Atheist Blogger Avijit Roy Killed

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Today atheist bloggers mourn for the loss of one of our own, killed in a frenzied machete attack which leaves Avijit Roy dead and his wife in a serious condition. He ran a blog called “Free Mind” which discussed science, religion, secularism and extremism. It gave a free thinking space for writers that might otherwise have been denied one.

He had returned to Bangladesh to promote his latest book The Virus of Faith and was murdered having attended a book fair. Virus is the sort of language that Reza Aslan claims is used by new atheists to threaten believers. As if words were any match for matchettes.

“If one thing is certain, it is that the virus of faith is dangerously real.”

That was one of the last things Roy ever wrote, commenting on the death threats he had received by Islamist fundamentalists.

I am reminded of the threats the secular conference in London had last year, attack on Charlie Hebdo and on the Copenhagen cafe hosting a discussion on blasphemy this year. Now this. There is a pattern.

It is not our freedom to express views and opinions that everyone seeks to protect. Rather, it is the sensibilities of machete yielding, gun toting fundamentalists, that too many seek to avoid provoking. Not even daring to condemn them for their fundamentalist views, but defend as if religious freedom allowed for thinking death for blasphemy was a view to have.

A virus of the mind. How else can you describe an idea like blasphemy which takes out of you all the empathy for a human being with love, hopes, fears and ideas. The poison of faith devoid of compassion for all – that would kill us or make life not worth living for those with free minds.

Taslima Nasreen wrote:

Avijit Roy was an extraordinarily talented person. He dedicated his life to enlightening those who live in the darkness of ignorance. I knew him since the mid ’90s. I admired him for his relentless efforts to spread a scientific temperament in the world. It is extremely painful to come to terms with his loss. Bangladesh has become a safe haven for Islamists where they can do whatever they like. They can kill people with no qualms whatsoever. Avijit Roy has been killed the way other free thinking writers were killed in Bangladesh. No free thinker is safe in that country.

Update:

Vigil will be happening this Sunday in Trafalgar Square, London.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Video: “Europe and Anti-Semitism: Are we at a civilisational crisis point?”

The above discussion from last week features Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Brendan O’Neill and Simone Rodan. The event was organised by the Central Synagogue in London in conjunction with the Henry Jackson Society.

Thanks to @MehrdadAmanpour for tweeting link to.

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Photo from Central Synagogue here.

The video is almost two hours long, but if pushed for time here is Maajid’s 11 minute speech during:

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Audio: The Godless Spellchecker Debrief Podcast – The Big Questions

Last Sunday’s “The Big Questions” on the BBC covered terrorism, faith schools and … the devil (you can watch here). As ever Nicky Campbell hosts keeping a poker face, yet draws people to reveal what they want to say – as opposed to perhaps what they want to say on television.

Godless Spellchecker has started a podcast on the show, and I talk briefly at the beginning.

Listen to the Podcast here.

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More on Tim Stanley, such as how the poor exist for other’s spiritual redemption, Adam and Eve explain child bone cancer, can be read here.

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Poor Sir Malcolm Rifkind – From A Welfare Recipient

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Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP suggests £60k, which goes up to £80k due to his chairmanship of parliamentary intelligence committee, justifies offering his services to a “Chinese company” for extra renumeriation. The sting has seen him suspended from The Conservative Party. I reflect that leaving my professional career to look after my disabled brother, saves the tax payer the equivalent to paying his salary.

Dear Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP

I can sympathise you want a professional pay package to compensate you for the sacrifice you have made in public service. I can only apologise that sacrificing my own professional career to continue the care of my disabled brother, saving the tax payer £80,000 a year, was not enough to keep you in the manner you wish to be accustomed.

It was quite a dramatic fall from about £15 an hour to 62 pence an hour that the state pays me to look after my brother. The Carers Allowance increases per year are capped by how much income support claims is the minimum anyone needs to live on. This means for the 24/7 care I provide, I must subsist on £105 per week. Generously going up to £106 per week next April.

Please pass on my thanks to Iain Duncan Smith on behalf of all full time family care givers that we get £5k a year to live on. If we were public employees this would be a scandal at not being paid the minimum wage. However, we have no such protection or status.

We are welfare recipients, and there is no public outcry for us. There are kind words, there is vocal support on social media. But there is no march in the streets of London. No celebrities demanding dignity for us. No ministers or former ministers demanding this change.

The poverty of care as opposed to the poverty of public service. Both have an opportunity cost. One though is borne with love, the other with a sense of deprived entitlement it seems rather than duty.

I hope that the real terms cut each year since I looked after my brother has helped in some ways to compensate you for your own sacrifice. One day maybe we could meet and compare how we cope with the household budget given our respective remuneration.

I suspect you may have even more free time than you used to; will try to find time in my hectic schedule for you.

Yours,

John

PS Jack Straw is also in my thoughts, as are you, at this difficult time as we all try to make ends meet. We are, of course, all in this together. It is just our continuing sacrifices do not seem to be comparable.

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Copenhagen Shootings – Fight The Fear Together Not Alone

[This article, minus cartoons of Mohammed, can now be read on Huffington Post]

Imagine university students concerned about a platform being given by their debating society to a “radical feminist” that took a chainsaw to a crucifix while bare breasted. As far as they are concerned, it goes against religious sensibilities, is playing to the patriarchy that sexually objectifies women. Other students see her as anti sexual workers, given the early beginnings of the feminist movement she is a part of. What unites them is their tactic of no platforming by protest and if needs be direct action so the event gets canceled.

The person described is Inna Shevchenko, and she was speaking at a Copenhagen cafe this Valentines Day, when a gunman opened fire from outside, having been denied entry. His contribution to the “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression” debate being hosted was firing over thirty bullets. A Danish film maker was killed and five police officers injured. Later he went to a Synagogue celebrating a bat mitzvah, where a security guard barred entry to him. The gunman killed him before fleeing.

Silence falls in many ways. One by the sound of the gun having the last word with the victim. Threats of violence, as the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. The debate in the cafe was marking the anniversary of that fatwa. Then the fear of meeting with people at such venues, or debating such topics openly – the very reason the event continued in the aftermath.

Lars Vilks, who organized the debate in Copenhagen, drew this cartoon of Mohammed as part dog.

Stop Attacking the God Damn Muhammad Cartoonists

Some conservative Muslims see dogs as unclean. Also, as you are no doubt aware, drawing Mohammed can be extremely hazardous to your health. I have already written about Charlie Hebdo and the need to be more outraged at drawing blood than drawing cartoons. Here the point is as Islam is for human rights and animal rights, than assaulting or cruelty to other living beings would be as an assault on the prophet. Nothing artistic should provoke you into such an action because of your faith.

That was his point in 2007. In 2015 despite activists and cartoonists being shot at and killed, we still have to contend with such messages as: do not provoke.

Even after Paris, even after Denmark, we must guard against the understandable temptation to be provocative in the publication of these cartoons if the sole objective is to establish that we can do so. With rights to free speech come responsibilities.

That seems to me the moral approach, but there is a practical issue here too. There is no negotiating with men with guns. If progress is to come, it will be via dialogue with the millions of faithful Muslims who would never think to murder but also abhor publication of these cartoons. We cannot have that conversation in a time and spirit of provocation. And to have it would not be an act of weakness. The strong approach is not necessarily to do what is possible, but to do what is right.

So ends Hugh Mir in The Guardian. Well, there is a point to the cartoon above. Which can only really be described by showing. Lars Vilks and the people at the cafe, need support and solidarity rather than – you are part of the problem. As Inna states “We are in the middle of ideological war in Europe.They fight us with guns,we have to fight them with cartoons, street protests, speeches etc.”

If Charlie Hebdo, Lars Vilks, Raif Badawi, Aliaa Elmahdy, FEMEN & others would NOT be alone in this fight, we would NOT become a [target].

This is how solidarity works. I do not think religion, Gods or prophets are anymore than fictions, which at best promote a common heritage, helping to shape a shared cultural identity and legacy. At worst, they become dogmatic, resilient to freethought and ideas which challenge their perceived wisdom in society. At their deadliest, extremism calls for blood for blasphemy in an ideal religious state. Fundamentalists are not prepared to wait for such a state, and will carry out the sentence anywhere in the world, against muslim and non muslim alike.

I recognise not all Muslims are extremists let alone fundamentalists in Europe and bigotry suggesting that they all are needs calling out for what it is. It would be ridiculous to excuse attacks on muslims because of the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia which has funded and exported extreme salafism around the world. Yet when it comes to attacks on Jews this has been readily excused as being provoked by the actions of Israel against the Palestinians (from conversation here). Anti-semitism might get mentioned as a factor, or dismissed entirely as Karen Armstrong did:

 “We’re piling all the violence of the 21st Century on the back of religion, sending it away, saying we have nothing to do with religion. While we still have to deal with the political situation. The supermarket attack in Paris was about Palestine, about Isis. It had nothing to do with antisemitism; many of them are Semites themselves.

It feels that some are in denial that anti-semitism exists, just as anti-muslim hatred exists. Make it all political, all about foreign policy, forget religious extremism and hatred and that part of the problem is supposed to go away. To not provoke is to accept blasphemy as a social taboo even for an innocuous cartoon – as Maajid Nawaz tweeted of Mohammed saying “How ya doin’?”

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That tweet, and the fallout that followed, was a year ago. Since we have seen blood spilt over the issue in Paris and Copenhagen. We have seen what religious hatred can do in a kosher supermarket and outside synagogue. A rise in attacks on muslims too. Now is the time for us all to speak up for each other’s rights.

Instead, far from showing that support even if you disagree, I am left wondering if Inna would be allowed to speak at all English Universities. As a letter to The Observer from academics and others made clear:

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists.

This came to a head with the recent cancellation of comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s show. As Nick Cohen explains:

Last week, students at Goldsmiths College in London banned a performance by the fantastic feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite in an act of neurotic prudery that bordered on the insane. Her show was on freedom of speech – yes, yes, I know. She told me that Goldsmiths did not close it because of what she had planned to say, but because she had once said that the police should arrest men who go with prostitutes and that she was against patriarchal clerics forcing women to wear the burqa. In the demonology of campus politics, these were not legitimate opinions that could be contested in robust debate. They marked her as a “whoreophobe” and “Islamophobe”, who must be silenced.

Nick talks about other things happening – lecturers told not to discuss religion or feminism, secular groups banned from displaying Charlie Hebdo survival front cover. “Rather than being free institutions where the young could expand their minds, British universities were becoming “theological colleges” where secular priests enforced prohibitions.”

By student groups actively no platforming, young people are themselves prohibiting the very controversy, offense and contrarian opinion which civil society needs to inform, stimulate and educate. Right now, people are failing to show solidarity when gunmen strike. Instead the message is do not provoke, do not dare to express anything that will inflame sensibilities. Do not even learn how to make a counter argument to those that you disagree with. Win by not letting them show up.

We cannot stop being alive, we cannot stop noticing the harm religious extremism and hatred causes. We will point out what fundamentalists are trying to do. We will show the limits they try to impose. We will show how people give tacit let alone explicit support to those that wish atheists, apostates and blasphemers dead.

The least you can do is not sympathise with the gunman as you blame the victim. If you are not prepared to take a flying bullet for them, you may at least be prepared to give a platform to the people that face them from fundamentalists.

Fight the fear together not alone.

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The Chapel Hill Shootings, North Carolina

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This story should be about how the world has lost three young adults to what appears to be an execution style gun attack. The sorrow and condolences to their family and loved ones. The grief that such senseless acts happen in this world.

23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat had two months ago married Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21. Her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 was also murdered. She described herself as the best third wheel. Looking at the photos they seemed inseparable in life. As they were tragically in death.

A dental student, Barakat volunteered to help Palestinian children and refugees. Yusor was about to start her dental studies while Razan had just started studying Architecture and Environmental Design.

Their promise and contribution to the world has been taken from us. The speculation of why 46 year old Craig Stephen Hicks, who handed himself in as the killer, did this abounds on Twitter. That he is an atheist, and they were muslim, is a major part of that.

With violence we are all victims. There are buildings that will never be built, there are smiles which will never have been made the brighter by them. Lives which will not be lived. Instead, there are too many tears, and so many questions.

Their contribution to the world will have to instead live on in the spirit that they lived. This is not the time for point scoring, for using for tribalist tit for tat on social media.

We should be mourning together, resolving to challenge the hatred and anger that takes innocent lives. Creating a society in which everyone may fulfil their promise of making a better tomorrow.

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Tristram Hunt And Nuns On Question Time

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Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, has been accused of making derogatory remarks about nuns and faith, when remarking about the education of another panelist on BBC Question Time.

If you watch the video, you can see that Tristram Hunt was making the point that qualified teachers in the state system were preferable to non qualified teachers. He however agrees that nuns, and faith schools, may have an ethos that can coexist with state system. His suggestion, “they were nuns”, is suggesting being a nun they were better than most unqualified teachers.

This however has become for some a discussion about Labour being anti-faith rather than promoting qualified people who know how to teach children in the state classroom. Context is everything – Labour have recently announced making LGBT inclusive in sex education for state schools. Also, Tristram Hunt has said Ofsted should be able to scrutinise and review faith schools just as they do in the state system. For religious school supporters, fearful of what the aftermath to the Trojan horse affair may mean when British values go against religious claims, the axe was already sharpened to swing at a whiff of provocation.

Tristram has a belief in faith schools. It is shocking that nuns are automatically assumed to be better than most non qualified teachers. Any more than Mother Teresa being held up as a model of palliative “spiritual suffering” care over medicine and health care. This due reverence for clerics I was shocked out of at an early age. Reading Hitchens meticulously researched book should break the spell for others.

I have mentioned before about nuns providing respite for my disabled brother when we were kids. To give some details of their care, his fingertips were bloodied when cutting his finger nails. He was allowed to get into a scalding hot bath that terrified him for about ten years getting into another. He was chastised when displaying his mannerisms of uncontrollable movement.

As the only respite centre in the vicinity, there was no where else for my sleep deprived mother to use.

The change in my brother when social services kicked the Sisters out and placed professional carers in was immense. Not having untrained inexperienced amateurs, always out of their depth with the most challenging of children, made a difference.

Watch the video again. Tristram, like myself, is stressing the point that trained qualified staff are key for children – I would go further and say nuns need it too. Perhaps a supposed sneering manner detracts from what should be a universal point. I only wish a party would stand on a platform of secular education for all children. That will be a generational change. It is not for a close run election this year. Another reason for hyping this story.

My anecdote is not an end of the discussion anymore than someone having a great education at a faith school. (Read here for essay on secular versus faith schooling).

The people looking after your children and educating them should be trained, professional, and know what they are doing. It is no use just relying on a wing and a prayer. A child’s education takes precedence over religious instruction. The difference in grades are more to do with socio economic backgrounds, which faith schools can select for.

Whether teachers should be supplemented by experts, or educational motivators (imagine Stephen Fry talking about Shakespeare for a class) in their field who lack teacher training is a different point. For that, head teachers should be able to make a call based on what improves the educational experience of their students.

Here is a snap shot of how Tristram’s remarks have played out on twitter.

For once I am sparing you the tweet puns – breaking the habit of a lifetime.

However, this outspoken secular blogger suggests Tristram was not attacking religious faith schools. Labour policy may be reducing the exemptions religious schools have enjoyed. That is enough to blow this all out of proportion.

Ninety days to polling day. For God’s sake publish your manifestos quickly so we can talk about something substantive.

Update:

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