23 February 2009

Talk Islam

Recently, Yemen passed a legislation raising the minimum age of marriage to 17. But the legislation may be rescinded because some parliamentarians say it violates Shariah. .... If Shariah doesn’t set a minimum, does that necessarily lead to the conclusion that a community cannot set a minimum age on their own for…any number of reasons…not least of which would be the abuse of children. It seems like the law would only violate Shariah if Shariah explicitly forbade setting such a minimum.

.... It may have something to do with the general principle that one cannot outlaw what has been declared permissible.

Example: conservative Muslims would have a problem with an outright prohibition on polygamy because it has been deemed permissible through the example of the Prophet and the early Muslims. There are arguments that a man should not take a second (or third, or fourth) wife if he is unable to treat each of the wives equally or if there is fear of jealousy from any of the wives, which is why (level-headed) scholars generally discourage the practice. But none of them would declare it outright impermissible.

Likewise, according to Shariah, a woman is of marriageable age once she hits puberty…the obvious example is the marriage of Aisha. Ultra-conservative thinking dictates that if the Prophet did it, it cannot be declared as illegal by any governing body. So while it can be discouraged based on arguments like child abuse and immaturity of the bride-to-be, these types would not be ready to declare it illegal. [Talk Islam] Read more

22 February 2009

Against 'sneak Islamization'

Siv Jensen, head of the Norwegian Progress Party (FRP), came out hard against the government and what she calls 'sneak Islamization' in Norway, during the party's national meeting. "The reality is that people are now in the process of allowing a form of sneak-Islamization in this society and we must put a stop to that," Jensen said in her speech. Clearly referring to the hijab-debate, the head of the FRP came out against what she thinks is the special treatment of minority groups in Norway today.

"When we give in to demands for halal food in prisons, when we give in that Muslim girls won't be able to do sports together with Norwegian children. This is already special treatment which I think weakens the ability to integrate people in Norwegian society and which will cause greater challenges in the next decade," she told TV2. Jensen thinks prisoners should be very satisfied having three warm meals a day.

"We will not accept demands for more vacation days of a religious character," she said, and will neither accept that some Oslo schools practice sex-segregated sports and swimming. [Islam in Europe] Read more

18 February 2009

Sharia is why so many of us have fled and are fleeing ....

.... Yes of course there is a difference between letting Islamic courts and councils decide on civil matters rather than criminal ones. But the difference is a matter of degree; the fundamentals are the same. Losing custody of your child at a pre-set age irrespective of the child’s welfare, being told to remain in an abusive relationship or having your forced marriage at 13 stamped with the approval of these sham courts can be just as destructive.

In fact, discriminatory family and personal status codes are important pillars in the oppression of women in Islamic states. And much of the struggle for women’s rights is taking shape in countries like Iran against these very aspects of Sharia. [Thought For the World] Read more

16 February 2009

The idiocy of "defamation of religion"

The whole idea of defamation of religion is nonsense. Taken literally, it would mean that I could not utter any falsehood that is damaging to the reputation of a religion (so, it might lead people to leave the religion or doubt its doctrines, or fail to be convinced to convert to it).

But a religion has no right to flourish, be believed, retain adherents, gain converts, or anything of the sort. On the contrary, it is in the public interest that the truth and credibility of various religions be tested continually, and it is quite within my rights to try to convert people from their current religion to my religion of choice or to an anti-religious position.

Much like political ideologies, religions have to take their own chances. Many things will be said for and against various religions, and some of those things will not be true, even if they are said sincerely. [Russell Blackford] Read more

15 February 2009

Death Knell For Freedom of Speech

The UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights are individuals who work on behalf of the United Nations to investigate, monitor and recommend solutions to human rights problems across the world. One of the mandates under which these individuals serve is ensuring the freedom of opinion and expression in all countries.

On the 28th of January 2009, The Independent newspaper in UK published an article “Why should I respect these oppressive religions” by Mr. Johann Hari wh0 reported on a surprising development in the United Nations. Mr. Hari pointed out that in the past year, the job description of the special rapporteur was changed by a coalition of religious fundamentalist states to report on “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets.”

In his article, Mr. Hari, exposed the not-so-sacred agenda of some Islamic and Christian fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia and the Vatican to restrict the right to freedom of speech under the guise of respect for the sensibilities of the religious. He also went on to question inane religious beliefs and argued that respect for such beliefs should not and cannot be our default position. He finally concluded that. [Nitwit Nastik] Read more

14 February 2009

In support of Johann Hari

On 28 January 2009, an opinion piece by young British journalist Johann Hari was published in The Independent. This piece is a strong argument for our right to criticise religion. Hari is, quite properly, scathing about recent developments within the UN, as a result of which the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has now been tasked with reporting on so-called abuses of freedom of speech, including "defamation" of religion. In other words, the Special Rapporteur's functions will no longer be confined to detecting and shaming those who suppress freedom of speech; it will now include attacking those who exercise freedom of speech in which ways that offend the religious.

Note that we are not talking here about the incitement of specific crimes against the religious, such as if I addressed a rioting crowd and told them to vandalise a mosque or a synagogue. We are talking about any speech that can be characterised as "defamatory" of a religion or its prophets, such as criticism of Jesus or Muhammad. We are talking about a mechanism to try to censor a wide range of robust anti-religious speech. Hari is justifiably outraged by this development. [Russell Blackford] Read more

'Islam must not be used to discriminate against women'

KUALA LUMPUR: Muslim women activists championing equality and justice in the Muslim family said they will no longer accept the use of Islam to justify discrimination against women.

Project director of Musawah (the global meeting for equality and justice in the Muslim Family) Zainah Anwar said that, very often, Muslim women who demand justice and want to change discriminatory laws and practices were told that this was 'God's law' and, therefore, not open for negotiation or change. [Star Publications] Read more

13 February 2009

The anniversary of Khomeini's ruling comes at a time of great controversy over Geert Wilders' right to free speech

I have written a number of pieces for Cif over the past couple of years reflecting back over the Satanic Verses controversy, so as we mark the 20th anniversary of Khomeini's fatwa let me quickly summarise my thoughts:

Those of us – including me – who marched and called for the book to be pulped/banned were in the wrong. Calls for pulping or banning the book gave rise to understandable fears about increased censorship and intolerance. A more sensible response would have been to just ignore the book or to write a proper rejoinder pointing out Rushdie's shortcomings in his fictional treatment of the Prophet Muhammad and allow readers to then make up their own minds.

Khomeini's fatwa – as Kenan Malik rightly notes – should be viewed in the context of Iran's rivalry with Saudi Arabia for leadership of the world's Muslim community. Iran is predominantly Shia whereas around 90% of Muslims are Sunni. The fatwa enabled Iran's revolutionary leadership to outmanoeuvre the Saudis and to transcend the sectarian divide by portraying itself as being stauncher in their defence of the honour of the Prophet Muhammad and his message than the decadent Saudis. [Guardian CiF] Read more

The Satanic Verses: Iqbal Sacranie, Lisa Appignanesi and Zarah Hussain discuss the effect Khomeini's fatwa has had

Twenty years ago the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of the British author Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses. It prompted a passionate debate across the world about freedom of speech and whether it should be curtailed to prevent offence to deeply-held religious belief.

This was the first time that cultural conflict between Muslims and western liberal democratic values had erupted: it has subsequently emerged as one of the dominant issues of our age.

We bring two of the original protagonists of those debates in 1989, Sir Iqbal Sacranie and Lisa Appignanesi back together again to reflect on what happened and whether the intervening years have changed their minds at all. [Guardian CiF] Read more

About Defending Blasphemy

I linked to Johann Hari's excellent defense of free speech in the face of religious intimidation here. The piece was eventually published in India - and this is what happened:

That night, four thousand Islamic fundamentalists began to riot outside their offices, calling for me, the editor, and the publisher to be arrested – or worse. They brought Central Calcutta to a standstill. A typical supporter of the riots, Abdus Subhan, said he was "prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, to protect the honour of the Prophet" and I should be sent "to hell if he chooses not to respect any religion or religious symbol? He has no liberty to vilify or blaspheme any religion or its icons on grounds of freedom of speech."

Then, two days ago, the editor and publisher were indeed arrested. They have been charged – in the world's largest democracy, with a constitution supposedly guaranteeing a right to free speech – with "deliberately acting with malicious intent to outrage religious feelings". I am told I too will be arrested if I go to Calcutta.

Read the original piece. It is a classic piece of political polemic, the kind of thing that no free society should ever suppress. And yet in one of the world's largest democracies, fundamentalism is strong enough to arrest a publisher for printing it. Put that with the pathetic collapse of the British government in the face of Islamist thuggery, and it is hard to be encouraged. [TheAtlantic.com] Read more

12 February 2009

Editor arrested for 'outraging Muslims': Protests against Indian newspaper over article reprinted from Independent

The editor and publisher of a major Indian newspaper have been arrested for "hurting the religious feelings" of Muslims after they reprinted an article from The Independent. Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, the editor and publisher of the Kolkata-based English daily The Statesman, appeared in court yesterday charged under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which forbids "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings".

Sections of central Kolkata have been paralysed by protests for much of the past week after The Statesman republished an article by The Independent's columnist Johann Hari. Titled "Why should I respect oppressive religions?", the piece was originally printed in The Independent on 28 January. In it, Hari said he believed the right to criticise any religion was being eroded around the world. [independent.co.uk] Read more

Exploding the fatwa myths - The Rushdie affair demonstrates that speech must be as free as possible in a plural society

Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa transformed the Rushdie affair into a global conflict with historical repercussions. It also helped shroud it in myths about what caused it and about the lessons to be drawn from it. Twenty years on it is time we laid to rest the myths of the Rushdie affair.

Myth 1: The controversy over Rushdie's novel was driven by religion. It wasn't. It was a political conflict. The Satanic Verses first became an issue in India because an election was due in November 1988, two months after the publication of the novel. No politician wanted to alienate any section of India's 150-million strong Muslim community just before an election. Hardline Islamist groups used Rushdie's book to try to win political concessions. [Guardian CiF] Read more

04 February 2009

Muslim teaching shake-up agreed

Khorchide’s study concludes Muslim teachers in Austria have largely anti-democratic beliefs and one in five is "fanatical". Khorchide, himself a Muslim, said 22.6 per cent of the 210 Muslim teachers he had surveyed had "fanatical attitudes" and 21.9 per cent rejected democracy as incompatible with Islam.

According to Vienna weekly "Falter", the study shows 8.5 per cent of the Muslim teachers said it was understandable for violence to be used to spread Islam, 28.4 per cent said there was a contradiction in being both a Muslim and a European, and 44 per cent said they had to make their students understand they were better than non-Muslims. [Austrian Times] Read more See Also: [Islam in Europe] Read more

01 February 2009

Assassins of the Mind

In the hot days immediately after the fatwa, with Salman himself on the run and the TV screens filled with images of burning books and writhing mustaches, I was stopped by a female Muslim interviewer and her camera crew and asked an ancient question: “Is nothing sacred?” I can’t remember quite what I answered then, but I know what I would say now. “No, nothing is sacred. And even if there were to be something called sacred, we mere primates wouldn’t be able to decide which book or which idol or which city was the truly holy one.

Thus, the only thing that should be upheld at all costs and without qualification is the right of free expression, because if that goes, then so do all other claims of right as well.” I also think that human life has its sacrosanct aspect, and though I can think of many circumstances in which I would take a life, the crime of writing a work of fiction is not a justification (even in the case of Ludlum) that I could ever entertain. Two decades on, Salman himself is thriving mightily and living again like a free man. But the culture that sustains him, and that he helps sustain, has twisted itself into a posture of prior restraint and self-censorship in which the grim, mad edict of a dead theocrat still exerts its chilling force. [Vanity Fair] Read more