Which political ideals and which customs?

I’m reading Martha Nussbaum’s new book The New Religious Intolerance, and finding it as exasperating as I expected.

For one thing, there’s what (or who) is not in the index. She puts much of the focus on Islam and what she uncritically calls “Islamophobia,” but who is missing from the index? Maryam. Irshad Manji. Kenan Malik. Taslima. Tarek Fatah. Deeyah.

She argues that “European nations tend to conceive of nationhood and national belonging in ethno-religious and cultural-linguistic terms” [p 94] and that that makes it hard for immigrants to be seen as belonging.

As we’ve seen, there is another option, realized in a wide range of nations around the world: to define national belonging in terms of political ideals, in which immigrants can fully share, despite not sharing the ethnicity, religion, or customs of the majority. [p 95]

That seems to me to be bordering on self-contradictory, unless you add further stipulations about religion and customs (which she does not do).

Look: some tenets of most religions are the opposite of the kinds of political ideals she has in mind (she didn’t suggest Nazi Germany as one example of that kind of nation, nor apartheid South Africa – she did suggest post-apartheid South Africa as one). She means political ideals like equality and universal rights. Well most religions include tenets that rule out equality and universal rights. So do many “customs.” How can it, then, be true that [all] immigrants can [without further ado] fully share in those ideals despite not sharing the customs of the majority?

It’s not that easy. She makes it sound easy, and it’s not easy. It’s not easy and it doesn’t always happen. The demographics of US immigration are handing the Catholic church ever more power; I’m not comfortable saying that, but it’s true. The “good” news is that home-grown religion is reactionary and sexist too, so what the hell, but that doesn’t mean Nussbaum should skate over the tensions quite so fast.

More later.

Sara Azmeh Rasmussen

Hey how about this – Melody tweeted a link to a story about two women honored in Norway

 for their outspokenness across cultural lines. Both have immigrant backgrounds, from Algeria and Syria…

Oh! thought I, I might know one of them, and hastily skimmed down the page, and sure enough!

Sara Azmeh Rasmussen, who immigrated to Norway from Syria in 1995, has been carrying on her efforts to promote tolerance, improve the rights of persons regardless of sexual identity and criticize Islam over what she views as its lack of tolerance and repression of women and homosexuals. Rasmussen has been a frequent participant in demonstrations and commentator in the media, not least in newspaper Aftenposten.

I know her. When I was in Stockholm I went to a meeting of a group of atheist-humanist feminists who focus on women’s rights: Christer Sturmark, Sara Larsson, and Ulrika Magnusson of Fritanke, who published Hatar Gud Kvinnor? and were my hosts, and Lena Andersson, Eduardo Grutzky, a couple of other people whose names I have somewhere but don’t remember at the moment – and Sara Azmeh Rasmussen! She’s very, very cool. Everybody there was.

That’s seriously exciting.

So you’re saying gay people are only born of other gay people?

Have you seen Stacy Pritchard talking to Anderson Cooper?

Of course that was taken out of con – I mean yes, he said that, but of course he would never want that to be done. Of course people are going to take it and make it their own way and what they want to. But – ” more cheerfully – “I agree with what the sermon was, and what it was about.”

Orilly, says Anderson: he said the thing about keeping gays behind electric fences until they die out; how do you know he didn’t mean what he said?

She didn’t; it just seemed like the right thing to say to a fancy pants silver foxy smooth-talking hoity toity New York City libbrul tv guy…but not for long; she soon lapsed into frankness and agreed that that was exactly what should happen to gay people, because it is wrong.

Shudder. She scares me.

H/t Mano Singham.



The “ignore and it will go away” myth

Indigo Jo takes a look at that myth via the report on sexual harassment in London.

The second [striking thing in a discussion on BBC London] was the suggestion (which I recall Simister saying the police had given to her after her assault) that women should “just ignore it”, which prompted me to write an email to the show (which Feltz read out), because the police have said the same thing to people suffering from the anti-social behaviour of local yobs and to people with disabilities who are being harassed by yobs or haters. It’s a fallacy particularly beloved of teachers as well, who will say the same to a child who complains of being teased in the playground (even if the “teasing” is not just verbal or if it is stopping them going about their business): “ignore it and it will go away”. The problem is that it just is not true: if you ignore a harasser who is trying to get a reaction, they will escalate their behaviour to physical intrusions and assaults [Read more…]

Life on the streets

Surprise shock revelation: there is sexual harassment in London.

The harrassment ranges from wolf-whistling and lewd comments to physical groping and sexual assault.

Campaigners say that reported cases represent “the tip of the iceberg” and that authorities can no longer afford to ignore the issue.

Research released today by the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition shows 41 per cent of women under the age of 34 have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment in the street.

Blacklist! Witch hunt!! Innocent until proven guilty!!! Feminazis!!!!

Plus, you’re ugly!!!!!

The true extent of sexual harassment across Britain is difficult to judge. Campaigners say there is an acute shortage of academic studies looking into women’s experiences. But anecdotal evidence and the few studies that exist suggest unwanted sexual attention is frighteningly common. Fiona Elvines, from the Rape Crisis Centre, south London, is one of the few academics researching public sexual harassment for a PhD. “The issue has been trivialised for so long that is hasn’t been seen as a valid subject to study,” she said. “But the effect it has is enormous, from everyday decisions women have to make to avoid such harassment – like pretending to talk on your phone – to longer term effects on how they view their bodies.”

Whiners! Victims!! Waaaaaaa!!! Sluts!!!! Bitches!!!!!

Sexual harassment victims speak out

Lisa, Bath

“It seems quite minor, but for me it really summed up how some men are such knobs sometimes. I was walking across [town]. A guy shouted ‘hello’ at me, I ignored him and carried on walking. He then shouted ‘what, not good enough for you? It really angered me that he turned his douchebaggery round on me. Suddenly, in his mind, he’s not an ass for shouting at me, it’s that I’m a bitch because I ignored him. So typical.”

Smile, you bitch!

Sharia for Timbuktu

More bad news – two warring rebel groups in northern Mali have decided to resolve their differences by…turning northern Mali into an Islamist state. Yeah, that’s the way to do it!

Two rebel groups that seized northern Mali two months ago have agreed to merge and turn their territory into an Islamist state, both sides say.

The Tuareg MNLA, a secular rebel group, and the Islamist group Ansar Dine signed the deal in the town of Gao, spokespeople said.

Ansar Dine, which has ties to al-Qaeda, has already begun to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in towns such as Timbuktu.

Creep creep creep, Islamism expands its stranglehold week by week.


Publishing the norms

For a comic interlude (with uncomic implications and underpinnings, but never mind that for now) – the Vatican goes public with its formerly sekrit and super-technical Roolz for authenticating authentic sightings (or apparitions, as it helpfully calls them) of “the Virgin” Mary.

The “Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations” have been in use since 1978, but until now had been available only in Latin, never officially published and only circulated among bishops and specialists.

Ya specialists, who have had like years and years of specialist training in how to tell the real apparitions from the fake ones.

The Vatican document has now been translated into English and other languages to aid bishops in the “difficult task of discerning presumed apparitions, revelations, messages or … extraordinary phenomena of presumed supernatural origin,” Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Vatican doctrinal office, wrote in a companion letter last December that was published only recently on the Vatican website.

Kind of mean not to help the poor bishops until now. Poor guys, sitting in their studies, taking a break from excommunicating nuns who fail to prevent abortions to save the life of the pregnant woman and telling secular legislators what to do  – taking a break, I say, to sift through the stack of tortillas and pieces of toast and open jars of Marmite on their desks to figure out which twin has the Toni, and not having a Vatican document in their own language to assist. It’s sad.

The norms mandate that the local bishop must conduct a “serious investigation” to ascertain, with “at least great probability,” whether the Marian apparition effectively took place.

The rules also require an evaluation of the “personal qualities” of the alleged seer, including his or her “psychological equilibrium,” “rectitude of moral life” and “docility towards Ecclesiastical Authority.” The contents of the “revelation” must be “immune” from theological error, and the apparition must bear “abundant… spiritual fruit,” such as conversions.

The contents of the revelation must be immune from theological error? How do they arrange for that to be the case? Show your work.

‘Cause baby look at you now

Justin gets trash-talk too; he gets a Christian guy calling his infant daughter “ugly.”

Isn’t that nice? Isn’t that just how people ought to be to each other?

Fortunately she could pose for a dictionary definition of “adorable,” but the ugliness of saying things like that remains unchanged.

I don’t get this at all. I’m probably sheltered, or clueless, or something, but I don’t. I say very harsh things about the pope, and various atheist-bashers, and theocrats – but even then I don’t taunt them for being ugly or fat or old or bald or short or any other physical thing. I don’t. And I don’t understand the mentality of people who do – apart from psychopaths, that is. I don’t understand non-psychopathic people who (by definition) have some conscience and some empathy and still talk that kind of shit about people.

Ah well. You’re a beautiful baby, Zoe Griffith.

Note for anyone thinking of going to Rothamsted tomorrow

Guest post via Bernard Hurley

I have just received the following email from London Skeptics in the Pub. It might be of interest to anyone thinking of going to Rothamsted tomorrow:


Dear Bernard Hurley

Just a quick note for folks who are thinking of, or are attending the counter protest against the needless vandalism of publicly funded research being conducted at Rothamsted Park tomorrow in Harpenden.

Mark Henderson has put his chapter on GM in The Geek Manifesto online, if you’d like some further reading: http://geekmanifesto.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/the-geek-manifesto-on-gm-crops/

It looks like it’ll be a nice sunny day for a protest, or failing that, a picnic.

Please remember that this is a PEACEFUL protest, and Rothamsted would prefer no protests – for or against ( http://www.senseaboutscience.org/pages/rothamsted-letter-to-signatories.html ) – taking place tomorrow.

Jules, from Geek in the Gambia has written a blogpost on directions and guidlines for the counter-protest and directions to the site here: http://geekinthegambia.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/guidelines-for-protest-in-rothamsted.html

Transport: National Rail from Bedford to Brighton (there are some engineering works from certain stations on Sunday, so please check before travelling). For those of you in London, trains depart from London St Pancras. Trains are every half-hour and take about 30mins to get there. Return ticket will cost £12.70 Timetable: http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/timesandfares/London/HPD/tomorrow/0930/dep/tomorrow/1130/dep

If you’re wondering who to look out/gravitate towards, The Pod Delusion will be there; So look out for James O’Malley and Liz Lutgendorff. Dr Evan Harris will be there, along with a band of trusty scientists.

As always, take some sensible shoes, a hat, some sunblock, drink plenty of liquids and remember to dispose of your litter sensibly. We’re no ruffians.


Sid P.S. I’ll be at Conway Hall for CaSE Director Imran Khan’s lecture, but hope to join you all after we’re done. Details of future meetings can be found on http://london.skepticsinthepub.org

You can also find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/London-United-Kingdom/London-Skeptics-in-the-Pub/13256221934

And follow us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SITP