Category Archives: Philosophy

University – A Free Not A Safe Space

Universities should not be safe places. The battle of ideas should make them free spaces. 

My final year at University, one of my courses was on contemporary philosophy. We discussed Rawls, Nozick. I recall leading a seminar discussion on Dworkin while I argued against utilitarians. Feminism and abortion, Peter Singer and infanticide. Passionate arguments with people that consumed books and fired off their own ideas at each other. This is what we did before Twitter.

There is much discussion about making Universities “safe places” for students. Not inviting certain speakers, reading certain books, or freely discussing certain topics which may trouble some students’ susceptibilities.

Yet open free discussion helped me get the most out of my education. The tutorial and seminar system developed an ability to stand up for your arguments. Years before I felt comfortable discussing atheism with family, I could here. Talking as an equal though from a state education with a class full of privately educated students.

I remember seconding a debate society discussion on morality – not wearing a suit. Quite sacrilegious. I explained this was not a moral failing on my part, but I made the choice to buy books over attire thus was skint. Clothing ourselves with knowledge is dressing for a civilised age. Sharpening that knowledge is to be challenged, to be forged in the fire of heated debate.

Do not garb students from debate by wrapping them in cotton wool, so depriving them of the world of ideas that they can sharpen their teeth on. There are opponents and enemies to be had. The ability to discern who they are is a vital life skill for University students to develop, and how to challenge them. They do not need to be sheltered by those choosing on their behalf who they are for them. It is a form of control no one should want – one should want to fly rather than live in a cocoon safe from the monsters whose ideas we need to know how to slay.

To be an active citizen is to wage eternal conflict in the body politic. There will be people – groups and individuals – that want to change things in civil society. Knowing who to shrill for and who to counter has an impact beyond imagining in the corridors of power we never get to walk down.

We need articulate, determined citizens to fight the good fight in civil society with a megaphone or a keyboard, rather than with violence or repression of others voices. Not shrinking violets that are concerned with how they feel about the jousting, the back and forth of political discourse. There is too much at stake not to play the game, let alone not know how to play it well.

Students need to be taught how to think, stand up for themselves, develop a self-worth. They need to know there are many ideas out there and how to critically assess them.

University is not a safe place. It is a dangerous place, where ideas from different cultures and history will come at you. Do not hide students from political, philosophical or religious arguments.

Arm them to do the battle of ideas in the global communication age safely. This needs to start way before university.

Anything less than that, is to betray their education.

More on free spaces can be read here.

The speech bubble picture comes from another blog post on the subject here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under atheism, British Politics, British Society, Philosophy, politics

We Have A Problem – Charlie Hebdo and Raif Badawi

The articles of a thousand words, detailing what is wrong with Charlie Hebdo continue. A quick line or two condemn the murder of the cartoonists. Then the rest of the piece that in life they were out of order to satirise and lampoon religion and the religious.

More weight to the sensitivities of chest beaters proclaiming their adoration of Mohammed than to the loved ones of those murdered in cold blood. We are told the cartoons far from mocking racists with their own imagery, played into their hands to create division and hatred in society.

Ignoring that the attack that killed Muslims and Jews at the Kosher supermarket in Paris showed hatred against citizens that come together to live as one. This religious violence barely gets a mention that it is designed to expand the fault line through society to emphasise difference and provoke a chain reaction.

How does Islamism try to use the politics of identity?

“The prospect is groomed into identifying him or herself only as a Muslim, and feel kinship with only other followers of Mohammed. Solidarity is thus restricted solely to those who share the same faith.[Source]”

The majority of articles against Charlie Hebdo reinforce this, that Muslims must react as a monolith against any depiction of Mohammed. When we speak up that free speech guarantees freedom of religion, we are accused of supporting a system that targets and abuses the feelings of minorities. That satirising religion is cover for attacking Muslims.

That narrative needs challenging – all religions and religious figures are targets for satire and being made fun of. No one gets an exception, and that some try to by killing cartoonists, translators or threatening authors is a disgrace.

Our reaction must be to condemn the murder of people, beyond anyone’s hurt religious sensibility. The weight of our indignation must be against bloodshed. It must be for freedom to be true to ourselves, free to express, and to live as our conscience dictates without fear of reparisal for an opinion.

Or else we have a fucking problem.

Maajid Nawaz in the video talks about Raif Badawi – sentenced to ten years and a thousand lashes. For blogging that the theocratic regime of Saudi Arabia was at odds with what Islam teaches, and for advocating liberal principles.

We need to be moved against the violence of religious fundamentalism far more than demands of religious piety and outrage against a cartoon.

To confuse the bigotry of the far right that sees all Muslims as following an evil ideology with Charlie Hebdo is nonsensical. Racists attempt to make “the” Muslims all the same and other to us – do not oblige them by saying all Muslims must react the same.

That reaction does not have to be uniform as so many commentators suggest. You can choose to be outraged or not to give a flying duck. You have the power, not satirists or terrorists. Think for yourself.

Those that draw blood, not those that draw, are the enemies of religion. Time to focus more on those that will kill and torture in the name of your God over those that lampoon him and his messenger. Or else humanity is losing the plot.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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No Such Thing As A Faith Child


Adults are extolled in the Christian tradition to be childlike in their acceptance of the faith. Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In the first letter of Peter “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation -”

That pure special diet is one some want their children to be exclusively fed. Proverbs reminds such parents, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Rather than a child free to explore the religions of this world, its cultures and philosophies so they can create their own identity, it is about a child continuing a parent’s self identity.

Children are not given the vote or expected to do jury service for a simple reason; they are children. The complexities of the big questions in society, or determining innocence or guilt in a trial would make it absurd to argue they have the competence that an adult would. There is no such thing as a Muslim child, an atheist child, let alone a Capitalist child or Marxist child, for this reason.

However, some will try and argue that children have their own faith. That complex questions as to the route to salvation, the nature of God, which religion is the true religion for this, can be answered by a child. That it is them expressing their faith when it comes to dress at school.

John Lewis is offering the hijab as part of selling school uniforms. The usual bigots and hate mongers are in hysterics in ways they are not about other expressions of faith in school. Like mandated Christian prayer at assembly, as if the state should have any right to say how we should worship. Selective outrage at children being used as an extension of parent’s beliefs so as to further the far right, need condemning.

[My article defending right to wear Niqab, let alone hijab, in public can be read here]

Parents have the household, and place of worship to teach and provide a spiritual diet for their child. A school is an academic establishment. It is not the place to be a surrogate parent in religious instruction. Ideas and values, which may challenge the religious views of parents, must not be hindered.

Children clapping, listening to music, singing happy birthday, dancing, mixed gender physical education, learning about other faiths – these are not something to exempt children from. No child would naturally do so without being told this is wrong, this is against our religion so you are forbidden.

There needs to be one place where children are free from prejudices masquerading as faith to distort their world view. Women are equal to men – there is no need to segregate them in class, or to cover your head when puberty and menstruation occurs (let alone before) as a sign of religious observance. In the classroom, you are not children of faith. Not owned by the culture or religion of your parents or a religious community, that demands you – or teachers – are adorned as such.


Adults are independent autonomous individuals. That can make their own choices. For example, in South Africa there is a drive to increase circumcision. Men are not lining the streets for the operation. The solution proposed is to mandate new born children who cannot object or consider that using condoms would be the effective way at reducing HIV transmission.

So unless you are going to argue that out of the mouth’s of babes such permission would be forthcoming, that toddlers could vote in a referendum on Scottish independence, that a young adolescent is ready to hold high office as political views fully formed – stop claiming there is such a thing as a Muslim child, a Christian Child, or an atheist child.

Let children have a free space where they are not a proxy in culture wars, the pawns of orthodox religious views or bit players for racist propaganda. One area of their lives where they can learn in an environment that encourages them to think critically for themselves. Promoting an all round education. Schools must have that function or else children will not have their own space to develop on their own terms.

A school uniform is about identity, that they are students of an educational establishment. Not one that encourages them to be abstractions of a parent’s faith to make their children different from others. Social cohesion matters, and in a childlike way school uniforms work:

Macy Vallance, a year-eight student, says: “I like uniforms because everyone is the same and no one can be left out by the way they are dressed. Our new uniform looks smarter, which is good.”

My uniform might not be what I would wear in my own time, but it gives me a sense of belonging, takes away the pressure of what to wear and deters the bullies. School uniform isn’t fashionable, but that’s exactly why I think it should be here to stay. [The Guardian]

A sense of belonging without anyone feeling left out or different. That is the ball game, which really encourages children to grow. Segregation, in all it’s guises, must be resisted. It is the reason religious additions to school uniform must be challenged.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Politics, British Society, Culture, Philosophy, politics, secular, Uncategorized

Justifying Honour Killings Deserve No Public Platform

“And if you tolerate this, then your children will be next …”


How far will you go for free speech – to the point that you will defend the right for someone in the Sydney Opera House to deliver a speech entitled “Honour Killings Are Morally justified”? Usually a line is drawn regarding incitement to murder. That encouraging us to think of killing people who have shamed us is morally justified would be reprehensible to be given a public platform. Whether a Colombian footballer assassinated for an own goal by a drug cartel body guard in Colombia, or a woman stoned to death in front of a court in Pakistan for choosing her own husband, this is not an idea to condone. It needs us all challenging and denying any acceptance of this idea in the public space.

The story of the talk that now will not be held at the 6th Festival of Dangerous ideas is covered in more detail by Martin Pribble here. My concern is how this talk is being defended and how the outrage that caused the event to be cancelled is considered morally wrong by some. People have suggested free speech allows advocacy of such justification irrespective of whether the talk would have done so.

Autonomy is a fundamental human right that allows you free choice. The right to choose your livelihood, who you socialise with, who you will marry. Most of us would accept that intimidation and violence to prevent this would be against human rights.

It would also be morally wrong. The issue of someone arguing that it is morally justifiable is a belief rather than an action. Yet such beliefs perpetuate violence happening. Anything that helps us understand how this belief leads to violent action and deconstruct the argument to promote universal human rights is useful. That was not expressed in the title of this talk – nor how the speaker explains his intended presentation as will be mentioned later:

The executive director of the centre, Simon Longstaff AO, said people had not read beyond the title of the lecture, which was intended to be a discussion about how honour is used as a justification for a range of acts, including going to war and murder.

“Uthman’s view is that no form of vigilante killing is justified,” Longstaff said.

“So while honour killings are not what he believes in, he does believe there is a context in which this does happen and where those people believe they are justified.

“We wanted to begin having a conversation about these killings, which should never happen and yet the fact is, there are societies that allow it to. We wanted to examine how that is the case.”

Longstaff said in hindsight, he regretted the name of the lecture, but said he was genuinely surprised when he first learned of the outrage it had provoked. He said he felt it was in line with talks from previous years on topics such as why torture was sometimes justified, and why flogging was kinder than prison. [The Guardian]

This talk was designed to be controversial. The festival thrives on such notoriety. Which is why the festival organisers asked Uthman Badar to speak with that title. My reaction to the news was to call for civil disobedience to disrupt such a talk against the festival organisers giving such a platform.

How could you not understand “Honour Killings Are Morally justified” causing outrage? Rather I suspect the hope was all publicity is good publicity and they could ride the storm by pointing out the intention of the talk. Missing the point that the title was not just “regrettable.”

Any succour to violent action by people killing others because of a sense of honour is not just intolerable but unacceptable in the public space. It helps to justify murder and spread that message. The advocation to murder women and men because of hurt sensibilities should be opposed. It is a disgrace that people call for civil society to tolerate such an acceptance that these things happen. Cultural relativism works like that – it is the done thing there so shrug your shoulders and just be glad you are not subjected to that but accept they are.

Uthman Badar responded to the outrage:

As for the content of my presentation, I wont be revealing much before the event itself. Surprise, surprise. I will, however, say that the suggestion that I would advocate for honour killings, as understand in the west, is ludicrous and something I would normally not deem worth of dignifying with a response. Rather, this is about discussing the issue at a deeper level, confronting accepted perceptions, assumptions and presumptions and seeing things from a different perspective. Is that too much to ask of the liberal mind? [My emphasis]

Those that say free speech means you can talk in the public space for the murder of people because of shame and dishonour are not for human rights. The fundamental right we have is to life. The right to live as we choose granting that same freedom to others in turn. This talk was about seeing things from the perspective that promotes honour killings – an anathema not just to liberal minds I might add.

Of course Badar is against vigilante honour killing. He is part of Hizb ut-Tahrir which states it is “not allowed for Muslims to accept any system which is based on democracy” and to achieve it’s political goals publicly “calls the Muslim armies to give Hizb ut Tahrir the Nussrah (Material Support) so that Khilafah is established. So, rush to fulfill the great obligation of working to establish the Khilafah.” [Source] The theocratic regime they propose will be able to do some of the dirty work via an armed uprising.

Making this an academic discussion as if such a talk happens in a vacuum that has no impact on anyone’s action, you are not on the right side of the argument. You have misunderstood that free speech is not about giving murder a public platform to be advocated. For being gay, for leaving your faith, for falling in love, for letting a goal in, for falling short of anyone’s expectations of how they live their life. Whether by the state, community or family members.

That is not the world I want my children to grow up in. I will not tolerate it, and hope you will not either. Ideas are not abstractions. Blood runs on the ground choking the earth because of them.


Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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GOP candidate: Stoning Homosexuals, No Problem It’s In The Bible


Tea Party state House candidate Scott Esk clarified his thinking recently when asked why he felt homosexuality was worthy of capital punishment:

That was done in the Old Testament under a law that came directly from God and in that time there it was totally just. It came directly from God. I have no plans to reinstitute that in Oklahoma law. I do have some very huge moral misgivings about those kinds of sins.

His original posts on a Facebook last year were:

That [stoning gay people to death] goes against some parts of libertarianism, I realize, and I’m largely libertarian, but ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss.

At the time stating:

I never said I would author legislation to put homosexuals to death, but I didn’t have a problem with it.


On his campaign website he states:

I am running for HD91 because I believe in the principles that made our state and nation great and unique in history – and I want to protect those principles. I believe that rights come from God – not from government – and that it should be limited, its taxes and spending should be low, its regulations few, and its protection of our liberties constant.

Our rights are not dependent on the writings, whether holy or constitutional, of people long since dead. They depend on the thinking of the living.

Dear Oklahoma please do not vote for a brain dead candidate.

Source of Facebook quotes Slate

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under America, Philosophy, Religion, republican, World