Another Bangladeshi blogger murdered for atheism

niloyneel

Atheists neither need nor want martyrs, so could the mindless fanatics of the world please stop creating them? Niloy Neel has been hacked to death with machetes in Dhaka.

Imran H Sarkar, head of the Bangladesh Blogger and Activist Network, told the BBC that Mr Neel had been an anti-extremist voice of reason.

“He was the voice against fundamentalism and extremism and was even a voice for minority rights – especially women’s rights and the rights of indigenous people,” he said.

[Read more…]

The secular government reacted by arresting some atheist bloggers

People in Bangladesh are fighting back.

The couple were on a bicycle rickshaw, returning from a book fair, when two assailants stopped and dragged them on to the pavement before striking them with machetes, local media reported, citing witnesses.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Dhaka to denounce the murder, chanting slogans including “we want justice” and “raise your voice against militants”.

Imran Sarker, the head of the Bangladesh bloggers’ association, said the protests would continue until those responsible were apprehended. “Avijit’s killing once again proved that there is a culture of impunity in the country,” Sarker told Agence France-Presse. “The government must arrest the killers in 24 hours or face non-stop protests.”

[Read more…]

Sex Around the World

Oh, Jerry Coyne. I’m amused with his defense of a sex binary

In Drosophila and humans, the two species with which I’m most familiar, the behavior, appearance, and primary and secondary sex characteristics are determined almost completely by whether the chromosomal constitution is male (XY) or female (XX).

… since, like most such “scientific” defenses, he immediately turns around and shoots it in the foot.

Yes, there are a few exceptions, like AIS, but the various forms of that syndrome occur between 1 in every 20,000 to 1 in only 130,000 births.  Is that “too many examples” to all0w us to say that biological sex is not connected with chromosomes? If you look at all cases of intersexuality that occur in people with XX or XY chromosomes (we’re not counting XOs or XXYs or other cases of abnormal chromosomal number), the frequency of exceptions is far less than 1%. That means that, in humans as in flies, there is almost a complete correlation between primary/secondary sex characteristics and chromosome constitution.

Ah yes, chromosomes determine human sex except in the 0.05% to 1.7% of cases where they don’t. Brilliant logic, that.

But it’s easy to get trapped by your filter bubble. The internet is a lot bigger than North America, after all, and other places have their own view of sex. Take Sweden, for instance, where it’s  government policy to avoid teaching gender stereotypes. One kindergarten made headlines not too long ago by declaring itself “gender-neutral.” As the founder put it,

00:10:10,909 –> 00:11:03,329
I’m going to show you what we call the “whole life spectra.” We tend to divide this life spectra into two pieces, one for boys and one for girls. More often pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. When we call a boy “cool” and “strong,” and to girls we more often say that they should be “helpful,” “nice,” “cute,” we have different expectations [for how they behave]. We take away this border, and we don’t separate into “boyish” and “girlish,”  we give the whole life spectra to everyone. So we are not limiting, we are just adding. We are not changing the children, we are changing our own thoughts.

That video is worth watching, as it follows around two gender non-conforming kids with an intersex “ma-pa.” The few bigots on screen seem right out of 1984, claiming that expanding or eliminating gender stereotypes somehow constrains kids in some mysterious fashion. Every kid, in contrast, is either at ease with gender role fluidity or made uncomfortable when asked to label their gender.

But even Sweden appears behind the curve when contrasted with the Khawaja Sira of South Asia.

For centuries, South Asia has had its own Khawaja Sira or third gender culture. The community, identifying as neither male nor female, are believed by many to be “God’s chosen people,” with special powers to bless and curse anyone they choose. The acceptance of Khawaja Sira people in Pakistan has been held up internationally as a symbol of tolerance, established long before Europe and America had even the slightest semblance of a transgender rights movement.

But the acceptance of people defining their own gender in Pakistan is much more complicated. The term transgender refers to someone whose gender identify differs from their birth sex. This notion is yet to take root in Pakistan and the transgender rights movement is only beginning to assert itself formally. Now, some third gender people in Pakistan say the modern transgender identity is threatening their ancient third gender culture.

The problem is that the Khawaja Sira are allowed to exist within South Asian culture because they renounce both male and female gender roles, thus don’t challenge either. Trans* people, on the other hand, reject the role assigned to the Khawaja Sira and invoke the male or female one instead. This upsets every gender’s apple cart. It doesn’t help either that the Khawaja Sira in Pakistan have recently fallen onto hard times, facing increasing bigotry and hate; the increasing number of trans* people feels like an invasion of “Western” ideals, at a time when their community is ill-equipped to cope.

But do you remember hearing about Oyasiqur Rhaman, the atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh? His murderers were outed by a courageous “hijra,” which is similar in meaning to “Khawaja Sira” but not quite the same.

Transgender people occupy an unusual social stratum in South Asia, where conservative societies still consider same-sex intercourse to be a crime but also allow the existence of a third gender — a well-established category that dates back to the age of the “Kama Sutra.” Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have all legally recognized the existence of a third gender, including on passports and other official documents.

In India, in fact, “kinnar” freely mixes gender identity with non-binary sex. Compare and contrast this with Mexico’s “muxes,” who are called a third gender but in practice act more like trans* women, and Balkan sworn virgins who are more like trans* men. There’s no intersex component to the latter two, so lumping everybody under the banner of “third gender” or “transgender” is quite misleading.

Our binary view of sex and gender seem terribly archaic (which is ironic, as it may be a recent invention). It should not be controversial in North America to have a non-conforming parent or be raised in a genderless environment, yet it is. We could learn a thing or two from the rest of the world, especially when it comes to sex.

A person and an institution

The Guardian has an excellent long and sympathetic essay on Avijit Roy, by Oliver Laughland in New York and Saad Hammadi in Dhaka.

His friends told him it was too dangerous to go to Bangladesh, but he wanted to visit his mother.

Roy’s death led secular activists to take to the streets in Dhaka to demand justice and to refocus international attention on freedom of speech in Bangladesh. As violence and political tensions in the country re-emerged after a year of relative calm, the murder has exacerbated existing rifts between the country’s secular incumbents the Awami League and its rightwing opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, its Islamist ally.

“I think we lost not just a person, but an institute. He was a movement,” said Jahed Ahmed – a New York based co-founder of Mukto-Mona. “He created an online renaissance.”

[Read more…]

I dislike holidays

Special days (or weeks or months) make me feel burdened with the expectation that I can feel some sort of way on command. You tell me to celebrate, what I feel is bad. You tell me to feel grateful, what I feel is resentful. You tell me to be respectful, I am respectful enough to keep quiet about how I feel no different from before.

If I were to organize holidays into tiers, the top tier would consist of the major holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. While these holidays nominally are about feeling some particular way, they are more importantly, about doing something. They are designated times for family gatherings. Family gatherings are something we want to do anyway, but we can’t do it every day, thus the holiday serves a practical purpose.

The second tier is national holidays when we get off work. A work holiday is something you do, not something you feel. You can’t take work holidays every day, there’s some value in everyone taking off work on the same day, thus the holidays serve some practical purpose. Unfortunately, many of these holidays also ask us to feel respect or reverence for something, be it veterans or labor activists, Colombus or MLK, and that doesn’t really work on me.

[Read more…]

Trans Rights Are Human Rights

Some people object to saying that “trans rights are human rights,” the idea being that some group of people, namely those who are trans, shouldn’t have any “extra rights” that the rest of the society does not have; basically, nobody should have more rights than others. The problem with such attitude is that currently trans people are being discriminated. The status quo is that they have fewer rights than the rest of the society. Trans people aren’t asking for any extra privileges, they want the same rights that are already there for cis people. They demand things that cis people take for granted, things that are considered universal human rights yet somehow still remain inaccessible for those people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. [Read more…]