A muslim peace conference

In Oslo, Islam Net – a group of self-described moderate muslims – gathered for a peace conference. A video excerpt from the March conference was published by the organizers on the internet. In it, Fahad Qureshi, one of the hosts, took to the stage to hold a speech that could have been taken straight from The Twilight Zone:

Qureshi protested the fact that many of the invited speakers could not come to the conference. They were barred from entering the country because they were accused of preaching hate. That accusation is false – these people merely preach killing homosexuals, stoning for adulterers, and capital punishment for blasphemy and apostasy.

That’s not hate, Qureshi continued, nor an extremist position. Rather, it’s their religion; the righteous will of God. That’s not hate, it’s virtue. Everyone in the room agreed.

Remember, this was a peace conference.

And people tell me I shouldn’t say that religion makes you stupid.

The age of reason?

In most civilized countries (and in the US) we have lots of rules. For example movies and games have an age rating. Anything that may be remotely dangerous to people requires a license and minimum age: to drive a car, drink alcohol, wield heavy machinery, own a dog, teach at a school, run a shop, go scuba diving; in some countries you need a license just to fly a kite.

Everything is regulated – except for the two most dangerous occupations: to breed, and to teach religion. A woman doesn’t need a license to become pregnant – but, strangely, may not abort without one; and any schmuck with a prayer book can teach his particular brand of crazy.

George Carlin once said: “I believed in God until I reached the age of reason”. His wry humor documents an untowardly fact: he was taught religion as a kid.

Why does a child have to be at least 13 years old to be allowed to watch a Harry Potter movie, but no-one intervenes when a preschooler attends a sermon where the priest can preach misogyny, hate, and homophobia on a regular basis?

In my book, religions are rated R; anyone under the age of 16 must not be exposed to the words of preachers and their holy scrolls.

Imagine you first encountered the Bible at age 16. You’d be more inclined to believe in Yoda than give credence to those stories.

Now ask yourself why that would be bad.

Then ask yourself who’d be most opposed to this, and why.

Things that are self-evident

We usually do not talk about things that are self-evident. If something is self-evident, it needs not to be talked about. We, for example, do not begin speeches by pointing out that fire is hot, or that water is wet.

So when you do say that something is self-evident, you are really saying that it is not, in fact, self-evident.

For example, when Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”, it was not, at the time, evident at all. In more ways than just one.

Unfortunately, what was self-evident, at that time, was that he forgot about women. Luckily, a mere few hundred years later, the US are trying to correct this.

Today we say that it is self-evident that women and men are equal. We say that because we know they certainly aren’t treated equally. So when we say that they are equal, we merely express our hope that one day it will be so. We purport what is self-evident for it to become so.

No-one writes about things that already are self-evident.

That is self-evident.

oh, you humanist, you!

Some time ago, I was talking to a friend of mine. She’s a devout believer – and i’m not just talking ‘devout’ – i’m talking pentecostal. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but suddenly tempers flared, and she yelled at me ‘oh, you and your humanistic ideals!’ What really got to me was the obvious contempt and derision when she spat out the word ‘humanistic’.

It was the first time someone I care about was openly contemptuous of humanism.

Why is that? The minimal definition of humanism is:

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities.

How can someone be repulsed by that? Which part of the definition irked her? Perhaps it was the last sentence that I left out:

It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

Indeed it was. She could quote that line from memory.

She didn’t know about the preceding sentence, though.

Technically, her priest didn’t lie to her. That’s why as witnesses we usually swear to tell ‘the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth’.

Silly humanists.

Remembering Aisha

Before Malala, there was Aisha.

Sadly, this is not a story of inspiration.

Five years ago today, at age 13, she was murdered. Her crime: being raped.

As reported by the Independent:

A 13-year-old Somali girl, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, was buried up to her neck and stoned by 50 men in front of 1,000 people at a stadium in Kismayu in 2008. Her father told Amnesty International she had been raped by three men but was accused of adultery when she tried to report the rape to the [islamist] al-Shabaab militia.

1000 forced spectators. 50 barbaric murderers. 3 rapists. One helpless child.

No merciful God.

“Why I hate Malala”

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid expressed his thoughts pointedly:

“How can I accept Malala to be a hero, when her speeches do not have any Islamic or nationalistic agenda? How can I consider her to be my future leader when nothing she says or does imbues a false sense of superiority in me as a Muslim or a Pakistani? How can I accept that a young girl was able to highlight who our actual enemies are, when grown up men in our parliaments are still hell bent on befriending them? How can I rejoice at Malala’s global achievement when I’ve been taught all my life that a girl’s place is in the kitchen? I just can’t.”

Aptly, succinctly put.

An even better read are the comments. Evidently half the commenters couldn’t find their own humor with both hands and a flashlight.

Open question: will Kunwar be declared an honorary Saudi before they discover sarcasm?

What not to say to an atheist

Someone on the internet compiled a list of the worst things you can say to an atheist. While the methodology may not be scientific, it surely seemed spot-on. Reading the list, though, I was struck by an important realization: this wasn’t a list of things that would make an atheist angry. It was a list of things to avoid in order to not look ‘stoopid’ to an unbeliever. If all you want to do is really piss off an atheist, the classic ‘you know, Hitler was an atheist…’ usually suffices, or perhaps ‘Atheism is just another religion’. Both did not appear on that list.

On the list, ‘You are going to hell’ reigned supreme. Of course. Suppressing the reflex to grin pityingly at whoever says that is an essential survival skill for every atheist.

In second place was my personal favorite: ‘I pray for you’. This one atheists have a problem with not because it is a stupid thing to say (it is), but because of the conflicting emotions it elicits from us. We know it is meant in a kind, sympathetic way. But to an atheist, it is very much like the alcoholic uncle sincerely declaring that he’s drinking to your health. It makes us flinch in sympathy for you.

If you really want to do something for me, buy my book.

Good News: Brunei to advance into Dark Age

More good news from the Gulf Region: Brunei is taking big steps to modernize their society. They are about to reach parity with the 8th century. Because everyone knows that the best things come from the Good Old Times that – for reasons unknown – are also called the ‘Dark Ages’.

Details are still sketchy, but here are the main points:

  • Dual laws!
    Because more is better, Brunei now has two sets of laws instead of one. Why would ‘One Law For All’ be something to aspire to, when it wasn’t implemented anyway? Taking a page from London with their Sharia courts, the Sheik has expanded on that idea. While neighboring Malaysia only made ‘Allah’ a trademark to be used exclusively by muslims, Brunei reportedly now went full-in with a separate law for muslims. How’s that for progress?
     
  • Severing limbs for theft! 
    This classic is finally back, and is sure to be a hoot in your neighborhood. Since capital punishment has been proven to be such an effective deterrent (see Texas, where murder is practically unheard of), it’s smaller sibling is now expected to end thieving once and for all.
     
  • Stoning for adulterers!
    Again a crowd favorite, the re-introduction of this punishment will finally ensure the fidelity of every muslim in Brunei. At the same time it is hoped that this will re-invigorate Brunei’s flagging stonemasonry trade.

Understandably, to make these important changes a reality, Brunei has postponed less pressing changes like implementing civil rights or baseline democracy. Reportedly, though, they are still on track for the next millennium.

Nazis, and Guillotines, and Orgies! Oh my!

Flying under the radar of of everyone’s IQ, US televangelist, budding diamond miner, and Wicked Witch of the West Pat Robertson has warned that atheists and humanists in Europe will bring back the Nazis and Guillotines.

“You know the liberals, the so called socialists, the progressives, they’ve moved away from God and when you move away from God then you say, ‘were humanists.’ Then as a result of humanity and rejecting God, you have the orgy of the French Revolution, you have the guillotine cutting off the heads of thousands of people, you have the same thing going on now in Europe, you had it under the Nazis”

Not very likely. Pat, unburdened by facts or reason, has confused cause and effect.

To bring back the Nazis and French Revolution, Europe first has to revert to higher levels of religion.

A golden standard

After making headlines around the world for literally discovering new medical territories (developing a medical test to detect homosexuality, and discovering previously unknown dangers that driving a car poses to women), the Saudis are in the spotlight again for yet another discovery: ‘Put up or shut up’ is really hard.

After being offered a seat on the UN security council, the Saudi Foreign Minister turned it down, citing ‘double standards’ and past ‘UN failures’.

It seems the Saudis are disappointed over the fact that the UN did not manage to find a solution to the Palestinian cause nor remove weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East.

It should be noted that, when it comes to double standards, the Saudis are the experts, so we should trust their judgement should they detect one outside their own country.

So, agreed. There are lots of things that can be improved in the UN. This time around, though, the Saudis seem to prefer to take a step back, and focus on other, more pressing things.

Because everyone knows that the best way to change things is to not accept responsibility.

It seems the Saudi Golden Standard – the one that the UN didn’t live up to – currently is ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, criticize’.

Everyone who’s ever watched a soccer game is familiar with that one.