Archive for May, 2008

I was just checking out some of videos by Captain Disillusion. Pretty cool stuff. Enjoy:

The “gas station ghost”:

Mirror Ghost Girl:

He currently has 10 videos up on his account (not all of them dealing with ghosts).

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Another good news story. He isn’t exactly promoting non-violence, but has largely turned against terrorism and most (but not all) jihadi violence. Below is a quick rundown. Or you can read the whole article.

The Rebellion Within
An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism.

Last May, a fax arrived at the London office of the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat from a shadowy figure in the radical Islamist movement who went by many names. Born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, he was the former leader of the Egyptian terrorist group Al Jihad, and known to those in the underground mainly as Dr. Fadl. Members of Al Jihad became part of the original core of Al Qaeda; among them was Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant. Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda’s top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda’s violence. “We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that,” Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.

Fadl’s fax confirmed rumors that imprisoned leaders of Al Jihad were part of a trend in which former terrorists renounced violence. His defection posed a terrible threat to the radical Islamists, because he directly challenged their authority. “There is a form of obedience that is greater than the obedience accorded to any leader, namely, obedience to God and His Messenger,” Fadl wrote, claiming that hundreds of Egyptian jihadists from various factions had endorsed his position.

Two months after Fadl’s fax appeared, Zawahiri issued a handsomely produced video on behalf of Al Qaeda. “Do they now have fax machines in Egyptian jail cells?” he asked. “I wonder if they’re connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines.” This sarcastic dismissal was perhaps intended to dampen anxiety about Fadl’s manifesto—which was to be published serially, in newspapers in Egypt and Kuwait—among Al Qaeda insiders. Fadl’s previous work, after all, had laid the intellectual foundation for Al Qaeda’s murderous acts. On a recent trip to Cairo, I met with Gamal Sultan, an Islamist writer and a publisher there. He said of Fadl, “Nobody can challenge the legitimacy of this person. His writings could have far-reaching effects not only in Egypt but on leaders outside it.”

In Peshawar [during the 1980s], Fadl devoted himself to formalizing the rules of holy war. The jihadis needed a text that would school them in the proper way to fight battles whose real objective was not victory over the Soviets but martyrdom and eternal salvation. “The Essential Guide for Preparation” appeared in 1988, as the Afghan jihad was winding down. It quickly became one of the most important texts in the jihadis’ training.

The “Guide” begins with the premise that jihad is the natural state of Islam. Muslims must always be in conflict with nonbelievers, Fadl asserts, resorting to peace only in moments of abject weakness. Because jihad is, above all, a religious exercise, there are divine rewards to be gained. He who gives money for jihad will be compensated in Heaven, but not as much as the person who acts. The greatest prize goes to the martyr. Every able-bodied believer is obligated to engage in jihad, since most Muslim countries are ruled by infidels who must be forcibly removed, in order to bring about an Islamic state. “The way to bring an end to the rulers’ unbelief is armed rebellion,” the “Guide” states. Some Arab governments regarded the book as so dangerous that anyone caught with a copy was subject to arrest.

[His second book] “The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge,” which is more than a thousand pages long, starts with the assertion that salvation is available only to the perfect Muslim. Even an exemplary believer can wander off the path to Paradise with a single misstep. Fadl contends that the rulers of Egypt and other Arab countries are apostates of Islam. “The infidel’s rule, his prayers, and the prayers of those who pray behind him are invalid,” Fadl decrees. “His blood is legal.” He declares that Muslims have a duty to wage jihad against such leaders; those who submit to an infidel ruler are themselves infidels, and doomed to damnation. The same punishment awaits those who participate in democratic elections. “I say to Muslims in all candor that secular, nationalist democracy opposes your religion and your doctrine, and in submitting to it you leave God’s book behind,” he writes. Those who labor in government, the police, and the courts are infidels, as is anyone who works for peaceful change; religious war, not political reform, is the sole mandate. Even devout believers walk a tightrope over the abyss. “A man may enter the faith in many ways, yet be expelled from it by just one deed,” Fadl cautions. Anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic and deserves to be slaughtered.

Meanwhile, a furtive conversation was taking place among the imprisoned leaders of the Islamic Group. Karam Zuhdy remained incarcerated, along with more than twenty thousand Islamists. “We started growing older,” he says. “We started examining the evidence. We began to read books and reconsider.” The prisoners came to feel that they had been manipulated into pursuing a violent path. Just opening the subject for discussion was extremely threatening, not only for members of the organization but for groups that had an interest in prolonging the clash with Egypt’s government. Zuhdy points in particular to the Muslim Brotherhood. “These people, when we launched an initiative against violence, accused us of being weak,” he says. “Instead of supporting us, they wanted us to continue the violence. We faced very strong opposition inside prison, outside prison, and outside Egypt.”

On the violent jihad against Egypt in the 1980s:

From Sudan, members of Al Jihad watched enviously as a much larger organization, the Islamic Group, waged open warfare on the Egyptian state. Both groups wished for the overthrow of the secular government and the institution of a theocracy, but they differed in their methods. Al Jihad was organized as a network of clandestine cells, centered in Cairo; Zawahiri’s plan was to take over the country by means of a military coup. One of the founders of the Islamic Group was Karam Zuhdy, a former student of agricultural management at Asyut University. The group was a broad, above-ground movement that was determined to launch a social revolution. Members undertook to enforce Islamic values by “compelling good and driving out evil.” They ransacked video stores, music recitals, cinemas, and liquor stores. They demanded that women dress in hijab, and rampaged against Egypt’s Coptic minority, bombing its churches. They attacked a regional headquarters of the state security service, cutting off the head of the commander and killing a large number of policemen. Blood on the ground became the measure of the Islamic Group’s success, and it was all the more thrilling because the murder was done in the name of God.

On 9/11:

Dr. Fadl was practicing surgery in Ibb when the 9/11 attacks took place. “We heard the reports first on BBC Radio,” his son Ismail al-Sharif recalls. After his shift ended, Fadl returned home and watched the television coverage with his family. They asked him who he thought was responsible. “This action is from Al Qaeda, because there is no other group in the world that will kill themselves in a plane,” he responded.

Fadl was joined in prison by Yemeni members of Al Qaeda who had escaped the bombing of Afghanistan by American and coalition troops in the months after the attacks. They filled him in on details of the plot. In Fadl’s opinion, the organization had committed “group suicide” by striking America, which was bound to retaliate severely. Indeed, nearly eighty per cent of Al Qaeda’s members in Afghanistan were killed in the final months of 2001. “My father was very sad for the killing of Abu Hafs al-Masri, the military leader of Al Qaeda,” Ismail al-Sharif told Al Jarida. “My father said that, with the death of Abu Hafs, Al Qaeda is finished, because the rest is a group of zeroes.”

Unfortunately, he still advocates the creation of Islamic states and violent jihad, but with lots of stipulations:

Despite his previous call for jihad against unjust Muslim rulers, Fadl now says that such rulers can be fought only if they are unbelievers, and even then only to the extent that the battle will improve the situation of Muslims… Fadl repeatedly emphasizes that it is forbidden to kill civilians—including Christians and Jews—unless they are actively attacking Muslims. “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders,” Fadl observes. “They are the neighbors of the Muslims . . . and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.” Indiscriminate bombing—“such as blowing up of hotels, buildings, and public transportation”—is not permitted, because innocents will surely die.

Fadl does not condemn all jihadist activity, however. “Jihad in Afghanistan will lead to the creation of an Islamic state with the triumph of the Taliban, God willing,” he declares. The jihads in Iraq and Palestine are more problematic. As Fadl sees it, “If it were not for the jihad in Palestine, the Jews would have crept toward the neighboring countries a long time ago.” Even so, he writes, “the Palestinian cause has, for some time, been a grape leaf used by the bankrupt leaders to cover their own faults.” Speaking of Iraq, he notes that, without the jihad there, “America would have moved into Syria.” However, it is unrealistic to believe that, “under current circumstances,” such struggles will lead to Islamic states.

Fadl acknowledges that “terrorizing the enemy is a legitimate duty”; however, he points out, “legitimate terror” has many constraints. Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in America, London, and Madrid were wrong, because they were based on nationality, a form of indiscriminate slaughter forbidden by Islam. In his Al Hayat interview, Fadl labels 9/11 “a catastrophe for Muslims,” because Al Qaeda’s actions “caused the death of tens of thousands of Muslims—Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis and others.”

Had to laugh at this part:

To dispute Fadl’s assertion that Muslims living in non-Islamic countries are treated fairly, Zawahiri points out that in some Western countries Muslim girls are forbidden to wear hijab to school. Muslim men are prevented from marrying more than one wife, and from beating their wives, as allowed by some interpretations of Sharia.

See – Western countries are unfair to Muslims – they prevent Muslim men from “beating their wives”.

Zawahiri attempts to respond to Muslim complaints about bombings against Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan, and indignantly takes credit for 9/11 (in contrast to widely believed rumors in the Muslim world that it was done by the Israelis):

In December, in order to stanch the flow of criticism [against Al Queda], Zawahiri boldly initiated a virtual town-hall meeting, soliciting questions in an online forum. This spring, he released two lengthy audio responses to nearly a hundred of the nine hundred often testy queries that were posed. The first one came from a man who identified himself sardonically as the Geography Teacher. “Excuse me, Mr. Zawahiri, but who is it who is killing, with Your Excellency’s permission, the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco, and Algeria? Do you consider the killing of women and children to be jihad?” Then he demanded, “Why have you not—to this day—carried out any strike in Israel? Or is it easier to kill Muslims in the markets? Maybe you should study geography, because your maps show only the Muslim states.” Zawahiri protested that Al Qaeda had not killed innocents. “In fact, we fight those who kill innocents. Those who kill innocents are the Americans, the Jews, the Russians, and the French and their agents.” As for Al Qaeda’s failure to attack Israel, despite bin Laden’s constant exploitation of the issue, Zawahiri asks, “Why does the questioner focus on how Al Qaeda in particular must strike Israel, while he didn’t request that jihadist organizations in Palestine come to the aid of their brothers in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq?”

The murder of innocents emerged as the most prominent issue in the exchanges. An Algerian university student sarcastically congratulated Zawahiri for killing sixty Muslims in Algeria on a holy feast day. What was their sin? the student wanted to know. “Those who were killed on the eleventh of December in Algeria are not from the innocents,” Zawahiri claimed. “They are from the Crusader unbelievers and the government troops who defend them. Our brothers in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”—North Africa—“are more truthful, more just, and more righteous than the lying sons of France.” A Saudi wondered how Muslims could justify supporting Al Qaeda, given its long history of indiscriminate murder. “Are there other ways and means in which the objectives of jihad can be achieved without killing people?” he asked. “Please do not use as a pretext what the Americans or others are doing. Muslims are supposed to be an example to the world in tolerance and lofty goals, not to become a gang whose only concern is revenge.” But Zawahiri was unable to rise to the questioner’s ethical challenge. He replied, “If a criminal were to storm into your house, attack your family and kill them, steal your property, and burn down your house, then turns to attack the homes of your neighbors, will you treat him tolerantly so that you will not become a gang whose only concern is revenge?”

Zawahiri even had to defend himself for helping to spread the myth that the Israelis carried out the attacks of 9/11. He placed the blame for this rumor on Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization, which aired the notion on its television station, Al Manar. Zawahiri said indignantly, “The objective behind this lie is to deny that the Sunnis have heroes who harm America as no one has harmed it throughout its history.”

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You might’ve heard about the “Kieffe and Sons Ford” dealership in California. Their radio advertisement blew up on the internet a few days ago. Well, they apologized for it. Here’s the text of the ad (or listen here):

“Did you know that there are people in this country who want prayer out of schools, “Under God” out of the Pledge, and “In God We Trust” to be taken off our money?

“But did you know that 86 percent of Americans say they believe in God? Now, since we all know that 86 out of every 100 of us are Christians who believe in God, we at Kieffe and Sons Ford wonder why we don’t just tell the other 14 percent to sit down and shut up.

“I guess maybe I just offended 14 percent of the people who are listening to this message. Well, if that is the case, then I say that’s tough; this is America, folks — it’s called free speech. And none of us at Kieffe and Sons Ford are afraid to speak up. Kieffe and Sons Ford on Sierra Highway in Mojave and Rosamond: if we don’t see you today, by the grace of God, we’ll be here tomorrow.”

(Ironic how they tell atheists to “sit down and shut up”, and then talk about their own right to free speech.)

“Rick Kieffe, owner of Kieffe and Sons Ford in Mojave and Rosamond, insisted Wednesday that he does not remember approving the ad, which he said was written by his longtime advertising writer and producer in Oklahoma. “It’s just something that went by us,” said Kieffe, who does not attend church but considers himself “a Christian spirit.” “We’re obviously sorry that it offends a given segment who identifies themselves as atheist.” … And while that ad is no longer being broadcast, having run its full 90 days earlier this year, it has had an effect on the dealership’s future ads.” (Link)

I’m not sure to what extent he regrets airing the ad (is it because he received so much blow-back?) Also, the “We’re obviously sorry that it offends a given segment who identifies themselves as atheist.” isn’t quite clear. It might be a sincere apology, or it might be a simple “we’re sorry you were offended” non-apology. The guy who put the ad on YouTube, and talked to the car dealer today, comments:

I asked if he had it to do all over again, would he run those ads? Would he install a disclaimer? He said he wouldn’t run the ads at all. He said he didn’t mean to upset or insult anyone, he’s sorry that this made so many folks upset. He said that car dealers put a lot of advertising out and it always boring, the same old thing. So Kieffe and Sons Ford decided about 15 years ago to do advertising differently, to really try to draw peoples’ attention. Apparently he had no idea that this particular ad would do that in spades… Rick even said that he’s not a fundamentalist Christian by any means, but then repeated the Pledge argument against our side. They’re very aware of their mistake, and they look at it as a mistake, but they do actually agree with the sentiment in the ad. (Link)

So, I guess that’s good news. I don’t really expect the car dealer to understand our side, but at least he’s apologetic.

[ Oh, and on an unrelated note, the British police have dropped charges against the kid carrying the “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.” sign. ]

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Just published in the New York Times:

BRUSSELS — On the street, Malika El Aroud is anonymous in an Islamic black veil covering all but her eyes.

In her living room, Ms. El Aroud, a 48-year-old Belgian, wears the ordinary look of middle age: a plain black T-shirt and pants and curly brown hair. The only adornment is a pair of powder-blue slippers monogrammed in gold with the letters SEXY.

But it is on the Internet where Ms. El Aroud has distinguished herself. Writing in French under the name “Oum Obeyda,” she has transformed herself into one of the most prominent Internet jihadists in Europe.

She calls herself a female holy warrior for Al Qaeda. She insists that she does not disseminate instructions on bomb-making and has no intention of taking up arms herself. Rather, she browbeats Muslim men to go and fight and rallies women to join the cause.

“Vietnam is nothing compared to what awaits you on our lands,” she wrote to a supposed Western audience in March about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Ask your mothers, your wives to order your coffins.” To her followers she added: “Victory is appearing on the horizon my brothers and sisters. Let’s intensify our prayers.”

Her prolific writing and presence in chat rooms, coupled with her background, makes her a magnet for praise and sympathy. “Sister Oum Obeyda is virtuous among the virtuous; her life is dedicated to the good on this earth,” a man named Juba wrote late last year.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

(Link to the Full Article)

Apparently, the “peaceful” religion of Islam transformed a woman and mother into a into a jihadist butcher simmering with hatred and a death-wish for all the unbelievers. Speaking of internet recruitment, I’ve noticed a lot of Muslims proselytizing via the internet. It’s extremely important to keep countering their ideas. We need to put the growth rate of Islam into the negative. What a beautiful thing that would be.

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Earlier this week, I received a hand-written (and then photocopied) letter from a local woman asking me to try the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Based on the handwriting, I’d guess a grandmotherly woman hand-wrote a letter, photocopied it, and sent it to people in the phone book. (Which is very sweet gesture, although not ultimately not very useful since their God doesn’t exist, IMO.)

Then, I started to think: have I dropped-off the St. Matthew’s Churches mailing list? (I talked about them last May, and their scam.) Well, I’m still on it because today I received another letter from them. I guess I’m on their May mailing list. I’ve attached a few pictures of their material.

Predictably, they use phrases like “As you remain faithful in your seed sowing into my kingdom, surely you shall be blessed.” “Seed sowing” is, of course, code for “send us money”. Then they also claim testimonies from people who received financial windfalls or healing after ‘sowing a seed’. They use a few other psychological techniques to increase the likelihood of people sending them money. Seems like a popular money-extraction technique because you can see other evangelists doing it:

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A recent Reasonable Doubts podcast had some commentary on a resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council on March 28 (2008). Specifically, the Human Rights Council (a 47-nation council) passed two resolutions. One urging nations to limit freedom of speech when it involves criticism of religion (criticism of Islam in particular), and a second one expanding the role of the “Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression” (which normally involves reporting on human rights violations around the world) to include issuing reports on “abuses” of free speech (read: criticism of Islam = an abuse of free speech).

The resolutions were part of a long-standing campaign to remove Islam from criticism, and were partially motivated by events of the last decade: the Danish-Mohammed cartoons controversy and increasing disrespect for Islam after attacks by Muslim terrorists. Specifically: 9/11, the 7/7 bombings in London, the 2004 bombings in Madrid, 2002 Bali bombing, 2005 Bali bombing, numerous bombings in Iraq, Pakistan, and India against civilians, human rights violations in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, “honor killings” in Muslim countries (where even the police congratulate killer), the killing of Theo VanGogh, and the publicized videotaped beheadings of “infidels” such as Daniel Pearl.

To begin with, the members of the “Human Rights Council” should give anyone pause. There are plenty of nations well-known for human rights violations on the council, including: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Cuba, Russia. In the past, it even included Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Trying to limit freedom of speech to shield Islam from criticism has been a desire of Islamic nations:

In February 2008, Yemen’s Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawr, “called for an international law that criminalizes religious insults and enforces mutual respect of religions, calling on all rationalists in the West to avoid such negative acts [as printing the Muhammad cartoons]. ‘This can only increase the instability in relations among Islamic and Western nations’.”

Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Council (Arabic: Majlis ash-Shura) considered a resolution calling on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “work in coordination with Arab and Islamic groups and others at the United Nations to draft an international pact for respecting religions, their symbols and leaders, and prohibit insulting them in any way.” (Link)

Algerian Deputy Permanent Representative Mohammed Bessedik drew thinly veiled comparisons of today’s treatment of Muslims to the Nazi atrocities against Jews. “The policy of targeting Muslims would actually aim at dehumanizing them by assaulting their identity to legitimize an attitude of racial discrimination similar to the one that targeted another Semitic people in the 20th century.” He described the threat of “reawakening the hydra of the anti-Semitic campaigns of the 20th century, which we now call Islamophobia.” (Link)

The comparison of Muslims to the Nazi holocaust against Jews is incredibly ridiculous. Complaints about Islam is nothing like the Nazi campaign against Jews. Bessedik is clearly out of touch. Second, his statement highlights the ridiculousness of Muslim attempts to cast themselves in the illusionary role of “the persecuted”.

Maybe part of this persecution belief comes from the fact that criticism of Islam is suppressed in their countries, so any minor complaint about Islam is blown out of proportion by a hypersensitivity that comes from never hearing anything bad.

March 27th Resolution: 7/19 “Combating defamation of religions” (passed 21-10 with 14 abstentions on March 27th). Admittedly, the parts of the resolution’s text has been approved in earlier resolutions (for example, this April 2001 resolution), so it’s not entirely new. Excerpts (bold is mine):

2. Also expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations and emphasizes that equating any religion with terrorism should be rejected and combated by all at all levels;

I can’t imagine why Islam is identified with “terrorism, violence and human rights violations”. Sure, most Muslims aren’t doing those things, but when it comes to religiously inspired terrorism, violence, and human rights violations, Islam certainly stands out. Ironically, Saudi Arabia, who is on the “Human Rights Council” and voted for this resolution, is a terrible human-rights violator. They prohibit women from driving cars, make them wear burkas, punished a woman with 200 lashes after being raped, put people to death for converting from Islam, and made the display of non-Islamic symbols illegal, and gives harsher punishments for crimes against Muslims than non-Muslims. I can’t imagine why Islam gets associated with “terrorism, violence and human rights violations”.

And what does “equating any religion with terrorism should be rejected and combated by all at all levels” mean? We should throw anyone in jail if they equate any religion with terrorism?

6. Expresses concern at laws or administrative measures that have been specifically designed to control and monitor Muslim minorities, thereby stigmatizing them and legitimizing the discrimination that they experience;

Right, because governments shouldn’t monitor extremist Mosques in the heart of europe where Muslims learn to use AK-47s, preach hatred towards the “godless” Germans, or glorify Holy War against non-Muslims. They might as well come out and say, “attacking you will be so much easier if we all pretend there are no strains of extremism is Islam”.

I realize, of course, that this is essentially a form of religious profiling, but when polls of British Muslims reveal that 1 in 8 regard the 7/7 London bombers (who killed 52 civilians) as martyrs, 1 in 8 young Muslims said they admired groups such as al-Qa’eda that “are prepared to fight the West”, 40% between 16 and 24 years-old would prefer to live under Sharia law, and a significant minority feel no loyalty to England whatsoever, it’s not hard to see that Muslims are significantly more likely to cause problems than, say, Presbyterians.

8. Urges States to take actions to prohibit the dissemination, including through political institutions and organizations, of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence;

Considering that Muslim nations are extremely bad about inciting religious hatred of the Jews, they should be considered the top offenders in this category. Does this mean Muslim nations will stop their citizens from using the word “Kafir” (infidel) about non-Muslims? Does this mean they will ban the Koran (“Seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and in any case take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” Koran 4:89). Will they stop their media from printing cartoons such as:

If that cartoon was redrawn with a Muslim holding the knife, rather than a Jew, they would certainly complain about “religious defamation”.

Further, the text says, “Urges States to take actions to prohibit the dissemination … [of] material aimed at any religion or its followers”. By singling out “any religion” from “its followers”, they make it clear that they are exempting the religion from criticism – they want to prevent criticism of an idea.

9. Also urges States to provide, within their respective legal and constitutional systems, adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from the defamation of any religion, to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems and to complement legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat religious hatred and intolerance;

“take all possible measures to promote tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems”? Why must all religions be respected and tolerated? Does this apply to cults, too? Are nations supposed to muzzle anyone criticizing Scientology? Apparently, there has never been a better time to start that pedophile/ arson/ blackmail/ satan-worship cult. (Charles Manson, are you reading this?) It’s a “religion” and therefore, it’s automatically worthy of respect. And Aum Shinrikyo, who set-off sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway – they are automatically worthy of respect and tolerance, and the Japanese government should intervene when someone says something bad about them? No idea should ever receive “tolerance” and “respect” simply because it exists. Why should “religion” get special status in the world of ideas?

10. Emphasizes that respect of religions and their protection from contempt is an essential element conducive for the exercise by all of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;

This one is right out of 1984. “respect of religions and their protection from contempt” is somehow conducive for “freedom of thought”? When you prevent yourself from thinking bad things about religion, then your mind will truly be free? Freedom is slavery. Now I get it: the killing of Theo VanGogh, who promoted disrespect of Islam, was actually a contribution to “freedom of thought”. Now, if only they could improve the world a little more by tracking down Salman Rushdie.

12. Emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and that the exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but only those provided by law and necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others, or for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals;

Freedom of speech carried with it “special restrictions”? Such as “not criticizing us or our special ideas”? No doubt the Saudi Monarchy could legitimize their suppressing criticism of the government and Islam with that line. And they say “morals” are a sufficient reason to limit freedom of speech? Over and over, I hear religious people equate morals with religion and atheism with amorality. Thus, speaking out against religion can quickly be turned into “damages morals”. Similarly, the claim that freedom of speech should be limited to preserve “public order” can quickly be turned into suppressing freedom of speech against anyone who speaks against the existing government. Robert Mugabe would love that.

13. Reaffirms that general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in which the Committee stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression, is equally applicable to the question of incitement to religious hatred;

I’m a little puzzled by this. They seem to be saying that ideas based on racial superiority are to be prohibited, and that this is “equally applicable to the question of incitement to religious hatred”. Apparently, they are saying that ideas of religious superiority are incompatible with freedom of opinion. But, everyone knows that Muslims claim religious superiority over all other religions. Maybe they were only thinking about the claims of Christian and Jewish superiority over Islam.

14. Deplores the use of printed, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and of any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards Islam or any religion;

First of all, there are vast numbers of jihadi videos inciting violence, xenophobia or related intolerance. But, maybe their loophole is that it isn’t inciting violence against a religion – it’s inciting violence against the “kafir”. Further, people should be willing to accept intolerance and discrimination against ideas. I am intolerant towards the ideas that slavery or female circumcision should be allowed.

15. Invites the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to continue to report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all rights to the Council at its ninth session;

“Islamophobia” is a word they love to throw around. If you don’t like Islam, it’s not their fault – it’s your fault. And if you don’t like America and its foreign policy? That’s Americaphobia. See? It’s not America that’s at fault – it’s you and your irrational fear. Thus, the blame has been shifted.

Suppressing free speech against Islam has worked for over a thousand years, though, so maybe it’s just a case of “old habits are hard to break” meets “our world is increasingly interconnected”. The result being: “we need to shut-down criticism of Islam abroad, just as we’ve done in our own countries”.

March 28th Resolution: 7/36 “Mandate of the Special Rapporteur…” (passed 32-0 with 15 abstentions). Excerpts (bold is mine):

4. Requests the Special Rapporteur, within the framework of his/her mandate:

(d) To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account articles 19 (3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression;

The text legitimizes the concept of “abuse of the right of freedom of expression”. Not surprisingly, these resolutions have been roundly condemned. While the story hasn’t gotten much press, at least the US, EU, and human rights organizations are complaining about it. Not very often that you can get right-wing American nationalists, the EU, and human rights organizations around the world to all condemn the same thing.

The EU complains, and Saudi Arabia plays the victimization card:

EU countries, including France, Germany and Britain, voted against. Previously EU diplomats had said they wanted to stop the growing worldwide trend of using religious anti-defamation laws to limit free speech… The EU said, “International human rights law protects primarily individuals in their exercise of their freedom of religion or belief, not religions or beliefs as such.”

Saudi Arabia said, “Maybe Islam is one of the most obvious victims of aggressions under the pretext of freedom of expression.”

“It is regrettable that there are false translations and interpretations of the freedom of expression,” the Saudi delegation told the council, adding that no culture should incite to religious hatred by attacking sacred teachings. (Link)

Arab and Muslim countries defended Tuesday a resolution they pushed through at the United Nations to have the body’s expert on free speech police individuals and news media for negative comments on Islam.

The United States, Canada and some European countries criticized the role reversal for Kenyan legal expert Ambeyi Ligabo, who has reported to the global body on measures by dictatorships and repressive governments to restrict free speech.

“The resolution adopted attempts to legitimize the criminalization of expression,” said Warren W. Tichenor, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. [It] seeks to impose “restrictions on individuals rather than to emphasize the duty and responsibility of governments to guarantee, uphold, promote and protect human rights.”

Terry Cormier, a member of the Canadian delegation, said, “The job of a special rapporteur is not to police the action of individuals.”

Pakistan’s ambassador, Masood Khan, speaking on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, denied the resolution would limit free speech. It only tries to make freedom of expression responsible, he said. (Link)

From a protest letter signed by 40 Human Rights Organizations:

We, the Undersigned, are deeply concerned that the proposed amendment undermines the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, at a time when it most needs protection and strengthening. (Link)

International Freedom of Expression Exchange Members Condemn UN Resolutions Supporting Limits on Free Speech:

The top UN rights body passed two resolutions last week that limit freedom of expression rather than protect it, say IFEX members, even further undermining its mandate.

Despite objections from 40 rights organisations from around the world led by ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 28 March that turns the Special Rapporteur on free expression into a “prosecutor”.

Critics say the amendment will help to justify censorship and the stifling of dissent. “The change to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on free expression is dramatic. It turns someone who is supposed to defend freedom of opinion into a prosecutor whose job is to go after those who abuse this freedom,” says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), one of the 40 organisations who appealed to the council not to amend the rapporteur’s mandate.

The argument against the resolutions is that religious believers have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs and are protected as such in international law. But they cannot expect their religion to be free from criticism. “The states chose to focus their efforts on protecting religion itself, not the believers and not freedom of religion,” says ARTICLE 19. (Link)

On the upside, the UN resolution has no “teeth” – it can’t enforce anything, although it does play a role as a kind of “conscience” and adds legitimacy to Islamic ideas of suppressing free speech when it comes their religion. The resolution also sends the Special Rapporteur off doing the completely unnecessary work of reporting on “abuses” of freedom of speech.

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Yes, gas prices are high, but have you ever stopped to ask, “What can I do about it?” Probably not. Religion – which has a long track record of solving the world’s problems – is about to solve yet another problem through the power of prayer. That’s right: pray for lower gas prices. Or, at least, that’s what some people seem to think:

At a Shell gas station in Washington, Rocky Twyman and an unusual group of activists were mad as hell about soaring fuel prices.

“Someone’s making a lot of money and it’s really, really wrong,” added Twyman, who founded the Prayer at the Pump movement last week to seek help from a higher power to bring down fuel prices, because the powers in Washington haven’t.

The half-dozen activists — Twyman, a former Miss Washington DC, the owner of a small construction company and two volunteers at a local soup kitchen — joined hands, bowed their heads and intoned a heartfelt prayer.

“Lord, come down in a mighty way and strengthen us so that we can bring down these high gas prices,” Twyman said to a chorus of “amens”.

“We’ll have lower gas prices, we’ll have lower gas prices…” they sang.

At the weekend, Twyman had led a group of around 200 people in prayer at pumps in San Francisco, where gas is touching the four-dollars-a-gallon mark.
(Link to the full article)

[ via the Reasonable Doubts podcast ]

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The Guardian: Teenager faces prosecution for calling Scientology ‘cult’

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word “cult” to describe the Church of Scientology.

The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion.

Officers confiscated a placard with the word “cult” on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church’s £23m headquarters near St Paul’s cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was “abusive and insulting”.

Writing on an anti-Scientology website, the teenager facing court said: “I brought a sign to the May 10th protest that said: ‘Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.’

“‘Within five minutes of arriving I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use that word, and that the final decision would be made by the inspector.”

A policewoman later read him section five of the Public Order Act and “strongly advised” him to remove the sign. The section prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

[ Update: the British police have dropped charges against the kid carrying the “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.” sign. ]

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Pretty cool talk by Joshua Klein on the intelligence of Crows. Their brain-to-body weight ratio is about the same as chimpanzees, but they’re much smaller, so it’s surprising just how smart they are. I’m guessing that their brains are much better organized than primates (including us) – and that’s the reason they can pack so much brain power in such a small space.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.ted.com posted with vodpod

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(As posed by a friend of mine)
Argument: “How can something as tasty and delicious as bacon exist if God doesn’t exist?”

Rebuttal: “If Christianity is true, then the Judeo-Christian God exists. Judaism prohibits the eating of pig. A loving God would not create something as tasty and delicious as bacon and then prohibit eating it. Therefore, the Judeo-Christian God does not exist.”

Corollary: Islamic law prohibits the eating of bacon, therefore, the God of Islam does not exist.

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