade”.

You see him reaching for his Bible as he bellows and rages:

The sick, degenerate parade of homoerotic behavior contained a float featuring the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop of California[,] in company with Nigerian sexual predator, Davis Mac-Iyalla[,] former Nigerian head of Changing Attitude[,] sitting in the back of a car waving to cheering people on sidewalks.

Andrus’s car wasn’t far behind the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. VOL exposed the sexual activities of Mac-Iyalla in Lambeth, revealing his sexual predatory behavior with two seminarians in the course of a tour, all the while telling people that he was a victim of the Nigerian Anglican Church’s homophobia.

Virtue goes on to say that, tomorrow, “criminal activity and sexual perversion will once again fill San Francisco’s public streets, with the shameful blessing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger”. This is the Folsom Street Fair, at which “hundreds, if not thousands, of fully nude men walk the public streets engaging in oral sex, sodomy, and some of the most debauched and vile acts of sadomasochism".

“These outrageous activities happen in broad daylight. Children are allowed to, and do, attend this event and are witness to this nudity and public sex.”

I can’t help thinking there’s some hyperbole here. Can someone enlighten me? I’ve never been to San Francisco, so have no way of knowing. But it sounds like fun. Virtue actually points his readers to some video footage, and tantalises – sorry, warns – them with “but you should be warned that many of them are sexually explicit and disgusting”.

Read the whole hellfire tirade and get to the video links here. It’s a hoot.

Friday, 26 September 2008


Following Matthew Mitcham’s Olympic triumph in Beijing last month, and NBC’s failure to make any reference to the fact that the young Australian was an out gay athlete, recently conducted a wide-ranging interview with the broadcaster’s Olympic host, Bob Costas.

Mitcham, who was the only out gay male athlete at the games, won gold in the men’s 10-metre platform diving event, preventing a gold-medal sweep by the Chinese men’s diving team. What’s more, he did it in dramatic fashion, winning on his final dive and posting the highest recorded score ever for an Olympic dive by a man!

As we reported here in August:

Mitcham’s journey has not been an easy one. He’s already battled depression, retired while still a teenager after becoming physically and emotionally burnt out, then, nine months later, resumed his sport to build himself into the champion he now undoubtedly is.

But, at the time of the Olympic coverage, NBC chose to ignore all this.

As points out:

It’s a combination of sports history in the making and moving personal story that usually makes for great Olympic coverage.

Yet during NBC’s two evening’s worth of platform diving coverage, neither Mitcham’s status as the only out gay male athlete, nor his moving personal story was ever mentioned. This dramatic and historic information was instead replaced by the commentators with a vague reference to Mitcham overcoming “personal issues”.

In August, led the coverage, which was soon picked up by LGBT organisations and publications, including Pink Triangle, around the globe. Everyone was dismayed at NBC’s apparent homophobia. contacted NBC Sports, who gave an initial response indicating that they had no problem with their coverage of Mitcham, only to later follow that up with an apology when they contacted the broadcaster again.

Now, in the interview with, Costas talks about gay people in sports generally and about Mitcham specifically, admitting that he – Mitcham – had not been an athlete he’d been focusing on: “But had [I] been, I would have thought [Mitcham’s sexuality] was a worthwhile thing to mention.”

You can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

Hey, Rowan and John: put your money where your message is!

The Church of England should completely re-examine its assets and investment policies, according to the religion and society think tank Ekklesia, which wants the churches to “put their money where their message is”.

The call comes after revelations that Church finance managers have been using similar tactics to the ones for which the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, condemned City traders, to maximise profits on the Church’s £5 billion assets and investments.

Ekklesia makes five key points:

1. The C of E has benefited hugely from rising oil, gold and copper prices, which have been driven at least in part by speculators, due to its share holdings worth hundreds of millions of pounds in Oil and Mining companies.

2. In 2006/2007 the Church Commissioners set up a currency hedging programme, in effect short-selling sterling to guard against rises in other currencies.

3. The Church invested £13 million in Man Group, the largest listed hedge fund manager which regularly short-sells.

4. The Church has a stock lending programme through JP Morgan Chase which may have been used by traders to make profits by betting that the value of the stocks will fall.

5. The Church has traded debts. The commissioners sold a £135 million mortgage portfolio last year, according to their annual report, in spite of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s criticism of trading debts exclusively for profit.

“The key thing is not to apportion blame – either on traders or the Church – but to open up a realistic discussion about economic alternatives,” says Ekklesia’s co-director Jonathan Bartley.

His directorial colleague, Simon Barrow, author of Is God Bankrupt?, added, “The banking and credit crisis presents an opportunity for the Church to be honest and positive, not anxious and defensive.”

Ekklesia says that the worldwide Christian churches have billions of pounds of assets and investments, and this means they can act as a global community promoting a different model of economic activity based on need not greed.

In the case of the Church of England, the think tank says it could invest more in institutions such as cooperatives, friendly societies and housing associations in return for a slightly lower profit.

“It’s a question of how resources are earned and shared, and in whose interest,” Barrow says. “The earliest Christian communities were founded on principles of seeking to use material wealth for the common good, building equality and giving priority to the poorest and neediest.

“The Church needs to put its money where its message is,” he added. “Jesus pointed out that ‘where your treasure is, there is your heart also’. Condemning others while playing the system to your own advantage will strike many as lacking the kind of integrity and creative endeavour the churches could be demonstrating.”

Ekklesia says many church groups and community initiatives are involved in “alternative economy” practices – co-ops, credit unions, ethical investment, fair trade, local trade and exchange schemes, micro-credit, small loans for development, calls for monetary reform and more. The “credit crunch”, it says, means that such initiatives need as much investment as they can get. “But the crunch is also an opportunity to pioneer alternative economic models whose need and worth is being recognised more than ever,” says a press release from the organisation.

“This work is often praised by church leaders,” says Barrow. “What we are saying is that they should be investing far more of their resources to match. Now would be an opportune moment for the C of E to re-examine its whole investment system, work with other churches and civic groups to promote economic justice through actions as well as words.”

Things can only get better

Iraq? Getting better? Not if you're lesbian or gay, it ain't.

It's not the first time it's been said, because it's known among campaigners and those who take an interest in such things that mad Muslim clerics are actively promoting the summary execution of gays.

But it does no harm to remind people of the terrible facts.

See this Guardian piece by Peter Tatchell, the gay- and human-rights campaigner, in its "Comment is Free" slot. There are several links, including one to a short film, Queer Fear – Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq, produced by David Grey for Village Film, which "documents the tragic fates of several individual gay Iraqis".
UPDATE: Since posting the above, I've learned that a gay leader has been assassinated in Iraq. He was an organiser of safe houses in Baghdad and an LGBT coordinator in the city. Read the story here.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Muslim violence because gays dare to hold an arts festival

So they were not empty threats. We reported yesterday that journalists had received what were thought to be Muslim threats because they had reported fairly on yesterday’s gay festival of arts in Sarajevo.

Now we hear in this Reuters report and elsewhere that men with hoods and beards shouting “Allahu akbar” (Allah is great) have been dragging people from vehicles and beating people up in the street – and all because the gay arts festival fell within the month of Ramadan. Whether any journalists were hurt we don't know, but we do know that even appearing to approve of anything gay when these religiofascists are around is asking for them to behave in their usual sweet, polite, accommodating manner, i.e. with weapons and fists and much shouting.

Six people were admitted to the Sarajevo hospital with head wounds, and a Danish visitor was the most seriously hurt (whether the nationality is significant, considering the Motoons affair, can only be speculated on).

“Organisers said the timing of the indoor festival of art, film and workshops about sexual minorities was coincidental,” says the Reuters report. And what if it hadn’t been coincidental? Must every organisation that Muslims don’t happen to like rein itself in during their special times of the year?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Catholic school denies girls potentially lifesaving vaccination

We can probably guess why the governors of a Greater Manchester Catholic school don’t want their students to have a cervical-cancer injection, but they’re hotly denying it’s a moral issue.

The vaccine is against the human papilloma virus, which is responsible for about 70 per cent of cervical cancer. However, guess how it’s transmitted. Sexually, of course. And there’s the rub.

In spite of the fact that injections of one sort of another have been administered in schools since Pope Ratzo proudly wore his Nazi Youth uniform (and probably before, for all we know), it seems a weak objection on the part of the governors of St Monica’s High in Prestwich that school is not the place for these injections to be carried out.

Even the Catholic Church itself is said not to object to the injection, but some Catholics have voiced concerns that it could encourage promiscuity by giving the girls immunity and therefore confidence to go out there and get laid.

Whether having sex is a good thing or not at the age of 13, some girls are going to do it. That is just human nature and a fact. Given that as a fact, then, it makes sense – indeed, it’s a health issue – for all girls to receive the vaccine.

These girls are entering puberty. Do they not have rights? I suppose they can go off to their GP for it, but that’s putting more pressure on doctors’ surgeries when a programme is being rolled out to provide the vaccine in schools.

The governors are questioning, among other things, the effectiveness of the vaccine. So they’re experts in that, too, are they?

If this government really does have to insist on our having religious schools, it’s about time it made it a condition of their licence that they have to provide certain core services. Helping the process of looking after children’s and young people’s health has long been one of them.

It’s likely that some of the girls who are being denied the jab at school will not bother going to their GPs for one, and – well, you can guess the rest.

Threats to journos over gay festival

We carried a a post on 2 September about Muslims moaning (surprise, surprise!) that a gay festival due to be held today in Bosnia would coincide with their Ramadan observations.

Not that it would interfere with their Ramadan observations, merely be held during the month of Ramadan.

Now, journalists in Bosnia are worried because there have been threats, and they’re taking them seriously. The journalists have written what a story by AFP (Agence France-Presse) quotes as “unbiased and ethical” stories about the Sarajevo Queer Festival.

The journos suspect members of the majority Muslim population are behind the threats.

The threats have been sent to three radio stations and an independent magazine, and the country’s journalists’ association says, “Letters containing open and very serious threats are an attack on personal safety of the employees of these media outlets as well as safety of their family members and their property.”

The story continues:

The association requested that police identify the persons behind letters sent to IFM Student Radio, BH Radio 1, Radio Sarajevo and the Dani magazine and publish their names.

Announcement by gay and lesbian rights group Association Q that it was organising the Queer Festival has run into a storm of criticism, particularly upsetting the Muslim majority as it will fall during the holy month of Ramadan.

Many others, including members of various ethnic political parties, have gone as far as declaring homosexuality an illness and its behaviour deviant.

Such statements have been accompanied by a broader hate campaign, with posters declaring “Death to Homos” appearing in the capital and a torrent of abuse on Internet forums.

They have been met by condemnation and calls for tolerance from rights groups like Amnesty International and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The police were preparing special security measures for the festival labeled a “high risk” event.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Family values

One of the two greatest organisations of religiofascists, the Roman Catholic Church, is urging the other of the two greatest organisations of religiofascists, Islam, to work with it in promoting family life.

And we know what they both mean by family life. If your family isn’t woman + man + 2 or more kids (they like more, of course, in spite of a groaning planet that is hardly life-affirming, as these people like to claim they are), then it’s not family life.

The story comes to us from the Ekklesia website today, which gives in full the annual Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue message to Muslims for the end of the month of Ramadan.

Well, it says it gives it in full, but there are two ellipses. No matter. Here it is as the Ekklesia site has it:

During this month Christians close to you have shared your reflections and your family celebrations; dialogue and friendship have been strengthened. Praise be to God!

This friendly rendezvous gives us an opportunity to reflect together on a mutually topical subject which will enrich our exchange and help us to get to know each other better, in our shared values as well as in our differences: . . . the subject of the family.

One of the documents of Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, which deals with the Church in the modern world, states: “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family. Hence Christians and all men who hold this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by which men today find help in fostering this community of love and perfecting its life.”

These words give us an opportune reminder that the development of both the human person and of society depends largely on the healthiness of the family! How many people carry, sometimes for the whole of their life, the weight of the wounds of a difficult or dramatic family background? . . . Christians and Muslims can and must work together to safeguard the dignity of the family, today and in the future.

Given the high esteem in which both Muslims and Christians hold the family, we have already had many occasions, from the local to the international level, to work together in this field. The family, that place where love and life, respect for the other and hospitality are encountered and transmitted, is truly the “fundamental cell of society”.

Muslims and Christians must never hesitate, not only to come to the aid of families in difficulty, but also to collaborate with all those who support the stability of the family as an institution and the exercise of parental responsibility, in particular in the field of education. I need only remind you that the family is the first school in which one learns respect for others, mindful of the identity and the difference of each one. Inter-religious dialogue and the exercise of citizenship cannot but benefit from this.

The Ekklesia story does raise the sort of question most sensible people would:

Critics both inside and outside the two religions will point out that both the Pope and senior Muslim leaders have been strongly critical of feminism and opposed to the dignity and rights of gay people, indicating an agenda which some would see as narrow and restrictive rather than broad and life-affirming.

And you’ll notice the references to “men” in a quote within that larger extract above, but the bit quoted is, it has to be said, from the 1960s. However, little will have changed in relation to whom they see as the boss of the family, especially within the Muslim religion.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Sharia – the disturbing story continues

More concern over the reach of sharia courts in Britain comes in today's (London) Times, in which, under the headline Sharia courts are extending their reach, Stephen Pollard puts forward the view – one taken by this blog – that, irrespective of a sharia court's standing in British law, Muslims who are on the end of an arbitration decision by such a court may not get a fair deal.

He writes:

If two parties agree to be bound by an arbitrator – a Sharia court, for instance – that is their business. But what if community pressure forces their acceptance? In one recent inheritance dispute Sharia judges gave the sons twice as much as the daughters. In English law, the shares would have been equal. We do not know what pressures were put on the women to accept the ruling. Peer pressure can be overpowering. And the very point of Western freedoms is to protect people against such unjust pressures.

Once again, it seems, the case is made for keeping religion out of the courtroom. Judgments handed down based on religious belief cannot equal those handed down by independent arbiters or judges whose training equips them – or should equip them, and there will be some whose impartiality may be called into doubt – to deal with a situation with regard to law and fairness.

Pollard raises another issue:

But arbitration over property disputes is one thing; assault, however, is a matter for the criminal law. Yet Sharia courts have dealt with at least six cases of domestic violence in which they simply ordered the assailants to take anger management classes and to talk to community elders. The female victims then withdrew the complaints they had made to the police. They were thus forced to accept the primacy of an unjust religious law over the law of the land. And if you believe that the victims were not coerced by peer pressure into withdrawing their complaints, then you also believe in flying pigs.

Sharia courts have not been granted powers by the State to deal with criminal behaviour. But in ensuring that the victims' complaints were withdrawn, they took de facto control. This, clearly, is the means by which Sharia will extend its reach. And the longer we acquiesce in it, the longer that reach will be.

The dangers of sharia courts

We’re not the only ones worried about the creeping Islamisation in the UK. Michael Nazir-Ali, the homophobic Bishop of Rochester, is, too, and voices his fears in a story in the Telegraph.

The sharia courts he’s worried about can operate as a result of the 1996 Arbitration Act. Some fear that, because they’re run by Muslims using their silly sharia law as a basis, such groups as women and gays would not come off well in any arbitration they handed out.

Nazir-Ali writes:

As to the relationship of these tribunals to public law, it should be clear, surely, that no matter what we may have agreed to do in the past, every citizen has the right to have recourse to the courts to secure their fundamental freedoms and rights. It is then for these courts to decide how such freedoms and rights are to be upheld.

It is most important for personal liberty and social order that this duty is not negotiated away in the cause of misplaced concern for community relations or communal harmony.

While it’s rich seeing an avowed homophobe talk about how important personal liberty is, on this one he’s right.

We must also be clear that the courts, in this country, cannot uphold what is contrary to public law. That is to say, decisions of any quasi-legal bodies must accord with the law of the land and remedy for any decisions not in such accordance must lie in the courts.

See also Joshua Rosenberg on the subject. While he points out that there’s nothing a sharia court can do to overturn established British law (and that is how it should be), it’s easy to see that, within the Muslim culture, a woman could be made to feel cowed into accepting decisions she might not if everything were left to the civil courts of the land and she were exposed to advice from outside that oppressive, religion-inspired culture. Within that culture, it might be hard for someone who is on the receiving end of a sharia decision he or she does not like to go, then, to the proper courts, for fear of being seen as some sort of pariah within Islam – or, worse, subjected to some sort of punishment.

Better to keep religion and the law well apart. Especially a religion like Islam.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

In a word, religion is ridiculous

This will get the religious fanatics jumping up and down and waving banners like a bunch of Muslims who've just heard that a cartoon may have been produced that may have hinted at a likeness of their prophet.

It's a film with the portmanteau title of Religulous, and it comes from the same stable as the Borat film starring Sacha Baron Cohen. It will, says the Observer, "mock the beliefs of the world's major religions, recruiting unwitting assistance from the ranks of the faithful".

It's due to open in New York at the beginning of October. The paper says:

The project has already inspired protests at its premiere at the Toronto film festival earlier this month, and US satirist Bill Maher and director Larry Charles have been accused of misleading participants. Maher has conceded that several sleights of hand were necessary to persuade people to perform. "It was simple: We never, ever, used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it A Spiritual Journey. It didn't work everywhere. We went to Salt Lake City, but no one would let us film there at all."

Maher is quoted as describing the type of audience he seeks to provoke:

"Any religious person. The point is to question what is usually made to be unquestionable in this country. Normally if you say the word 'faith', the debate is over – no matter what incredibly nonsensical, destructive, ridiculous tenet comes out of your mouth. I could say, 'My faith is the tooth fairy and Klingons are coming'. But I'm not going to play by those rules."

Sounds like fun.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

And the word was God

It would be an interesting exercise, in this season of party conferences in the UK, to tally up how many references to God there are in the major speeches.

Some research by a think tank called Theos reckons such references are on the rise. The ever-helpful Ekklesia tells us:

The research, released to coincide with the start of the major party conferences, examines the use of "God talk" in the speeches of party leaders over the last decade (1998–2007). It covers the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders, but does not include the Greens or other smaller parties.

The greatest number of religious references, claims the research, occurred in 2001 when each of the speeches was delivered within weeks of the 9/11 attacks. Since 2001, however, there has been a continued rise in the use of religious rhetoric.

It won't surprise anyone that God-soaked Tony Blair has helped to raise the overall figure. You can read the breakdown at the Ekklesia website linked to above, but one sentence struck me, and it comes from the director of Theos, Paul Woolley, who says, "The increase in references to religious faith reflects an increased awareness of, and interest in, religious groups in our society."

Which is something we can hardly avoid, with a government so hell-bent on opening up ever more religiously segregated schools and pandering and kowtowing to "faith groups".

Friday, 19 September 2008

Now the Pope can be buggered in hell

Oh, goody! No prosecution for the comedian in Italy who said Pope Ratzo would go to hell, where he would be buggered by demons.

The Times tells us, "Angelino Alfano, the Italian Minister of Justice, [. . .] said he had refused a request by the public prosecutor in Rome for permission to charge the comedienne and satirist Sabina Guzzanti with insulting Pope Benedict XVI."

The story continues:

Ms Guzzanti had said during a left[-]wing rally in Rome in July that because of the Church's stand on homosexuality the Pope would go to Hell, where he would be tormented by "very active poofter devils".

Under the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, an offence to the pontiff carries the same weight as an offence to the Italian head of state, with a penalty of up to five years in prison. However prosecution requires the go[-]ahead from the Justice Ministry.

So that's one up for free speech, one in the eye for nutty Catholics.

But here's the sting in the tail:

Mr Alfano said he had decided not to proceed with a prosecution "knowing the depth of the Pope's capacity for forgiveness". Speaking at the Catholic University in Milan the minister said that as a Roman Catholic himself he had been "saddened and shamed" by Ms Guzzanti's remarks. However she had accepted full responsibility for them, and he saw "no point in adding further fire to the flames".

So it's nothing to do with the fact that some fossil of a law (a) puts a nutcase in the same category as a head of state and (b) perpetuates the idea that there's something wrong with criticising the head of state in the first place: it's that Ratzo has a "capacity for forgiveness".

Hell, I wouldn't want to be forgiven for insulting the old twat: I'd want him to rage and rant at me and feel the full impact of my satire, and then to be told there would be no prosecution. As it stands, she hasn't been exonerated: she's just been let off getting her wrist slapped for this heinous offence against a religiofascist.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Sharia in the workplace

There’s a lot happening behind the scenes – but you probably already knew that – to ensure that foreign laws and practices are enshrined into our way of life here in the UK, and no doubt elsewhere in the Western world, just to comply with people’s superstitions.

If you demanded a change in your workplace practices to accommodate the fact that you like to spin round seven times widdershins in a chalked pentagram while wearing a chicken suit and bellowing, “I am the master of the universe, so you can all fuck off!” five times a day from the middle of the reception area, your bosses might raise an eyebrow.

“Ah, but, it’s my religion,” you’d protest.

“Oh, all right, then,” they’d say.

Or not.

But, then, you never know these days in politically correct Britain, which bends over backwards to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of Muslims (others, too, but it’s Muslims who seem to do the most demanding and moaning and for whom most changes are made).

I came across a piece in a journal that doesn’t often come my way, Personnel Today. It examines how changes in the workplace are needed to accommodate Islamic beliefs, even changing bonus schemes and pension plans if they don’t comply with sharia law – instead of simply telling them, “You can take it or leave it.”

In the article, Georgina Fuller talks of a law firm who give seminars on sharia (there’s money in it for them, of course), “as it is an increasing concern for organisations”. It then quotes a representative of the firm, Paul Griffin, as saying, “We’re helping more businesses and advising them on how far they should go in complying with Shariah law in the UK.”

Griffin goes on, “If, for example, you offer a discretionary bonus scheme, you can’t earn or charge interest under Shariah. This can make finance a tricky area for firms to manage. Employers have also got to be aware of loans and share options as Muslim employees can’t be owed something in financial terms.”

How much does it cost the firm to do all the twiddling of financial knobs to be compliant with superstition? Does this affect the amount other employees, who don’t feel they have to comply with some religious mumbo-jumbo, get in their bonuses? No doubt the knob twiddling won’t be done for free.

If something is plain unethical, then it’s up to employees to point this out and take appropriate action against their employers until they put it right. But that doesn’t need Allah or the other fella in the other crazy book to arbitrate: it needs human beings with sound morals. Anything else is a case of one rule for part of the workforce and another for the other.

Then we come to time off for prayer.

Fuller quotes Mohammed Farrukh Raza, managing director of Islamic Finance Advisory & Assurance Services (IFAAS UK), which advises companies on how to become sharia-compliant. She writes:

Raza says that Shariah is based on fairness and that, although, in his view, employers have certain obligations to Muslim employees – such as providing prayer rooms – the religious obligation is on the employee rather than the organisation.

“Shariah law is based on fairness but it has to be fair to all, regardless of whether you are a Muslim or non-Muslim,” he says. “The time that Muslim employees can legally require to take off to pray mystifies employers but it’s simple. Muslims are required to pray five times a day and a prayer typically lasts between five to 10 minutes. So normally a Muslim employee would expect to take 25–50 minutes out during the day. Some employees spend the same amount of time taking cigarette breaks.”

But a ciggy break can be postponed or simply cancelled if there’s a job that needs to be done – “. . . like, now”!

Would you employ someone if he or she said that, twice or three times during the working day (depending on its times and duration) ten or fifteen minutes would need to be spent praying in a special room?

And prayer rooms? Are you kidding? Would you give up more valuable space in your small premises, having already provided a rest room for your staff, to accommodate someone’s urge to go and stick his arse in the air for ten minutes?

And there’s also the overriding thing here: the principle. It may seem a good idea to keep Muslim employees happy by giving them a space to pray and by ensuring that they get two or three periods of ten or fifteen minutes to go and do it (taken off their lunch break, presumably) if you have a couple of Muslim employees out of fifty or seventy or a hundred. But then you find your proportion of Muslim employees rises to 10 per cent, then 20 per cent and so on. Then they begin to ask for more, all to satisfy religious beliefs – not general ethical beliefs (though in some cases they may overlap), but specifically religious beliefs.

But I think the point is made.

See also an earlier letter in the same publication, “All religious beliefs should be treated with respect”, which in turn refers to a July article, “Wrong about rights”, in which Tony Pettengell says, among many other things:

But the sooner all references to religions are expunged from the law books, the sooner we'll have an equal society. And until this happens, the weight of 2,000 years of suppression will keep women where they've been for so long – in the background.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Charity that shows anything but

Nice to see the online Pink News having a good go at the despicable, execrable Christian Institute, one of the most rabidly homophobic so-called Christian groups on the planet – officially a charity that is "committed to upholding the truths of the Bible".

It comes in part of a story it carries today on how this vile nest of shit stirrers has attacked an academic conference on homophobic bullying in schools.

But it's the litany of the group's detestable activities that will get gays going, such as how it payrolled the case of Lillian Ladele, the fundamentalist Christian registrar who refused to officiate in same-sex partnerships; how it objected to the extension of racial-hatred laws to sexual orientation; how it tried to stop the introduction of the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which protect gay people from discrimination in services and goods; how it has called for the reintroduction of the shameful and disgraceful Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988, which sought to prevent the "promotion" of homosexuality (an impossibility if ever there were one!).

Far be it from me to suggest that you go and bombard this disgusting organisation with polite and well-constructed questions about its activities, but it does have a contact page.

Reiss steps down

The man who said creationism should be talked about in British science classrooms has resigned as a director of the Royal Society following the storm of controversy that followed his remarks last week.

Professor Michael Reiss, who is also an ordained minister, said creationism should be discussed in science lessons "if pupils raised the issue", according to the BBC.

He didn't actually say creationism should be taught in science lessons, but his belief that it should be discussed got scientists twitching.

The Royal Society says in a statement:

As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the society, he will step down immediately as director of education – a part-time post he held on secondment. He is to return, full time, to his position as professor of science education at the Institute of Education.

The BBC says the Royal Society "reiterated that its position was that creationism had no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum".

But the society says, "However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

See also this from The Times.

How to make God fit science

They're holding a big get-together next year in Rome to discuss both science and theology. According to the Ekklesia think tank, it is an "international conference on 'Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after The Origin of Species', to mark the Darwin celebrations and build the science–theology dialogue".

"The Vatican opposes creationism," says Ekklesia, "which misconstrues ancient texts to deny the findings of the natural sciences and oppose them to divine fiat. However, a few Catholic academics have joined those toying with 'Intelligent Design', a close cousin."

However it's all dressed up, science has been traditionally ahead of religion (which is why it didn't accept the theories of the likes of Galileo, to cite just one famous instance), and has then pasted the science into its own thinking. This all just smacks of a way for the Catholic Church to remain vaguely credible and unable to be wrong-footed by science. Keep up with the game.

It's easy, really: just put God far enough back in the scheme of things, and then say he planned it all that way. You can make the existance of God explain anything you wish.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Going under

The move to implement sharia in the UK, both within the Muslim community and within the British legal system, must be seen as part of Islam’s inherent compulsion to dominate every society within which it finds itself. Part of the Islamic legal tradition is that it treats individuals not as persons in their own rights but only as members of a religious community. The community has inherent rights but far less so the individual. While some expressions of this drive might seem harmless, and may be justified in providing for Muslims who wish to live voluntarily by sharia, there are real dangers in the use of strong communal pressure on individual Muslims to accept sharia litigation (not least for Muslim women who are disadvantaged under sharia). Integrating sharia precepts into British law would gradually impose elements of Islamic religious law on non-Muslims in the UK. Both trends contradict the human rights and freedoms of individuals which are enshrined in modern western states. British law is based on territorial jurisdiction – all citizens within the state territory have equal rights before the law. Muslims pushing for sharia integration into British law are actually asking for a new system that treats citizens in different ways according to their religious community.

So writes Patrick Sookhdeo in his book, Faith Power and Territory: A Handbook of British Islam, and this passage is quoted verbatim by Melanie Phillips in a piece in the Spectator today, in which she examines the news that there are now five sharia courts operating in the UK. Nothing new, she says, as the Sunday Times seemed to make out, merely something that, as we pointed out on Sunday, has been permitted under the Arbitration Act of 1996 for years.

Phillips's piece is headed No longer one law for all, and she ends with this sentiment:

. . . if this continues Britain will break up as a unitary state governed by one law for all. Sharia law should be stopped, not condoned or encouraged. No other minority in Britain either wants or is permitted to live under an alternative legal system. This is the way a society fractures – and then goes under.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Killing with kindness!

Who says that the fine, upstanding religious folk of Saudi Arabia are not warm, big-hearted, benevolent people full of the milk of human kindness, thoughtfulness, humanity and generosity of spirit?

Proof of this comes today as we learn that a senior official there who said it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV networks that broadcast "immoral content" has now qualified his remarks. Now, says Sheik Saleh al-Lehedan, chief of the kingdom's highest tribunal, the Supreme Judiciary Council, owners of television stations that show programmes that are "inimical to Islam" can be executed in the due process of law instead.

Now isn't that big of him?

This deranged loon appeared on government-run Saudi TV in an apparent attempt to calm the controversy his comments had triggered last Thursday after he had said in a radio broadcast, in reply to a listener's query, that it was "permissible to kill" those who showed such programmes.

But being able to kill them only through the process of law – well, that's a big step in the right direction, isn't it? Perhaps the people of Saudi Arabia should find a way of killing the entire royal family, judiciary and obsenity police. Through the process of law, of course!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Creeping ever closer! When will they ever learn?

As if we actually needed proof that Islam is slowly but surely creeping further and further into our way of life, we learn from today's Sunday Times that sharia courts now have official sanction, and that there are five of them operating in the UK, including the one I blogged about last week (see "How do you solve a problem like sharia?").

It's a frightening situation, and one I certainly wasn't aware of, and presumably most people were not, either, given that the paper has seen fit to publish the fact as a news story.

It says the British government has "quietly sanctioned" the powers of these "courts" so that "sharia judges [can] rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence".

Rulings issued by any of the five sharia courts are enforceable "with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court". The paper goes on:

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.

It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Now you might argue that there's nothing to worry about, since they're just arbitration assemblies, and sharia "courts" are able to set themselves up as such under the Arbitration Act of 1996, which Muslims have taken advantage of.

But what happens when one of these kangaroo "courts" decides to "try" a case involving homosexuals or women? And we all know what Muslims think of homosexuals and women. OK, so it won't be possible for them to order a gay man to be thrown off a cliff or for a woman who has dared to have sex with someone not her husband to be stoned to death. But are the High Court and County Courts going to allow "judgments" from these bodies that disfavour gays and women to be legally binding in British law?

Dominic Grieve, the Tories' shadow Home Secretary, tells the paper, "If it is true that these tribunals are passing binding decisions in the areas of family and criminal law, I would like to know which courts are enforcing them because I would consider such action unlawful. British law is absolute and must remain so."

And Douglas Murray, the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, said, "I think it’s appalling. I don’t think arbitration that is done by sharia should ever be endorsed or enforced by the British state."

The Sunday Times story says, "There are concerns that women who agree to go to tribunal courts are getting worse deals because Islamic law favours men."

The paper allows comments beneath the story, and Janice of Witney sums up the flavour of most comments when she writes:

Democracy? A whole new system of civil courts "agreed" with no vote in Parliament? To hell with New Labour. I am very relieved that Dominic Grieve is opposing this: the Tories are generally so compliant with Labour's changes. NO. This gives hard line clerics the chill factor to control their women.

Another comment, from Brendon of London, reads:

This is absolutely appalling. Why can Muslim's [sic] not live by the laws that everyone else in this country has to abide to? I find it disgusting that we are bending to the demands of a minority whose views on religion/sexuality/life in general is so backward and damaging to our beliefs & values.

I'm not the first and won't be the last to predict that this creeping Islamisation will lead to more than mere finger-wagging by politicians and strong comments in newspapers' blogs and comment sections. But will the PC brigade among our politicians, civil servants and public bodies act now and prevent the possible violence that no one – except, possibly, Nazis and the more pugnacious racists – wishes to see in our streets again?

No, of course they won't. The mantra of multiculturalism is still being chanted, even though it just can't work.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Humanism: morals and ethics

One of the misconceptions about Humanism is that we have no moral code and that we and the churches are sworn enemies. That's not the case. There is common ground between us; we do have a moral code. The only difference is how we arrive at our ethical beliefs.

Wearing my hat as chair of Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists, I've just had a piece published in my local newspaper, the Kenilworth Weekly News, in its "Thought for the Week" slot, in which I try to tackle that very question. Here it is:

There is some common moral ground between Christianity and Humanism. On certain issues, including the search for peace and an end to world poverty, members of churches and Humanists can see eye to eye.

Where we differ is our starting point for moral decision making. Humanism is an approach to life based on humanity and reason. We believe that moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone. Our decisions are based on the available evidence and our assessment of the outcomes of our actions, not on any dogma or sacred text.

It is perhaps paradoxical that having to rely on sacred texts makes solving current moral problems more difficult rather than easier for religions, as the current turmoil in the Church of England has demonstrated. Anglicans now find themselves in a bind over homosexuality - one so serious that it threatens to lead to a schism. Why all the fuss? It appears that certain passages in the two-thousand-year-old Bible roundly condemn homosexual acts. Traditional Anglicans, like those in Africa, take these at face value, whilst liberal ones, like those in the US, say they should be reinterpreted.

To Humanists this is bizarre. It is absurd in these modern times to base all our ethical values on texts written for a very different society and context. Texts, moreover, that would seek to ossify morality to a specific time and place, failing to recognise that societies develop morally as well as technologically.

Humanists encourage and celebrate human diversity and welcome opportunities for all to develop their potential and achieve happiness. In the case of homosexuality, the Humanist approach recognises that same-sex attraction is a fact of life harming no one, and that gay rights are human rights.

I'm wondering now whether I'll get any homophobic feedback in the form of letters to the editor. Watch this space, as they say, because, if there is any, I'll report back.

For more information, visit the Humanists website.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Take a break . . .

Every Friday afternoon, like clockwork, Newsline – the weekly e-bulletin from the National Secular Society, edited by NSS President Terry Sanderson – has pinged! into my email inbox.

Newsline, which has appeared weekly since the beginning of 2001 (and before that fortnightly), is a handy resource for anyone wanting to keep up to date on religious and secular news.

Though I’ve often wondered how Sanderson manages to produce it with such regularity, I’m grateful that he does. This week, however, it (and Sanderson, presumably) has taken a rest.

Deprived of my weekly read, I decided to have a look back over a couple of the more recent issues and was reminded of Sanderson’s editorial for 8 August edition, which asked, Is Bob Pitt a new McCarthy?:

Richard Dawkins made headlines this week when he accused British schools of allowing creationism to flourish in schools’ science lessons if it was being promoted as part of Islam. He told the press: “Most devout Muslims are creationists – so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught. Teachers are bending over backwards to respect home prejudices that children have been brought up with. The Government could do more but it doesn't want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.

“The Government – particularly under Tony Blair – thinks it is wonderful to have children brought up with their traditional religions. I call it brainwashing. It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country because if you do you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.”

Indeed, right on cue, Professor Dawkins was immediately denounced as an “Islamophobe” on the website Islamophobia Watch by “Martin Sullivan”, the site’s leading light. Mr Sullivan wrote: “On the other hand, there are those of us who would argue that paranoid delusions about the impact on educational policy of a minority faith community who comprise less than 3% of the population of the UK are quite accurately categorisable as Islamophobia.”

According to Johann Hari of the Independent, and several other reliable sources, Martin Sullivan is an alias. The site is almost certainly a one-man band run by a bloke called Bob Pitt, a radical left-winger who imagines he is protecting Muslims by siding with their most reactionary leaders and spokespeople.

Bob Pitt sees “Islamophobia” everywhere. His website is packed with “examples” of how “Islamophobia” is spreading through Europe. Such is his obsession that just about all public utterances that are not completely fawning about Islam are recorded and denounced by Mr Pitt as “Islamophobic”. Needless to say, the NSS and its honorary associates figure prominently.

Could one go so far as to say that Islamophobia Watch contravenes the incitement to religious hatred laws? Could it not be argued that Islamophobia Watch is, in fact, a place where Islamic fanatics could go to find the names of people they can then identify as their enemies? Certainly I have seen people who have been named on the site (often complete with their pictures, for easier identification) expressing alarm at what the consequences might be, and at least one has received hate mail following being named. Indeed, I am not happy about my own picture being repeatedly featured with the implication that I an incorrigible "Islamophobe". (According to the site, being critical of any element of Islam the religion is the equivalent of being anti-Muslim people).

I wonder if Mr Pitt’s conscience is at all pricked by the fear his site inspires in those it brands, McCarthy-style, as “Islamophobic” simply because they wanted to contribute to the debate on Islam and religion generally? I wonder if he ever imagines that some of the things that are criticised by his so-called “Islamophobes” (stoning women to death, hanging dissidents, assassinating critics) might be worthy of harsh criticism?

See also:
Johann Hari on Islamophobia Watch
Leicester Secularist blog
Why Islamophobia Watch doesn’t like Maryam Namazie
Bob Pitt’s web of lies (spun at tax-payers expense)
Britain is letting sharia sneak in

As a cursory browse on Pitt’s website will prove, Islamophobia Watch finds Islamophobia in anything that is short of praise for all things Islam and, just like many Islamists, it seems, doesn’t believe in the right to freedom of speech – try posting a comment to the site!

A month ago, my colleague Andy Armitage emailed Pitt under the subject heading "Johann Hari article":

Attention Bob Pitt

Dear Bob

You'll be aware that Hari has written a piece about your blog, Islamophobia Watch. At the bottom, he writes:

"POSTSCRIPT: You can ask the editors of the Islamophobia Watch website why they continue to demonise gay men who resist sharia law at"

I am genuinely curious about this, too, and have been for some time, because I, too, have come in for criticism on your site. My understanding was that there would be a lot of common ground among minority groups. If I've misinterpreted your intentions, then tell me. But it does look as if – as Hari and Terry Sanderson of the NSS say – you find "Islamophobia" in anything that is short of praise for all things Islam, and then call it racism.

I hope I'll hear from you.

Best wishes
Andy Armitage

Of course, we didn’t expect a reply and, true to form, we didn’t get one.

Bugger the Pope!

A piece of Fascist legislation (note the capital F) is being invoked to prosecute a comedian in Italy for having a go at the Pope.

Today's Times says that Sabrina Guzzanti had declared that Pope Ratzo would "go to Hell and be tormented by homosexual demons". She's now facing a prison term of up to five years. The story continues:

Addressing a Rome rally in July, Sabrina Guzzanti warmed up with a few gags about Silvio Berlusconi – her favourite target for her biting impressions – before moving on to some unrepeatable jokes about Mara Carfagna, the Equal Opportunities Minister and one-time topless model.

But then she got religion, and after warning everyone that within 20 years Italian teachers would be vetted and chosen by the Vatican, she got to the punchline: "But then, within 20 years the Pope will be where he ought to be – in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils, and very active ones, not passive ones."

You never know: the old tart might enjoy it.

But, for saying that, Guzzanti is now facing a charge of  "offending the honour of the sacred and inviolable person" of the evil old twat, who, along with his predecessors and his religiofascistic thugs in the Vatican, has been responsible for the deaths of countless people by telling them they shouldn't use condoms, as well as self-inflicted death by gay Catholics, not to mention having played a big part in the overpopulation of Planet Earth.

Giovanni Ferrara, the Rome prosecutor, is invoking a 1929 piece of legislation known as the Lateran Treaty (enacted during the Fascist era), made between Italy and the Vatican, which stipulates that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President.

Paolo Guzzanti, Guzzanti's father and a centre-right MP, said the move was "a return to the Middle Ages”. "Perhaps my daughter should be submitted to the judgement of God by being made to walk on hot coals," he added.

And Antonio Di Pietro, a senator and former anti-corruption magistrate, who organised the rally at which Guzzanti expressed her hope that Ratzo would get a good buggering, said that the comedian had only "exercised her constitutional right to freedom of thought".

But religions don't like freedom of thought. It threatens their power. It lifts the veil on the evil that lies within many of them, particularly strict Catholicism. Those with cushy jobs and plenty to eat and drink in the Vatican would not want that life of comfort and plenty to disappear if the Catholic world – so much of it suffering abject poverty but still contributing to the cardinals' abundant and lavish lifestyle – suddenly decided it was not going to put up with it any more.

Once upon a time . . .

Once upon a time there was a little boy who believed in fairies and other mysterious folk who lived in woodland. Eventually, after a few years of life, he was disabused of this. No harm done. With a little instruction from his parents and education from his primary-school teachers, he could see that the existence of such creatures was highly unlikely.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who believed there were green men on Mars. Eventually, after a few years of life, she was disabused of this. It was highly unlikely there was life on Mars, she was told by her parents and teachers, let alone actual humanoids. The atmosphere and other conditions would not support life. No harm done. With a little education she could see that his initial belief was unfounded, even though the possible existence of water on the red planet has recently caused some excitement as to the possibility of life, but certainly not proof of mammalian life.

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who believed in six-day creationism. It was in his holy book, the one they made him read at home and in the place of worship. He was never disabused of this. He went to school still believing in six-day creationism. He reached the stage in his school life when more advanced science lessons were taught. Still he believed the world was created in six days. It said so, in the Bible, in the Koran. It must be true. Some of his fellows had other ideas: that perhaps the world was created over a longer period, but still by God. Either way, it was divine, ordered, intended, planned.

This was in spite of evidence all around the boy (evidence that was becoming more accessible as he learned the scienfitic method and how to detect and test the evidence) that life progressed through a long process of evolution and that, before this – billions of years before this – the universe came into being from, it is widely accepted, a Big Bang, and continued to expand, forming suns and planets grouped into galaxies.

He was at secondary school now. What happened during his primary-school years that he should still believe in creationism, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

We heard on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, and read in newspapers yesterday, and on the British Humanist Association's science blog , that Michael Reiss, professor of science education at the University of London and also a Church of England minister, thinks there's room for teaching creationism in science classes.

In some cases, he says, "depending on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body, it can be appropriate to deal with the issue. If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works."

This is fine as far as it goes. But the British Humanist Association points out that some earlier reports had suggested "that he was asking for creationism to be taught alongside science as an 'alternative worldview' ".

While kids with these views shouldn't just be told they're a bunch of loons, it should be made clear to them that there is no evidence for creationism and plenty for evolution. We all recognise that science is a work in progress and will never answer everything, but, when overwhelming evidence is staring you in the face (and schools provide the means to investigate this evidence via the scientific method), there comes a time when a teacher has to say, "Look, this is what the evidence points to. Your theory is the only thing people had in times gone by, but not any more."

But one has to ask, "Why are pupils of twelve or thirteen – old enough, anyway, to be doing more advanced science than in their early education – still believing in creationism if they've just had six or seven years of education? Ah, well, the likelihood is that they went to a "faith" primary school, which would, even if not teaching creationism outright, have been accommodating it as that "alternative worldview". So their primary-school education has failed to prepare them for secondary education.

I suspect many teachers feel cowed into accommodating the wackier beliefs, but would they accommodate bizarre notions if those notions sprang from anything other than a religious mindset? "Look, sonny, I know you once believed that you could catch bird flu from a rubber duck, but . . ." Why should they feel they can't challenge silly beliefs if they don't stem from religion, but daren't do so if they do?

So let's talk about creationism in class. It's an itch waiting to be scratched. It's there. You can't avoid it. It's part of the "where did we come from?" question. But it should have been nipped in the bud in early schooling, like the existence of Santa Claus and fairies at the bottom of the garden and a moon made of green cheese and little green men on Mars.

It is a useful vehicle for exploring how early people probably formed models of the world and had to fill in the gaps. But let's not waste too much time on it in science lessons that should be spent exploring science and the scientific method.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Stamp of approval

Matthew Mitcham, the Olympic diving champion who dazzled the world with his winning dives at the Beijing Olympics last month, is to be given his own official Australian postage stamp (pictured).

Mitcham, who single-handedly prevented the Chinese from their expected clean sweep in the male diving events, achieved the highest score in the history of the Games! He is the first gay man to have been open and honest about his sexuality before competing in the Olympic Games and, consequently, the first out gay male Olympic champion.

Mitcham was not in the closet to his friends and family, but came out publicly earlier this year following discussions about how the decision might affect his chances of sponsorship. It seems that he needn't have worried.

Chris White, the manager of fellow Australian, swimmer Stephanie Rice, has stated that Mitcham’s sexuality won’t hold back his earnings potential:

It’s about consistency of performance and personality. Swimming is a sport with huge interest in Australia and sponsors are attracted to it.

And according to the Sydney Morning Herald, there has been a great deal of interest in Mitcham from those wishing to secure a deal with him.

You can read all our coverage of the Australian golden boy here.

Pathetic and bathetic: the music of the spheres as played by a journalist

Now here's logic for you – and an indictment of the state of popular journalism. First a quotation from a story about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) (see "D:REAMs and conCERNs" from yesterday's Pink Triangle posts) on the BBC website:

It [yesterday's historic switching-on of the LHC] is not the first time that a scientific study of the universe has inspired awe and wonder.

The crew of Apollo 8 were so moved by their experience, they felt moved to read passages from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve in 1968.

OK (apart from the clumsy repetition of the word moved), by all means mention an emotional moment among a group of astronauts. Who among those of us who have never seen Earth from way up there or seen the moon close up can say just what emotions they felt, and who can deny them the right to express them in whatever way they wished? Anyway, even to us godless hellspawn – the secularists and atheists and doubters who are responsible for all the ills of the world – Bible language is poetic and great to read aloud.

However, that quotation followed this short passage:

He [physicist-turned-priest the Rev. Professor Sir John Polkinghorne] said: "Physicists are deeply impressed with the order of the world. It is rationally beautiful and structured, and the feeling that there is a mind behind it is a very natural feeling to have."

Does that juxtaposition of paragraphs, that conflation of situations, not strike you as the typical way in which a journo will try to find a link, however tenuous, to hold a story together? I mean, the astronauts are clever people and all that, and need to know lots of really brilliant technical stuff to get themselves into space. But they're not particle physicists (unless by a happy coincidence). They're not studying such things as the so-called "God particle", the Higgs boson, that "crucial part of the standard model of particle physics", to quote a long article in National Geographic.

So to come down from such heady speculation on the origins of the universe to how the astronauts reached for the Bible when they saw their planet from a great height seems to me to be bathetic in the extreme (yes, they were likely all Judeo-Christians, but my point would cover the Koran if they were Muslims or the Vedas if they were Hindus or the words of Guru Nanak Dev if they were Sikhs).

Genesis may be poetic, but it isn't particle physics, merely a metaphorical way of describing how the world began (though thought literal by many people, even today). And it was the world in those days whose origins they thought they were describing – i.e. the planet, geocentric, flat – not the universe we have since come to know as something huge beyond imagining, of which that Earth is a small part.

Perhaps I'm making too much of this. It just seemed an odd conflation by the journalist: on the one hand, a team of physicists speculating scientifically on the God particle and another group – whose own science didn't create the planet, or the moon, but merely allowed them to fly far away from the former – reach for the Bible on seeing Earth from a distance, beautiful though that may be, and read passages from it.

Music to his ears

Following our piece on the gay South African music teacher who got an apology from the religious bigots who sacked him, we're now happy to report that the Dutch Reformed Church, Moreleta Park, will pay him about R87,000 (£6,000; US$10,500) in damages and loss of income. Well, we can't claim it was our story that did it, but it's nice to report, all the same.

Johan Strydom claimed the church discriminated against him on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Hat tip: Barry Duke at the Freethinker

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

D:REAMs and conCERNs

The Big Bang and all that!

About now, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, is powering up to First Beam for what’s been described as either the beginning of a great era of discovery for humankind or the end of the world!

The experiment will fire two beams of subatomic particles around a 17-mile circuit in opposite directions, smashing them into each other. The aim is to produce enough energy to recreate the conditions that existed immediately after the Big Bang, in order to, among other things, detect the existence of the Higgs boson – the so-called God particle – and to try to explain such phenomena as the nature of dark matter.

The LHC has been built at a cost of almost £5 billion ($9 billion) and has generated a massive amount of interest around the world. Most scientists and physicists are very excited about the project, while others have criticised it.

The UK’s former chief science adviser, David King, believes the LHC has diverted top scientists away from tackling the more pressing issues of the time, such as climate change.

Some people have questioned the cost to the taxpayer. However, it’s worth remembering that because CERN scientists wanted a better means of communicating with each other around the world, they created the World Wide Web – then gave the technology away – free!

And a few scientists are concerned that the collider will produce black holes that will grow out of control and eat up the planet from the inside. In Honolulu, as reported in March of this year in the Honolulu Advertiser, and picked up by the press worldwide, Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho have even filed a lawsuit against CERN, claiming that they haven’t carried out adequate research into the safety implications of the experiment.

However, scientists working for CERN – and there are some 10,000 of them! – say they have reviewed all the evidence and concluded that it poses no risk to the universe.

According to this piece in the Independent, Dr James Gillies, a particle physicist and LHC spokesperson:

There’s nothing to worry about, the LHC is absolutely safe, because we have observed nature doing the same things the LHC will do. Protons regularly collide in the earth's upper atmosphere without creating black holes.

What we are looking at is a global community representing 10,000 people working in 500 universities in 80 countries, none of whom has the slightest worry about risks of this kind. Then we have a retired German chemist who has never published a paper in this field in his life, who has come up with this theory.

We are very excited about the project, we hope to learn more about this wonderful universe of ours.

Meanwhile, the former D:REAM musician-turned-physicist, Professor Brian Cox, speaking in the current issue of the Radio Times, is a little more forthright in his opinion of the doubters:

The nonsense you find on the web about “doomsday scenarios” is conspiracy theory rubbish generated by a small group of nutters, primarily on the other side of the Atlantic. These people also think that the Theory of Relativity is a Jewish conspiracy and that America didn’t land on the Moon. Both are more likely, by the way, than the LHC destroying the world. I’m slightly irritated, because this non-story is symptomatic of a larger mistrust in science, particularly in the US, which includes things like intelligent design.

Throughout the day, BBC Radio 4’s Big Bang Day will broadcast a galaxy of programmes – news items, documentaries and dramas, including a special radio edition of the TV sci-fi show Torchwood, “Lost Souls”, starring John Barrowman (as Captain Jack Harkness). Interestingly, Barrowman will be enthusing to Cox about the LHC this morning on Physics Rocks, while, in the Doctor Who spin-off this afternoon, his fictional counterpart will be warning of one of those “doomsday scenarios” Cox talks about!

Anyway, if you’ve read this, presumably everything has gone to plan!