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Posts Tagged ‘secular’

An attack by Taliban gunmen in north-west Pakistan that wounded a 14-year-old who campaigned for girls’ rights

In Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 20:37

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley.

The president and prime minister have led condemnation of the attack.

Initial reports suggested she was out of danger, but there is growing concern over her condition with some reports saying she may need treatment abroad.

A Pakistani Taliban spokesman told the BBC they carried out the attack.

Ehsanullah Ehsan told BBC Urdu that they attacked her because she was anti-Taliban and secular, adding that she would not be spared.

In Uncategorized on June 22, 2012 at 13:29

On the front: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (El sueño de la razón produce monstruos) in English, Spanish and Russian languages. Originally a title of an etching made by the Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya. Etched between 1797–1799. On the back: “Dare to use your own intelligence! This is the battle-cry of the Enlightenment…” by Immanuel Kant – in English and Russian. For free-thinking people who share the views of Christopher Hitchens that we need a New Enlightement.

An interesting article on Syria:

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2012 at 11:34

Sectarian Violence Undermines Syrian Regime

Posted on Jun 17, 2012

By Juan Cole

The Syrian upheaval has gone through several stages. It began with relatively peaceful protests by crowds in a handful of small and medium-size cities outside the large metropolitan areas of Damascus and Aleppo. Severe repression by the national regime led some revolutionaries to turn to guerrilla tactics. The ruling Baath government subjected the quarters held by the Free Syrian Army to heavy artillery and tank assaults. More recently, as the rebellion continued to spread in small towns, the military has provided cover to death squads that have massacred civilians in an attempt to scare them into submission. The most frightening thing about this spiral of ever greater violence and brutality is that some of the now-hardened lines have been sectarian.

The Syrian army assault on the rebellious Sunni village of al-Haffa in Latakia province, which has left it a ghost town, exemplifies this move toward religious war. Latakia is heavily Alawite, and protecting members of this religious group from Sunni dominance is one of the latent functions of the regime. The upper echelons of the ruling Baath Party and its officer corps are dominated by the Alawite sect of Shiite Islam. Only about 10 percent of Syrians are Alawite. On the order of 70 percent of Syrians belong to the rival Sunni branch of Islam. (Many Syrian Sunnis are secularists.) The car bomb that recently damaged the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zaynab in Damascus may have primarily targeted nearby Intelligence Ministry buildings, but those who detonated it may have been happy enough to hurt Shiite religious sensibilities.

The death squads, Shabiha, deployed by the regime against the towns of Houla and Mazraat al-Qubair in recent weeks are drawn from the Alawi sect. Many of the Sunnis being targeted have been organized by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. Houla and Mazraat al-Qubair are largely Sunni hamlets surrounded by powerful Alawi towns.

The black-garbed Shabiha, or “ghost gangs,” began as criminal organizations in the Alawite-dominated port of Latakia in the 1970s after the Alawite Assad family came to power in Syria, and some of its members are drawn from the Assad and related Deeb and Makhlouf clans. Although the groups were curbed in the 1990s after they became too arrogant even for the Assads to countenance, they re-emerged in 2011 as paramilitary adjuncts to the army and security police. In Alawite areas, they have been accused of detaining Syrians with Sunni names at checkpoints and doing away with them.

The Baath Party was founded in the 1940s by two Christian intellectuals who advocated a secular Arab nationalism. In some ways, the “Resurrection,” or Baath, party was to resemble the Communist Party, but instead of championing the working class and being universal it would uplift ethnic Arabs and unite them to throw off the vestiges of Western, colonial domination. This attempt to subvert socialism with an appeal to essentially racist themes made the Baath an odd hybrid of fascism and Third-Worldism. Non-Arab minorities in Baath-ruled countries, such as the Kurds, often faced discrimination or worse.

Baathists came to power through coups in Syria and Iraq in the 1960s. Ironically, the Baath one-party state became a vehicle for well-organized minorities to take over the government. Thus, in Syria the Alawite Shiites dominated the Baath regime from 1970, whereas in Iraq control of the ruling Baath party was held by a Sunni clan from Tikrit (that of Saddam Hussein).

Syria’s Baath Party has lasted so long and attracted the loyalty of so many Syrians over the decades in part because it aided Syria’s transition from a rural, peasant country to an urban one. It carried out a land reform that redistributed land to peasants and liquidated the old big-landlord class. The Baathists built dams and irrigation works for farmers, earning the gratitude and support of many rural Sunni clans. Largely rural depot towns such as Deraa in the south near the Jordanian border were among the biggest beneficiaries of these Baath programs, and so were known as strong party backers, producing several high regime officials and officers.

Rural Syria has had a prolonged and severe drought, and the Baath government has not been good in this decade about managing water resources. Rural Sunni clans have suffered most from this water crisis.

A majority of Syrians now live in towns and cities, and their needs are different from those of their farming parents. The Baath Party’s reduction of fuel and other subsidies and encouragement of unaccountable big business have angered the urban population. (These policies, pushed by international banks and elites, are generally referred to as “Neoliberalism.”) Largely Sunni towns have seen high unemployment, especially in slums on outskirts full of former farmworkers forced to seek jobs in the cities, often unsuccessfully.

At its heart, the Syrian crisis is a conflict that pits the urban metropolises (Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia) that benefit from government largesse against the medium-size cities and rural towns that have suffered from drought and Neoliberal policies. It so happens that this divide also aligns, if unevenly, with sectarian cleavages, with the provincial cities and towns being mostly religiously conservative and Sunni, and the big-cities bastions of minority power and secular Sunni business classes dependent on the regime.

The Syrian government’s resort to Alawite death squads in recent weeks, however, has threatened the big-city alliance that has allowed the Baath to survive. The sight of Sunni women and children massacred by the Shabiha in Houla and Mazraat al-Qubair drove Sunni shopkeepers in the capital to instigate a general strike. Protests and small insurgencies are now taking place even in Damascus.

The regime of Bashar Assad squandered whatever good will it had in rural and small-town Syria by its heavy-handed repression of the protests. Among its few remaining assets was the support of Christian, Alawi and secular Sunni middle classes in the large cities, groups that fear the rise of Sunni fundamentalism, are disturbed by the decline of security for property, and benefit from Baath government licenses and contracts. The deployment of Shabiha death squads, however, has clearly pushed many of these former supporters into the opposition. It is now the regime that is threatening public security and fanning the flames of sectarian hatred. If the Syrian revolution finally succeeds, it will be because the Baath regime betrayed its commitments to secularism, socialism and public order, becoming in the eyes of the public just another sectarian mafia.

New Enlightenment

In Uncategorized on June 14, 2012 at 10:28

an article

New Enlightenment

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2012 at 06:05

FUTURE IS SECULAR shirt by #linandara

Societies without God are more benevolent

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2012 at 21:13

The pope’s visit to Britain has been the perfect excuse for many commentators to traduce secularism.

Writing sometime around the 10th century BC, the furious author of Psalm 14 thundered against those who say there is no God. “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” If the denunciations of wicked atheists coming from today’s apologists for religion are any guide, the spirit of Iron Age Israel is abroad in 21st-century Britain.

In advance of the pope’s visit, clergymen and commentators are deploying every variety of bogus argument against those who advocate the superiority of secularism. Edmund Adamus, director of pastoral affairs for the Catholic diocese of Westminster, led the way when he denounced the “wasteland” secularism produced. If he had been condemning the atheist tyrannies of communism and fascism, I would have no complaint. However, Adamus was not objecting to Cuba, China or North Korea, but to the wasteland of secular, democratic Britain “with its ever-increasing commercialisation of sex, not to mention its permissive laws advancing the ‘gay’ agenda”.

Rightwing columnists and, depressingly but predictably in these appeasing times, leftwing journalists have joined the moaning chorus. The arguments of Geoffrey Robertson QC and Professor Richard Dawkins that the cops had grounds to ask the pope to account for his church’s failure to stop the rape of children in its care drove them wild. “The hysterical and abusive nature of some of the attacks on the pope will do nothing but discredit secularism,” said Andrew Brown in the Guardian. “I accept, of course, that lots of secular humanists are tolerant and reasonable people,” says the more restrained and judicious Stephen Glover of the Mail. “But there is a hard core which embraces and promotes atheism with the blind fervour of religious zealots.”

Not all of those who condemn atheism are pious themselves, as the presence of journalists among their number suggests. Rather, they believe in piety for the masses and fear that without religion the lower orders will lose their moral bearings. “All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician and ridiculous to the philosopher,” said Lucretius. And behind many of the demands of today’s religious apologists that we “respect” Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and even the Scientology cult lies a desire to keep the plebs in their place by protecting their ridiculous but politically useful beliefs. Although I am proud to be on the board of the National Secular Society, Britain’s most urgently needed pressure group, I am not a militant atheist. I have seen too many vicars being moved by their Anglicanism to dedicate their lives to others to agree with Christopher Hitchens’s bald statement that “religion poisons everything”.

But the notion that in free countries atheism promotes intolerance and immorality is demonstrably false. Last year, Californian sociologist Phil Zuckerman responded with facts rather than witless abuse to claims from Christian psychologists and theologians that atheists were “selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeons”, “unnatural” or “just damn angry”. He pulled together the available evidence and found that the more atheists or agnostics a free society has the more moral it becomes.

Predictably, atheists were far more likely to be tolerant supporters of women’s rights and gay rights than believers. The pope, like militant Islamists, orthodox Jews and the ultras in every faith cannot see that struggles for female and homosexual emancipation are among the most moral causes of our age. But as believers in a sternly misogynist and homophobic god, they must want to be tough on crime.

If so, they should welcome the contribution that atheists make to promoting law and order. A study in the 1990s found that a meagre 0.2% of the US prison population were atheists. In America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates are among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.

True, there is some evidence to suggest that atheists and agnostics are more likely to engage in underage drinking and illicit drug use. But the wider conclusion on the links between crime and religious belief holds good: if you want safe streets, move to a godless neighbourhood.

Atheism and secularism, Zuckerman continued, are also correlated with higher levels of education and lower levels of prejudice not only against women and gays, but people from other ethnicities as well. For good measure, atheists were less likely to beat their children and more likely to encourage them to think independently.

In many US courtrooms, judges restrict or deny child custody rights to atheist parents. If they want children to grow up to be law-abiding citizens, and not end up back in court as juvenile delinquents, they should stand that policy on its head.

What applies at city and state level applies internationally. Sweden, the most secular country in the world, gives the highest proportion of its gross domestic product in aid. Of the top 10 aid donors, only the United States is a strongly religious country. Needless to add, the oil-rich and religion-saturated Iran and Saudi Arabia are nowhere near making the premier league of charitable nations, which should not be a surprise because Iran concentrates its overseas efforts on exporting terrorism, while Saudi Arabia uses its petrodollars to promote its brutal Wahhabi theology.

An easy point to make is that secular democrats do not stone women to death for adultery or murder Afghan teachers for the crime of teaching girls to read and write. But it is not entirely irrelevant to the argument about the papal visit. Robertson’s and Dawkins’s enemies can accuse them of being “hysterical” and “abusive” and in the grip of the “blind fervour of religious zealots” while knowing that secularists will not respond by trying to kill them. Ever since the ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie they have not dared use the same language about real abusive and hysterical zealots, who just might.

Not that I agree with Robertson and Dawkins that the police should arrest the pope. The best way for anyone caught up in religious crimes to make amends is to convert to secularism. The odds are that they will be better people for it.

Societies without God are more benevolent

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