On the importance of the right to offend


Jesus and Mo

On the importance of the right to offend

–   By Kenan Malik   – Thursday,   30th January 2014

The Jesus & Mo image tweeted by Maajid Nawaz and later censored on Channel 4 News

This article is cross-posted from Kenan Malik’s blog Pandaemonium

‘Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch’. So tweeted Maajid Nawaz, prospective Liberal Democratic parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, last night. He had every right to be incandescent. Channel 4 News had just held a debate about the Jesus and Mo cartoons and about the campaign to deselect Nawaz for tweeting one of the cartoons, not finding them offensive. Channel 4 decided that they were offensive and could not be shown. It would have been bad enough had the channel decided simply not to show the cartoon. What it did was worse. It showed the cartoon – but blanked out Muhammad’s face (and only Muhammad’s face). In the context of a debate about whether Nawaz had been right to tweet the cartoon in the first place, or whether his critics were right to hound him for ‘offending’ Muslims, it was an extraordinary decision. The broadcaster had effectively taken sides in the debate – and taken the side of the reactionaries against the liberal.

There has been something quite surreal about the whole controversy over Maajid Nawaz and his refusal to be offended by the Jesus and Mo cartoons. A one-time Islamist turned anti-extremist campaigner, Nawaz is a founder of the Quilliam Foundation, dedicated to combating Islamic extremism, and Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn. Two weeks ago he took part in the BBC’s Big Questions programme, in which there was a debate about religious offence. The programme discussed an incident at the LSE Fresher’s Fair when two students from the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society were forced to cover up the ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts they had been wearing. (The LSE later apologized to the students for its heavy-handed reaction.) For those who don’t know, Jesus and Mo is a cartoon strip featuring Jesus and Muhammad sharing a house and discussing religion, philosophy and politics, with each other and sometimes with an atheist barmaid down the pub. It is clever, witty and, of course, irreverent

Nawaz insisted on the show that he found nothing offensive about the cartoons. ‘I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it’, he observed. Astounded by the fact that BBC had refused to show the cartoons on air, Nawaz later tweeted an image of one to once again make the point that there was nothing offensive about it. At which point all hell broke lose.

Fellow Liberal Democrat Mohammed Shafiq organized an international campaign to hound Nawaz for causing ‘immense offence and disrespect to the religious beliefs and sentiments’ of Muslims. A petition was set up calling for Nawaz’s deselection. The activist, ‘community leader’ and prolific tweeter Mohammed Ansar joined the campaign against Nawaz, urging people to sign the petition (though absurdly he also insists that he neither finds the cartoons offensive nor necessarily wants Nawaz sacked; that apparently is ‘nuance’). Nawaz has received a torrent of abuse on social media and a sackful of death threats.

There is something truly bizarre (and yet in keeping with the zeitgeist of our age) that someone should become the focus of death threats and an international campaign of vilification for suggesting that an inoffensive cartoon was, well, inoffensive.

From the Rushdie affair to the controversy over the Danish cartoons, from the forcing offstage of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti to the attempt this week by members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to shut down the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (a decision thankfully later reversed), reactionaries have often used campaigns against ‘offence’ as a political weapon with which to harass opponents and as a means of bolstering their community support. The anti-Nawaz campaign is no different. Mohammed Shafiq and Mohammed Ansar both have had public spats with Nawaz, and both are cynically exploiting the claim of ‘offensiveness’ to reclaim political kudos.

What gives the reactionaries the room to operate and to flex their muscles is, however, the pusillanimity of many so-called liberals, their unwillingness to stand up for basic liberal principles, their fear of causing offence, their reluctance to call so-called community leaders to account. This is why Channel 4’s stance was so obnoxious. The broadcaster’s role is not to take sides in these debates. It is to tease out the arguments, and to stand by basic journalistic principles, including the principle of free speech. What Channel 4 did was the very opposite. It abandoned its journalistic principles, refused to stand up for free speech and took sides with the reactionaries. The Liberal Democrats themselves have been equally spineless. Though some have publicly defended Nawaz, leading figures have been noticeably reluctant to stick their necks out. It took almost a week before party leader Nick Clegg put out a statement, and then a relatively bland one, urging both sides to play nicely.

Such backsliding liberals need reminding of some basic points about liberalism, free speech and the giving of offence:

1 There is a right to free speech. There is no right not to be offended

People have the right to say what they wish, short of inciting violence, however offensive others may find it. Others have the right not to listen or to watch. Nobody has the right to be listened to. And nobody has the right not to be offended.

2 It is minority communities who most suffer from censorship

Many people argue that while free speech may be a good, it must necessarily be less free in a plural society. For diverse societies to function and to be fair, so the argument runs, we need to show respect not just for individuals but also for the cultures and beliefs in which those individuals are embedded and which helps give them a sense of identity and being. This requires that we police public discourse about those cultures and beliefs, both to minimise friction between antagonistic groups and to protect the dignity of those individuals embedded in them. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, that ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.’

In fact, it is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In such a society, it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Almost by definition such clashes express what it is to live in a diverse society. And so they should be openly resolved than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’.

But more than this: the giving of offence is not just inevitable, it is also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.

The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes; to those whose voices may have been silenced by racism, for instance. The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged. Once we give up on the right to offend in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.

3 What is often called offence to a community is actually a debate within that community

People often talk about ‘offence to a community’. More often than not what they actually mean is ‘debate within a community’. Some Muslims find the Jesus and Mo cartoons offensive. Other Muslims – Maajid Nawaz among them – do not. Some found The Satanic Verses offensive. Others did not. Some Sikhs found Behzti offensive. Others did not. It is because what is often called ‘offence to a community’ is in reality a ‘debate within a community’ that so many of the flashpoints over offensiveness have been over works produced by minority artists – Salman Rushdie, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Hanif Kuresihi, Monica Ali, Sooreh Hera, Taslima Nasrin, MF Hussain, and so on.

The trouble is, that every time one of these controversies comes along only the conservative, reactionary figures are seen as the authentic voices of minority communities. So the critics of The Satanic Verses were seen as authentic Muslims, but not Salman Rushdie. The campaigners against Behzti were seen as authentic Sikhs, but not Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. And so on. Salman Rushdie and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (and Maajid Nawaz) are regarded as too Westernized, secular or progressive to be truly of their community. To be a proper Muslim, in other words, is to be offended by the Jesus and Mo cartoons or The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti. The argument that offensive talk should be restrained is, then, both rooted in a stereotype of what it is to be an authentic Muslim or a Sikh and helps reinforce that stereotype. It plays into the racist view of minority communities. That is why it is important to challenge the campaign against Maajid Nawaz not simply as free speech campaigners but as anti-racist campaigners too.

4 There can be no freedom of religion without the freedom to offend

Freedom of worship is another form of freedom of expression – the freedom to believe as one likes about the divine and to assemble and enact rituals with respect to those beliefs. You cannot protect freedom of worship without protecting freedom of expression. Take, for instance, the Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders’ attempt to outlaw the Qur’an in Holland because it ‘promotes hatred’. Or the attempt by Transport for London to ban a Christian anti-gay poster because it is ‘offensive to gays’. Both Wilders and TfL are wrong, just as Channel 4 is wrong. Believers have as much right to offend liberal sensibilities as liberals have the right to offend religious ones. Freedom of speech requires that everyone has the right to cause offence. So does freedom of religion.

Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)


Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

Mia Freedman

It’s the Year of the Bunny and I have no idea what that really means except that a bunch of Playboy memorabilia is being auctioned by Christies. Among the items for sale are some original prints of Playboy bunny centrefolds complete with their original mark-up notes. These are the written instructions given by the art director about what must be digitally altered.

stretchlinesbutt 11 18 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

The nearly invisible stretchmarks on Brande Roderick’s bum, are circled with the annotation, ‘Kill stretch lines.’

largepores 1118 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

According to art directors, Shauna Sand’s pores were too large

Even though these proofs are from the 90s, before air-brushing became as extreme as it is today, there are still loads of alterations to ‘soften’ nipples, ‘remove stubble’ and ‘thin’ pubic hair as well as remove all stretch marks, blemishes and cellulite.

But what about the vaginas? Oh yes, they have to be air-brushed too. Although I’m not sure if this is enshrined in law like it is in Australia.

The debate around censorship and female body parts in magazines is one that I dealt with at Cosmo, you can read more on that here. In short, the laws in Australia legislate that you MUST air-brush vaginas to ‘heal it to a single crease’ so that no outer parts of the labia are shown, apparently it’s too rude to show what a REAL vagina looks like.

Earlier this year, journalists Kirsten Drysdaleand Ali Russell investigated the link between censorship and the increase in labiaplasty amongst young women and I wanted to share with you Kirsten’s blog post which was first published on Hungry Beast. It’s brilliant.

4403219366 0a0fd61c91 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

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If I handed you a pencil and paper and asked you to draw a vagina*, odds are you would come up with something like this:

Which is interesting, considering only a small minority of mature females actually have fannies that look like that. Little girls – yes, that’s pretty much what they all look like. But grown women? The vast majority have a least a peep of their ‘inner lips’ showing, even when standing upright with their legs together while sipping Earl Grey from gold-rimmed Royal Doulton and nibbling on homemade shortbread. For many women, it’s more than just a ‘peep’ – some have full-blown dangly blossoms on display. This has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, their state of arousal or whether they’ve borne children (although, so what if it was?). It’s simply the way they are built.

So from a purely statistical standpoint, there’s something fishy about the fact that none of the women in soft porn mags have ‘outies’. Go and see for yourself – flick through Picture, People or Penthouse and see if you can find a single instance of a punani that looks like this:

4402427219 e18942cf93 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

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You won’t.

And it’s not because they’ve chosen to only photograph women with ‘innies’. Many of those models actually have outies in real life, which have been ‘healed to a single crease’ (that’s the charming term used in the magazine industry) with the aid of image editing software. Think of it as ‘digital labiaplasty’.

It’s important to be clear that this is not something magazines do to suit the taste of their readership. Although mainstream pornography is hardly known (or appreciated) for a commitment to realism, in this particular case it’s a different issue. They’re not removing lady bits because people don’t want to see them, in the same way they smooth out cellulite or remove blemishes. They’re removing them because as far as the Classification Board is concerned, the labia minora are too rude for soft porn. It’s as though the censors think you could only possibly see it by spreading your legs or pulling your flaps apart.

If you still don’t believe me – go and pick up a copy of the ‘Unrestricted Category’ (M15+) Penthouse and compare it with Penthouse Max (the ‘Category 1’ R18+ version of the mag). I did this at the recommendation of the Classification Board, and found it a very enlightening little exercise. You’ll see exactly the same girls, from exactly the same photoshoot – and in some cases, exactly the same photographs – which will illustrate very clearly how they’ve been ‘tidied up’ in the softer version.

And they don’t even have to be very ‘messy’ to begin with. Take this example from the February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max:

4402449021 8c711f205c Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max

Heaven forbid minors – or people in Queensland, where only the Unrestricted category is legal – see what a real vagina can look like!

There’s a clause, you see, in Australia’s Classification Guidelines that concerns how much nudity is acceptable for soft porn. It says:

“Realistic depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis.”

Need I point out the irony in the fact that the way the Board applies this rule results in highly unrealistic depictions of nudity? Or that at a time of fierce debate over whether a person’s physical appearance (regardless of their actual age) should be a factor in deciding whether they could incite paedophilia, the Classification Board is preventing obviously mature pussies (the growth of labia minora happens during puberty) from being shown in soft porn?

And WTF does ‘discreet genital detail’ mean anyway? Well, according to the Board member we spoke to, it’s obvious:

Yeah well I guess genital detail’s that, we can have discreet genital detail in Unrestricted and I guess that means genital, well, detail is pretty straightforward, so discreet means little or no or very little detail or not prominent, so it’s sort of quite clear on what is not allowed, if that makes sense…

No, it doesn’t really.

Well, genital detail. It’s just the detail of the genitals. Like if it’s not specific in our guidelines we use the Macquarie Dictionary meaning for those terms. And genital detail is details of the genitals. So, I guess in Unrestricted you can have discreet genital detail, and whatever that means, you combine that also with a pose, and with everything.

Clear as mud. And highly subjective. One person’s ‘discreet’ could be another’s ‘explicit’. And detail? What exactly constitutes ‘detail’? Can you show pubes? Can you show the clitoris? Can you show the eye of the penis? Can you show the wrinkles of a scrotum? Or can you only show genitals in soft-focus giving a general idea of shape?

The Classification Board’s denial that they are effectively censoring a particular body type is a first class lesson in spin. Have a read of their response to our written enquiry seeking clarification on the rules about nudity in ‘Unrestricted Category’ publications and how they pertain to the depiction of labia minora for yourself:

In considering each classifiable element, including nudity, the Board makes classification decisions based on the impact of individual elements and their cumulative effect. Both the content and treatment of elements contribute to the impact. The Board takes into account the concepts underlying individual descriptions and depictions, and assesses factors such as emphasis, tone, frequency, context and the amount of visual or written detail in those descriptions and depictions.

This is the same excuse they’ve been using ever since these guidelines were redrafted in 1999. Because no one factor alone is used to classify an image or publication, they can claim that photos of women with protruding inner lips are refused for any one of those other reasons – ‘oh, we can’t speculate on individual cases, but it must have been something else that was a problem, there’s nothing in the guidelines that says labia minora aren’t permitted’.

Horse’s arse.

They don’t allow it, and they know it.

Screen shot 2010 11 23 at 5.26.34 PM Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

By Kirsten Drysdale

*DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know I should be using the word vulva. The vagina, technically, is the ‘muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus’. The vulva refers to the external part (the ‘lips’, clitoris, etc) which is obviously what we are talking about here. However – the term vulva is not used in everyday language to describe the external female genitalia of humans, so for the sake of making the point clear I’ve opted to use the word vagina in this article as it is commonly (though not entirely accurately) used.

Kirsten Drysdale is a reporter/presenter for the ABC’s Hungry Beast and a researcher on The Gruen Transfer. She is currently travelling in Africa and working freelance.

WARNING: The video contains imagery that is not safe for work, including a labiaplasty surgery scene. Story by Kirsten Drysdale and co-produced by Ali Russell republished with full permission from the authors.

This should be mandatory reading and viewing in schools. Just like the Dove advertisement which deconstructed what goes on in the making of your typical beauty image, girls and women of all ages need to know that the vaginas (vulvas!) they see in men’s magazines do not exist.

Imagine for a moment if someone in the censor’s office had decided that testicles were too ‘explicit’. Imagine that to be sold over the counter at a normal newsagent, your naked pictures of men had to have their testicles digitally removed.

Yes, digital castration. Think there might be an outcry? Think the censorship laws might be overturned?

So what exactly is it about female genitals that are so ‘explicit’ and offensive that they must be removed?

People need to know about this. Please share it.

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Silencing Judith Butler


Why Judith Butler had to be shut down

Posted by Cecilie Surasky

The announcement of a prestigious international academic prize doesn’t typically generate endless sturm und drang on the pages of major newspapers around the world, threatening to turn into an international incident. But when that prize is given by a German city, and the recipient is Judith Butler, one of the great thinkers of our time– who also happens to be a vocal critic of Israeli policies—apparently it signifies the end is near.

Within minutes of announcing that Judith Butler, who can best be described as the Mick Jagger of left academia, had won the prestigious Theodor Adorno prize for her extraordinary and wide-ranging body of critical theory work, the hapless judges of the Frankfurt prize were besieged with complaints by those who said it should be revoked immediately.

Writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal,  Richard Landes and Ben Weinthal claimed the decision to give Butler the award would threaten Germany and Israel’s “special relationship”, and compared it to

Germany’s circumcision bans, Berlin sending submarines to a newly belligerent Egypt, and ugly revelations of German behavior in the Munich Olympics terror attack.

Elsewhere in Opposite-landia, the weird through-the-looking-glass world created by those who would defend Israel at all costs, right-wing critics claimed Judith Butler is anti-Semitic.  Judith Butler loves Hamas. Judith Butler is too political. Judith Butler isn’t political enough . Or my favorite, Judith Butler is ignorant.

But the truth is Butler became a lightning rod because one of the world’s best-known philosophers, who happens to be Jewish, is also deeply engaged in questions of Judaism, Jewish ethics and Zionism. Her lifelong investigation of these questions, in the spirit of Arendt and Buber who inspired because they walked their own paths—led her to keep one foot solidly in Jewish culture while placing the other in solidarity with precisely the people much of the Jewish world want us to forget, Palestinians.

Equally unforgivably, her intellectual and personal journey led her to support a movement that mainstream Jewish institutions are desperately trying to claim as anti-Semitic: the Palestinian-led, nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. (My use of the the word desperately is deliberate. As more and more individual Jews and Jewish organizations support some form of boycott or divestment to pressure Israel into being accountable to international law and basic Jewish ethics, the argument that doing so is essentially anti-Jewish reveals itself for the emptiness that it is.)

Butler wrote her own defense:

I am a scholar who gained an introduction to philosophy through Jewish thought, and I understand myself as defending and continuing a Jewish ethical tradition that includes figures such as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt. I received a Jewish education in Cleveland, Ohio at The Temple under the tutelage of Rabbi Daniel Silver where I developed strong ethical views on the basis of Jewish philosophical thought. I learned, and came to accept, that we are called upon by others, and by ourselves, to respond to suffering and to call for its alleviation. But to do this, we have to hear the call, find the resources by which to respond, and sometimes suffer the consequences for speaking out as we do. I was taught at every step in my Jewish education that it is not acceptable to stay silent in the face of injustice. Such an injunction is a difficult one, since it does not tell us exactly when and how to speak, or how to speak in a way that does not produce a new injustice, or how to speak in a way that will be heard and registered in the right way. My actual position is not heard by these detractors, and perhaps that should not surprise me, since their tactic is to destroy the conditions of audibility.

WWTD? What would Theodor Do?

Back in the late 80s as an undergraduate at Brown, my world couldn’t get enough of Adorno and the Frankfurt School. And when the Matrix films came out, we were all certain the Wachowski (then) Brothers had stayed up late nights imbibing Marcuse and Adorno, and probably something a bit stronger, to come up with their too-close-to home dystopian trilogy.

Reading Adorno helped us understand the signs of fascism and our own willing imprisonment. I suppose his criticisms of mass culture helped herald the rise of the corporatocracy.

Adorno was a big Schoenberg fan. He didn’t go for treacly harmonies, for much the same reasons my mother used to refuse to let us watch the Brady Bunch, though the cynical MASH was OK. Adorno liked dissonance. It revealed the dark truth behind harmonious bourgeois culture. I suppose it was the only thing that made sense to someone who witnessed, and escaped, the Nazi Holocaust. (Real differences aside, it could be said that it took the war to help Adorno and others like him see the underlying brutality and dehumanization that colonized peoples of all kinds have always known firsthand at the hands of “the civilized”. Just ask the Congolese about King Leopold. Or just ask…women.)

This is the realm in which Judith Butler and her work dwells that makes her so utterly inspiring–especially to those of us who aspire to justice in Israel and Palestine while remaining firmly grounded in our Jewishness.

There is Butler’s personal willingness to try to embody the best of the Jewish texts she studies. And her willing look at the dark underbelly of “civilized” cultures (think Pamela Geller ads) which declare some people grievable and others entirely unworthy of grieving. (In that sense, the United States and Israel have more than a special relationship, they are conjoined twins, awash in self congratulatory language about democracy and civilization that obscures the foundation of structural violence that in both cases, has never really ceased.)

Adorno is often quoted for sayng that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz. But he also wrote:

“The single genuine power standing against the principle of Auschwitz is autonomy, if I might use the Kantian expression: the power of reflection, of self-determination, of not cooperating.”

Hold that thought. Let us all, like JB and so many countless others, refuse to cooperate. We must refuse to be that person laughing at a Tel Aviv café while just miles away a captive population in Gaza is bombed ceaselessly, or to simply ask someone to pass the cereal moments after reading again that the US military drone dropped a bomb on a group of civilians, this time a group of women and girls.

Let us refuse to cooperate with the mythical Jewish consensus that to be a good Jew, one must not mourn Palestinians as one mourns Jews, and one must not hold Israel up to those same standards.

This Yom Kippur, I’m going to think about the times I didn’t refuse.

I hope also that some of the people who called Judith Butler and so many like her anti-Semites, simply in order to maker them “inaudible,” will consider the gravity of their actions. But I’m not holding my breath.

(Oh, and by the way, Judith Butler did get that prize after all. And the room of 700 cheered.)

-Cecilie Surasky

South Park Blasphemy | Right Wing Fox News Cronie Seeks Government Inquisition


Fox News Host Wants Federal Investigation into ‘South Park‘ for Blasphemy

Fox News’s Todd Starnes is sick and tired of ‘South Park’ and Hollywood getting a free pass. The Fox News commentator participated in the Values Voter Summit panel on “Religious Hostility in America” over the weekend.

The panel featured the familiar argument that Christians in America are somehow a beleaguered minority that is under constant assault. Starnes claims to have a pile of stories stacked up on his desk about “instances of people who have been facing attack because of their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Speaking of the controversy surrounding the laughably bad “Innocence of Muslims,” Starnes asked why the federal government isn’t investigating “shows like ‘South Park,’ which has denigrated all faiths.” He also demanded to know why President Obama hasn’t denounced Hollywood.
We have the seen the administration come out and say, “we condemn anyone who denigrates religious faith.” And they come out in regards to this anti-Muslim film.
Well, that’s well and good, but my question is, when has the administration condemned the anti-Christian films that are coming out of Hollywood? Where are the federal investigations into shows like ‘South Park,’ which has denigrated all faiths?
Where is the outrage when people of the Christian faith are subjected to this humiliation that is coming out of Hollywood?
Religious Right activists have been the most vocal supporters of the filmmakers, if you can call them that, and have rightfully pointed out that the First Amendment protects their activities. Starnes, however, seems to have a double-standard when it comes to speech that he deems offensive to his religious views.
As it turns out, the only investigation going on around the “Innocence of Muslims” concerns whether one of the purported “filmmakers” violated the terms of his probation. Otherwise the government has no place policing speech, regardless of who is offended, and the president is not the film critic in chief. President Obama can be excused, however, for speaking out when Americans are being killed over an amateurish YouTube video.

The Fear of the Rabbis | Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Oppression | Jewish Sexual Abuse Amongst Ultra-Orthodox


The Rabbis Are Right To Be Afraid
The Fear of the Rabbis | Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Oppression | Jewish Sexual Abuse Amongst Ultra-Orthodox

Post by Jay Michaelson
40,000 people at Citi Field? Can’t be for a Mets game—no, must be an ultra-Orthodox rally/teach-in/info session on the dangers of what you’re doing right now: browsing the Internet. And so it is: tonight, with overflow seating at the Arthur Ashe tennis center (yes, the event is sold out) and simulcast to schools in Borough Park.

I suspect most readers are, by now, chuckling to themselves—as, admittedly, I did myself. After all, the New York Times coverage of the event notes the sale of “kosher” smartphones that limit Internet use. This is funny stuff.

But on second thought, aren’t the ultra-Orthodox right? This is an insular community that has built real and virtual walls to shield itself from secular influences. Aren’t they correct to worry that if their adherents surf the Internet, the community will suffer?

I think they are. One reason I write for publications like this one is to make a difference, to share information that people may not ordinarily hear about, and offer some perspective on issues like this one. (Okay, maybe this is getting too meta-.) I hope that I’m not only preaching to the choir; I hope that there are people who read my work, feel challenged by it, and then think and rethink their positions.

And of course, no amount of ink-spilling can make as much difference as a Lady Gaga video or an episode of Glee. (In somewhat related news, Hong Kong evangelicals plastered the city-state with posters warning Christians to stay away from a planned Lady Gaga concert that would include “pornographic, homosexual and satanic elements.” Well, two out of three ain’t bad.) Or the YouTube videos of Hasidim who are glad to have left the fold. Or websites devoted to egalitarian, LGBT-inclusive, and open-minded Judaism. The rabbis are right to worry, are they not?

Maybe what’s ridiculous here is the irony: tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men using technology, cramming into Citi Field, and learning why they should fear technology. Then again, no ultra-Orthodox authorities can really ban the Internet, and the Hasidim are not like the Amish, willing Luddites rejecting “modernity.” They’re rejecting certain aspects of modernity—cultural and moral ones, in particular.

Or maybe it’s just the futility of it all. Surely, as the proposed reality TV show “The Unchosen Ones” and Hella Winston’s similarly-titled book, Unchosen, show, ghetto walls are highly permeable these days. There’s something almost quaint about 40,000 middle-aged men thinking they can stop their teenagers from tweeting. Even if they can.

I think, though, the reason these stories strike a chord is that they remind New Yorkers like me that only a few miles from where I sit, people are living in a different century—and I don’t even mean the 20th. Here in Park Slope, there are more lesbians than coffee shops, and more coffee shops than trees. Yet a few blocks down in Crown Heights, or across the park in Flatbush, thousands of people have lifestyles and morals that wouldn’t pass the laugh test over here. They think we’re sinners, we think they’re throwbacks, and yet we ride the same subways, crowd the same streets.

Unfortunately, as secular and moderate Israelis have long known, the ultra-Orthodox minority is not content to keep its morality to itself. These people aren’t Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: as soon as they gain enough political power, they use that power to change laws, segregate the sexes, fund their religious schools, and foist their vision onto the rest of us.

Moreover, as a handful of protesters have recognized, this anti-Internet rally is taking place in the shadow of an unprecedented probe into sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, which appears to be rampant. When ultra-Orthodox rabbis aren’t busy railing against the Internet, some of them are busy covering up hideous instances of abuse among their flock or intimidating witnesses. That’s certainly not Tevye either.

Maybe, then, we’re laughing because otherwise we might be terrified.

Miracle Mongering Catholic Fascists Persecute Freethinker


FIR against rationalist for questioning ‘miracle’

Man files complaint against Sanal Edamaruku who dismissed water dripping from Jesus statue as due to capillary action, saying he had made statements against the Church

Jyoti Punwani

Mumbai was the birthplace of the Indian   Rationalist Association (IRA), founded in 1930 by Mumbaikar R P Paranjpe.   Almost a century later, it has also become the first city to have an FIR filed against the President of the IRA.

The FIR has been filed by another Mumbaikar, Agnelo Fernandes, President of the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum.

CR 61/2012, Juhu Police Station, has been filed against miracle-buster Sanal Edamaruku, who is also founder-president of the Rationalist International,   which has scientists such as Richard Dawkins in it.

The FIR has been filed under IPC Sec 295A: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. The offence is cognizable and non-bailable.

The whole story began on March 5, when during a TV programme in Delhi, Sanal  dismissed reports that the “dripping cross” outside Vile Parle’s Velankanni   church was a miracle. TV-9 asked him to investigate and flew him down on   March 10. Sanal visited the spot and took pictures.

Born to rationalist parents, Sanal has, for the last 30 years, travelled across the country demonstrating the science behind supposed miracles. He has exposed the man-made nature of the ‘divine flame’ at Sabarimala, and successfully challenged Hindu godmen on TV.

Later on March 10, Sanal attributed the water dripping from the Jesus statue   to capillary action of underground water near the cross. His photographs,   displayed on TV-9, showed seepage on the wall behind the cross and on the   ground near its base. “I removed one of the stones covering a canal for dirty   water nearby, and found that water had been blocked there. Once water is   blocked, it will find an outlet, if not downwards, then upwards. Every student knows that trees get water through capillary action.’’

Sanal said that when he reached the spot, a priest was leading a prayer on the road near the cross; water from the cross had been collected in a bucket   and was being distributed to those gathered there. He was given a photograph of the statue dripping water with the word ‘miracle’ written on it. He said   he was not allowed to take a sample of the water for chemical analysis.

During the subsequent TV discussions in Delhi and Mumbai, Sanal accused the Catholic Church of “miracle mongering’’. Interestingly, in Mumbai, Archbishop Agnelo Gracias, who joined the discussion, categorically stated that the   Church had not described the event as a miracle and would do so only after   conducting investigations. The Archbishop also claimed that the Church was not anti-science and, in fact, it had established the Pontifical Academy of   Sciences, of which Galileo had been a member.

At that point, Sanal pointed out that the Church had imprisoned Galileo, and burnt scientist Giordano Bruno at the stake, and Pope John Paul II had even apologised for it. He also asked the Archbishop what he had to say about the   Vatican indulging in exorcism, to which the Archbishop replied that though he   had not come across any case of “possession’’, he could not rule it out.

All through the discussion, the other panelists kept warning Sanal that they would file FIRs against him if he didn’t apologise for his allegations against the Church.

The discussion ended with Sanal declaring that the Church’s intolerance had resulted in the Dark Ages in Europe. “Don’t try to bring the Dark Ages to India,” he said.

Fernandes lodged a complaint against Sanal at Juhu Police Station on April 10. Another complaint was lodged at the MIDC Police Station. In his complaint, Fernandes states that statements made against the Church and the   Pope by Sanal had hurt his religious feelings.

Sanal, who lives in Delhi, said, “The Indian Constitution enjoins me to develop scientific temper. Let them arrest me, I’m not going to stop doing my fundamental duty.’’

A Sanal Edamuruku Defence Committee has been convened by lawyer N D Pancholi.   Meanwhile, Mumbai police have called him here for questioning.

Support the Sanal Edamaruku Defence Fund with your donation.

Self-Righteous Islamic Fundis Attack Film | Islamic Fascism in Egypt


Filming of Egyptian TV series halted  after Islamist students complain of actresses’ ‘indecent’ clothes

Filming of an Egyptian TV series at a university in Cairo reportedly was halted after Islamist students protested against “indecent” costumes worn by the actresses, AFP reported.

  • Cairo’s Ain Shams University had given Misr International films, the production company, permission to film on its campus, Gaby Khoury, head of the company, told AFP.

    “When the shooting started, the director of the engineering faculty, Sherif Hammad, came to tell us that some students and teachers were against it, because of the clothing worn by the actresses,” he said.

    The show is set in the 1970s, “when women wore short clothing.”

    Islamists have become increasingly prominent in Egyptian society in recent years, winning a large stake in the new government this year in the first parliamentary elections since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime president.

Amazon Closes Wikileaks Hosting Account


From LGF:-

In addition to their retail business, Amazon.com is a major player in the “cloud” hosting market; their hosting service is known as the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud or EC2. When Wikileaks’ servers in Sweden were hammered by a DOS (distributed Denial Of Service) attack, Julian Assange opened an account with Amazon to host Wikileaks in the cloud, because the “virtual server” EC2 system is designed to be highly resistant to these kinds of attacks.

Today Amazon.com closed the account of Wikileaks, with no official explanation so far.

The Associated Press says Wikileaks is going to move back to its Swedish web host.