Thursday, 26 February 2015

Wagner Opera 'Breaches Rights' of Christians By 'Offending Them'

Scene from 2008 Barcelona production of Wagner's opera Tannhäuser where Venus is kicking some bloody ass. (source)
Note: This post is likely NSFW unless you work at a really cool office.

Russian Orthodox Church clerics got offended by Apple's logo, so it stands to reason they would go ape shit over an edgy modern interpretation Wagner's most romantic opera, Tannhäuser.
The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love, a theme running through most of Wagner's mature work.
In the past decade or so, mature work has translated to lots of skimpy dresses, full nudity and a great deal of highly erotic dancing -- what with smearing paint all over them naked selves etc. Generally, not the sort of thing you'd expect a Russian Orthodox cleric to be at all onboard with. Personally, it may have just sparked a new interest in opera with me.

A recent German production with intense Holocaust overtones was so controversial and provocative that some people in the audience asked for medical help. Now what I've heard of Russian director Timofey Kulyabin's new production it seems pretty tame in comparison -- no worse than what I've seen by 1970s Argentinian filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowsky.

That said, the production got Russian Orthodox regional head Metropolitan Tikhon pissed off. He filed a formal complaint with authorities against the director and apparently court proceedings are now underway.
Prosecutors said the director, who last year won Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask award, “publicly desecrated the object of religious worship in Christianity – the image of Jesus Christ in the Gospels”.
Not that this should at all matter, but rumour has it that the cleric has a problem with a particular scene featuring Jesus.
The rendition features a scene where the Roman goddess Venus promises eternal love to Jesus Christ, were he to agree to stay with her in a grotto. But he rejects the offer and destroys the grotto with the help of the Virgin Mary, according to a summary on the theater's website.
Or maybe it was just the poster? That would be so Charlie Hebdo.
The bishop said that the show “humiliates believers' feelings and the Orthodox Church, and incites religious hatred”. However, it remains uncertain whether he had seen the performance or was responding to a poster for the performance in which Jesus is depicted crucified between a woman’s legs.
Kulyabin's version of the opera features a scene where Venus, goddess of love, attempts to seduce Jesus. (source)
Of course, in a free and secular society, the bishop would be quite welcomed to express his predictable disgust with such a production as vocally as he likes. Just as the director would be perfectly within his rights to put on such a production. However, we're talking about Russia here, where religious people have a right to not be offended. It's the law.
In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a bill which made "offending religious feeling" a crime carrying a jail sentence. The move came a year after Pussy Riot performed their "Punk Prayer" in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church, which saw two of the women end up behind bars. 
You see, this is a cautionary tale for all countries that still have blasphemy laws, because that's precisely what this is. The good bishop tells us his story.
“I wrote (to prosecutors) that Tannhauser breaches the rights of believers ... Believers are offended, so to say,” Tikhon said at a news conference this month.
There you have it. In Russia, religious believers have the right to never be offended. If they are, they can cry out blasphemy! and the State will come charging in and arrest anyone who dares utter anything at all challenging to the religious status quo.

This law apparently carries a fine of 200,000 rubles ($3,165 USD) as an administrative offence. However, jail time has also been thrown about as a possible punishment -- up to three years.

Ridiculous, right?

Canada still has a punishment of up to two years for blasphemy. Don't think it couldn't happen here. Check out the new End Blasphemy Laws coalition of groups who want to work for a world where prude clergymen cannot determine what we're allowed to see as adults.

Saudi Religious Police Arrest Men For Dancing at a Birthday Party

The Saudi religious police (Haia) have once again saved civilization. This time, they burst into an apartment and arrested men for celebrating a birthday party.
The detained men were found in a “compromising situation in their dance and shameful movements” an official said. A birthday cake and candles were also discovered in the residence.

Even more worrying for the official were the men’s untraditional hairstyles and dress, which he urged parents to monitor as they can apparently “lead to immorality and even homosexuality”.
It's the hairstyles -- at birthday parties. In typical fashion, nobody knows who the men were, how many there were, their ages or what will become of them -- other than they've been sent to police for investigation.

Many Saudis mocked this action on Twitter and here's a solitary remark about this on the Saudi Gazette coverage of the incident:

So funny as always!
Good for Haia! Western Muslim audience always enjoys these entertaining news items about them abusing women and men for harmless activities or clothing, and stories of Arab men crying or screaming because a women does not wear a bag with a slit for her eyes...
Western Muslims and Western atheists, alike. It would be hilarious if it didn't ruin people's lives.

Here's Mufti Ismail Menk -- who also believes gay people are filthy and their consenting sex act is tantamount to rape -- talking about what a drag it is to convince his kids they cannot have birthday parties because it's not properly Muslim. Skip ahead to 1:49 for an interesting theory about what the candles on the cake is really all about.

Interesting. The folks over at Wikipedia also present some other fascinating theories. Does Menk seriously believe that anyone in our modern age actually thinks of the candles as meaning anything more than a symbol of how many years old the person is? I mean, really.

I wonder how he feels about using the star and crescent symbol after the Jews, Moabites and practically everyone else have had their way with it?

Are we just against anyone having any fun outside of a purely Muslim religious context?

It's okay, I don't have a problem with people not celebrating birthday parties because of their religions. Might I just suggest that arresting them may be a tiny bit of an overreach and a violation of their human rights?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What Happens To Canadian Politicians Who Say They Don't Believe In Evolution

My favourite part of the video is when the sound person smiles and actually has to look away to deal when Ontario Conservative MPP says that his denial of evolution is his personal stance. (source)
We all know what the dismal situation with evolution denying politicians in America. What happens if a politician comes out against evolution in Ontario, Canada? Well, here's one who did - Ontario Tory MPP Rick Nicholls:

Don't you just love how the reporters, who apparently could hardly believe it, did their jobs and followed up on his answer by more or less pointing out that his views went against established science and reality? Take a look at the reaction of the sound technician in the lower right when Nicholls said it was his personal reality stance that evolution was false -- it looks to me like she had to look the other way so as to not lose it on national television.

It's music to my ears and reassures me that in Canada it could just be the current government and a small segment of religious zealots who are making problems. Maybe the rest is salvageable?

Several other MPPs have already distanced themselves from Nicholls because anyone who would throw out such a clearly established scientific theory is clearly a loon!
“What he said yesterday in the house is obviously not party policy,” said a perturbed Clark. “I met with him yesterday and indicated that if I was asked he certainly didn’t profess party policy and he spoke on his own.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, who is running for party leader, distanced herself from the comments by Nicholls, a supporter of her main leadership rival Patrick Brown, the Conservative MP for Barrie.

“I don’t agree with the views that were expressed with respect to evolution,” Elliott told reporters at Queen’s Park.
In the video interview above, the reporter asked Nicholls if other Conservatives didn't believe in evolution. The reply was that the reporters should ask the politicians directly. I think the media really ought to focus on this so Ontarians can vote them out for being out of touch from reality.

via Sandwalk

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Poll: Canadians Support Charlie Hebdo's Right to Publish Muhammed Cartoons

An Angus Reid poll has found that a strong majority of Canadians support Charlie Hebdo's right to publish cartoons of Muhammed. This poll was commissioned by the National Post, the only Canadian English newspaper I know of with the intestinal fortitude to published the cartoons.

Jen Gerson at the National Post writes:
Although the paper was notoriously controversial, fully 70% of Canadian respondents said that Charlie Hebdo was right to publish the cartoons that eventually led to the massacre. Further, Canadians overwhelmingly believe that freedom of speech is more important than kowtowing to religious sensibilities. By a ratio of five-to-one, respondents said they prioritized freedom of speech — at least to some degree — over respecting religious feeling.
Apparently, only 56% of respondents thought it was advisable for Canadian media to publish the images -- which is still more than half and I wonder if that number would be higher if the Canadian media (outside of Quebec) weren't so damn chicken livered. How much of an effect did it have on people when the media kept making excuses and reminding us every 15 minutes how horribly inappropriate or reckless it was to publish the cartoons? The article acknowledged that Quebec publications (minus the English ones) were very much more likely to have run the cartoons.

Another interesting finding was the correlation between higher education and support for Hebdo. It also seems like people who identified with either end of the political spectrum -- clear Conservatives vs. Progressives -- seemed to more strongly support the publication of the cartoons.
The results also suggest that older men and those who were very familiar with the attacks were more likely to support Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish. More educated respondents were also more likely to show support for Charlie Hebdo. Those who voted for either the Conservatives or the NDP were also equally likely to say that it was right of the satirical newspaper to publish the cartoons. Liberals were significantly less likely to agree.
You can see more detailed breakdowns at the Angus Reid results page.

I would theorize that the NDP crowd are more likely to be a Progressive secular crowd who deeply value freedom of speech -- although I did see many Progressives wrongly calling for a form of self-censorship lest we alienate an already vilified minority.

My cynical side cannot help but think that many Conservatives are happy to see any ridicule of non-Christian religion -- but to be honest, this is probably a small concentration of religious fundamentalist within their party. The article doesn't go into this.

These two political extremes were further reflected perhaps in when considering the provinces with the highest support for Charlie Hebdo: Leftist-Socialist Quebec and Rightwing-Capitalist Alberta:
In Quebec, fully 78% of respondents registered support for the magazine. Alberta came in second with 73%.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country is less certain, a mush in-between perhaps, which is why many vote Liberal.

You can read the full report here.

A Story of Human Rights Through Hair

Women walking down the street, pre-Revolution Iran (1972).
There's an interesting video released by Cut along with an article at Daily Life that eloquently portrays the effect of the Iranian (Theocratic Islamic) Revolution in the 1980s through hairstyles -- which is kind of neat.
Yet everything changed in the 1980s. When the Iranian revolution broke out in 1979, the status of women regressed. A lot of the rights they'd been granted were withdrawn and women were routinely imprisoned for violations of Iran's strict dress code. As a result, 1980s is eerily reminiscent of the 1910s, where the model wears a downcast expression and obediently tucks her hair beneath a black headscarf.

Since this time, women have struggled to regain lost rights and win a larger role in society. The Iranian Green Revolution in 2009 marked this ongoing battle for greater human and civil rights, reflected in her defiant expression, the war paint across her cheeks and a bright green headscarf with the front strands of her hair hanging loose around her face. Yes, the hijab remains, but it's more relaxed this time.

People still have low levels of human rights in Iran. Atheists there are driven underground for fear of jail or death.

Two Ways of Life: a middle-aged veiled woman sitting on the beach of the Caspian Sea, is a striking contrast to young bikini-clad girls from Tehran enjoying a weekend near Babolsar (August 23rd, 1971)  (source)