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Jan 16 2012

Developments

I hadn’t kept up with developments in the UCL/Jesus and Mo fuss until I got that email. There were developments.

The New Humanist reported that the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at UCL reported that progress had been made.

While debate raged online, however, both the UCL union and the atheist society have been working to resolve the matter, and the ASHS have this morning announced that progress has been made, with the union agreeing that they can not ask the society to take down the image. This is explained by the society’s president, Robbie Yellon, in a statement on their Facebook page:

Good, good. Except…wait. What’s that in the third paragraph of that statement?

Unfortunately, the Union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination. We firmly believe in the protection of our fellow students through University and Union policy; however we cannot accept such a suggestion. They have also considered the force of our actions and unwillingness to concede. As such, the society may be risking a disciplinary hearing which could lead to the forced resignation of committee members, or disaffiliation from the Union. In light of our now constructive relationship with the Union, such an event seems unlikely, though we would ask for your support should it ever occur.

What?

The union agreed “they can no longer call on us to withdraw the image” but they might decide posting it was an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination so they might punish ASHS anyway? Especially because of their unwillingness to concede? Their unwillingness to concede something that should never have been asked in the first place?

If that’s progress, what would regress look like?

David Shariatmadari reported the story for the Guardian, complete with picture of Richard Dawkins smiling in his usual strident way.

And the Pod Delusion talked to Dave of Jesus and Mo. Dave points out, as I like to do, that the sketchy “image” of Mo in J and M can’t really be said to be even an attempt at an actual picture of Mohammed, because who knows what he looked like? Also he explains about the barmaid but he doesn’t say about the rumor that she’s your humble servant.

53 comments

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  1. 1
    piero

    This is the kind of progress that consists in taking a step backwards so as not to bump into your opponent.

    Im so sorry for Britain. It is a country I used to love.

  2. 2
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Very strange.

    Unfortunately, the Union has considered the possibility that posting the image might have constituted an act of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination.

    I don’t think that’s unfortunate at all. I think everyone should consider whether acts constitute “bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination.” In racist/sexist/homophobic societies, many do. The Union should have considered this thoughtfully when they first received a complaint, and decided based on the evidence that it did not and WTF.

  3. 3
    Pierce R. Butler

    Why doesn’t the Muslim student group’s attempt as censorship count as “bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination”?

  4. 4
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Why doesn’t the Muslim student group’s attempt as censorship count as “bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination”?

    I don’t expect everyone to agree with this, but I would, in situations in which groups are regularly subject to bullying, harassment, and discrimination, cut them pretty much slack. That doesn’t mean complaints shouldn’t be rejected with the clear message that criticism shouldn’t be silenced – as I think this one should have been – but I’m wary of individual complaints from (members of) marginalized groups in a union in the ordinary course of events being considered “bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination.”

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    SC – doesn’t that depend on the nature of the groups though? The nature of the ideology (if there is one) that’s at issue, and the amount and kind of power that ideology has in other places?

    If the complaint (and there was apparently only one) came from an Islamist as opposed to a non-Islamist Muslim, then would you cut them pretty much slack?

    Islamists are themselves bullies and harassers and discriminators, especially when they have actual power.

  6. 6
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    SC – doesn’t that depend on the nature of the groups though? The nature of the ideology (if there is one) that’s at issue, and the amount and kind of power that ideology has in other places?

    If the complaint (and there was apparently only one) came from an Islamist as opposed to a non-Islamist Muslim, then would you cut them pretty much slack?

    Islamists are themselves bullies and harassers and discriminators, especially when they have actual power.

    Hm. Well, my comment was based on the premise that neither Pierce nor I know the originator of the comment. If more information became available, that would of course influence my thinking, but my point was that I wouldn’t make this assumption in the general case. This goes for any group in a context in which they are regularly subject to bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination, regardless of how much power they or other members of their group, broadly defined, might have elsewhere. (So, for example, I would have made the same argument about Communists in the US in the 1950s – and by the same argument and cutting slack I mean only that I would be wary of complaints about bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination automatically being viewed as themselves bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination.)

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    Hm. I understand what you mean, but at the same time, I think that’s exactly why these messes happen. Wannabe bullies get mistaken for victims of bullying.

  8. 8
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Hm. I understand what you mean, but at the same time, I think that’s exactly why these messes happen. Wannabe bullies get mistaken for victims of bullying.

    But often victims of bullying are mistaken for wannabe bullies. In contexts of real prejudice and discrimination, I’m more concerned about the latter than the former.

    I was responding to Pierce’s question, which I read as implying a more general characterization. It may very well be that this is a case of a bully complaint, but given the nature of the context, I don’t think that characterization should be the default, was my point. (And I want to reiterate that I’m in no way suggesting that this particular complaint is legitimate in any way.)

  9. 9
    piero

    SC:

    This is going to be a rather lengthy reply. I apologize in advance.

    I’m sorry to disagree with you, because I can see you mean well. Being Chilean, I’ve had the experience of being a member of a minority in several European countries. It is not pleasant. Nevertheless, I cannot honestly blame the locals for their mistrust of foreigners.

    I saw many of my fellow countrymen/women behave in ways which made me ashamed to be regarded as just one more Chilean. I saw classmates rip fifty pages off a book and steal them from the library (some Greeks were very good at this, too). I saw Moroccans offering my father-in-law some unspecified amount of camels in exchange for my sister-in-law. I witnessed the weekly raids of Hamleys, WHSmith and other bookshops by students of varied nationalities. It is sad and shameful. These were educated people: some of them were studying for their PhDs.

    In general, I would characterize their attitude as disdainful and rapacious. Somehow they had become convinced that Britain was guilty of having been once an empire, and that they were thus entitled to get their own back, whether by licit or illicit means.

    I seem to detect the same attitude in Muslims living in Britain. Some of them are immigrants, and have no ties with Britain at all. Some were born in Britain, but their allegiance to Islam takes precedence over anything else. I doubt that there are many Muslims who are glad they are living in Britain. I’m sorry if I sound prejudiced, but I’m just extrapolating from the data I gathered from my personal experience.

    Has a Jewish association ever complained against the sale of pork meat in British supermarkets? Yet they could claim to be “offended”. Why should Muslims feel entitled to be “offended” by the common practices of the country they live in? What if I belonged to a religion which made it a grave sin to drink milk? Should I be entitled to request that all advertisements for milk be withdrawn from my neighbourhood, my town, or even the country as a whole? Is it reasonable for me to expect a whole country to conform to my desires? Is it reasonable for the citizens of that country to cave in out of misunderstood politeness, or more probably out of fear? I don’t think so. In Spanish there is a proverb which exemplifies my position on this matter: “Donde fueres, haz lo que vieres” (Wherever you go, do what you see done). As a rule for peaceful coexistence, I can think of no better one.

  10. 10
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    [piero, I'm going to preface this by saying that I've been catching up on these blogs for the past several hours and have found several of your comments to be, well, very wrong, and I'm not sure about engaging with you, but I'll give it one go.]

    You haven’t really addressed my point, which is about default characterizations. It was not about whether people in groups that have been and are historically discriminated against can or do make claims that are illegitimate or take actions that are wrong. Of course some do. That’s no reason to make a default assumption that every claim or action is illegitimate or bullying. My argument is that, in the context (the history and entailment of empire is part of that context), that should not be the default characterization.

    In general, I would characterize their attitude as disdainful and rapacious.

    I don’t care how you would anecdotally characterize your understanding of anyone’s attitude.

    I seem to detect the same attitude in Muslims living in Britain. Some of them are immigrants, and have no ties with Britain at all. Some were born in Britain, but their allegiance to Islam takes precedence over anything else. I doubt that there are many Muslims who are glad they are living in Britain. I’m sorry if I sound prejudiced, but I’m just extrapolating from the data I gathered from my personal experience.

    This is the sort of comment I find troubling for a number of reasons, to be frank, piero.

    Has a Jewish association ever complained against the sale of pork meat in British supermarkets?

    Irrespective of this silly question… The ADL has made several complaints of bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination that I’ve thought illegitimate or even in some cases somewhat bullying. My point, again, is that this can be determined on a case-by-case basis, and bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination shouldn’t be the default characterization of all complaints of this nature in contexts of real bullying, prejudice, harassment or discrimination.

  11. 11
    piero

    SC:

    You are probably right in your criticism. My post was certainly based on anecdotal evidence. I can say in my defence, though, that such anecdotal evidence was statistically unlikely unless the behaviour depicted was very common. What are the chances that 25 out of a random sample of 30 people find nothing wrong with stealing books?

    Also, I never judge individuals before I get to know them. In the case at hand, however, the dispute is between intitutions, not individuals.

    My point about Jewish institutions was not silly, in my opinion. Your reply addressed bullying and harassment against minorities, which is something I wholeheartedly condemn. But the point we are discussing is an attempt by a group of people (whether a majority or a minority is irrelevant) to impose their will on others for no good reason other than their religious allegiance.

    Finally, I would like you to specify the number of reasons that made you consider some of my statements troubling. I’m always ready to learn, and if your arguments hold water I’ll certainly change my views on the matter.

  12. 12
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    In Spanish there is a proverb which exemplifies my position on this matter: “Donde fueres, haz lo que vieres” (Wherever you go, do what you see done). As a rule for peaceful coexistence, I can think of no better one.

    I’m partial to “Tierra y libertad.” :)

    (Seriously, though, se te ha ido el santo al cielo. :P That’s a fucking stupid proverb. It’s a rule for peaceful coexistence with the worst systems and regimes on earth. How is that good advice?)

  13. 13
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    What are the chances that 25 out of a random sample of 30 people find nothing wrong with stealing books?

    Do you know what a random sample is? (Not that it’s relevant to this ridiculous claim or that this claim is relevant to the discussion of the episode at hand, but it’s significant more generally.)

  14. 14
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    But the point we are discussing is an attempt by a group of people (whether a majority or a minority is irrelevant) to impose their will on others for no good reason other than their religious allegiance.

    Sigh. Can you address the specific, concrete argument that I was making? Whether they’re a minority or a majority is not remotely irrelevant to our response to their complaints, just as it isn’t for women or gay people. These are terms with sociological and not numerical meaning here. You don’t know who made the complaint or what their reason was, and it doesn’t matter who it turns out to be in any particular instance. (That doesn’t mean this complaint is valid. It is not.)

    Finally, I would like you to specify the number of reasons that made you consider some of my statements troubling. I’m always ready to learn, and if your arguments hold water I’ll certainly change my views on the matter.

    OK.

    I seem to detect the same attitude in Muslims living in Britain.

    Prejudice.

    Some of them are immigrants, and have no ties with Britain at all.

    Irrelevant, linking two things together pointlessly, prejudicial.

    Some were born in Britain, but their allegiance to Islam takes precedence over anything else.

    Irrelevant.

    I doubt that there are many Muslims who are glad they are living in Britain.

    WTF.

    I’m sorry if I sound prejudiced, but I’m just extrapolating from the data I gathered from my personal experience.

    Prejudice.

  15. 15
    piero

    SC:

    I was hoping for a more nuanced reply. In particular, I was hoping to learn the reasons that made some of my opinions troubling to you.

    I disagree with your take on that “fucking stupid proverb”. I despise totalitarian regimes as much as anyone (I lived under one for almost thirty years). But if I go to Saudi Arabia, I won’t presume to have the right to have a beer in the public square. If I go to China, I’ll grab what is offered to me with both hands. If I go to Britain, I’ll queue up at the bus stop (a mistake I once made in Athens). In short, I’ll adapt to the customs of my host country.

    If I was a Catholic in Japan, I could reasonably expect to be allowed to practise my faith in private, but I could not expect other people to stop wearing condoms because it offends me.

    As an aside, I commend you on your knowledge of Spanish, though your sources migh be a bit stale.

  16. 16
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I disagree with your take on that “fucking stupid proverb”. I despise totalitarian regimes as much as anyone (I lived under one for almost thirty years).

    But your proverb suggests that you should adapt to whatever culture you find yourself in. It is unnuanced and stupid.

    But if I go to Saudi Arabia, I won’t presume to have the right to have a beer in the public square. If I go to China, I’ll grab what is offered to me with both hands. If I go to Britain, I’ll queue up at the bus stop (a mistake I once made in Athens). In short, I’ll adapt to the customs of my host country.

    You;re talking about folkways. These are different from mores. The distinction is important, but not all important. Folkways can be, and often are, discriminating in unequal cultures. That is why women are not supposed to enter various spaces and are pushed to cover themselves, lower-class people are expected to bow to their betters, and nonbelievers are supposed to act deferentially towards religion and religious belief. None of these are folkways that should be respected, and indeed they are customs that people have an ethical obligation to challenge. It’s easy to talk about respecting them if they don’t discriminate against you. (Again, this is unrelated to the case at hand.)

    If I was a Catholic in Japan, I could reasonably expect to be allowed to practise my faith in private, but I could not expect other people to stop wearing condoms because it offends me.

    Do you know how irrelevant it is to my point? Could you maybe try to rephrase my point in reponse to Pierce to demonstrate that you understand it? I’m not convinced that you do.

  17. 17
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    But if I go to Saudi Arabia, I won’t presume to have the right to have a beer in the public square.

    You do in fact have that right.

  18. 18
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    If I was a Catholic in Japan, I could reasonably expect to be allowed to practise my faith in private,

    You also have the right to practice it in public. You do not have the right to make others practice it.

  19. 19
    piero

    I posted my previous comment before you had the chance to expand on your first reply. I must say I’m disappointed. I am still hoping for a more nuanced reply, and frankly I found most of your post quite childish. For example:

    “Whether they’re a minority or a majority is not remotely irrelevant to our response to their complaints, just as it isn’t for women or gay people.”

    I cannot make any sense of that. Are you suggesting that women are a minority? Or that gay people have the right to claim whatever they want because they are a minority?

    “Do you know what a random sample is?”

    I do. I got my MSc in Mathematics from Essex University, and took four courses in statistics. I could calculate the chances that 25 out of 30 Chilean people who share the status of political refugees and university students regard theft as ethical, if you want. I’d need access to some detailed crime statistics, but obviously the chances are extremely low unless we factor in some form of prejudice against the host country, which in turn correlates strongly with a left-wing ideology.

    You decided to dismiss my comments with telegraphic assessments. You may be right, but you’ve given me no reason for rationally believing that might be the case. For example:

    ” Some of them are immigrants, and have no ties with Britain at all.

    Irrelevant, linking two things together pointlessly, prejudicial.”

    Maybe you could cite some sociological studies that prove me wrong? It would be interesting, for example, to learn that Italian immigrants in Chile are wholly integrated and would never dream of referring to their host country or its native inhabitants in disparaging terms.

    Or:

    ” Some were born in Britain, but their allegiance to Islam takes precedence over anything else.

    Irrelevant.”

    Irrelevant? You could have dismissed my claim as false, but irrelevant? Try as I might, I cannot imagine a scenario where that would be irrelevant.

    All in all, a poor performance, SC. Maybe some other poster will be able to fill the blanks in your reply and make a better job of refuting my opinions.

  20. 20
    piero

    SC:

    Please do not resort to dishonest practices such as quoting partial statements:

    ” If I was a Catholic in Japan, I could reasonably expect to be allowed to practise my faith in private,

    You also have the right to practice it in public. You do not have the right to make others practice it.”

    My whole stament was:

    “If I was a Catholic in Japan, I could reasonably expect to be allowed to practise my faith in private, but I could not expect other people to stop wearing condoms because it offends me.”

    By curtailing my statement, you made your reply seem an apt and reasonable rebuttal, when in fact was neither.

  21. 21
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I cannot make any sense of that. Are you suggesting that women are a minority?

    Sociologically, yes. Black people were a minority in apartheid South Africa, though they were numerically by far the majority. Not of great importance here, but you brought this term into the discussion unnecessarily (nothing stands or falls on it), and you do not understand its meaning.

    Or that gay people have the right to claim whatever they want because they are a minority?

    You’re an idiot.

    I do. I got my MSc in Mathematics from Essex University, and took four courses in statistics. I could calculate the chances that 25 out of 30 Chilean people who share the status of political refugees and university students regard theft as ethical, if you want.

    Ah. So that’s a No, then. A random sample of Chilean political refugees / university students would be one in which every member of that population had an equal chance of being selected for the sample. Presumably a sample to be interviewed. (What their opinions of the ethics of the “theft” of specific library materials would remotely have to do with anything under discussion here, I have no idea.)

    Irrelevant? You could have dismissed my claim as false, but irrelevant? Try as I might, I cannot imagine a scenario where that would be irrelevant.

    This one.

    All in all, a poor performance, SC. Maybe some other poster will be able to fill the blanks in your reply and make a better job of refuting my opinions.

    I said I’d give this one go. I have. I will not be responding to you further. I genuinely believe you are a dim bulb.

  22. 22
    piero

    SC:

    I’m glad you’ve decided not to go on with this pointless exchange. I was genuinely expecting a reasoned response to my opinions, because I’ve been wrong more times than I care to remember, and I’ve been corrected by helpful and knowledgeable (if sometimes rude) posters. All I can say about you is that you’ve been extremely rude. Are you a member of some fringe political party, by any chance?

  23. 23
    Walton

    I largely agree with SC.

    It is extremely important to bear in mind that Muslims in Britain are a minority group which suffers huge discrimination, stigma and hostility from the majority population. For the xenophobic far right (the BNP, UKIP, the EDL, the Sun and the Daily Mail, and so forth), attacks on Muslims and Islam have become a convenient cover for pushing an anti-immigrant agenda. It’s the same story all over Europe; in the rhetoric of the likes of Geert Wilders or Jean-Marie Le Pen, Muslims are used as a bogeyman, with scaremongering about the continent becoming “swamped with Muslims”. The real agenda is a racist one, to restrict immigration and to restrict the civil rights of minorities. And right-wing racist authoritarianism is a far, far, far bigger threat to freedom in Britain than Islam of any sort is.

    Does that mean that liberals and progressives shouldn’t criticize Islamic fundamentalism? Of course it doesn’t. But it’s important to be careful and nuanced, and to avoid stigmatizing and stereotyping Muslims.

    Also, this:

    I seem to detect the same attitude in Muslims living in Britain. Some of them are immigrants, and have no ties with Britain at all. Some were born in Britain, but their allegiance to Islam takes precedence over anything else. I doubt that there are many Muslims who are glad they are living in Britain. I’m sorry if I sound prejudiced, but I’m just extrapolating from the data I gathered from my personal experience…

    But if I go to Saudi Arabia, I won’t presume to have the right to have a beer in the public square. If I go to China, I’ll grab what is offered to me with both hands. If I go to Britain, I’ll queue up at the bus stop (a mistake I once made in Athens). In short, I’ll adapt to the customs of my host country.

    …is both a dangerous generalization, and, to me, a little uncomfortably nationalistic (albeit unconsciously so) in its assumptions.

    In a free society, I’m not at all comfortable saying that people should be required to “adapt to the customs of their host country”. People should be able to live wherever on the Earth’s surface they damn well please (immigration restrictions are fundamentally racist, and also come at an appalling humanitarian cost), and they should be free to live according to their own culture and beliefs, subject to the obligation to respect the rights of others to do the same. Muslims should be free to practice their own faith, as everyone else should, provided that they do not use coercion of any sort to force it on others (as the overwhelming majority do not).

    The problem with your arguments is that they are sometimes co-opted and used by authoritarians to support oppressive measures, such as restrictions on immigration, the ban on the burqa and niqab in France, or the ban on minarets in Switzerland. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not accusing you of supporting any of these things, since you’ve said nothing of the kind. But arguments like “if they want to come here, they should adapt to our culture and our values” are often twisted, in the hands of the far right, into arguments for forcing immigrant minorities out of the public square and for restricting their civil rights.

  24. 24
    Midnight Rambler

    It is extremely important to bear in mind that Muslims in Britain are a minority group which suffers huge discrimination, stigma and hostility from the majority population.

    And so the solution is – to let them have censorship power over whatever offends their own stupid sensibilities? Sorry, but that argument is baloney in the context of this issue.

    In a free society, I’m not at all comfortable saying that people should be required to “adapt to the customs of their host country”.

    Not in every way, but I think it is a requirement that they recognize that it’s a free society, in which freedom of speech is of paramount importance. Not least because it protects them as well.

    The problem with your arguments is that they are sometimes co-opted and used by authoritarians to support oppressive measures, such as restrictions on immigration, the ban on the burqa and niqab in France, or the ban on minarets in Switzerland.

    Perhaps the arguments are (I’m not familiar with what they actually say), but those kind of bans are in fact exactly like what this Muslim group is trying to do – stifle free expression on the part of others because it’s considered offensive.

  25. 25
    strange gods before me ॐ

    And so the solution is – to let them have censorship power over whatever offends their own stupid sensibilities? Sorry, but that argument is baloney in the context of this issue.

    Hello strawman. What are you doing around these parts? I’m afraid you don’t convincingly resemble anyone’s argument.

  26. 26
    Midnight Rambler

    Hello strawman. What are you doing around these parts? I’m afraid you don’t convincingly resemble anyone’s argument.

    Hm…it seemed implicit in the argument, but going back to the start of the exchange I see it started out differently and all nuance got lost quickly (as usual). I withdraw that part.

  27. 27
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Nuance is boring.

    Not in every way, but I think it is a requirement that they recognize that it’s a free society, in which freedom of speech is of paramount importance. Not least because it protects them as well.

    First of all, if the actions taken by UCL are legal under to British law, then the students who asked for these actions are acting in accordance with the laws and values of Britain insofar as it is a free society.

    Second, as a matter of adapting to local customs, it could only be fair to expect that immigrants will eventually adopt stances similar to the actually-existing ideas of the native population — it cannot be fair to demand that they live up to ideals which the native population does not actually practice.

    For an example of what I mean: the First Amendment Center annually polls US citizens to find out how the First Amendment is actually viewed by the population. Last year they found that 18% believe “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees”, 30% disagree that “musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics that others might find offensive”, 45% disagree that “public high school students should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without approval of
    school authorities”, and 39% believe there should be a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.

    Ideally, all those numbers would be 0%, but they aren’t, and these are real measures of how much (and how little) freedom means to US American people. We can insist that everyone should answer these questions the right way, but if immigrants’ views approximate non-immigrants’ views, then this is not a problem with immigrants per se.

    So back to my “first of all”, I suspect you are imagining British norms to be much more vigorously free-speechy than they actually are, and criticizing immigrants for not living up to ideals rather than norms.

  28. 28
    maureen.brian

    Just a little background, which I know from living 3 miles down the road for years and trying to stay alert rather than from direct involvement.

    UCL, with its prestige and its central London location, may be the perfect target for campaigning Islamists or it may just be pure chance that the place has seen a variant of this scenario repeated at intervals over perhaps 20 years. I will not attempt to guess the cause but see Prof Steve Jones on the subject passim.

    The details vary but certain things stay constant – the initial complaint is made to someone who has given no previous thought to deciding whether bully or bullied, genuine and sincere offence or gamesmanship. Then it goes wider, all sorts of people go off in all known directions and after a great expenditure of energy someone with 3% more sense goes back to the questions of what actually happened, how bad was it really and does it mean UCL should completely change the way it operates.

    The answer to that last one is usually NO! but what the place does not yet seem to have mastered is a means of passing on its corporate learning to the still very young officials of student societies, of training them not to react at all until they have thought it through / taken advice.

    Clearly that is UCL’s task for 2012.

  29. 29
    blah

    ‘In a free society, I’m not at all comfortable saying that people should be required to “adapt to the customs of their host country”.’ (walton)
    In a free society, the host population is also free to keep its customs and to regard your failure to adjust as a self-inflicted problem.
    So it kind of depends on who is being reasonable and who is being an entitled asshat, you have to judge each case on its merits. IRL example: if a western expat can’t be arsed to learn the local language, asking for English to be made a co-official language may get a rude response from the locals.

  30. 30
    piero

    Walton:

    “People should be able to live wherever on the Earth’s surface they damn well please (immigration restrictions are fundamentally racist, and also come at an appalling humanitarian cost), and they should be free to live according to their own culture and beliefs, subject to the obligation to respect the rights of others to do the same.”

    I agree in principle. In practice, however if each cultural group lives according to their own traditions and beliefs, conflict is inevitable. Of course, some traditions and beliefs are not only harmless, but a real contribution to the cultural enrichment of all. But some are incompatible with a democratic society where human rights are non-negotiable. I’m sure you would not accept anyone’s right to infibulate his or her daughters, no matter how deep-rooted the practice might be in their culture. Yet according to your argument, you should accept it, because the fact that a group practises infibulation does not prevent other groups from not practising it.

    Restrictions on cultural practices are unavoidable if we want to keep our society from becoming a conglomerate of tribes.

  31. 31
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Hm…it seemed implicit in the argument, but going back to the start of the exchange I see it started out differently and all nuance got lost quickly (as usual).

    Right. It’s other people’s fault. Or just perhaps you should try reading more carefully.

  32. 32
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I’m sure you would not accept anyone’s right to infibulate his or her daughters, no matter how deep-rooted the practice might be in their culture. Yet according to your argument, you should accept it,

    Of course, according to piero’s proverb, if you move to a country where people do it, you should not only accept it but practice it.

  33. 33
    piero

    SC:

    I thought our exchange was over, but since you’ve restarted it, I’ll reply.

    If I were to move to a country where barbaric practices are common I would not be able to change them. For example, a criminal in Saudi Arabia was recently beheaded and then crucified and exposed to the public for a whole day, to set an example. Another gory detail: the head was sown back before crucifying him, maybe so that people would recognize him. Had I been in Saudi Arabia at the time, what should I have done? Organize a protest and be thrown in jail?

    That’s why I would never move to a country where the local “culture” digusts me.

    You seem to have a very infantile and voluntaristic view of social change. So I’ll ask you again: are you a member of a fringe political party? You sound like a trotskyist.

  34. 34
    Walton

    I’m sure you would not accept anyone’s right to infibulate his or her daughters, no matter how deep-rooted the practice might be in their culture. Yet according to your argument, you should accept it, because the fact that a group practises infibulation does not prevent other groups from not practising it.

    No. In a free society, there is a clear bright line: the use of coercive force on an unwilling person (including a young child, who is unable to consent) is not permitted. So female genital mutilation is not, and should not be, permitted. Wearing the burqa or niqab is (provided that the woman in question chooses to do so voluntarily), as is praying in public, attending mosque, etc.

    Indeed, the problem I have with the “we must respect the customs of the host country” argument is that, by this token, we would have to respect the right of the government of another country to mandate or permit abhorrent practices; if a foreign government wanted to put gay people to death or to mandate female genital mutilation for all girls, we’d have to respect its sovereign right to do so. I’m not content with that; I don’t believe in “national sovereignty” as a normative principle, and, in principle, I’d like to see a single system of human rights norms respected everywhere. (That said, I realize that such an argument can sometimes fade into dangerous cultural imperialism, and that’s an issue of which we need to be conscious. Which is why it’s important to draw a clear distinction between giving individuals the freedom to live by their own religious and cultural beliefs – as every society should do – and giving them the freedom to inflict coercive force on others in order to enforce a particular belief-system.)

    And so the solution is – to let them have censorship power over whatever offends their own stupid sensibilities? Sorry, but that argument is baloney in the context of this issue.

    I know you withdrew this later on, but I’m confused by how you reached this interpretation of my words at all, given that I said immediately afterwards “Does that mean that liberals and progressives shouldn’t criticize Islamic fundamentalism? Of course it doesn’t. But it’s important to be careful and nuanced, and to avoid stigmatizing and stereotyping Muslims.”

    I am in favour of criticizing Islam, when it’s warranted. I am also a free-speech absolutist; I am not in favour of censorship of any kind, in almost any circumstances.

    I am, however, in favour of being careful in one’s criticisms – not to avoid offence, but to avoid stigmatizing and stereotyping an already-oppressed group. Sam Harris, for instance, fails to do this, and his blanket attacks on Islam play right into the hands of the xenophobic far right. To take a more egregious example, Pat Condell is a xenophobic asshole who, sadly, was highly-regarded by many atheists until he revealed himself as a supporter of the nationalist party UKIP. Criticizing Islam is fine, but it’s important to recognize the relationship in our society between Islamophobia and racism, and to avoid inadvertently promoting the latter.

  35. 35
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s also important not to use the word “Islamophobia” uncritically.

  36. 36
    Ophelia Benson

    Anyway, SC, going way back to yesterday – I agree with you about the default position.

  37. 37
    piero

    Walton:

    In a free society, there is a clear bright line: the use of coercive force on an unwilling person (including a young child, who is unable to consent) is not permitted. So female genital mutilation is not, and should not be, permitted. Wearing the burqa or niqab is (provided that the woman in question chooses to do so voluntarily), as is praying in public, attending mosque, etc.

    Unfortunately, the clear bright line is very fuzzy and dim. Children are routinely coerced by force in British families (though not mutilated. But Jews routinely circumcise male children, and nobody protests about it). Wearing a burqa or niqab may appear to be voluntary, but is it? Can a woman who has been raised to regard herself as inferior and as her husband’s property really “consent” to wear such contraptions? Where do you draw the line that separates consent from indoctrination and brain washing?

    Indeed, the problem I have with the “we must respect the customs of the host country” argument is that, by this token, we would have to respect the right of the government of another country to mandate or permit abhorrent practices; if a foreign government wanted to put gay people to death or to mandate female genital mutilation for all girls, we’d have to respect its sovereign right to do so.

    That’s not my argument at all. Of course we should strive to impose worlwide respect for human rights. But if I don’t like the abhorrent practices of some country, I won’t go there. What would be the point? Making the revolution?

    Criticizing Islam is fine, but it’s important to recognize the relationship in our society between Islamophobia and racism, and to avoid inadvertently promoting the latter.

    Again, the line between criticism of Islam and Islamophobia and racism is fuzzy and dim. If Harris’s blanket criticism of Islam plays into the hands of the far right, then your tiptoing plays into the hands of Muslim extremists who use the argument of Islamophobia and racism whenever it suits them.

  38. 38
    strange gods before me ॐ

    As he gave the relevant example of Pat Condell, there is no apparent reason to suppose that he’s using the term uncritically.

  39. 39
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I know you withdrew this later on, but I’m confused by how you reached this interpretation of my words at all,

    This thread is suggesting the need for FTB to require commenters to demonstrate that they can read for comprehension.

    (No, I’m not serious.

    Mostly.)

    ***

    Anyway, SC, going way back to yesterday – I agree with you about the default position.

    Thanks, Ophelia.

  40. 40
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Can a woman who has been raised to regard herself as inferior and as her husband’s property really “consent” to wear such contraptions?

    Good question. I don’t believe any woman can really consent to wear 3 inch high heels either.

  41. 41
    piero

    In fact, I don’t think you’ll find many women wearing 3-inch heels. Nobody forces them to.

    Yes, I understand the point you are trying to make: Western societies are full of stereotypes too. The difference is that in Western societies you can challenge those stereotypes and not be ostracized or punished for it.

  42. 42
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Yes, I understand the point you are trying to make: Western societies are full of stereotypes too.

    No, that’s not the point I was trying to make. But whatever.

    The difference is that in Western societies you can challenge those stereotypes and not be ostracized or punished for it.

    There are more than a million reasons why this is a stupid comment. Here’s just one.

  43. 43
    piero

    Love Moderately:

    If I misunderstood the point you were trying to make, It seems to me you could have explained it. Showing some courtesy won’t hurt you, you know?

    Similarly, if there are a million reasons why my comment was stupid, you could have mentioned one of them.

    But it doesn’t matter anyway. I won’t be visiting this blog anymore. You and SC can have it all to yourselves. I’m sure youll find other posters to call stupid. Greetings and fuck you both.

  44. 44
    strange gods before me ॐ

    If I misunderstood the point you were trying to make, It seems to me you could have explained it. Showing some courtesy won’t hurt you, you know?

    That kind of courtesy takes work, which, if it turned out to be a wasted effort, would indeed constitute harm to me.

    Similarly, if there are a million reasons why my comment was stupid, you could have mentioned one of them.

    I did! I linked it. Wasted effort, see.

  45. 45
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    love moderately: How helpful of you, to tell women (mostly, and nonbinaries who like them) what they can consent to. It’s good to know there’s someone telling us how we truly feel.

    But then, you are an authoritarian in most other ways as well.

  46. 46
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Hah!

    I’ve never thought you to be particularly intelligent, happiestsadist, but I’m still surprised that you could be so dimwitted as to fail to recognize hyperbole or irony.

  47. 47
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    I’m sorry to not impress a Mao apologist who believes in conversion at gunpoint. Woe. Sadness. Thankfully, you can’t put me up against a wall, at least.

    Hyperbole aside, you’re more than happy to make pronouncements of what is Morally Correct for every group that isn’t yours often enough, it just looks like the usual for you.

  48. 48
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I’m sorry to not impress a Mao apologist who believes in conversion at gunpoint.

    Hey, I’m at least somewhat impressed that you got that much right. Maybe there’s hope.

    Thankfully, you can’t put me up against a wall, at least.

    Don’t worry, I have no reason to. You are a useful idiot, after all.

    Hyperbole aside, you’re more than happy to make pronouncements of what is Morally Correct for every group that isn’t yours

    An odd complaint. Smells like cultural relativism, but it might not even be that well thought out.

    In any case: everyone is potentially capable of figuring out what is morally correct for anyone. The practical barriers to doing so are logical fallacy, cognitive bias, and lack of information. To the degree anyone overcomes these barriers, that person is capable of figuring out what is right for other people. The only reason that anyone is ever more likely to grok what’s right for themself is that people tend to habe more information about themselves.

    If you disagree, then you should discard most of liberal and radical feminism, since these largely consist of women deciding what’s morally correct behavior for men. (Separatist feminism could probably still be salvaged, if you like.)

    it just looks like the usual for you.

    No, it doesn’t. See, if you gathered the information you’d need to determine that, you could have noticed — most readily from my arguments with John Morales, but it’s likely there are other examples — that I do believe women can consent to the burqa. If you were quick enough, you might even have inferred that from my mockery of piero’s blather about the burqa!

    Taking this into consideration, my comment about 3 inch heels looks like a reductio ad absurdum, since it is apparent I do not believe piero’s comment to be a “good point”.

    +++++
    By the way, saying a person cannot consent to X does not mean that X is morally incorrect for the person. Four stances are possible:

    :can consent to X, and X is morally incorrect.
    :can consent to X, and X is not morally incorrect.
    :cannot consent to X, and X is morally incorrect.
    :cannot consent to X, and X is not morally incorrect.

    I’m as yet undecided whether the first or second option is more likely right in this case. What I’m sure of is that 3 inch heels are, like cigarettes, unhealthy for the individual, and like the burqa, an indicator of an unhealthy society. But people can consent to cigarettes, heels or the burqa.

    I wonder, though. You did not dispute the suggestion that Muslim women cannot consent to the burqa. Did you just recognize that piero wasn’t worth your time, or did you actually agree with him on that account?

  49. 49
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    If you have hope for me, I promise I’ll cut my throat.

    Not a cultural relativist, just sick of a mansplaining douchebag who like to philoso-fap about things he really has no position to. You’re not helping anything, you ignorant, pompous brownshirt. Least of all women.

    I honestly didn’t bother with piero’s comment, I was too busy being revolted by your usual bloviating and condescension to women.

  50. 50
    lm

    testing

  51. 51
    lm

    I do have hope for you, because I think you have the right mix of self-confidence, hatred, and immunity to critical thought, which can emerge as authoritarian leadership. I don’t know that it will emerge as such, but if you end up in the right time and place.

    Not a cultural relativist,

    Then you’ll have to admit that everyone is potentially capable of figuring out what is morally correct for anyone.

    Your objections to me will have to be that I’m mired in logical fallacy, cognitive bias, or lack of information.

    It is no coherent objection to simply complain that someone is willing to decide what is morally correct for others.

    (Though again, in this case, I was not talking about what’s morally correct; I don’t know if you’ve even noticed your error on this account yet, since you don’t acknowlege it.)

    just sick of a mansplaining douchebag who like to philoso-fap about things he really has no position to.

    I certainly don’t have the same relation as any woman would, but you probably underestimate many queer men’s relation to these issues.

    Do tell, though. What precisely does your complaint here refer to? Since you misfired on high heels, just what else can you make your case about?

    You’re not helping anything, you ignorant, pompous brownshirt.

    Don’t be silly. Brown shirts are for fascists — right-wingers. You’re supposed to call me a Stalinist or some other sort of authoritarian leftist. Oh! Something to do with Castro would be a welcome variation. I hardly ever hear that one these days. Must be the weather.

    Least of all women.

    I happen to know that’s not strictly true. There are others similarly skilled, but no one at Pharyngula is clearly more skilled at arguing for women’s reproductive rights than me.

    I would readily concede that I’m probably not helping anyone by noting that 3 inch heels are harmful; pretty much everybody knows this already.

    For sure, I don’t imagine that everything I do is helpful. Often, it’s simply that someone is wrong on the internet, and I happen to be in the vicinity to argue with them. This is frequently useless, I know.

    I honestly didn’t bother with piero’s comment,

    Ah. And yet you still don’t clear up whether or not you think Muslim women can consent to the burqa. The reason I ask is I suspect that what might have tripped you up is you do think women cannot consent to the burqa, and so it was easy for you to assume that I agree with you on that, thus my response on the burqa did not seem out of place to you, and that would set you up to think I was serious about heels too.

    I was too busy being revolted by your usual bloviating and condescension to women.

    So I’m back to wondering if you’re aware enough to follow the conversation thus far.

    It appears your claim that I was being condescending to women must rest on the claim that I was seriously claiming that women cannot consent to 3 inch high heels.

    Since I was not seriously claiming this, your claim that I was being condescending to women (as women, I presume) is unsupported. You may well claim that I am at other times condescending to women — again, feel free to give an example; if you wonder whether it’s worth your time, I can dredge up an example of me acknowledging and accepting this type of criticism in the past, so I’m capable of getting it, if rarely — but you cannot claim that this was a “usual” example of me being condescending to women, since it was not an example of such at all.

  52. 52
    Walton

    happiestsadist, while I disagree with plenty of LM’s views on many subjects, I think you’re reading him too literally here. His comment about women being unable to consent to wearing high heels was, as I understood it, intended as deliberate hyperbole to point out the problems with piero’s position; it illustrates the point that once we start diminishing women’s agency, and claiming that they can’t really choose for themselves what they want to wear and that the state should make those decisions for them, we’ve gone down a dangerous road. That’s as true of the burqa and the niqab as it is of high heels. We all internalize cultural sexism, but this doesn’t mean that anyone should be deprived of the freedom to make their own decision about how they want to dress.

  53. 53
    piero

    Walton:

    I said I would not read this blog anymore, because some of the posters (LM and SC, specifically) are self-righteous, pompous and arrogant idiots who think of themselves as gifted truth-bearers.

    However, I confess I read the blog today, and found that stupidity is spreading like an oil spill.

    There is a slight difference between wearing a burqa and wearing high heels: women who refuse to wear the burqa run the risk of being murdered, beaten up or, at the very least, ostracized by their family and their community. You said

    …it illustrates the point that once we start diminishing women’s agency, and claiming that they can’t really choose for themselves what they want to wear and that the state should make those decisions for them, we’ve gone down a dangerous road. That’s as true of the burqa and the niqab as it is of high heels.

    No, it is not. Unless you provide examples of women in the West who are beaten or marginalized because they refuse to wear high heels, you are talking bullshit. Not even original bullshit, but LM’s bullshit, and that makes it even more annoying.

    You should know that some freedoms have to be restricted in order to guarantee more important ones. For example, you are not allowed to display your ballot. Why? Because if it were allowed you could be threatened or bribed to vote in a certain way, as evidenced by the German elections that got Hitler into power.

    Some French Muslim women who “choose” to wear a burqa may feel that their rights are being trampled on. Well, that’s tough. They should move to another country. In the West, we interact with people, not with sacks. Women should not be forced neither by their husbands nor by anyone else to hide from view. The only way to guarantee that right is to make the use of a burqa illegal, because if you don’t you can never tell who is wearing it by her own decision and who is wearing it out of fear.

    Would you adopt the same attitude towards women who “choose” to be infibulated? To gay Muslims who “choose” to ne hanged from a crane? How many crimes against humanity have we to tolerate before we realize that our criteria of fairness and justice need a fair and just context in order to work properly?

    All this should be obvious. But evidently it is not, because LM, SC and yourself have a metaphysical and untenable concept of freedom. You think that human beings are intrinsically free, and any decision they make is an instance of their free will in action. That’s the most ludicrous and brainless claim anybody could ever make. It is right up there with the claim that our souls belong to God: an incoherent, gratuitous and ultimately false statement. LM has called his/herself a feminist. I can only say that he/she seems to be actively working to keep women oppressed in those cultures where they are oppressed the most. I’m sure in a few decades his/her opinions on such matters will be held as examples of the kind of reasoning that obstructed progress and forced millions of women to endure years of unnecessary harassment and pain.

    For shame.

  1. 54
    Worrying developments for freedom of expression in the UK « Skeptical Science

    [...] can read all about that on Butterflies and Wheels, here and here, which covers the latest developments at the time of [...]

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