31 March 2009

In Defense of Blasphemy

Firstly, there is currently no other society – within UCT (University of Cape Town) and its surrounding sphere – that represents a naturalistic world-view, defends reason as opposed to the proliferation of “faith”, and stands up for secularism, freedom of speech and thought amidst the clamouring of clerical bullies. Indeed, last year when religious lobbies at UCT demanded the exam time-table be changed to cater for their holidays, mostly religious students were given a voice, since they had one in the solidarity of a society.

For the first time, the unification of those who stand for reason must coagulate their disproportionate views into a coherent stream of civilised, open criticism of a surrounding environment, filled with a plethora of faith-based initiatives. Francis Goya’s eminent painting, in 1799, encapsulates our drive, entitled “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” [Tauriq Moosa] Read more

30 March 2009

Religious Persecution Wolf in Anti-Defamation Sheep’s Clothing

The Inquisition is back, and this time it has set up shop at the United Nations. Consider the resolution “Combating the Defamation of Religions” passed by a comfortable margin last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (and passed by the General Assembly every year since 2005).

The resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions,” intensifying since 2001, in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions” (read: Islam) and “sacred persons” (read: Muhammad). It urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.”

Capitalizing on cartoon riots and Western anxieties over the excesses of the war on terror, the language conflates peaceful criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle speech in the name of “respect for religions and beliefs.” [Religion Dispatches] Read more

Driver kicks niqab wearing woman off bus

A woman wearing a Muslim veil was kicked off a bus Monday, after she got on an Arriva bus with her husband and children in Aarhus (Denmark), reports Århus Stiftstidende.

The driver said he doesn't drive women with a veil since he doesn't drive masked passengers and refused to continue unless the woman got off. The woman and her family are originally from Algeria. She wears a veil and niqab, which covers her face. [Islam in Europe] Read more

26 March 2009

The slow death of freedom of expression

The United Nations Human Rights Council today passed a resolution aimed at restricting criticism of religion, or ‘religious defamation’. Roy W Brown examines why the UN is putting protection of ideas above freedom of expression.

Slowly but inexorably the shutters are coming down on what history will surely recall as one of the high-points of human civilisation: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first shot was fired by Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after he came to power in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when he said: ‘When we want to know about human rights we do not go to the UN, we go to the Holy Quran.’

Since then, Islamic states and their allies have been slowly whittling away at the Universal Declaration and its counterpart in international law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). [Index on Censorship] Read more

25 March 2009

A smart and tough approach to Islamist extremism: The Government is right to take on the unrepresentative minority

The Government unveiled a new strategy yesterday designed to curb domestic Islamist radicalisation. A rethink was certainly in order. The suspension earlier this week of official ties with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was a vivid demonstration of the shortcomings of the previous strategy.

Public money was channelled to the organisation to help it turn the young away from terror. But it turned out that, despite its name, the MCB was not actually representative of British Muslims, and it had little clout with those individuals the Government needed to influence.

The problem is that British Muslims are a diverse and fragmented community. Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Iraqis and Nigerians living in Britain all have different cultures, outlooks and economic circumstances. The lesson is that it would be better for the Government to decentralise its approach to dealing with British Muslims, rather than trying to communicate through a single umbrella organisation of doubtful authority such as the MCB. [independent.co.uk] Read more

24 March 2009

Overheard at the Human Rights Council Geneva during a discussionof the resolution “Combating Defamation of Religions”

NGO representative: “You can’t defame an object or an idea. You can’t defame a dead person, you can’t defame the Prophet Mohammed.” Pakistani delegate: “That’s precisely why we need this resolution. He’s not around to defend himself!” Read more

23 March 2009

Concern Grows Over Proliferation of Fatwas

An explosion of fatwas on television and the Internet has led to contradictory and occasionally bizarre decrees. The problem is that although Sunni Muslims do have rules for who can become a mufti, a scholar who may issue fatwas, there is no clear mechanism for enforcing them. And these days, viewers of Arab satellite channels are being deluged with fatwas.

There have been fatwas both encouraging and forbidding Muslims from fighting in jihads in other countries or belonging to militant groups. A Saudi cleric said owners of TV channels could be killed for broadcasting immoral content. An Egyptian cleric — not on TV, but from Cairo's venerable Al Azhar University itself — issued the much-ridiculed "breastfeeding fatwa," which proposed that a woman could work alongside an unrelated man if she had breast-fed him five times.

Cairo lawmaker Mustafa al-Gendi says enough is enough. Gendi says fatwas were originally intended to be private decisions to help individuals with their problems, and blanket prescriptions for the masses were rare and only issued by the most senior and trusted muftis. [NPR (National Public Radio)] Read more

20 March 2009

'Islamophobe' head Erica Connor wins Surrey County Council payout

He said that the school’s governing body had become dysfunctional as a result of the behaviour of the two, and that the authority’s failure to act had led to low morale and stress among staff. The council had shown excessive tolerance for the two governors and had lost sight of the adverse effects of such conduct on the school.

Judge Leighton-Williams said that the men had an agenda to increase the role of the Muslim religion in the school and that this, combined with the authority’s failure to protect Mrs Connor, had led her to suffer serious depression. [Times Online] Read more

15 March 2009

It's little wonder liberal Muslims feel betrayed: Their views are seldom heard as ministers prefer to court radical Islamists

No political movement can hope to win arguments if it turns the best and bravest into its foes. For the most courageous British Muslims, the Labour government and wider liberal society already seem slippery and hypocritical. Soon, they will be irredeemably tainted.

Take Ansar Ullah, a Bengali leftist from the old school. Like many secularists of his generation, his life has been dominated by the struggle against Jamaat-e-Islami. The party's name is rarely mentioned in our public life, although its supporters in the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Foundation are on the radio almost daily. The Bengali equivalents of British Observer readers know it all too well. They regard Jamaat as we regard the BNP: the sworn and potentially deadly enemy of all their best principles. [Guardian CiF] Read more

My imam father came after me with an axe

“When I’ve been working with girls who were trying to get out of an arranged marriage, or want to convert to Christianity, and they have contacted social services as they need to get out of their homes, the reaction has been ‘we’ll send someone from your community to talk to your parents’. I know why they are doing this, they are trying to be understanding, but it’s the last thing that the authorities should do in such situations.”

This is the sort of cultural sensitivity displayed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, last year when he suggested that problems within the British Muslim community such as financial or marital disputes could be dealt with under sharia, Islamic law, rather than British civil law. What did Hannah, now an Anglican, think on hearing these remarks?

“I was horrified.” If you could speak to him now, what would you say to the archbishop? “I would say: have you actually spoken to any ordinary Muslim women about the situation that they live in, in their communities? By putting in place these Muslim arbitration tribunals, where a woman’s witness is half that of a man, you are silencing women even more.” [Times Online] Read more

13 March 2009

BBC's Question Time broadcasts slander against the MCB

Viewers of Question Time yesterday will have heard the exchange of views by Charles Moore, columnist in the Daily Telegraph, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (both pictured), on the MCB.

Moore used the discussion on the protestors in Luton as an opportunity to tarnish the MCB, which he slandered with his ill formed remarks on its stance and statements concerning soldiers and individuals kidnapped in Iraq and Afghanistan. [ENGAGE] Read more

12 March 2009

One law for all

In Quebec, the issue was snuffed out just as it was about to ignite. In Ontario, it festered for months before the Premier finally put his foot down and declared there would be one law for all.

But in Britain, shariah courts are thriving, applying Islamic law and principles to personal disputes between Muslims and -- worst of all, say their detractors -- to family matters: divorce, child custody and inheritance.

Speaking with Maryam Namazie, the Iranian-born British human rights activist, reminded me of when debate raged across this country in 2005 over the place these Islamic tribunals have in a modern, secular society. [National Post] Read more

09 March 2009

Elderly Saudi woman sentenced to lashings

A 75-year-old Saudi Arabian woman has been sentenced to receive 40 lashes for hosting two unrelated men in her house, local media reported.

The Saudi daily newspaper al-Watan said the woman, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, has appealed her sentence after being charged with offenses against Islam by the religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, CNN reported Monday. [United Press International] Read more

02 March 2009

Don't Say a Word: A U.N. resolution seeks to criminalize opinions that differ with the Islamic faith

The Muslim religion makes unusually large claims for itself. All religions do this, of course, in that they claim to know and to be able to interpret the wishes of a supreme being. But Islam affirms itself as the last and final revelation of God's word, the consummation of all the mere glimpses of the truth vouchsafed to all the foregoing faiths, available by way of the unimprovable, immaculate text of "the recitation," or Quran.

If there sometimes seems to be something implicitly absolutist or even totalitarian in such a claim, it may result not from a fundamentalist reading of the holy book but from the religion itself. And it is the so-called mainstream Muslims, grouped in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who are now demanding through the agency of the United Nations that Islam not only be allowed to make absolutist claims but that it also be officially shielded from any criticism of itself. [Slate] Read more

01 March 2009

Private Arrangements: “Recognizing sharia” in England

Women tend to accept the tribunals’ formal decisions because, strategically, religious divorces are important. But most then turn to the civil courts to obtain rulings on child custody and divorce settlements. In the case of the Leyton Council, the scholars may give their opinion concerning an appropriate settlement regarding children and finances, but, much to their chagrin, their custody and financial decisions almost never stick.

The Archbishop’s last objection to recognizing Islamic arbitration was that doing so would weaken Muslims’ commitment to a common law and thus threaten national unity. The Archbishop spent the most time on this point, but it seems to have worried him much less than it worries others. [Boston Review] Read more