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Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Irresponsible people

The moral state of the nation is a perennial topic but now is a particularly appropriate time to discuss it. The credit crunch will have wide effects, and the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a crucial point recently when he said the age of irresponsibility was over. That seems to point to the heart of the problem but the age is far from over.

Increasingly in recent years irresponsibility has been the order of the day. From the highest downwards people have not been held to account. The order of the day seems to be that just saying sorry is enough. It is not. That is the start, but it is necessary to take the consequences too. World leaders, investment bankers, media people, lenders, borrowers, the people in the streets, either don’t hold others responsible or are blamed for speaking up.

Even those, like the police, whose job it is to uphold the rules often don’t do so, or break the rules themselves, and still keep their jobs and their bonuses.

These things have always gone on but now it seems not just to be expected behaviour but acceptable behaviour.

University philosophy departments, which seem to live on public money, rarely say a word in public about the moral state of the state, if they say anything at all, and so fail in what they should do.

It is up to the public to demand moral behaviour from everyone. If they start doing so, 2009 could be an interesting year.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Let’s make things worse for Muslim women

One of Britain’s most senior legal figures, Baroness Butler-Sloss, reckons sharia divorces should be recognised by courts and the government.

She’s the former head of the Family Division, so perhaps she should know that women will truly get a really good deal in a sharia court.

Britain’s Telegraph tells us:

Butler-Sloss called for judges to stop granting civil divorces to separating Muslim couples unless they had already been through a religious divorce. She claimed the move would end the “injustice” of women being left unable to remarry if their husband refused to grant them a divorce, because under Islam only men have the power to end marriages.

More appeasement of religion, and in particular a religion that sees women as tenth-rate citizens there to do the bidding of their husbands and fathers.

What the hell has it got to do with their religion if the right thing to do in a bad marriage is to end it? This is just pandering to the seventh century.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

An unapologetic Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everybody! Yes, I do call it that. And why? Because it’s convenient, and I don’t want to be odd for the sake of a word.

We don’t believe Thor is about on Thursdays, or Woden on Wednesdays, when we use the names of the days to, well, to name the days. We’ve been using the term Christmas culturally for hundreds of years. So it makes sense not to kick up too much of a stink about it.

If you’re not a believer, you don’t need to do the mojo. Just enjoy the season for good cheer, family get-togethers, meetings of friends, exchanging of gifts, any or all of these things – whatever floats your boat.

I’d just feel a bit odd saying “Marry Yule” or “Happy Holidays”! But, whatever you say, enjoy yours.

Meanwhile, I make a fuller case for, as I put it, putting the Christ back into Christmas (but only as a syllable) in the new issue of Gay & Lesbian Humanist magazine. Just click at the bottom right to navigate through another packed online magazine.

Happy New Year, too!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

How to rub it in

Not happy with having got their way over Proposition 8 – the cruel piece of legislation that changes California’s Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage – opponents of the admirable piece of equality they’ve just put the kybosh on now want those that got married while the going was good to lose that status. The bastards.

See the full story here in Pink News. The story says:

The Protect Marriage coalition supported Proposition 8. It passed in November, putting an end to gay marriages. In May the California Supreme Court ruled that to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry was unconstitutional.

Around 18,000 same-sex couples got married between June 16th and the November vote.

Well, we do know there’s a lot of activity to get this dinosaur piece of legislation reversed. In the meantime, enjoy a piss-take – bigotry set to music, you might say.

You won’t hear much from me for a few days (do I hear sighs of relief?) – I’m away doing family stuff. Have a nice Christmas – or whatever you want to call it.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

They don't believe it!

So much for religious think tanks. Hot on the heels of a survey by Theos, a UK think tank crowing about how many people believe in the literal Christmas story, comes this story from the BBC online, saying that the majority of Britons don’t believe in this mojo:

Of 1,000 people questioned, 70% doubted the account, according to the British Market Research Bureau.

Almost a quarter of people who described themselves as Christians shared their scepticism.

While Theos’s claim was that one in three Britons (34%) thought it was true that Jesus was born to a virgin, the BBC’s story says that a bit over two-thirds don’t so believe. Not a huge difference, but it rather puts Theos’s delight into the shadow when it’s looked at more objectively. The fact is that most people don’t believe, and that is the real story, surely, in a country that religionists tell us is Christian.

The fact is, like the chewing gum on the bedpost, religion is losing its flavour. It’s interesting that it’s Christians in some cases who are doubting: “More than a fifth of Christians who answered said they did not believe Jesus was both God and Man – another central tenet of Christianity,” says the BBC story, which adds, “BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Piggott said the findings suggested a fading influence for the Church’s teaching in a secular age.”

You try telling the churches that!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Christian homophobe loses appeal

Lillian Ladele has lost her case before an employment appeals tribunal (EAT). Not a good day for her, but a good one for human rights and dignity.

She is the Islington, London, registrar who wouldn’t splice same-sex couples. See our last blog entry here, with links in it to others.

Basically, she’s a Christian – of the slightly nuttier end of Christianity – and has this notion that her god doesn’t like poofs. So she refused to do the job she was paid to do. Yes, the job description changed mid-tenure when civil partnerships were introduced into the UK, but things have a habit of changing, including the nature of one's job. Her job was to join people together in legal partnerships. All that changed was that another sort of partnership became legally recognised.

This is what Pink News has to say:

Lillian Ladele previously won a tribunal case against Islington Council, claiming religious discrimination after she refused to carry out civil partnerships as part of her duties as a registrar.

The council decided to go to the EAT, a decision supported by [the gay-rights group] Stonewall and human rights group Liberty.

The EAT said the original tribunal had erred in law. But get this: “We are absolutely delighted that our prayers have been answered,” said Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall.

Prayers? Were they actually praying? Here they are knocking the fact that someone has used religion to discriminate, and they’re talking of prayers to her god? Bizarre.

Ladele’s case had been bankrolled by the rabidly homophobic Christian Institute, whose director, Colin Hart, is quoted as saying, “Gay rights are not the only rights. If this decision is allowed to stand it will help squeeze out Christians from the public sphere because of their religious beliefs on ethical issues.”

No it won’t, you berk. It will mean Christians won’t be able to use their choice of superstition to avoid doing what’s right for all their clients and not just those they think are morally superior, that’s all. All they have to do is dump the superstition and grow up.

Friday, 19 December 2008

“Defaming” religion

A defamation-of-religion resolution that says that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism” passed in the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

However, it got with fewer votes than in previous years.

That quoted clause above doesn’t say Islam is never guilty of human-rights violations and terrorism. It’s ambiguous. It is “frequently and wrongly associated”? Does that mean it’s wrong every time it’s associated with human-rights violations and terrorism? Just some of the time?

Because it’s pretty obvious to most observers that human-rights violations and terrorism have been carried out in the name of Islam’s brutal god.

According to CNN News:

Over the past year opponents ranging to media watchdogs and free speech advocates to Christian and humanist groups have stepped up lobbying against the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)-driven campaign.

Thursday’s vote passed by a margin of 86–53, with 42 countries abstaining. The result showed a significant erosion of support since a similar resolution passed in the General Assembly last December by a vote of 108–51, with 25 abstentions.

For the first time, the number of countries supporting the resolution fell behind the number of those voting against or abstaining.

A step in the right direction, then. But why on earth is such a nonsensical thing before the Assembly, anyway? Religion cannot be defamed in any meaningfully legalistic sense. It can be debunked, ridiculed, analysed, torn to pieces, yes, which is what it often deserves – or at least many of its adherents do, since a religion in and of itself can’t actually do anything.

But blogs such as this one and its sister publication, G&LH, have as their mission the ridiculing of those who take religion too seriously, especially when it makes them do stupid things, such as demand special rights and privileges.

The CNN story continues:

“Although it is disappointing that religious freedom takes another step backwards today, we are extremely encouraged that the majority of countries in the world did not vote in favor of banning peaceful religious speech,” said Angela C. Wu, the international law director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The Washington-based public interest law firm viewed the shift in support for the resolution among UN member states as “a significant backlash”.

The Becket Fund earlier made a submission to the world body arguing that any attempt to treat religious discrimination in the same way as racial discrimination could result in “the suppression of peaceful, but controversial, discussions of truth claims about and within religions”.

The Becket Fund, and other critics of the OIC push, note that in some of the Islamic countries leading the campaign – notably Pakistan, Egypt and Iran – blasphemy laws target those who challenge the religious viewpoints approved by the state. Some also outlaw conversions from Islam to other faiths.

To these critics, outlawing “religious defamation” at the UN would not only legitimize those regimes’ behavior but could lead eventually to similar restrictions on free expression in non-Islamic countries as well.

“The ‘defamation of religions’ resolution is a direct violation of the United Nations’ mandate to protect religious freedom, as peaceful religious speech – a manifestation of belief – will be silenced as a result of it,” Wu said.

Wu goes on to say, “We are deeply disappointed that the UN has given cover to oppressive governments to persecute dissenters.”

Thursday, 18 December 2008

In praise of marriage

Same-sex marriage is better than mere civil unions, according to a report from New Jersey. (Britain, take note!)

“In a number of cases,” says the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (CURC), “the negative effect of the [state’s] Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.”

Pink News has the details of how civil unions were introduced in New Jersey after the state Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to equal civil rights.

The Governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, backed the commission’s conclusions. “While this administration is focused squarely on the economic crisis for the foreseeable future, it’s clear that this issue of civil rights must be addressed sooner rather than later,” he says.

Opponents of gay marriage have attacked the commission’s conclusions.

“The CURC’s argument that redefining marriage would not cause any economic fallout is laughable,” says Toni Meyer, director of research for “traditional family” group the New Jersey Family Protection Council, “and the insinuation that children would somehow benefit from society equating same-sex unions to marriage is sadly false.”

Meyer goes on to cite research from Scandinavia. “In Scandinavia, where same-sex unions have been legal longest, government data shows that same-sex unions break up at a significantly higher rate, valid research shows that children raised in these households are more confused about their sexual identity, and more likely to be promiscuous, and LGB youth are more likely to experience teen pregnancy.”

The actions of pillocks like you who continue to bang on about how “traditional marriage” is better than same-sex unions – maximising the possibility that people will feel hostile towards same-sex relationships, and maximising the discomfort many will feel about being in same-sex relationships while there is so much hostility – are bound to skew things. You’re not getting an untainted reading.

Let all of society be accepting of same-sex unions – totally, unequivocally, unreservedly – and take these readings in twenty years’ time. My bet – unscientific, but, I would humbly submit, worth the experiment – is that everyone would just not consider same-sex unions an issue, they’d just get on with life, kids of either type of union would know no difference and feel no antagonism coming from other kids, and we’d all live happily ever after.

Apart from all the other shit life dishes up, but you can’t have everything.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

One law for all

Now here’s a surprise. Some UK imams discriminate against women when it comes to imposing their ridiculous, Dark Ages sharia law.

I’d never have believed it!

Scholars at the Centre for Islamic Pluralism interviewed 90 Muslims in London, the West Midlands, Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and found some women did not get fair hearings in forced-marriage, arranged-marriage and domestic-violence matters.

The finding has been welcomed today by One Law for All Campaign, which is supported by a variety of organisations and individuals.

The campaign’s spokesperson Maryam Namazie said, “This research reinforces our own findings that sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals are discriminatory and unfair. However, the solution to the miscarriages of justice is not the vetting of imams coming to the UK as the report has recommended, but an end to the use and implementation of sharia law and religious-based tribunals.”

She added, “At present these sharia-based bodies are growing and appear to have some sort of official backing. But they are leading to gross injustices among women who are often unaware of their rights under Britain’s legal system.”

This perspective was reiterated in the One Law for All Campaign’s launch on 10 December in the House of Lords at which Maryam Namazie and campaign supporters Gina Khan, Carla Revere, Ibn Warraq and Keith Porteous Wood spoke; the meeting was chaired by Fariborz Pooya, head of the Iranian Secular Society.

Gina Khan, a secular Muslim, said, “Under British law we are treated as equal and full human beings. Under the antiquated version of sharia law that Islamists peddle, we are discriminated against just because of our gender. These Islamists use our plight by meddling in issues like forced marriages, domestic violence and inheritance laws for their own political agenda.

“To allow them to have any sort of control over the lives of Muslim women in British communities will have dire consequences.” She added, “Sharia courts must be a pressing concern, not just for Muslims but for all those living in Britain. Anyone who believes in universal human rights needs to stand united against the discrimination and oppression visited upon Muslim women.”

Carla Revere, chair of the Lawyers’ Secular Society, said, “Such self-appointed, unregulated tribunals are gaining in strength; they increasingly hold themselves up as courts with as much force as the law of the land, but are not operating with the same controls and safeguards.

“They appear to be operating in the area of family law and some even in criminal matters, where they have no right to make binding decisions as they claim to do.

“Even if the decisions were binding, UK courts do not uphold contractual decisions that are contrary to UK law or public policy. We call on the government and legal establishment to stand up for the vulnerable and tackle this significant and growing problem, rather than ignoring it.”

The writer Ibn Warraq said, “Sharia does not accord equal rights to Muslim women: in regards to marriage she is not free to marry a non-Muslim, for instance.”

The same applied, he said, to divorce, custody of children, inheritance, the choice of profession, freedom to travel and the freedom of a Muslim woman change her religion. “In other words, Great Britain, in allowing sharia courts, has contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and all the other more legally binding United Nations’ Covenants on Discrimination and the Rights of Women.

“Multiculturalism is turning communities against each other; it is fundamentally divisive. We need to get back to the principles of equality before the law, principles that so many people fought so hard to achieve for so long.”

The writer and journalist Joan Smith, who was unable to speak at the 10 December launch, sent the following message to the campaign:

This campaign is very important because many people in this country – including politicians – have yet to realise the isolation of many Muslims, particularly women, from the wider society. Some of them are already under intolerable pressure from their families, and the principle of one law for everyone is a protection they desperately need. That’s why I give this campaign my whole-hearted support.

You can find out more or support the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain by going to their website.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Bishops tell us how wrong we are

They’re at it again, the bishops. Telling us what a waste of space lesbians and gays are.

This time it’s a bunch of Roman Catholic and Orthodox prelates, who say, “The most suitable environment for the harmonious development of the child is the family, composed of a father, mother and siblings.”

But, then, they would, wouldn’t they – these people who know sod all about families and sexuality (bishops in the Orthodox Church are celibate, although priests and deacons can be married if the marriage takes place before ordination)?

They were pontificating after the First European Catholic–Orthodox Forum, which was held over four days in Trent, Italy.

The goal of the Forum, they said, was to “help define common positions on social and moral questions. By engaging in this exchange, we help each other realise just how close our moral and social doctrines are. At the same time we make the world aware of our concerns.”

In setting out the position of the Roman Catholic Church, these pillocks said, “Sexuality is recognised as a dimension of the image of God in human beings and so has a personal value.”

Oh, yes? And by whom? Just you lot? Well, within the context of your narrow view, you’re right, of course. But your narrow view is just that, narrow, unrealistic and, to be frank, rather dim and stupid. But, hey, you make your rules and if someone breaks them they’ve – well, they’ve broken the rules. Duh!

“Men and women must learn in the language of the body their vocation to responsible love as a true gift of themselves.”

Must? Says who? You lot? Anyway, it’s just a load of meaningless waffle. Love is a natural phenomenon, you know, expressed by man for man, woman for woman, man for woman and woman for man (and catholic priest for choirboy).

“Other sexual expressions such as fornication, homosexual acts and sexual unions outside marriage are contrary to this vocation to love.”

If you’ve defined the “vocation” and they go against it, then, yes, it’s against the vocation.

The Orthodox clowns are no better, of course. They say that “on the basis of Holy Scripture and Tradition the Orthodox Church denounces homosexual relations, seeing in them the distortion of man’s divinely created nature”.

Oh, yes? On the basis of words originated several thousand years ago by nomadic camel shaggers? I think you’ll find we’ve moved on a bit in the human-rights stakes since then. Well, some of us have. Clearly Catholic and Orthodox primitives – sorry, primates – clearly haven’t.

“It [the Orthodox view] also rejects all forms of fornication, adultery and marital infidelity, as well as prostitution and promiscuity.

“At the same time, it recognises the need to pastorally assist those people who have disordered inclinations and whose way of life does not correspond to the Gospel’s moral teaching” (my emphasis).

We can do without your pastoral assistance, thank you very much, you snivelling pile of rats’ droppings. You lot bring to mind a very short poem – well, a rhyming couplet, anyway, in iambic tetrameter – I scribbled on the back of a ciggy packet back in the seventies as I pondered on how people create a world, give it rules, and then seek to punish those who break those rules. It seems to sum up this load of dinosaurs:

They tied me, dyed me green and said,
“We don’t like green” and shot me dead.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Islam and Christianity – united in evil

Why am I not surprised by this?

Islamic governments are expected to join with the Vatican in protesting against a French-backed declaration in the UN General Assembly that calls for the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide.

So says the National in a report that declares, “The Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN has already revealed Holy See opposition to the statement, which is still being drafted and carries the support of 56 countries.”

It then tells us:

OIC [Organisation of Islamic Conference] delegates have discussed the gay-friendly statement and agreed that governments choosing to prosecute homosexual behaviour should object to the declaration independently.

When it comes to human rights, this is one unholy alliance that proves that there are areas where it's hard to tell the difference between Muslim and Christian. They’re quite happy to rub along together when it comes to making decent people profoundly unhappy.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Raving Ratzo relies on revelation

“Truth is the revelation of God in Christ.” And this is what we should be concentrating on. No, this isn’t being said by someone in a care-in-the-community programme, but Pope Ratzo.

Today’s Tablet, the newspaper of the Catholic Church, quotes this Cloud Cuckoo Land resident as saying to theologians that their primary task is to reflect on the truth of Christian revelation as taught by the Church and not just focus on the practical consequences of theology.

Oh, right. So Christian revelation is truth? Revelation itself is truth? Faith is truth?

Yes, according to Ratzo.

“The essential, inescapable characteristic of theology is to ask questions concerning the truth of faith and not simply to ask questions about its practical and social effectiveness.”

So the practical side of theology, and the good (there may be some of that) and (undoubted) bad that it is capable of, are of no consequence. Forget the social effectiveness, just concentrate on having faith.

“Pope Benedict”, says The Tablet, “said theological method could not be established ‘only according to the criteria and norms of other sciences’ but was based on revelation: ‘Truth is the revelation of God in Christ, the response to which demands obedience to faith in communion with the Church and its Magisterium.’ ”

To have faith, you don’t rely on evidence. That’s the whole nature of faith. So how can you know what is true if your faith “reveals” things to you.

These people are totally raving mad – and governments take them seriously. That is very frightening.

Friday, 12 December 2008

For all your fury, Yuri, Moscow will go pink

I wonder how many gay people voted in the Eurovision Song Contest this year. It crossed my mind that quite a few ensured by their votes that Moscow got to host the next one.

It’s well known that the event attracts a huge gay male following, and, thanks in no small part to that following, the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, will get to host it next May.

Obviously grateful for the gesture, Mr bloody Tossoff has graciously told gay men in no uncertain terms that they’re not welcome in his city. He doesn’t want them on the streets of Moscow when they turn up in their droves for Eurovision.

He has said, “Entertain yourself, no problem, but not on the streets, squares, marches and demonstrations. We never introduced any limitations in their respect except public actions. We do not allow gay parades.”

Well, bugger you, Mr Twatski. It looks as if you’ll get gay men in the streets whether you want them or not, in spite of your having consistently banned every gay-rights march in Moscow since 2005.

Russian and Belarussian activists are planning a Slavic Pride event in Moscow to coincide with the Eurovision final on 16 May.

“Gay Pride public action during the final of Eurovision will take place in any circumstances,” said Moscow Pride’s organiser Nicolas Alexeyev. “We’re not going to surrender our right to freedom of assembly and expression because it is given to us not by Mayor Luzhkov but by the Constitution of this country.

“I will be shocked if these words from Moscow’s Mayor do not lead to any reaction from the General Secretary of the Council of Europe and Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe.

“I cannot believe that officials in Strasbourg will continue to silently accept these and future breaches of the European Convention on the part of Russian officials.

“The time for press releases and statements is over. It is time for effective action.

“The European Convention and its interpretation by the European Court of Human Rights are very clear that we have the right to peaceful assembly.

“Those who do not agree with that should be the ones responsible.”

So it should be an interesting event, and ensure that Mr Homophobski is put in the media spotlight far more than he has been for his banning of Pride marches.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Bigotry set to music

Thought you’d like this. The question of California’s Proposition 8 (the vote passed last month that seeks to change the State Constitution to outlaw gay marriage) won’t go away in a hurry – especially now the comedian Jack Black and others have set it to music.

The video linked to below is a hoot. Here it is, for your delight and delectation, your education and edification – ladeeees and gen’lmen, we bring you . . . Proposition 8: The Musical!

The poet, the politicians and the pain in the arse

Good Christians aim to be out in force today to step on freedom of expression.

The irony is that, had they not kicked up a stink in the first place, the book of poetry they’re so up in arms about wouldn’t have got a tenth of the publicity it has.

But they did kick up a stink. And it did get lots of publicity.

The poetry in question is a collection by Patrick Jones, brother of Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire, called Darkness is Where the Stars Are (see our feature in November’s G&LH magazine, as well as the blog post linked to above).

Well, today he’s reading some poems at the Welsh Assembly, at the invitation of a pair of AMs (Assembly Members) – an invitation that wouldn’t have been extended had not Stephen Green and his Christian Voice brought about the cancellation by the book chain Waterstone’s of a reading and signing at their Cardiff store last month.

Then, tonight, he gets his reading-and-signing session, but courtesy of Waterstone’s rival chain, Borders. He’s also got this blog post (and probably others), plus a story in Wales Online.

Good old Stephen Green. You can always rely on him to boost sales of something he doesn’t like.

But he’s been rather naughty, in that he’s inviting people to be a little less than honest in getting tickets to the readings. The Wales Online site tells us:

But in a notice to members, which has also been posted on other Christian websites, Christian Voice leader Stephen Green, from Pen-y-Bont, near Carmarthen, said: “Well, Borders are inviting Patrick Jones to read his blasphemous poetry at 8 p.m. on Thursday at their Cardiff store.

“That is on top of Jones doing a reading in the Assembly T Hywel building the same day at noon, at the invitation of Peter Black AM and militant atheist Lorraine Barrett, against the rules of the Assembly itself, which prohibit material likely to cause offence.

“We are holding a Christian witness outside T Hywel from 11.30 a.m. and we shall hold another outside Borders [he gives the full address] at 7.30 p.m.

“Both events are ticket only, but there is scope to apply for tickets by e-mail. I am known, but you are probably not!”

Mr Green provides the Assembly e-mail address to apply for tickets, adding: “Say how much you would like an invitation to the event, but don’t say you wish to protest!

“Say whatever is needed to get alongside and get a ticket without bearing false witness.

“You cannot give a false name for either event as ID will be required.

“So onward, Christian soldiers. Stand up, stand up for Jesus!”

Jones, meanwhile, says the notice is a “worrying one” and “evidence of the tactics used by Christian Voice to disrupt things they object to”.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Koran students beaten and abused

A Times (UK) investigation has shown that Muslim children are being regularly beaten and otherwise abused in some UK madrassas (Islamic schools) during evening Koran classes.

“Students have been slapped, punched and had their ears twisted, according to an unpublished report by an imam based on interviews with victims in the north of England,” says the paper. “One was ‘picked up by one leg and spun around’ while another said a madrassa teacher was ‘kicking in my head – like a football’, says the report which was compiled by Irfan Chishti, a former government adviser on Islamic affairs.”

While there is no hard evidence to show just how many of Britain’s 1,600 madrassas are involved in beating children, The Times says it’s uncovered a particularly disturbing pattern in the Northern town of Rochdale.

“One woman told The Times that her niece Hiba, 7, was slapped across the face so hard by her madrassa teacher that her ear was cut,” says the paper. “It later became inflamed and she had to have emergency medical treatment.”

A disturbing fact The Times relates is that Madrassas and similar religious classes “are not subject to any regulation nor are their teachers required to be vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau”.

The paper says, “Many madrassas are not even known to the authorities because they are run on an ad hoc basis by people in their own living rooms. Even those attached to a mosque which is registered with the Charities Commission are not monitored.”

Such treatment of young people has even led to death in a madrassa in Pakistan, as we reported in May.

The right to die

It’s no wonder the British papers focus on assisted suicide and euthanasia today, with Sky about to show the moment a man with motor neurone disease chose the dignified way out.

Craig Ewert (59) went to the very sensible Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.

Anti-euthanasia groups are, predictably, not chuffed about this – and you just know there’s a big religious element in that lot. Well they can reach for the off switch. Provided all the checks and balances are seen to (and Dignitas works within Swiss law), rational people have no difficulty coping with the idea that someone might wish to take his own life, and, if he’s incapable of delivering the coup de grâce himself, asking for some help.

The Daily Mail talks of a “shocking” film that’s likely to cause a row over broadcasting standards.

The Daily Mirror asks whether the Sky documentary, Right to Die?, is just an attempt to boost ratings.

Well, it’s a fact of life that programmes are there to boost ratings. That’s how it works. Just as your newspaper, Mr Mirror, uses all sorts of salacious means to boost sales. That doesn’t mean you don’t also carry useful stuff, and, equally, it doesn’t mean that Sky doesn’t carry useful stuff, either.

The Independent, on the other hand, confronts it head-on. On its front page, Mary Ewert writes about Craig’s decision to enlist the Swiss charity to help him die. She says her husband wanted his death to be filmed because “when death is hidden . . . people don’t face fears about it”.

The red-top Sun is sensible about the thing, too, in its feature on the subject (including the photo we reproduce here of Ewert about to die, while a doctor checks his pulse). It does quote John Beyer of the self-appointed TV watchdog Mediawatch UK, who fears people may get the wrong idea from watching it.

“This is quite an important political issue at the moment and my anxieties are that the programme will influence public opinion,” he says. “Documentary makers produce all manner of programmes and no one can stop that or intervene unless they fail to comply with the requirements of the Communications Act.

“If this programme is not impartial and promotes euthanasia then it would be in breach of the act – in short it must not influence members of the public or a change in the law. Broadcasters must always remain impartial otherwise they could influence the public or other sufferers into making a similar action – that’s my anxiety.”

Yes, a programme like this should be impartial, but what if it did influence other sufferers? It may provide the information for other sufferers to seek this way out – dignified, painless and quick.

And why should it not influence a change in the law? It would be a sensible change if a clinic like Dignitas’s were to be set up here in the UK, with death on the National Health Service (paradoxical though that sounds).

This programme follows yesterday’s good news that the parents of a 23-year-old rugby player who killed himself at the same Swiss clinic will not be charged over his death.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service announced that yesterday in the case of Daniel James (23), was left paralysed from the chest down after a scrum collapsed on him during a practice session in March last year. He died by drinking a barbiturate solution in the Dignitas clinic in September, with his parents Julie and Mark, by his side.

The CPS had considered bringing a prosecution under the Suicide Act, but decided it would not be in the public interest. No one has so far been successfully prosecuted for assisting suicide.

See this Dignitas site with some information in English.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

I don't believe it!

Christmas is still seen as religious by nearly three-quarters of Britons, according to a survey.

A survey done on the phone.

By a religious think tank.

The Scotsman has a very brief story on this, giving it what it’s worth, I suppose (it gets more coverage here). The survey, by Theos, says 57 per cent of people plan to celebrate Christmas as a religious festival.

Given the diminishing understanding of religion, its significance, its texts and so forth, just how meaningful a survey is this? Do people always think what they think they think?

People have a vague idea that something happened a couple of thousand years ago, and a baby was born to a virgin. They have not, in most cases, I dare gamble, really thought about how unlikely that is, and whether a similar scenario appears in other traditions, as it does.

The report on the survey as it appears on Theos’s website is headed “1 in 3 Britons believe [sic] in virgin birth”.

Tellingly, this finding is described thus:

In the poll of over a thousand adults, undertaken for Theos by ComRes, 34% of people agreed that the statement “Jesus was born to a virgin called Mary” was historically accurate. Only 32% considered it fictional [my emphasis].

Why is it that a mere 34 per cent just that, while a figure only two percentage points below it gets qualified by only?

As for the 57 per cent who will celebrate Christmas as a religious festival, just what does that mean in practice? That they’ll go to midnight mass (as they do once a year, say) and treat the rest of the season as the usual excuse for a piss-up? You might argue that going to see your kids’ Nativity play is treating Christmas as a religious festival.

To me, treating it truly as a religious festival would mean observing from Advent to Epiphany, attending the appropriate services and doing the mumbo-jumbo, and really striving to do your bit to bring about that state the Christian tradition tells us this season is all about: peace on Earth and good will to all.

Most people are more taken in by advertising than by the supernatural, and are happy to spend, spend, spend on stuff that will be in landfill within weeks. They boost the coffers of big business while screwing the environment, and their money (or some of it) could have gone to do things that Christianity is (but not exclusively) assocated with: giving of yourself and your possessions to make others happier.

The questions are worded thus: “Thinking about how Jesus is described in the Bible, do you think each of the following are [sic] historically accurate, fictional, or are you unsure if they are [sic] historically accurate or not?” This precedes each question.

I’m not a pollster, but I’d have thought that the first phrase would be likely to colour a person’s response. Why not just ask first whether they know of the figure called Jesus, and then, on the basis of that, ask other questions?

However, you can make up your own mind. The research in full is to be found here (PDF).

Monday, 8 December 2008

Islamic radicalism is alive and well, and living on a campus near you

Islamic radicalism on British university campuses remains alive and well, according to a former member of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Rashad Ali, writing in the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section, summarily dismisses a report that said that British universities are not a hotbed of radicalism.

He says, “The report, principally authored by [Cambridge researcher] Dr June Edmunds, was promptly – and deservedly – trashed by Professor Anthony Glees [professor of politics and director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University] for its methodology (it was based on just 26 interviews at three universities, out of a total Muslim student population of 89,000).”

Ali says he spent several years with Hizb, sitting on its national committee, and “during this time I regularly visited and spoke at least a dozen universities promoting Islamist thought. I can assure Edmunds that Islamist radicalism remains a problem at these and other universities – partly thanks to my recruitment activities.”

He then goes into an examination of the three universities Edmunds cites. He concludes:

But if academics are going to conduct their research based on small samples susceptible to Islamist influence, why not save time and energy by cutting out the academic middle man altogether? Some branches of government have already embraced this pioneering form of “engagement”.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has recently worked with FOSIS [the Federation of Student Islamic Societies] to carry out a poll of Muslim students’ opinions. The head of Fosis, Faisal Hanjra, laid out his progressive and forward-thinking ideas while he was head of Queen Mary ISOC last year.

At his ISOC’s events and talks, women were typically sat at the back of the hall and had to write down questions for speakers in case their voices caused men to be distracted from the serious business of Islamism. Is this really the version of Islam that the British government wants to promote?


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Aw, diddums!

Britain is “unfriendly” to religionists, says the chief Catholic for England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. What he means is that it is harder for people like him to cling to the power and influence they wield without being exposed to challenge.

The Telegraph tells us:

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor claims that the rise of secularism has led to a liberal society, hostile to Christian morals and values, in which religious belief is viewed as “a private eccentricity” and the voice of faith groups is marginalised.

The cardinal warns that Britain shows signs of degenerating into a country free of morals, because of its rejection of traditional values and its new emphasis on the rights of the individual.

The voice of “faith” groups is marginalised, when more and more taxpayers’ dosh is being pumped into ever more superstitionist sectarian schools? Come on, Cardinal! Get real! And should we not think about the rights of the individual? Yes, we need to take a broad view, too, but not at the expense of the rights of individuals and marginalised groups. We need a balance.

And, anyway, is this not the pot calling the kettle black? You were happy to keep gays as invisible as possible while it was easy to do so. If it really is the case that your potty ideas and “faith” groups are finding it hard in an ever-secularising society, tough! It just shows that most people are seeing through the bullshit and aren’t as happy as they once were to take all the crap from the likes of you.

Murphy-O’Connor says, according to the Telegraph, “that Catholicism has borne the brunt of ‘liberal hostility’ in its battles to fight for values it considers to be ‘fundamental pillars of a rightly ordered society’ ”.

And just what are these “fundamental pillars of a rightly ordered society”, Cardinal? The Catholic Church, with its spotless record of wanting equal rights for all, gay and straight? Pull the other one, pillock!

And a “rightly ordered society”? The way you would order a society?

If there’s a deterioration of moral values in society, it’s not down to a lack of belief in sky fairies. If it were as simple as that, one might be persuaded that it would be a good idea to turn a blind eye to an official propaganda exercise to get everyone believing, encouraged by the notion that a peaceful, just, fair society is worth the price of a belief – pretended or induced – in invisible people. But it’s not that simple, is it?

Society’s downturn in certain areas is the fault of a complex, interwoven whole bunch of things we may never be able to unpick without taking a tabula rasa approach and starting afresh.

But without the imposition of religion, thank you very much! Let it remain as a hobby – and preferably performed in private between consenting adults.

And that last phrase, you’ll recall, Cardinal, is more or less word for word what the 1968 Sexual Offences Act used when it partly decriminalised homosexuality. But your lot would want us to go back to before even that small concession, and have relationships between two women and two men made illegal again.

So I really hope you are finding it difficult with all this “aggressive” secularism and atheism all around you. I think the words chickens, home and roost spring to mind.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Land-grabbing mosques

A German Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor reckons that the building of huge mosques throughout Germany is nothing short of a “a bid for power and influence, a land grab”.

Ralph Giordano, aged 85, makes his remarks in an interview today’s London Times – an interview, says the paper, “that is likely to stir Muslim anger”.

But it takes so little to stir up Muslim anger, so you may as well just get on with it. Somewhere, a Muslim will be angry whatever you do.

The Times goes on:

The comments from Mr Giordano came as the Muslim community of Cologne – about 120,000 strong – prepared to lay the foundation stone for yet another giant mosque, one of more than a hundred that are being planned or built across the country.

Barely six weeks ago another mosque, capable of accommodating 1,200 worshippers, was opened in Duisburg in the nearby Ruhr region of northwest Germany.

Spiky minarets are starting to punctuate the German urban skyscape – and the rumble of discontent from non-Muslim Germans is growing louder. One result is that the issue of immigration seems sets to be on the agenda in the general election next year.

And, if it is on the agenda, and it’s because of this creeping Islamisation, who is to blame? Germany’s non-Muslims?

“When I first saw the blueprints for the grand mosque in Cologne, I was shocked,” Giordano says. “It sent a completely wrong signal, it was a bid for power and influence, a land grab, not a place of prayer, so I told the mayor: Stop this mosque now!”

He received hundreds of supportive letters, he says, when he said this in a public discussion that was filmed and published online.

He says, “They all struck the same note: Mr Giordano we are afraid as you are of this creeping Islamification but we can’t say anything in public because we will end up being branded as neo-Nazis.”

Just as in the UK. Dare to criticise – to notice, even, to dare to make the observation of – the encroachment of one particular religion (as we’ve seen, to the cost of women’s dignity and equality, with our allowing Islamic sharia courts) and you are an Islamophobe, and that word usually connotes the accuser’s opinion that you are a racist, because the appeasers are only too eager conflate religion and race when it suits them.

Giordano sidesteps this neatly as he finds himself in the company of far-right activists. “Of course, you have to distance yourself clearly from these people – obviously their racist, neo-Nazis arguments are quite different from mine – but I am not going to be muzzled just because people are fighting on the same issue with false arguments and a false ideology.”

Friday, 5 December 2008

Going down! Catholic Church sinks lower and lower

Just how low can the Vatican sink? We reported earlier in the week how this evil organisation wanted to oppose human rights for gay people.

We quoted a Monsignor Celestino Migliore, who fears such recognition of human rights will lead to same-sex marriage. Oh, dear! We can’t have that, can we?

This same nutter, who is the Vatican’s envoy to the UN, “has confirmed that the Holy See also refused to sign a UN document last May on the rights of the disabled because it did not condemn abortion or assert the rights of foetuses with birth defects”, The Times tells us.

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s statement on discrimination against gays has been criticised by France, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, and by Amnesty International and gay-rights groups. One group has described the Vatican’s stance as “grotesque”.

The Times continues:

Diplomats said the proposed UN declaration, to be adopted on 10 December by the UN general assembly, called for an end to the practice of criminalising and punishing people for their sexual orientation, and was aimed in part at countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality can be punished by death.

However Archbishop Migliore said the Vatican was concerned that countries where gay marriage is banned would “come under pressure” to allow it, and could even be “punished” for not doing so.

Yes, your point being? Well, we know what your point is, tosser!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The blog host, the blogger and the blogged

I don’t like what I’m seeing over at MediaWatchWatch.

It appears the blog host WordPress has shied away from hosting some cartoons that happen to depict a historical figure.

Oh, that’s a bloke called Mohamed, by the way.

MediaWatchWatch tells us, “ has suspended the account of an Indonesian blogger for publishing cartoons of Muhammed which the Indonesian government deemed ‘very inappropriate’.”

The blog had cartoon strips that had stories about Mohammed’s sexual adventures, including one with his stepdaughter-in-law.

“[T]he stories appear to be lifted wholesale from Islamic holy texts, so the objections are no doubt to do with the actual depiction of Mo and a reluctance to have his sexual shenanigans publicised,” says MediaWatchWatch.

If you type the blog name, into your browser you – at the moment, anyway – get a message saying, “This blog has been suspended or archived for violation of our Terms of Service.”

But MediaWatchWatch’s owner, the Monitor, points out that it’s not in breach of the terms of service because the cartoon strip that’s being objected to is not defamatory.

And that should make all bloggers worry – including us here at PT. What if Blogger, our host, decided to do likewise when we mention some hairy-faced geezer who launched what has turned out to be a benighted religion that wants to spread its censorship and inequalities the world over?

How long before that last sentence will be disallowed?

We don't wish to know that

From the religion that clearly doesn’t even seem to want to know about what it doesn’t believe is good we get the story of a Kurdish doctor who has been sentenced to six months by a Kurdish judge for merely writing a medical article about sodomy.

A leading press freedom organisation, Reporters Without Borders, has called for the release from prison of Adel Hussein, who, according to Pink News, was convicted of offending public decency with his article in newspaper Hawlati and sentenced in November in the city of Arbil, the capital of Kurdish-controlled Iraq.

Reporters Without Borders are quoted as saying:

Sexual practices are part of the individual freedoms that a democratic state is supposed to promote and protect. Furthermore, Hussein did not defend homosexuality. He limited himself to describing a form of behaviour from a scientific viewpoint.

And what if he had defended homosexuality? Decapitation, probably.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Christian counsellor “wins” case

The Christian counsellor who wouldn’t work with gays has virtually won his case at an employment tribunal.

The UK counselling charity Relate agreed today that it wrongfully dismissed 47-year-old Gary McFarlane, who refused to offer sexual technique advice to homosexual couples, although an employment tribunal's final ruling won't be known for some weeks.

At the tribunal, the Avon branch of Relate conceded a wrongful-dismissal claim by McFarlane, who, according to the Independent “had said it was against his religious beliefs to offer psycho-sexual therapy (PST) to same-sex couples.

“Keith Knight, counsel for Relate, accepted that the charity wrongfully dismissed Mr McFarlane on the grounds of gross misconduct and should have given him notice to leave after deciding they had lost trust and confidence in his ability,” says the paper.

“Mr McFarlane, a 47-year-old father of two who lives in Hanham, Bristol, is a former clinical negligence lawyer and church elder and now works as a law mediator in London.”

See our previous post here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Sky about to fall in, shock, horror

Predictably, it’s the evil and decidedly nutty Vatican that wants to piss on everyone’s parade when it comes to equality.

Its observer at the United Nations has criticised a European Union imitative on homosexuality.

“At the UN General Assembly later this month a declaration against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be presented,” Pink News tells us.

All 27 countries of the EU have signed it, but some git from the Vatican called Monsignor Celestino Migliore fears it will lead to same-sex marriage. Oh, dear, the sky will surely fall in as the Almighty visits upon his creation thunderbolts and lightning and plagues of locusts and boils (which, oddly enough, he used to do in the cases of perceived evil, but not any more – funny, that!).

However, Pink News points out that there is no mention of same-sex marriage in the UN declaration.

Let's have more segregation

Not happy with wanting their own schools, religionists now want their own Scout groups. Is it ever going to be possible for harmonious integration of young people whose parents have plunged them into their own choice of “faith” if we continue to keep them apart by encouraging separateness all the time?

You may have already heard about this idea. It was in The Times (UK) a couple of days ago.

There’s already a Muslim Scout group in Scotland, but now Muslim “leaders” – whatever they are – want more.

“Scotland’s first Muslim troop, the 8th Blackford Salaam, was set up in Edinburgh last year,” says The Times. “Now the organisation has had requests from Muslims in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Fife to set up their own troops.”

Sohaib Saeed, aged 24, who founded the Blackford troop, says, “It is all about developing young people holistically.”

Holistically, if they’re getting only a Muslim view of things?

The Times says:

They will say Muslim prayers instead of Christian ones, and children in their Beaver colony, for those aged six to eight, may colour in pictures of mosques instead of secular buildings. The Beaver and Cub groups are mixed sex, whereas the Scout troops – for those aged 10 to 14 – are single-sex for religious reasons.

Subhan Anwar, aged 21, who is also a leader with the Edinburgh troop, is quoted in the story as saying that Scouting could help young Muslims, who sometimes feel alienated from society, to become more confident.

“We’re trying to give them challenges that they don’t get in education or after-school clubs. We have got a lot of talent in our community but Muslim youth need confidence to come across well and engage positively.”

Yeah, yeah. Wouldn’t they feel less alienated if they were encouraged to join Scout groups, rather than Muslim Scout groups?

But do they want community relations? I fear not. They want continued separation.

Monday, 1 December 2008

No sharia here!

The One Law for All campaign against sharia law in Britain is to be launched at the House of Lords on International Human Rights Day, 10 December.

According to the campaign organiser, Maryam Namazie, “Even in civil matters, sharia law is discriminatory, unfair and unjust, particularly against women and children. Moreover, its voluntary nature is a sham: many women will be pressured into going to these courts and abiding by their decisions.

“These courts are a quick and cheap route to injustice and do nothing to promote minority rights and social cohesion. Public interest, particularly with regard to women and children, requires an end to Sharia and all other faith-based courts and tribunals.”

“The campaign has already received widespread support,” she says, “including from A C Grayling, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bahram Soroush, Baroness Caroline Cox, Caspar Melville, Deeyah, Fariborz Pooya, Gina Khan, Houzan Mahmoud, Homa Arjomand, Ibn Warraq, Joan Smith, Johann Hari, Keith Porteous Wood, Mina Ahadi, Naser Khader, Nick Cohen, Richard Dawkins, Shakeb Isaar, Sonja Eggerickx, Stephen Law, Tarek Fatah; Tauriq Moosa, Taslima Nasrin and others.

“It has also received the support of organisations such as Children First Now; Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran; European Humanist Federation; International Committee against Stoning; International Humanist and Ethical Union; Iranian Secular Society; Lawyers Secular Society; the National Secular Society; and the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.”

The campaign calls on the UK government to recognise that sharia law is arbitrary and discriminatory and for an end to sharia courts and all religious tribunals on the basis that they work against equality and human rights, not for them.

The campaign also calls for the Arbitration Act 1996 to be amended so that all religious tribunals are banned from operating within and outside of the legal system.

In the words of the campaign’s declaration:

Rights, justice, inclusion, equality and respect are for people, not beliefs. In a civil society, people must have full citizenship rights and equality under the law. Clearly, sharia law contravenes fundamental human rights. In order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all those living in Britain, there must be one secular law for all and no sharia.

Roy Brown, immediate past president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, said, “IHEU is lending its full support to this campaign. It is intolerable that the very values on which UK society is based – human rights, equality and the rule of law – are being undermined by the quiet and insidious application of systems of law that have no basis in equality or justice.”

You can get more information from Namazie by email or call 07719 166731 (mobile). The website will be available on the day of the launch.

Relationships counsellor pleads case today

The relationships counsellor who didn’t fancy the idea of working with gay people fights his case today before an employment tribunal.

Gary McFarlane (47), a solicitor and former church elder, was fired in March after telling his bosses at the Bristol branch of Relate, the UK relationships-guidance organisation, that he didn’t want to work with same-sex couples.

See our coverage here, and today’s Daily Telegraph carries a story here.