Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.
"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
It’s almost as if the Bible was written and put together by sexist, sadistic males from a primitive culture.
It’s almost as if these males were invested in maintaining a purely patriarchal society and wanted to write their barbarous ideas about women into law so they invented a “god” that demanded (shocker!) exactly what they themselves wanted.
It’s almost as if the Bible contains mostly terrible and destructive and coercive nonsense.
Why everyone is being so polite? Religious expression is not an absolute right, and should be limited if it affects the rights of others
Here we are again, in the middle of another terribly polite discussion about the niqab. For anyone who hasn’t followed the debate, that’s the face-covering veil worn in this country by a minority of Muslim women. Should women be able to conceal their faces when they’re giving evidence in court? What about women who work in schools or the health service?
A judge has issued a confused ruling that a defendant should be able to keep her niqab on in court, but must take it off while giving evidence. The Government has ordered a review of whether NHS staff should be able to conceal their faces from patients, with the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledging he would prefer to see the face of the person who’s treating him. But he says it’s ultimately a matter for professional guidelines, not politicians.
Why so mealy-mouthed? The niqab is a ridiculous garment, adopted by a small (but growing) number of women and rejected by many mainstream Muslims. When I see someone wearing it, I’m torn between laughing at the absurdity and irritation with the ideology it represents. In secular countries, the notion that women have to cover their faces whenever they leave the house is rightly seen as weird, and runs counter to the principle of gender equality. Many brave women in the Middle East and Asia have died for the much more important right not to cover their faces, and I have little patience with women in this country who make a mockery of that struggle by trying to pretend they’re the ones suffering oppression.
The question judges and politicians are struggling with is what to do about it. I’m not in favour of the French approach, which is an outright ban on the niqab and the burqa; I’m not keen on banning things and it risks creating martyrs. It makes more sense to treat the face-veil as a political statement and insist on our right to make one in return. Covering the face doesn’t make anyone a better human being and the “modesty” argument doesn’t wash; if you wear outlandish clothes, whether it’s a face-veil or fancy dress, of course people will stare. Nor does the niqab discourage violence; evidence from Egypt suggests that veiled women are slightly more likely to suffer sexual harassment, probably because men regard them as easier targets than women in Western clothes. Does anyone seriously believe that women are safer in Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran, where most women wear the veil (many of them against their will) in one form or another? Wearing the niqab or the burqa is self-defeating, exposing women and girls to more oppression rather than less.
Where I think the state is entitled to intervene is when a woman’s decision to cover has negative consequences on others, including her daughters; face-covering should never be a component of school uniform, let alone compulsory. Then there’s the example of a courtroom: when someone is giving evidence, she should be subject to exactly the same rules as the rest of us. Vulnerable witnesses need to have their identities protected but as a general rule the judge, jury, defence and prosecution should be able to see witnesses’ faces. I wouldn’t expect to be allowed to appear in court in a balaclava, and the public good of open justice takes precedence over demands for special treatment on religious grounds.
As for the NHS, I’m aghast at the prospect of being treated by a health professional in a niqab. Patients often have to discuss intimate matters with GPs and nurse-practitioners, from sexual health to domestic violence. If someone doesn’t trust me enough to let me see her face, I’m hardly going to feel comfortable about her carrying out an intimate procedure such as a cervical smear. Nor is it easy to imagine a man discussing the symptoms of prostate cancer with a health professional whose idea of “modesty” doesn’t allow her to expose her nose.
At one level, it’s hard to believe we’re having this debate. The UK is a secular society in all but name. Human rights law is clear about the right to manifest religion but it isn’t an absolute right, and can be limited when it conflicts with the rights of others. The demand by a small number of Muslim women to cover their faces in all circumstances clearly impacts on the rights of others, and requires a robust response. If a woman wants to wear the niqab in Tesco or on the 94 bus, I think we should let her get on with it. But when she wants to work with members of the public or becomes involved in the criminal justice system, that’s a completely different matter.
IN 2007 Canada decided to set aside funds for a campaign to investigate and combat the growing number of killings of mainly Muslim women in the country.
Until recently, religio-cultural violence – universally known as “honour killings” – were virtually unknown in the country.
According to this report, only three known victims were killed between 1954 and 1983. But since 1999, 12 women have died in honour killings.
Every year, according to United Nations reports, 5,000 women worldwide are killed for reasons of “honour” that relate to matters of modesty and obeyance, though most experts maintain the numbers are far higher. And the number of victims of honour violence, which can involve beatings, acid attacks, or locking a woman in her home, is literally incalculable.
In the UK alone, more than 3,000 such honour crimes occurred just in 2010, according to a study by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization (IKWRO). The vast majority of those crimes, the organisation states, were committed by Muslims, though Sikhs and Hindus have also been known to commit honour-related crimes.
But Canada’s efforts to stop this phenomena is being opposed … by Muslim women! They are claiming that the term “honour killing” is racist, with many speaking out against the government’s new focus on these crimes.
One outspoken opponent is Itrath Syed, who is pursuing a PhD in Islamophobia in Vancouver. She said:
When women of colour are killed, we ask these larger questions around their culture. We ask what’s wrong with their entire people – their culture, their religion – instead of a particular person.
Writing for the Investigative Project, Abigail R Esman said:
What is so tragic about this remark is not just the half-dozen or so ways in which it is patently untrue, but that it seeks to nullify the horror that is honour violence, to deny the profound distinctions between honor crimes and other forms of domestic violence and femicide.
And she pointed out:
What Syed really was referring to was religion, not race. Or rather, the implication that domestic abuse in Muslim families is related to Islam, and that Muslim families are therefore treated differently than everybody else. It’s a common accusation, and an ongoing question: are honour crimes culturally-based, or founded in interpretations of the Koran?
It’s a bit of both, according to Carla Rus, a psychiatrist in the Netherlands who specialises in working with victims of both domestic abuse and honor violence:
Honour violence involves a kind of ideology, which you don’t find in domestic violence. In [Islamic] cultures, where church and state are not separated, it’s difficult to distinguish whether honour violence comes through cultural or religious motives – culture and religion are inseparable in those cases.
Esman pointed out that understanding how dramatically honour violence differs from other domestic abuse is, however, critical – a point that the recent Canadian funding aims to address, as do similar efforts in the UK and the Netherlands. As Phyllis Chesler, author of the landmark study, Worldwide Trends in Honour Killings, has noted:
Westerners rarely kill their young daughters, nor do Western families of origin conspire or collaborate in such murders.
Similarly, domestic abuse in Western families does not involve brothers murdering their sisters, as happens in cases of honour killings. To the contrary, siblings most often protect one another.
Moreover, Esman emphasises, while domestic violence may relate to a man’s sense of self-respect, reputation, or “honour” among his peers, it does not – despite what some Muslims argue – reflect his sense of religious honour or his sense, as patriarch, of responsibility for his family’s perceived insults to his god.
Yet it is precisely this mindset which incites much honour-based violence and murder – and not only on the part of the father or husband. Frequently, religious devotion and patriarchy places pressure on other family members – siblings, aunts, uncles, spouses or even mothers of a victim – to commit the act, often under threat.
That fact underscores two other critical points that opponents to Canada’s focus on honour killings apparently do not wish others to see – or perhaps are too culturally blinded to see: Ordinary domestic violence is nearly always spontaneous, while honour violence (and especially honour murder) is almost always calculated, often planned out over time through numerous family meetings. And the horrific reality is that, these women simply have nowhere to run: no mothers who will shelter them from the husbands they are trying to escape, no sisters or brothers to protect them from their fathers – no one. (Indeed, the sisters and brothers are often recruited to assure a girl hiding from her family to come home, that all is forgiven. But this assertion is almost always a ruse; once she returns, the child is usually killed within days.)
Which is precisely why funding for, and attention to, understanding and preventing honor violence is so very critical, not only in Canada, but everywhere in the West. It is why women – and especially Muslim women – should be welcoming it, even demanding more.
And yet, countless Canadian (and other) Muslim activists and apologists remain far more devoted to shaping public vision of their culture – even if it means disguising the truth – than to protecting the lives of their Muslim sisters. In some cases, they may go so far as to contend that the very notion of ‘honour killings’ is a ‘Western propagated myth’. Indeed, one Muslim women’s advocate, Rubaiyat Karim, told Women’s e-News that, ‘Immigration policy can be very inclusionary and preach the language of multi-culturalism. But if we really want to talk about multiculturalism, we need to address the Orientalist mentality of government’.
She’s wrong. What we really need to address is the refusal of some Muslim families to advance beyond medieval and barbaric religio-cultural practices – and to stop excusing them when they don’t. Not to do so is to abandon thousands of women, not just in Canada or the United States, not just in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but in every country, every city, every town across the world. We cannot let that happen.
This barbaric form of execution is on the rise, and campaigners are calling on the UN to act.
Two months ago, a young mother of two was stoned to death by her relatives on the order of a tribal court in Pakistan. Her crime: possession of a mobile phone.
Arifa Bibi’s uncle, cousins and others hurled stones and bricks at her until she died, according to media reports. She was buried in a desert far from her village. It’s unlikely anyone was arrested. Her case is not unique. Stoning is legal or practised in at least 15 countries or regions. And campaigners fear this barbaric form of execution may be on the rise, particularly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Women’s rights activists have launched an international campaign for a ban on stoning, which is mostly inflicted on women accused of adultery. They are using Twitter and other social media to put pressure on the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to denounce the practice.
"Stoning is a cruel and hideous punishment. It is a form of torturing someone to death," said Naureen Shameem of the international rights group Women Living Under Muslim Laws. "It is one of the most brutal forms of violence perpetrated against women in order to control and punish their sexuality and basic freedoms."
She said activists will also push the UN to adopt a resolution on stoning similar to the one passed last year on eradicating female genital mutilation – another form of violence against women often justified on religious and cultural grounds.
It found (p41) that 53 per cent of Muslims “prefer that Muslim women choose to wear the veil”, with 28 per cent preferring that they choose not to and 19 per cent saying don’t know or refusing to answer.
The survey found there was “no significant difference between men and women on this issue”, but that young people were more likely to favour the veil. Among 16-24-year-olds, 74 per cent preferred the veil, whereas among the 55+ age group support was only 28 per cent.