Asia Bibi Faces Death For Blasphemy in Pakistan

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The sun is blazing down as you work the field, and having a drink of water you offer some to another labourer. They refuse to be served by you, stating you are unclean as a Christian. Further, they suggest you purify yourself by a ritual to convert to islam. Your kind gesture rudely rebuffed, you make a comment about The Prophet …

The Supreme Court of Pakistan will now decide whether the death sentence for blasphemy will apply to farmworker Asia Bibi, who has already been beaten by a mob. Forget the shambles of a trial that cannot even repeat the allegation for fear it corrupt the soul of the Islamic nation, or the souls of those present may burn a little longer in hell.

Blasphemy laws should not exist in any form. They are the product of the insider outsider distinction that religion uses to divide people. To entrench state control on the way citizens think and behave about religion. No one is free to understand the Nature of God, when the courts will rule on your thoughts and punish you for them.

The condemnation should be loud not just for the sentence of death on Asia Bibi, but that Pakistan has a blasphemy law. Yet the voices raised even to reform the law are met by the sound of a gun. Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer took an interest in Bibi’s case. He was assassinated by his own bodyguard for doing so.

In an interview, Taseer remarked (follow link for whole Q&A worth reading):

Nearly 90% of the media in Pakistan has spoken out against this. I have watched talk shows, spoken to anchors, read numerous columns and opinions, and barring those with a deliberate agenda, not just every media person but also guests on talk shows have openly condemned the Blasphemy Law. They all say it should be amended, which is something which has been the most encouraging result of my move. Because I took a stand, many people have lined up and taken a stand and that, in turn, will empower judges and law-enforcement agencies to the extent that they may not bow to pressure. I think that now a policeman registering a case of blasphemy or a judge hearing a case will investigate before registering or at least think twice before hearing such as case.

In this situation nothing less than solidarity with those trying to abolish the blasphemy law and the victims of the legal system is vital. Bibi may have to wait a further three years for the Supreme Court to rule. She was incarcerated in 2010.

It is tempting to suggest the fundamentalists are running Pakistan, not least when they openly celebrated the bodyguard’s murderous actions. They are running rings around a political establishment that dare not take them on. As Taseer remarked in the above interview:

The real problem is that the government is not prepared to face religious fanaticism head on. This also gives us a bad name in the world.

Stand with the people of Pakistan determined to take their country back from fundamentalists.

They face the mob, bullets, and the courts. The least we can do is voice our support. Or our silence will be complicit in the actions of fanatics.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Inequality In Higher Education and Expectation

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Asked to rank the importance of efficiency, optimisation, welfare, opportunity and equality, I was the only one that placed equality first. The rest of my undergraduate tutor class placed equality last. To a man, to a woman. A politics class came up with the order that the market not people came first.

There was a huge difference between us. They had all been to private school whilst I had been in the state system. I was on a full grant at the grace of the tax payer, whilst they were dependent on a willing and existent family largesse. This was my first choice university, while for most of them it was a consolation having not obtained the grades for Oxford or Cambridge.

I had myself phoned the admissions helpline for one of the colleges at Oxford. My concern was they required a good grade in French. This seemed rather unreasonable as I wanted to read Economics and Politics (PPE). Nor took into account half the lesson time was the French teacher being told she was fat, ugly and probably still a virgin by my less aspiring classmates. They were failing, much as their parents had failed before them. I knew education was my chance not to stay chained to a housing estate by my own ignorance.

Needless to say, I never even reached how poor foreign languages was at my school. The impression was no one actually used this phone line to discuss admission to one of the best colleges in the world. Contrast that with my alma mater. The admission tutor in all his professional career had never heard of my school. Reading my application, he was intrigued enough to lower the usually expected grade requirement.

Even though I more than passed that, there were still hundreds of applicants for every single place with the same grades as myself. My back story, the first person from my family to apply, a school that had never sent an applicant before, in addition to my grades helped me get in.

The reason for mentioning this today, is twofold. It is blog action day on inequality. The other is today I saw a photo of the man I am named after. This John planned to be a physicist, however his father disapproved of education. To a point he threw books at his own son’s head. Rather than becoming despondent, he took refuge in the local library and with the help of teachers applied successfully to university. Tuition fees did not exist, and a generous grant system that covered living costs existed.

By contrast my grant did not even cover the rent. The generosity of the state had not matched the expansion in higher education. The student loan I could take out amounted to £5 a day to live on in the late 1990s.

At University you want the best and brightest going to receive the best education possible. The system should also attract them from the whole of society. Money should not be a barrier, nor parental expectation. Low expectation by schools and the community should not either. There was a reason my degree was never going to be in a foreign language.

Unless we are concerned about equality, too many children will not receive the education that will unlock their potential and allow them to thrive in both the labour market and civil society. Things will never change, if only the elite are able to attend elite universities.

That was the unexpected lesson I learnt in that politics tutorial, so many years ago. It is a lesson too few countries want to learn. It is the price you pay when you treat people as money rather than citizens.

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Book “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” Celebrates 35 Years

It was actually a few days ago, but the real inspiration for the story began, as it usually does, with a drunk teenager.

Backpacking around Europe in 1971, and finding himself pissed in a field gazing up at the night sky, a tall 6 foot ape descendant had an idea. If only someone would create a “Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy” he would be ‘off like a shot’ among those stars.

More on how Douglas went on to create the radio series (my favourite incarnation) then book etc can be read here. The book however, served more than just entertainment for me as a teenager. It had a huge impact on my faith.

My mother one day was looking at a list from school of books to read and came across Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. We had a lodger who was a big Adams fan – my mother decided such books were unacceptable as they did not teach the world was created by God. However, the more the lodger told me memorable quotes from the book the more I wanted to read it.

Secretly, like someone reading the Tyndale bible, I read the book while pretending to be asleep. I laughed silently. Not only was the book funny, but there was an illicit thrill that this was naughty but nice. Maybe I was dishonoring my mother reading this book – but it was a fun story!

And then something hit me between the eyes. If I wanted to prove that it was not the Magrathians but God that built the earth what evidence would I need? So at 13 I reread the Creation Evolution book. It did not give me anything except – well how else? Well I could say the same thing about an alien race making the earth. [From Jehovah to Dawkins]

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The Elders of our local Jehovah’s Witness congregation went on to confirm the ban, and double checked other books on the list. I pick up the story in another post:

Not even one per cent of the population identifies as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of all faith groups it has the biggest exodus of children once they are adults. My time came early having read subversively Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It had been banned by the elders because it suggested an alien race built the earth, not Jehovah, and for mice not us. The humorous quotes a lodger mentioned made me want to read.

Hitchhikers made me think how would I prove God not aliens made the earth? Researching Society [Jehovah's Witnesses'] publications for this ultimate answer unearthed instead prophecies made that did not happen during the 1920s. My head swooned. The bible warns against false prophets and to reject them. Plus new editions of books I had read changed dogma while quoting different scriptures. Once, those destroyed at Sodom and Gomorrah would be given a second chance after Judgement day in an old edition. Now, the new edition said they had already been judged for eternal destruction. There was no acknowledgement of the change – it just happened. [Apostasy Post]

Never underestimate fiction. It has the power to change the way you think. No wonder people want to suppress it.

A thinking child is a well read child. Do not take that away from them.

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Secular Conference London 2014: The Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights

Imagine a conference where over two thirds of the speakers are women. From across the world. Artists, professors, authors, journalists, human rights activists. One who feared having children because of the threat to their lives.

You are told in no uncertain terms the consequence of colonialism, and how the war on terror has deliberately strengthened extremists. It happened during the Cold War. History repeats itself, with insanity expecting a different result.

That while attending the conference, you do not just deal with what hits the media. You hear about projects such as in Afghanistan, where women had to make their own centre (as no men would come near them to help work), yet their improvised skills were so good they were then asked if they would paint the mosque.

Moved when another recounts being abducted and held hostage the last time she attended such a conference as this; the fear from her voice pulling on your heart strings. Tears dripping onto your iPad as you blatantly tweet in your own name what is being said without a second thought of your own safety. That the song from a band in Indonesia called “Sister In Danger” is not lyrical invention. When protestors of a movie in Tunisia move their hand across their Adam’s apple in a slicing motion it is not just bravado.

A professor recounts hearing shots ring out on campus one evening. He rushed out to a former student who had become a faculty member. Bleeding to death, no other staff came to aid one of their own. There is no one else from the university either to join the professor at the mourning prayers. The assassinated man is Ahmadi, and even in death his blood can not wash away his heresy in a Pakistan State that declares them non muslims. He never was one of them after all, in life or death.

I did not have to imagine these voices – because Maryam Namazie gave them a platform. The conference was filmed and you can read my live tweets clicking on the tweet above, and following my timeline.

Please let me make this appeal. Regardless of what you think of God, how that manifests in your devotion or derision, humanity suffers too much in a brief time on earth. This is not an academic debate with timed responses. Celebrities on talk shows making points for applause or laughs.

The oppression done by extremists and religious nationalists is the concern of all humanity. It is by no means a complete solution to the hell on earth that exists. Only a beginning, and it starts with the idea that humanity is one and equal to each other.

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Secular Conference 2014 London

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Tomorrow I will be attending the Secular Conference in London, to discuss with activists across the globe the rise of religious extremism. The Arab Spring revealed that opportunity for reform may be squandered if civil society is not prepared to grasp it. By contrast Islamist networks are very developed, funded, and ready to hijack reform away from a universal civil rights model to a more theocratic one. The need to be prepared, for civil society to grow even if underground, is essential.

Yet islamism is not the only one. Hindu religious nationalism is on the rise in India. In Burma, Buddhist monks praise the massacre of the Rohingya Muslims. The need for secularism to prevent state apparatus being used to suppress people for the reason of faith is still ever present.

Secularists should be championed for promoting universal human rights, and democracy. Yet, so much mud has been slung instead. These are western imperialist values, imposing godlessness on all. One law is God’s law for all. Secularism is painted as separating humanity from God.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Secularism is concerned with preventing the state dictating to citizens matters of religion. The dictates of your conscience are yours alone. Religion is a voluntary activity, not a duty to the state.

Freedom is for people to express their faith true to themselves. Some will not want that. The thought that this means mosques allow men and women to pray together will be sacrilegious. That gay people are welcomed an anathema. Those that leave the faith are as equal as anyone within the faith not traitors to their community.

The heady mix of right wing nationalism and religious fundamentalism is political militant extremism. ISIS is attempting by force to build a caliphate. As I have mentioned, these are not mindless thugs. These are clerical fascists with a utopian zealot murderous ideology. They mean every single word. Their propaganda is sincere. More deadly for it.

Trying to draw Muslims to their cause, and to make us in turn hate Mulsims. To see them as other. Less human, and therefore less worthy of equal human rights. Our reaction must be to focus on extremism while maintaining the very values we wish to uphold.

The conference could not be more timely. The world must not falter. Too many lives are at stake. The challenge has to be met. Countered. The rights of the people over mullah’s whims. The state concerned with rights of all citizens not the imposition of theocracy.

Against the extremists that oppose human rights for all.

Make a stand.

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Sam Harris Meme On Rape

With the magic wand remark, here is the full quote:

Saltman: Your analogy between organized religion and rape is pretty inflammatory. Is that intentional?

Harris: I can be even more inflammatory than that. If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology. I would not say that all human conflict is born of religion or religious differences, but for the human community to be fractured on the basis of religious doctrines that are fundamentally incompatible, in an age when nuclear weapons are proliferating, is a terrifying scenario. I think we do the world a disservice when we suggest that religions are generally benign and not fundamentally divisive.

Dawkins recent tweets on rape, and these old ones of Sam Harris quotes, are a reminder. It is not just what you mean but how it comes across that people judge you on.

Memes never provide the full context. Google.

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The Sun: United Against IS (A Review)

Where The Sun front page, and editorial fail, my initial skepticism is reassured by Sara Khan who delivers on how to challenge extremists.

Right now Britain and about 60 countries are committed to undermining ISIS. Fascists that use religious nationalism to bring Sunni Muslims together under a caliphate. It includes flag waving, and demanding that all muslims of various sects unite.

With that in mind The Sun front page stood out:

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A right wing tabloid uses religious nationalism to bring all people of faith together as one nation. It includes a cut out flag (Page 3), and demanding that all people of faith unite.

Strength through unity. Unity through faith.

The blood runs cold, that the answer to fanatical religious nationalism is religious nationalism lite. That such an image concept, that has caused such misery in the world, might serve to combat extremism is insulting to those that think about it’s execution. Those of no faith appear to have nothing to say about fighting religious extremism, according to the blurb.

However, open the paper and a different story emerges. The editorial begins:

THE Sun today calls on Britain to unite against the murderers of Islamic State.

Whatever your faith — or if you have none — you can help crush the greatest evil of modern times.

The arrest of a suspected IS terror cell in the UK and the slaughter of aid worker Alan Henning show why we must stand together.

We must help snuff out the warped ideology of IS and stem the flow of Britons to its ranks.

Britain is a beacon of tolerance, a mainly Christian country that embraces all religions. IS seeks to destroy that unity by sowing the hatred that acts as its recruiting sergeant. We mustn’t let it happen.

Cheers for remembering us of no faith this time. But then the faux pas that we are mainly a Christian country. That does not bare scrutiny. A Christian Country destroying an Islamic State. That will make borderline radical Islamists stop in their tracks. Not.

We are mainly a no faith country, that embraces religious freedom for all including those of no faith. Equal citizenship is not a matter of religion, or your politics, or even whether you think we should be fighting this war or not. Here we celebrate freedom of speech, and freedom of expression.

The young woman on the front page could choose to wear the hijab. Under ISIS, the Niqab is mandatory with armed thugs demanding women keep their faces covered. The celebration in the UK is not our faith, but our ability to live voluntarily by our conscience in matters of belief. We may manifest our right to religious expression and identity. As equally, we may denounce religion. Free speech – it lets you speak out against hate.

Thank goodness for Sarah Khan, director of Inspire, saving the day in the paper:

People of a non-Muslim faith can help in this fight against IS by stamping out hate as a whole. IS plays into the fears that some people have about the Muslim faith and burn the bridges within our society.

If we respond by promoting hate to each other we are letting them win. They want Muslims to feel marginalised so they will want to join their twisted cause.

We need to say we’re not going to allow you to destroy us and we say that by not tolerating hatred or violence to anyone.

The common theme here is to make a stand against any hatred or extremism. It’s not what it means to be British.

Exactly what this blog stands for.

The aim of #makingastand are worth supporting:

Through #makingastand we commit ourselves to rejecting terrorism and violence practised in the name of Islam. Together we will:

Challenge hatred and extremism wherever we find it.

Exert influence in our Mosques and communities.

Create local support networks and partner with statutory agencies.

Equip our communities with counter-narratives and help families identify the signs of radicalisation.

Spread the word with the use of the #makingastand campaign.

If you follow the link above you will see a familiar image. The blurb next to it this time brings out a positive image of challenging extermisim.

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Sara Khan and Inspire have been given a huge platform. Please help to support, and take action.

Ok I still hate The Sun, and considering it’s past headlines this may strike some as insincere. But Iram Ramzan is right when she says the front page does grab your attention despite it’s flaws. The counter narrative just went public in the best selling tabloid newspaper against religious extremists and the far right.

That in itself is cause for some optimism, in the tabloids wobbled first steps on the issue.

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