Archive for May, 2009
The National Student carries an article detailing some disturbing evidence that atheist and secularist student societies are having a hard time in the UK’s universities.
Death threats and vandalism have dogged the Leeds University Atheist Society, prompted by their 24/7 ‘Rationalist Week 09’ and by a debate on free speech involving the Motoons. Apparently the death threats weren’t taken too seriously, as they were not reported to the police.
Further south, Southampton University Atheist Society had a free-speech debate repeatedly blocked by both the Muslim Society and the SU because they wanted to show Fitna as part of the event. They were eventually given permission to go ahead, but only with a police presence and security searches.
Chloë Clifford-Frith, press officer for The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies, says:
Student Unions may feel pressured to automatically side with religious groups because of the current trend, and religious groups are increasingly demanding immunity from having their ideas discussed. It should be noted that in both incidents neither of the Muslim Societies were actually even being targeted for criticism.
The publisher phoned us on Friday, and talked of changes, or delays, or would we like to drop a chapters. We would not like to drop a chapter, and if we had liked to drop a chapter, the time to discuss that would have been several months ago, not now, a week before the book is supposed to appear. The publisher sent the can-we-drop-it chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.
The “ecumenicist” is a specialist in Muslim-Christian relations.
The conference call has not happened yet, so nothing is definite. But this has ominous echoes of The Jewel of Medina farrago, when Random House pulled out of the publishing deal at the last minute because an academic had warned that it might inflame Muslim passions.
Can you hear a rumbling sound? There is an internet shitstorm on the horizon, and it’s coming this way.
UDATE: (17:02) Has the wind changed direction? Was it just a shitstorm in a teacup? Looks like it could be.
Koran ban man Geert Wilders has lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, and will definitely go on trial on charges of inciting hatred and causing insult to Muslims.
On the surface, he does not seem to be happy about this:
It is a political trial. I am being prosecuted for saying about Islam what millions of Dutch people think. Freedom of speech is in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of Islam.
We suspect he is secretly quite pleased.
It will be an interesting trial.
It carries the explanation that it was originally removed on legal advice, the reason being one of the people mentioned in the article, the British GP and writer James Le Fanu, had taken the article personally and believed it harmed his reputation.
Le Fanu’s book Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves had earlier received scathing reviews at the hands of both Gefter and the editor of the New Scientist, Roger Highfield. Not that this had anything to do with the legal threat, of course.
The article is now appended with a few paragraphs from Le Fanu, wherein he insists that he has no hidden religious agenda. On the contrary, his mission is merely to
draw attention to the limits of science and its exclusively materialist explanations and theories.
A pity he decided to call his lawyer, rather than simply write a letter to the editor.
But it needs to be said that this is the most important free-speech campaigning case to come up since the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill back in 2006, carrying with it serious implications for British journalism and the possibility of prompting a much needed reform of English libel law.
Support Simon Singh. Buy his book:
The contentious passage from that Guardian article:
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
The Freethinker has an interesting story about Belgian artist Ben Heine getting banned from the ironically named DeviantArt.com, a website for artists. His crime – to post his picture of a crucified Jesus with a condom on his erect penis.
The piece was an angry reaction to the current pontiff’s idiotic pronouncements in Africa about condoms and AIDS.
DeviantArt allows huge collections of images with genitals everywhere but not a little drawing defying the Institution … I find this pitiful. It seems that political art doesn’t have its place on this “Big Brother” site. How does DA dare to call itself “Deviant” then?
To be fair, the rules at DA do explicitly forbid the display of “pornographic content”, which includes,
Male subjects may not be depicted with an erection.
However, it is not everyday that one sees a picture of a crucified saviour-figure, rampant and ensheathed. So here you go:
Three men upset about a perceived slight to their dead hero have been found guilty of recklessly damaging property and endangering life.
Ali Beheshti, 41, Abrar Mirza, 23, and Abbas Taj, 31, conspired to firebomb the house of publisher Martin Rynja. Rynja’s Gibson Square Books had been planning to publish The Jewel of Medina, which is a semi-fictional account of the inventor of Islam’s relationship with his child bride, Aisha.
We all know how distressing it is when people don’t treat your long-dead warrior-prophet with suitable deference, so it is understandable that the trio decided to punish the publisher by pouring diesel through his letter box and trying to set fire to it.
Fortunately – and perhaps unsurprisingly – the three weren’t in possession of the cleverest heads ever to butt a rug, and had been under police surveillance for days. Taj, the driver, tried to plead not guilty, claiming that he had just given his mates a lift without any idea of what they were up to. The jury were not convinced.
On the way to the publisher’s home, Beheshti, a former member of the banned al-Muhajiroun, rallied the spirits of his fellows with the inspiring words,
You know what we gotta do, anyway, innit?
An old hand in the art of holy war, Beheshti had been involved in the Motoon protests in 2006 when he burned himself attempting to set fire to a picture of George Bush. This may explain why they decided to use diesel in the Gibson Square operation – they might have hurt themselves if they had used petrol.
According to this BBC video report, The Jewel of Medina will be published in October. Doh!
UPDATE: (18 May) Unfortunately, the BBC report above is contradicted by the author herself, Sherry Jones, on her blog.
Beaufort publisher Eric Kampmann and associate publisher Margot Atwell headed to the London Book Fair in April with a full display of “The Jewel of Medina” and confidence that they would find the right distributor to supply stores in the U.K. with the book. But — no. Everyone, it seems, is too afraid.
(Hat tip: The New Humanist)
A portrait of Mary Whitehouse and Cliff Richard composed of images snipped from top-shelf magazines has upset the director of Mediawatch UK.
The portrait, by acclaimed portrait artist Jonathan Yeo, goes on display this evening at a West End gallery. It has a price tag of £25,000. Yeo says:
If Mary Whitehouse was still around I hope she would treat this picture as an insult. She equated nudity, bad language and violence as if they were all equally dangerous.
John Beyer, the smut-campaigner who took over from “the late great” Whitehouse, whom he idolises, is fuming:
To have her memory besmirched is contemptible and passé. He needs to grow up.
Whitehouse’s son Richard, on the other hand, sees the funny side:
It is quite witty really.
It is indeed.
There is a new website set up by Atheist Ireland aimed at preventing the regressive anti-blasphemy legislation proposed by Dermot Ahern.
In April 2008, the Irish Justice Minister announced a proposed new crime of blasphemy. If passed, this would revive an old crime of blasphemy that the Supreme Court had found to be unenforceable.
This website is published by Atheist Ireland as part of our campaign against this proposed new law. It includes analysis and news items about blasphemy and free speech, and examples of material that could be illegal in Ireland if the new blasphemy law is passed.
Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group that promotes reason and atheism over superstition and supernaturalism, and that campaigns for an ethical and secular Ireland where state does not support or fund or give special treatment to any religion.