Thursday, 18 December 2014

Top Cleric In "Secular" Turkey "Roughing It" In Taxpayer-Funded Mercedes

By Cha già José from Vienna, Austria (Mercedes-Benz S500) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Turkish emperor president Tayyip Erdoğan may have a shiny new 1,000 room half-billion dollar palace, but he's not the only one in Turkey who's getting shiny things.

The religious clerics have it pretty sweet there too. Not only do they get to advise the government about banning naughty bits in biology text books and call out lip-o-suction whenever they see it, they also get gifted shiny new cars!
Mehmet Gormez, the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanet in Turkish, will soon be cruising in a Mercedes s500, worth some 350,000 euros ($435,000), the Hurriyet newspaper reported Saturday.
Gomez was totally cool with the press divulging his four-wheeled indulgence because he got a really good deal on it -- using public funds.
Diyanet did not deny the reports, but said in a statement that the cars had been bought through state tenders and the cost was less than estimated by the press.
Things are not quite as nice for the senior officials of this government-funded religious body, but they still get flashy new foreign cars.
Diyanet, whose budget is funded by taxpayers, bought another 14 Toyota cars for its senior officials, the newspaper said, noting that they previously rode in the more modest Renault Symbol.
Apparently, Gomez has even nicer wheels than the Pope, who was driven in a Renault Symbol, which vaguely resembles a K-Car to me.

People apparently took to Twitter to denounce this extravagance as not Muslim. That might be the case, but it seems to me like, inside Turkey at least, what's Muslim or not is likely to be determined by the guy behind the wheel of this flashy new automobile.

Mississauga City Council Keeps Illegal Lord's Prayer Knowing Full Well They're Breaking the Law

Derek Gray addressing Mississauga City Council. (source)
Last week, I posted about Mississauga resident Derek Gray who was called to address his city council about stopping the reciting of the Lord's Prayer. He had been invited there after he had sent a formal complaint about this illegal practice. Well, before he even got a chance to say anything, this happened.
Yet even before Gray made his presentation it was clear at least one member of council was in favour of maintaining the status quo. After standing to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the start of the meeting, Mayor Bonnie Crombie commented it was nice to begin the session seeking spiritual guidance. There were murmurs of assent from those in attendance.
Skip to around five minutes into the video to see this. They held off saying the prayer -- a tradition likely introduced by the last mayor -- until the day on which they had invited Derek to speak.

Derek got his chance to speak -- but not without the mayor interrupting him to point out that the clerk would rather not see all those prayer supporters waiving about their placards (30 minute mark). They waited for this very moment, as if they were pointing out to Derek and the secularists in the room just how minority a position they held. Out of all the speakers that day, Derek's five minutes or so absolutely needed to be interrupted immediately.
A large number of supporters in favour of keeping the prayer were at city hall for the debate, some holding signs urging councillors to maintain the tradition. The meeting had to be briefly interrupted by the mayor who let the audience know that the signs were not permitted.
He was not phased by this though. He calmly and clearly pointed out that 40% or more of Mississauga residents are either non-Christian or non-religious.  He spelled out for them how obviously exclusive this tradition (of government privileging of Christianity) is. Included in his talk was how the Lord's Prayer specifically is clearly illegal in Ontario and how a similar Quebec case is now before the Supreme Court. The council, however, is apparently uninterested in following laws which inconvenience them. I wonder how many other laws they will ultimately break?

He was accompanied by members of the Canadian Secular Alliance (who are arguing before the court and the Halton Peel Humanists.
Gray, 36, said councillors reciting the prayer was exclusionary considering that, according to data from the 2011 National Household Survey, about 40 per cent of the city identify as non-Christians. He also called the practice illegal in Ontario, referencing a 1999 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that concluded it went against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (source)
The reaction to Derek's talk was silence.

Immediately afterward, came two ridiculously lame defenses of the prayer: it's a tradition (Mississauga was established as a town in 1968!) and mob rule (apparently the majority of people would prefer to force the minority to shut up and listen to their invocation.)  We were treated to the usual course of abstract concepts like Canada being grounded in its traditions.

Incidentally, women were begrudgingly given the right to vote during the Great War in Ontario. This also broke tradition.

The pro-prayer speakers drew unanimous applause.

Several other councilors gave mealy mouthed excuses for keeping the prayer in council. This included some War on Christmas type whining about how they cannot say Merry Christmas while representing the city anymore.

Only one councilor bravely stood against keeping the prayer -- Ward 5's Carolyn Parrish (45 minute mark), a Catholic. She chose to remain seated during the prayer and drew early ire from good Christian tweeters instantly. I was able to transcribe her entire statement to the council:
Well, I want to particularly thank Derek Gray for coming. You can tell by the audience that he's in the minority.

I want to speak very briefly about my childhood. I went to a school called Fairbank Memorial Public School; and every morning we said the Lord's Prayer and three Jewish kids were escorted out of the class and the door was closed behind them.

I, as a Roman Catholic, was under threat from my mother: "Do not say the last part of the Lord's Prayer, because that's Protestant and God will strike you dead."

One of those three Jewish kids was my best friend and I said to her one day, "How do you feel about being put out in the hall?' She said, "I feel terrible. I feel embarrassed. I hate people asking me why I'm out in the hall. " and I said, "Why don't your parents call the school?" and she said, "Because we don't want to cause more problems. We're already embarrassed enough."

I moved out to Etobicoke when I was in grade five and the practice didn't seem to bear fruit out here. There wasn't  much going on the school here, they didn't do it. I forgot the issue. When the mayor says -- and our old mayor said, -- "Join me if you wish to do so", if you don't do it the threat and the implication and the embarrassment are there, still.

I've already received two tweets on my Blackberry; that I didn't stand for the Lord's Prayer today: "Now we know what her beliefs are," and one good Christian said, "We're gonna have to work on this and we're gonna have to shame her." So, the idea of 'if you wish to do so', that doesn't work. The herd mentality makes people stand up, or the fear of embarrassment, or the fear of being different. So, I don't agree with it.

I don't believe, on this council, Mr. Gray, you're gonna get a vote against it, but you're absolutely right. It's illegal, and this is a legal body that creates bylaws and upholds the law. So, if we continue to break this law, the Supreme Court will have something to do with it. It's before the Supreme Court right now. So, just keep your fingers crossed, that they come up with a decision that's good for all the people in this country.

And remember, when you work on the Ford line, they don't stop the car process to say a prayer before you get going. This is supposed to be a work place. This isn't a place for prayer. And yes, to all those who ask, I am a Christian, I am a Roman Catholic, I do pray, but it's a private thing for me and I don't want to impose my beliefs on anyone else. So it will be fun to watch the Twitter-sphere today, if any of you tweet, you should watch how I get lambasted.
Can Mississauga vote Parrish in next time?

Perhaps due to Carolyn's talk, the council decided to do the praying seated so that nobody will feel centred out or embarrassed if they don’t participate.

Naturally, this will also make any sort of dissent from the practice virtually invisible. They can simply remain seated, like the herd, and shut the hell up. Any visible disagreement to the majority will only make people uncomfortable and awkward feeling anyway.

Ironically, on the very same day as snubbing its nose at secularists, this new council made a press release about how they wished to establish a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee!
Mississauga City Council approved a recommendation to establish the City of Mississauga’s first Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee (DIAC).  According to the Terms of Reference introduced earlier in the week by Mayor Bonnie Crombie at Governance Committee, the goal of the committee is to “ensure the City’s Master Plans…are executed with an emphasis on improving diversity and fostering greater inclusion of all residents and stakeholders.”
Now, isn't that grand? Perhaps we can offer some feedback to this committee. These meetings are also open to the public. I wonder if there are any lawyers who could advise residents on what rights and civic duties they have to point out illegal activity -- in city hall.

The end of the second session of the day was met with boisterous calls for a Merry Christmas. This was met with a single call adding 'and Happy Hanukkah'. I suppose, like the prayer, that exclusively Christian statement just wasn't inclusive enough.

Show your support for Carolyn Parrish's brave speech by tweeting her. Let Mayor Crombie know how you feel (in a civilized manner, please) by tweeting her.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Outrage: Saudi Cleric Lets His Wife Show Her Face On TV!

I never thought I would be writing this, but a Saudi cleric has apparently expressed an interest in women's equality. Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamedi, who is apparently a former president of the brutal Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca, appeared on Saudi television with his wife... she spoke... with her entire face showing (video)... laughing and smiling(!) The Sheikh also issued a fatwa that women need not wear any face covering at all.
“The Prophet did not order women to cover their faces. Wearing make up is allowed,” he told Badria al-Bishr, female host of the television programme.
It turns out he issued the freedom fatwa last February. It also turns out that he's also come out for mixed gender prayer and sees nothing wrong with listening to music.
Saudi cleric and former president of the commission for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice branch in Makkah, Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamdi, has challenged those who oppose his opinions on permitting the mixing of genders, listening to music and for saying that Islam doesn’t restrict Muslims to pray in group. 
This may seem trivial, but in the context of what I've seen so far with Saudi Arabia, they are downright revolutionary. In Saudi Arabia, women's faces are almost never seen in public.

Could this be a sign that things may be getting better in Saudi society?
“Happy now? Every mobile phone now has a picture of your wife, you cuckold,” said one outraged post on Twitter.
On Twitter, some called Ghamidi a “filthy p*mp” for allowing his wife to appear on television without a face cover, while others slammed these views by saying they are disrespectful to the majority of Muslims, of all sects, that don’t see the veil as a religious requirement.
Right, so perhaps not everyone is ready for this. It is a small step towards normalization though.

Irrational Beliefs Have Real World Consequences

By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There has been another case of parents attempting to faith heal their child. Calgary fundamentalist Seventh Day Adventist couple Jennifer Clark and Jeromie Clark withheld proper medical treatment to their infant son after malnourishing it. The baby died in the hospital from a condition which could have been easily treated if caught sooner.
An autopsy found the child was suffering from a staph infection that was complicated by malnutrition and as a result, the infection was untreatable.
This tragedy keeps repeating itself. At the risk of coming off as an insensitive I-told-you-so, I'll repeat a little of my reaction to another case of a religious family letting a member of their own die due to misguided and delusional blind religious faith.
Again, I wonder how this would have gone down if it were a child instead of the father -- and if the family were of a minority religion or no religion at all (kooky alien cult, etc.). I think this could have turned out quite differently.
My above comment was about Kaling Wald, who believed that prayer would heal her husband's seriously infected foot and then believed that prayer would resurrect him from the dead. Neither worked.

Well, it turns out that this was a repetition of history. Last week, the Clarks were arrested after their infant child wasn't strong enough to be treated for a staph infection. An over the top religiously-motivated diet left him extremely malnourished. They even hid their son's declining health until someone ultimately forced them to bring him to a hospital. No doubt, the child suffered horribly.
“We have no indication that he (the infant) had seen a doctor since his birth and the child was not born in hospital,”  said S/Sgt. Andrus. “And the family took steps to conceal his condition from family members. And it was only after the realization by a family member that the infant was sick [that] they were advised to take him to hospital.”
It apparently took a long time in this case for the authorities to bring about charges against the couple.
Police say the investigation was a long and complicated process, which is why it took time to get the results.
No exact indication about why it was so long and complicated, but the other case seemed to be difficult as well, perhaps due to the religious angle.
“It’s an extremely sad case . . . she truly believed her husband was going to be resurrected from the dead, even after six months,” said assistant Crown attorney Janet Booy.
In the case of the adult victim, the children were left with the mother, even after she admitted that she still believed wholeheartedly in the power of prayer and in resurrection. Thankfully, in this case of the infant, the surviving children were removed at the onset of the investigation and are being cared for elsewhere. I fail to see how one is any less potentially dangerous than the other.

Conservative Government 'Cherry-Picking' Syrian Refugees Based on Religion

A cloudy day at the Canadian Parliament. By Monocletophat123 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
There's a controversy that's been brewing in Ottawa about the Conservative government's response to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, and it's not just their incredibly delayed response.

Conservatives’ Syria refugee response labelled as ‘discrimination’

It seems like our government declared that they favor refugees certain religious persuasions. I'll give you one guess which religion is not being discriminated against. Did you guess Christian?
Facing questions from the NDP in the House of Commons on Friday, the parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration was unapologetic when he confirmed religious minorities, who have fled Syria’s brutal civil war and the spread of the militant group ISIS, will be the first priority when it comes to bringing Syrian refugees to Canada.
Remember, this is the government that brought us a special agency (ORF) just to stick up for the rights of religious people. So far, they've only muttered hollow promises about protecting anyone who is not religious. In fact, the minister of Foreign Affairs has even come out saying atheists do not deserve their human rights to be protected as much as religious people. Well, it appears that the wrong religion also is unworthy.

When it comes to Syria, statements like the above imply that the government will be biased against people of the majority Muslim religion.
Sunni Muslims account for nearly three-quarters of all Syrians, according to the CIA Factbook, while other Muslim groups such as Shias, Alawis and Ismailis represent another 16 per cent of the population. Christians and a small number of Jews represent the remaining 10 per cent.

“Obviously that continues to linger as the concern here,” said Amnesty International Canada secretary-general Alex Neve. “That this in some way, shape or form is about the fact that the majority of refugees fleeing Syria are Muslim.”
This goes to show just how divisive bringing religion into selection criteria for refugees can be! NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar -- to whom I've written about the ORF before -- pointed out the danger of bringing religion into this situation well.
“The barrel bombs that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad has been dropping do not discriminate whether you’re Sunni, Shia, Christian or another ethnic group,” NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said Friday. So the question is, why is this government discriminating when it comes to Syrian refugees?”
The UN has even echoed this sentiment. Religion should not be brought into this at all!
But the United Nations has resisted Canada’s request, as its policy is to help the most vulnerable, no matter their religious background. This includes families led by women, torture victims and those with serious medical conditions.
Truth be said, it's normal procedure for Canada to let the United Nations determine who is most at risk. So who is this government trying to please?
Normally, Canada would defer, broadly, to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to identify those it feels are most vulnerable and in need of protection.
This is disgusting and it's tarnishing our reputation internationally as well. It makes us look like a nation of petty religious bigots. Of course these minorities are at risk, but so are many others. Is one life worth more than another simply because of which metaphysics they believe?
Religious and ethnic minorities aren’t the only groups the UN deems to be at risk. Any Syrian, Sunnis included, can be at risk if he or she opposes the Damascus government, its armed foes or the Islamic State jihadists, depending on where the person lives. Anyone who opposes Sharia law in areas under extremist control is at risk. So are women, children, journalists, human rights activists and many others. It’s a long list.
You can add atheists to that list as well, I'm sure. You can bet your last dollar that this government and their Office of Religious Freedoms will not lift a finger to help.

Can we vote these people out, please?

Monday, 15 December 2014

Cairo Police Shut Down 'Atheist Cafe' Due to 'Satanic Rituals'

The Egyptian government has been funny, what with them knowing precisely how many atheists there are in the country or attempting to ban televised belly dancing competitions. It's because recently the rhetoric has been ramping way up against atheists, who have been identified multiple times as the greatest challenge to Egyptian society which must be stamped out.

Well, the saber rattling seems to have given way to action this week. Cairo police raided and shut down an atheist cafe.
Egyptian security forces have stormed what they described as the "atheists' cafe" in downtown Cairo, raising fears of a renewed crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.

The popular cafe, located in the capital's Abdeen neighbourhood, was a nest for "Satan worshippers", according to Gamal Mohie, chief of the local municipality.
None of the authorities responsible were able to explain why people who do not believe in supernatural deities would ever be worshiping the devil -- having rituals and wild dancing apparently!
"There was no sign reading 'atheists' cafe' outside, as nobody would put up such a public announcement. However, it was popularly known as a place for Satan worship, rituals and dances. There were also Satanic drawings at the entrance," Mohie said, adding that the owner was arrested during the raid.
Right. If these pictures are any indication, it looks like there were Nazi swastikas drawn by someone outside of the entrance. These police are either very confused or are just looking for any excuse to either oppress potential political opposition or to cause a diversion from their own performance.

A story over at Morocco World News describes the situation further.
Egypti’s Youm7 quoted the head of Hay Al Abidin Jamal Mohi as saying that the café was located on Avenue Al Falaki in downtown Cario, and “it was a resort for atheists and Satanists who were spreading wrong ideas about religion.”

Jamal Mohi went on to add that local authorities decided to destroy the café after they received many requests from residents who live the café.

“Residents said that each midnight, atheists and Satanists in the café would start performing sort of satanic rituals,” he explained.

Mohi also revealed that the local authorities destroyed the café amid local women’s ululations of joy.
Atheist activist Ayman Ramzy sees this all as a political ploy to divert Egyptians from meaningful questions of government policy.
Ramzy went on to add that local authorities should worry about the critical issues that Egypt is facing, such as the growing number of homeless children, rather than violating the individual freedoms of Egyptian citizens.
Just recently a French journalist and friends were detained and interrogated in a Cairo cafe for discussing politics after a woman overheard their conversation and contacted the police.

It seems to me that things are getting progressively worse for freedom of expression in Egypt for atheists and anyone who may have an opinion at odds with the official State sanctioned status quo.

Help Kasese Humanist Primary Students Learn - Without Intestinal Parasites

Around 3.75 IQ points are lost per parasite infection and an MIT study “found that deworming was by far the most cost-effective way to increase primary school participation.” Kasese Humanist Primary School student (source).
I truly believe there is no greater force for positive change in the world than bringing knowledge and critical thinking to young minds through dogma-free evidence-based education. However, no mind can flourish if the body withers. This is why my first fundraising project for the Kasese Humanist Primary School was an egg-providing chicken coop.

Intestinal parasites, which are a common problem in the Kasese region's primary schools, work directly against this goal.
Worm infections interfere with nutrient uptake; can lead to anemia, malnourishment and impaired mental and physical development; and pose a serious threat to children’s health, education, and productivity. Infected children are often too sick or tired to concentrate at school, or to attend at all.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Greek Justice Minister Using 'Religion' & 'Traditions' to Denounce Same-Sex Marriage

Athens Gay Pride 2009. By Grzegorz Wysocki (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Greek Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou apparently made an unexpectedly forceful pronouncement recently that same-sex marriage in the country will be absolutely impossible. He's so upset with the situation, that he just refuses to talk about it. Perhaps he's locked himself into the bathroom.
“I won’t discuss it, I can’t conceive of it,” the conservative politician told Mega TV. “Besides, the convention of human rights forbids it. When it speaks about marriage it speaks [of marriage] between a man and woman. We are a country that respects traditions, respects human nature, and it’s not possible at least with this government and this ministry, to permit marriage.”