Monthly Archives: January 2012

UK: How freedom goes

Joan Smith has a piece in the Independent about religious censorship of open debate in Britain, a supposedly free country. It is well written and argued, as Smith’s writing invariably is, but what distinguishes it is that it is the only defence of our liberties in the Sunday papers.

Consider the events of the past few days:

i) At Queen Mary, University of London students went to hear Anne Marie Waters speak on behalf of the One Law For All — a campaign to stop Sharia law afflicting British women. An angry young man entered the lecture theatre. He filmed the audience on his mobile, and told them he knew where they lived and would track them down if a single negative word was said about Muhammad. The organisers informed the police and the meeting cancelled.

ii) Secularists at University College, London, came under attack for publishing a cartoon on its Facebook page of ‘Jesus and Mo’ having a drink together. The Muslim group that wants to ban the image got a sympathetic hearing in the media, despite arguing openly for censorship. Extremist websites, meanwhile, reacted with the fanatical language that so often appears on such sites: ‘May Allah destroy these creatures worse than dogs,’ wrote one blogger. I heard on Thursday night that one of the UCL secularists had gone into hiding in fear of his life.

iii) Salman Rushdie was due to speak at the Jaipur Literary Festival, but had to pull out because of threats of violence. He now believes that the local police were complicit in the attempts to silence him. Rushdie is not being paranoid. Credible reports in the Indian press support him. Hari Kunzru read an extract from the Satanic Verses as a gesture of solidarity and then had to flee the country. (You can read his account here)

At least the Indian press covers the story. In Britain there is silence. As Joan asks:

‘Why hasn’t there been a furore about all these incidents? Why aren’t MPs and ministers insisting on the vital role of free speech? None of the people involved was threatening anybody, unlike the three Muslim extremists convicted two days ago of inciting hatred against homosexuals. It’s been left to organisations such as the National Secular Society – I’m an honorary associate – to say that a fundamental human right is being eroded in the name of avoiding “offence”.Most people in the UK don’t condone violence, but a worrying number think we should be careful around individuals with strong religious beliefs. This argument is mistaken, because it suggests that believers aren’t as capable of exercising, or under the same obligation to exercise, judgement and restraint as the rest of us.It’s also based on fear, tacitly acknowledging a link between demands for censorship and threats of violence. One often leads to the other, and it isn’t just atheists and secularists who should be very worried indeed about that.’

My latest You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom was published on Thursday. One critic complained that I lambasted liberal-minded people for their cowardice. He did not seem to doubt that they did bite their tongues for fear of violence, or of accusations of Islamophobia or some other kind of religious prejudice, but that the subject should be avoided. I am sorry but it cannot because it is self-censorship of the worst kind: the censorship that cannot admit it exists. Journalists, academics and authors turn away and pretend nothing is happening in case an admission of timidity tarnishes their image as fearless speakers of ‘truth to power’. The result is that this weekend Joan Smith is a lone voice rather than a singer in a chorus of disapproval.

I should not have to add that the people the liberal mainstream lets down are liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims who need help in their fight against theocratic oppression. In my book I quote Pascal Bruckner, who put it better than I ever could. ‘It is time to extend our solidarity to all the rebels of the Islamic world, non-believers, atheist libertines, dissenters, sentinels of liberty, as we supported Eastern European dissidents in former times. Europe should encourage these diverse voices and give them financial, moral and political support. Today there is no cause more sacred, more serious, or more pressing for the harmony of future generations. Yet our continent kneels before God’s madmen, muzzling and libelling free thinkers with suicidal heedlessness.’

Spectator | Nick Cohen | 22nd January 2012

A Rally to defend “Freedom of Expression” has been organised by One Law for All for Saturday 11th February 2012 in London, see details at the following URLs: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/hold-this-date-11-february-a-day-to-defend-free-expression/ and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/212823392145531/

 

 

 

 

Ireland: Catholic pressure on government to re-open Vatican embassy intensifies

The entrance to the Irish embassy at the Vatican Photo by clericalwhispers.blogspot.com

The Irish government is under pressure to abandon plans to close its embassy at the Vatican – from within Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s own Fine Gael party.

Backbenchers John O’Mahony, the former Mayo football manager, and Tom Hayes have both called on Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore to reverse the decision.

The government claimed cutbacks were behind the announcement late last year that the embassy at the Vatican would close.

At the time, relations between Church and State were at an all-time low after Kenny’s criticism of the Holy See’s attitude to child abuse cases as outlined in the Cloyne Report.

Builders are currently renovating the Vatican embassy to allow the transfer of staff and operations from the current embassy in Rome.

But opposition is mounting to the decision as deputies fear the Pope will abandon plans to attend the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin next summer in protest at the closure.

“The official line is, it is a matter for the church authorities to issue the invite. The church would invite him but the Pope has to feel he is welcome in Ireland and the Government is welcoming,” a source told the paper.

One proposal being mooted, according to the Irish Independent, is to have a lightly staffed Vatican Embassy share the building, the Villa Spada, on the outskirts of Rome.

Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes said: “An accommodation needs to be made. We need to deal with it.”
Prime Minister Kenny’s Mayo constituency colleague told the Independent that he also wants to see some movement.

“I don’t accept the argument on cost put forward for closing the embassy,” said O’Mahony.

“It is important to keep lines of communication open. I won’t be happy until I see it re-opening.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Gilmore, the Labour Party leader and deputy Prime Minister, is set to reject the calls for a u-turn however.

“No, that decision has been made and I don’t intend to reverse that. As part of the expenditure review that has been conducted, my department, like every other department, have had to look at the services that we have provided,” he told the Independent.

“We have decided to reduce by three the number of resident embassies that we have abroad. When economic circumstances improve, we can look at all that again.”

PATRICK COUNIHAN, IrishCentral, Monday 23rd January 2012

Happy birthday Peter! We salute you!

Peter Tatchell at his home in south London. Photograph: Richard Saker

It looks as if Robert Mugabe will die in his bed rather than in the prison cell where he so richly deserves to eke out his days. During his time as dictator of Zimbabwe, he has had just one intimation of the fear he has inspired in so many others.

On 30 October 1999, while Mugabe was visiting London, two men jumped in front of his car. A third stood behind, so the driver could not reverse away. A thin, neatly dressed Australian opened the passenger door. He held up his left hand, palm forward, to show that he was not carrying a gun. He laid his right hand on the tyrant’s shoulder and said: “Robert Mugabe, you are under arrest on charges of torture. I am now summoning the police.” Mugabe’s eyes popped, his jaw dropped and the blood drained from his face.

The police came, sure enough. But they showed their pinched priorities by arresting Peter Tatchell and his fellow gay activists. The moment is worth savouring, nevertheless. For a few seconds, Tatchell had succeeded in giving Mugabe a taste of how a just world would treat him.

Tatchell turns 60 this week. January 2012 also marks the 45th anniversary of his career as a human rights and gay rights activist. These labels have been so devalued I need to elaborate. Every respectable person claims to support human rights. In Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding’s Mr Darcy was no longer the wealthy landowner of Jane Austen’s imagination but a wealthy human rights lawyer.

Tatchell is no one’s idea of a good catch or reliable provider. He lives in some poverty and suffers for his beliefs. As for gay rights, when even the leader of the Conservative party finds it politic to legislate for gay marriage, homosexual liberation appears the most mainstream of causes. Yet Tatchell wants nothing to do with the British political class and the feeling is reciprocated. Rather than showing how yesterday’s rebels become today’s conformists, Tatchell’s life illustrates a rarer and nobler theme: how a commitment to freedom for some can meld seamlessly into a commitment to freedom for all.

If he were not an atheist, who receives death threats from Islamists, I would say that there is something of the saint about him.

He lives in the Elephant and Castle in south London, one of Britain’s great planning disasters. His tiny flat is on the first floor of a deck-access block, in a district riven by urban motorways and pockmarked with decaying council estates. Inside, you cannot move without stumbling over piles of books and papers. The only modern appliance is his desktop computer, on which he receives 900 to 1,000 emails a week. With typical courtesy, he replies to them all.

Tatchell reveals in an embarrassed voice that he manages on about £8,000 a year. It’s not the meagre income that worries him. He does not want us to think that he engages in anything so solipsistic as self-pity. “I’m not poor,” he shouts as he turns his life into an argument. “I can wake up every morning and run clean water from my taps. One billion people don’t have that. If the world were to cut defence spending by 10% – just 10% – everyone could have what we have.”

Apart from the clutter, the visitor cannot help but notice the oppressive security. Tatchell lives with CCTV cameras, a reinforced steel front door, fire extinguishers in case arsonists attack and a rope ladder to throw out of his bedroom window if he needs to make an escape. He has been beaten up dozens of times. At first, his enemies were white homophobes. They were egged on by the 1983 Bermondsey byelection, one of the filthiest campaigns of the 20th century, in which Tatchell stood as the Labour candidate. The Liberals and others made sure the voters knew he was a homosexual and were in no way abashed when Simon Hughes, their victorious candidate, turned out years later to be gay too. Then black thugs came for him because he campaigned against homophobic rappers. Then Islamists came for him because he loathed the theocratic superstitions of the religious right and had the courage to say so.

Unlike so many, when Tatchell says he believes in universal human rights he has the scars to prove he means it. When he was a teenager in Australia, he opposed the execution of a man many in authority believed was innocent; he came to Britain in 1971 to avoid the military conscripting him. He found a British left that regarded homosexuality as a “bourgeois deviation” and despite the abuse he received set about trying to change it.

He was the first man to stage a gay rights protest in the old communist bloc and was arrested by the Stasi for his impertinence. Ever since, from Castro’s Cuba to Putin’s Moscow, he’s been prepared to put his body on the line to protest against oppression.

In 1994, Tatchell outed gay bishops. I criticised him at the time for behaving like a tabloid editor. He is too polite to bring up my unduly harsh words but explains that he was not revealing private secrets for the hell of it, but exposing phonies who conformed to society’s prejudices by calling for gay teachers and youth workers to be sacked.

Who now denies that his shock tactics had an effect? That he taught powerful closet cases that if they oppressed homosexuals they could not expect homosexuals to keep quiet about their private lives?

Far from making him a single-issue campaigner, gay rights brought Tatchell a universal understanding of human suffering. Because he knew that the left could be as prejudiced as the right, he never fell into relativist excuse-making for socialist dictatorships. Because he opposed the supremacist attitudes of heterosexual men towards gays, he became a natural supporter of the emancipation of women. Because he saw how religion is everywhere used to justify the persecution of homosexuals, he became an unbending opponent of all God-inspired hatreds.

He warns anyone seeking political change that they must prepare for the long haul. “Savour your victories when they come,” he says, “and don’t be put off by defeat. Above all, never lose your idealism.”

Happy birthday, comrade. If the British are slightly more tolerant than we once were, it is in part because we had the good fortune to have you live among us.

The Guardian | Nick Cohen | Sunday 22nd January 2012

UK: Campaigners celebrate withdrawal of Dorries abstinence Bill

Campaigners against Nadine Dorries's bill outside parliament. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

There was a loud roar from the crowd huddled outside parliament as it was announced that Nadine Dorries‘s sex education bill – which called for teenage girls to be taught abstinence – had been unexpectedly dropped.

But the feeling among the hundred or so protesters – including feminists, humanists and pro-choice campaigners – gathered in the chilly winter morning air was that although a battle had been won, there was still a war to be fought.

“Even if Nadine wanted abstinence education for both genders, that’s still not about teaching people to understand consent, which is what we really need,” said Beth Granter, 29, a social media consultant from Brighton who organised the morning’s protest on Facebook. “Nadine is absolutely not a positive role model for women.”

Jeni-Marie Pittuck, 19, who is deputy president of the students’ union at City College Norwich, said: “Fair enough, I realise that under-16s shouldn’t really be having sex, but we all know it happens so to turn a blind eye and not support those people who choose to do that, I just think it’s wrong.”

Carl Meadows, 20, who studies public services at City College Norwich and travelled with Pittuck to the protest, said: “They should really teach everyone about everything – it’s a couple’s thing to decide whether they’re going to have sex.”

Earlier, banners were held aloft as speakers took turns to denounce Dorries’s bill under the shadow of a statue of King George V.

The biggest banner was made by Becky Draper, 29, accompanied by her two-year-old daughter. Fashioned from a yellow bed sheet, roughly a metre and a half high and three metres across, with mop handles to hold it up, the sign read: “Hey! Dorries! Leave our daughters alone!”

Draper, who lives in Tooting, said she thought the bill was outrageous. “I’d be really unhappy with my four-year-old having sex education lessons that were just aimed at girls,” said Draper, who is studying for a chemistry MSc at King’s College London.

Hannah Barrett-Duckett, 23, a third-year anthropology student at University College London carried a banner that read: “Yes! To sex and relationship education based on RESPECT for ALL genders”.

“There’s nothing wrong with being taught how to say no and that it’s OK to say no, but it puts women in a position where they’re seen as victims,” Barrett-Duckett said. “It also puts men in positions where they’re seen as pressing sex on women, which again is not always the case.”

The Guardian | Simon Murphy | 20 January 2012

British Humanist Association’s speech at protest against Nadine Dorries’ abstinence education bill

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has supported and helped organise a protest against the Bill, with BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson delivering the following speech:

British Humanist Association's Education Campaigner Richy Thompson

It’s great to be at today’s rally representing the British Humanist Association, and it’s fantastic that the event has got such a good turnout. I’m delighted to see so many people standing up for SRE.

So, let’s be honest here. We know this Bill today may not be debated. And we know that if it is debated, it’s unlikely to pass.

But that’s not why we’ve come out. We’re here to say two things – no to these attacks by this faith-based lobby, and yes to comprehensive, high quality sex education.

So, no to these attacks – this Bill, and the fact that it has progressed this far, illustrates the growing influence of a lobby with vested faith-based interests in promoting and imposing a narrow, unshared and damaging perspective regarding sex education, sexual health and abortion rights; a perspective that is unsupported by the evidence. We oppose this lobby.

However, yes to comprehensive, high quality SRE – all children and young people have a right to full, objective SRE in all schools, which should equip everyone – the boys, as well as the girls – with the information and skills they need to make their own informed and responsible decisions, including saying no to sexual activity if that is what they choose. There should be no opt-outs for parents, no opt-outs for Academies and Free Schools, and no opt-outs for ‘faith’ schools.

We at the British Humanist Association support a secular state, with equal rights for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion or belief. We believe that lives are best lived on the basis of reason and humanity. All the best evidence shows that abstinence education doesn’t work, but comprehensive SRE does work and therefore we are delighted to campaign in support of SRE practitioners and teachers and delighted to support this demo today. Thank you.

British Humanist Association | 20 January 2012

 

 

EU: Secularism under attack from European Parliament President

The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, has launched a vicious attack on secularism during a European prayer breakfast.

Mr Buzek, the former Prime Minister of Poland, and a Protestant, said that Christianity is one of the greatest strengths Europe has, and if it is lost, “we will be condemned to the erosion of the European spirit”.

Mr Buzek used his address to complain about what he described as “aggressive secularism”, describing secularists as “an aggressive, and in reality intolerant, minority” that would like to “lock our faith in to the small box of our privacy.” Such a move, he said “would mean to scrap the idea of religious freedom”. Mr Buzek went on:

“History shows that the empty space left by the removed cross has always been conquered by totalitarian ideologies. The disappearance of the cross often resulted not in the release but the enslavement of man.

“I am convinced that we can not only save our faith, but through our attitude in a secularised world, we Christians can also be the salt of this earth and a light for everyone.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “President Buzek is talking nonsense. Europe has had Christian values for 1,500 years, but they have not spared us from endless wars, many of them religious. Europe is thankfully experiencing an extended period of relative peace. The fact that this is happening while Christianity has become weak demonstrates that religion is not a pre-requisite for peace. A return to strong, sectarian religious power can be expected to bring with it renewed social conflict, together with intolerance and injustice.”

Meanwhile, Sophie in ‘t Veld, chair of the European Parliament Platform for Secularism in Politics (EPPSP), has sent an open letter to the Members of the Bureau of the European Parliament concerning the poor implementation of Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Article 17 commits the European Union to holding “an open, transparent and regular dialogue with… churches (and non-confessional and philosophical) organisations”. The Bureau consists of fourteen Members of the European Parliament who decide on the organisation of the Parliament and its rules. It is therefore the organ within the European Parliament that reviews the dialogue held under Article 17.

In the letter, Ms in ‘t Veld warns:

“Dialogue that is organised exclusively on the basis of organised life stance, by its nature excludes the convictions and beliefs of those millions of European citizens who happen not to be member of an association or community.”

The letter also urges the Bureau to ensure that the representative responsible for relations with churches and secular organisations is able to represent all views. It states:

“Recent public statements by Members of the leadership of this House suggest that they are personally opposed to the separation of church and state, and they do not feel public bodies such as the EU institutions should be secular in nature. They consider Christianity should be a determinant factor in our political work. Such views are a violation of the freedom of religion and belief, and an affront to millions of non-religious Europeans or indeed many Christians who believe public bodies should be neutral, secular in nature.”

The post is currently held by Vice President László T?kés, who is also a bishop of the Reformed Church of Romania.

In November 2011 Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, walked out near the start of a meeting at the European Parliament to discuss Article 17 dialogue saying that it was biased against secularists and others who had no religious faith. The meeting was initially chaired by MEP/bishop T?kés while awaiting President Buzek who had been delayed. When he arrived, Keith Porteous Wood left him in no doubt about the strength of dissatisfaction that had been expressed about the religious bias of the dialogue.

National Secular Society | 13th January 2012

UK: Advertising watchdog accused of excessive deference to religion

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has dismissed a complaint from the National Secular Society (NSS) which had accused the ASA of unreasonably restricting freedom of expression by banning advertisements too readily if they risk offending even a few believers.

In a long justification of its enforcement of the Code of Advertising Practice, the wording of which the NSS also attacked, James Best, chairman of the CAP, refused to accept any of the NSS’s points about its banning of ads that poke even mild fun at religion.

The complaint arose from the banning of a series of advertisements from the ice cream company Antonio Federici, which, in the ASA’s word were “offensive, because they believed they mocked Catholicism”.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “When the adverts were banned, the NSS said that the ASA was introducing a new sort of blasphemy law through the back door. This response from the ASA gives us no reason to change that opinion. When did it become illegal to satirise Catholicism?”

Mr Wood said: “We have become increasingly concerned about an unreasonable deference to religion by the ASA. We were particularly irked by the banning of the ice cream ads, one of which (in the ASA’s own words) “showed two priests in full robes who looked as though they were about to kiss. One of the men also wore rosary beads and held a spoon in his hand; the other held a tub of ice cream. The ad included text that stated ‘We Believe in Salivation’.

The advertisements were ruled by the Authority to have breached the Code of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the number of complainants is often pitifully small, just six in the case of the priests and ice cream ad.

The Code of Advertising Practice includes the ruling that ads “should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability”.

Growing sensitivity is also evident in Italy and France, both of which have banned an ad depicting the last supper.

The NSS complained last year to the ASA, and a high level meeting was arranged between the ASA’s chair, Lord Smith of Finsbury (supported by senior executives), and Keith Porteous Wood and NSS senior campaigns officer, Tessa Kendall.

Mr Wood said: “We emphasised the importance of freedom of expression and pointed out that one of their adjudications had recently been overruled by the courts on grounds of freedom of expression. Ironically, the case had been brought by a fundamentalist church, in respect of the banning of its advert criticising Gay Pride parade inBelfast. The ad was headlined ‘The word of God against sodomy’ and invited those who opposed the parade to meet peacefully.

Mr Wood continued: “We told Lord Smith that the wording of the Code of Advertising Practice, particularly the passage quoted above, was a major factor in the decision to which we objected. We therefore complained again to the ASA, this time about the Code.” The NSS is now considering its next step.

Read the original letter from the NSS to the ASA (pdf).

Read the reply from the ASA (pdf).

National Secular Society | 13th January 2012

Spain: Vatican says abortion and homosexuality are worse problems than unemployment

The altar in place for the Mass in Plaza Colón.- SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

Cardinal Archbishop Antonio Rouco Varela used an open-air gathering in Madrid’s Plaza Colón on Friday to attack the policies of the previous Socialist Party government, calling for a repeal of legislation that provides for abortion on demand, as well as same-sex marriage.

“Life is a sacred right that humans have been given by God,” Rouco told the faithful gathered in bright winter sunshine from a stage dominated by a 68-meter-long altar and backed by a 12-meter-high cross.

Rouco railed against the current situation in Spain and Europe, declaring that Christ had lived in times of historic blindness, and that we were now in one of those times.

“The family is under attack in Spain,” said the archbishop, who is also the chairman of the Spanish Bishops Conference, insisting that abortion and euthanasia in Europe was a deeper crisis than the economy or politics.

Also present at the Mass, the first major open-air event staged by the Roman Catholic Church in Spain since the Popular Party (PP) government took office last week, were some 30 bishops from around the country. Pope Benedict XVI, in a message from Rome, said the Christian family must be a “refuge for loyalty, respect and understanding.”

“Whoever refuses to defend a conceived but unborn person is committing a serious violation of moral order. The death of an innocent can never be legitimized. To do so is to undermine the basis of society,” said the pontiff.

The gathering in Madrid under the motto “Christian Family: the hope of Europe” was organized by the Bishops Conference and Catholic organizations.

Organizers had expected up to 500,000 worshippers, but police said the figure was much lower.

The Spanish Catholic Church is also concerned about homosexuality. During his Boxing Day sermon, the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, said there was a conspiracy by the United Nations. “The Minister for Family of the Papal Government, Cardinal Antonelli, told me a few days ago in Zaragoza that UNESCO has a program for the next 20 years to make half the world population homosexual. To do this they have distinct programs, and will continue to implant the ideology that is already present in our schools.”

Spain brought its abortion laws in line with most other European countries in 2010, allowing abortion on demand up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and up to 22 weeks if there is fetal malformation or threat to the health of the mother.

Before its introduction abortions were offered under restricted circumstances and rarely in a public hospital. Terminations were allowed only until the 12th week of pregnancy in cases of rape or until the 24th week if a woman’s mental or physical health was in danger.

The legislation saw a series of huge demonstrations by pro-lifers across Spain, supported by the Catholic Church and the PP.

Pope Benedict XVI launched an implicit attack on the reforms when he visited Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia in November 2010, warning of a “strong and aggressive secularism” that was undermining traditional family values.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said he will repeal some aspects of the legislation, but has yet to clarify what exact measures he will take. “We will change the current legislation model relating to abortion in order to reinforce the protection of the right to life as well as female minors,” states the electoral program, the key issues of which were published by Spanish media on Sunday.

“Motherhood must be protected and supported. We will defend a law protecting motherhood with measures helping pregnant women, in particular those in difficult situations,” the PP said during the election campaign.

El Pais | AURORA MUÑOZ LARA | 1st January 2012

Turkey ex-army chief held for alleged bid to topple govt

Turkey's former army chief Ilker Basbug was arrested Friday over an alleged bid to topple the Islamist-rooted government, the Anatolia news agency reported on Friday.

Turkey’s former army chief Ilker Basbug was arrested Friday over an alleged bid to topple the Islamist-rooted government, the Anatolia news agency reported on Friday.

“The 26th chief of staff of the Turkish republic has unfortunately been placed in preventive detention for setting up and leading a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government,” Ilkay Sezer, a lawyer for Basbug, was quoted as saying by Anatolia.

Dozens of army officers have been jailed in recent years as part of several investigations into alleged plots targeting the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But it is the first time in the history of the republic that a former chief of the Turkish military has been arrested.

Basbug, who retired in 2010, is the highest-ranking officer in a massive investigation into the so-called Ergenekon network, accused of plotting to topple the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The arrest came hours after Basbug testified as a suspect at an Istanbul court on Thursday as part of a probe into an alleged Internet campaign to discredit the government.

Among the allegations is an attempt by a group of army officers to establish websites to disseminate anti-government propoganda in order to destabilise the country.

Turkey’s military, which considers itself as the guardian of secularism, has carried out three coups — in 1960, 1971 and 1980.

This latest move appears to be a fresh warning to the military whose political influence has decreased since the AKP came to power in 2002.

Basbug was later sent to a prison at Istanbul’s Silivri prison where other suspects of alleged Ergenekon network are jailed.

France 24 | 06 January 2012

UK: Government backs Church plans to take over many more state schools – take action!

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association.

The government and Church of England are working together to expand vastly the number of Church-run but state-funded ‘faith’ schools, it has been revealed (recent article). The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today voiced its strong opposition to the proposals, writing with urgency to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and to all BHA members and supporters, describing the plans as ‘the single most threatening development in the area of ‘faith’ schools since their expansion began in 2001’.

The reported plans suggest that the government is looking for ways to make it even easier for the Church of England to take control of state-funded schools, through allowing and encouraging inclusive community schools to become ‘faith’ Academies in one simple step – something that has not been allowed previously, even under the coalition government’s hugely deregulated schools programme. The Church will also be allowed to ‘sponsor’ many other schools which may not take on a ‘religious character’ but would still have a ‘faith’ ethos.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The plans being cooked up between the government and the Church of England represent the single most threatening development in the area of ‘faith’ schools since their expansion began in 2001. If the Church and the government have their way and their ambitions are realised, the Church will become the single largest provider of schools, totally funded by the state. That risks a majority of schools being allowed to discriminate religiously in employment, discriminate religiously in admissions, and teach curricula skewed towards Christianity across the board.

‘This is a potentially massive takeover. It is unsurprising that a “national” church to which 80% of the population do not actually see themselves as belonging and whose services are attended on a monthly basis by under 5% of the population should see its only hope for future survival as a state-funded service provider. But the idea that government, which should be providing schools inclusive of all, is facilitating this drive with public money is shameful.’

The BHA has called for the government to instead work to ensure the Academies programme offers no relaxation of the rules for any maintained school without a religious character to convert to a religious school, and no possibility of schools which once served the whole community to become religiously sponsored.

British Humanist Association | 5th January 2012

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633.

TAKE ACTION NOW! Write to your MP and to Michael Gove to oppose the plans

Read the BHA’s letter to Michael Gove:  http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/2012-01-04-michael-gove-cofe-ambitions-final.pdf

Read the BHA’s letter to members and supporters: http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=f506ec535c3e750b66180af13&id=5fbb244234

In the past, it has been extremely rare for inclusive community schools to become ‘faith’ schools – something that is not an easy process. However, a community school that converts to be an Academy then only needs to hold a consultation if it wants to also change to be a ‘faith’ school, and many community schools upon converting to Academies find themselves looking for support from a larger organisation in place of the local authority. Being far and away the biggest and the oldest education provider, the Church of England is easily the best equipped to be that organisation.

The government is now working with the Church to change the rules to make things even easier, and allow the consultations on converting to an Academy and converting to a ‘faith’ school – which currently have to be separate – to be combined. With the Church actively encouraging the practice, many community schools are likely to become Church Academies. Furthermore, the Church is seeking to sponsor converted Academies that choose not to formally take on a religious character. This will, nonetheless, still allow the Church to put its slant on some aspects of the curriculum, and perhaps also require senior staff to be practising Anglicans. It is also seeking a formal partnership with other schools that remain secular.

Read the TES report, ‘An answer from above?’, 23 December 2011: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6158763

UK: A New Year when secularism must stand up for itself or be overwhelmed by religious power-seeking

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society

The signs have been there for some considerable time – religion around the world is reviving, and it is not the benign, let’s-be-good-to-each-other kind of religion that the propagandists would have us believe.

It is the old-time, ambitious, politicised, militant and controlling religion. The kind that wants to dictate what you are doing at every minute of every day.

In Britain, the statistics seem to show that interest in organised religion is in continuing decline. This, by those who hold the reins of power, appears to be a signal to help spark its revival.

And so we have politicians telling us that we must return to religious values, bring religion more into the public arena and involve the churches and mosques more and more in our everyday lives.

Mr Cameron’s recent speech has paved the way for a new confidence, particularly among Christians, who are now assuming that they can return to their glory days when the whole of society was under their control. Let us not forget that it is only a few generations ago that the Anglican Church held this country in an iron grip. If you were not an Anglican, many doors were closed to you. You could not become a member of Parliament, you could not go to university and, at one period, if you did not go to church on Sunday you could be fined.

Now the Church of England, a fatally declining institution by any measure, has set its sights on taking over even more of the education system, perhaps even all of it eventually. We are receiving almost daily complaints from parents whose children have been subjected to heavy-duty religious proselytising in their school (most of which are community schools). A whole array of evangelistic groups are worming their way into schools, without parental knowledge or consent, to foist all kinds of absurd ideas onto children, who are, of course, a captive audience.

Over Christmas and New Year, we have seen the establishment assuring us that they are still firmly in charge. The Queen’s Christmas message was one of the most overtly religious yet, with her talk of ‘Jesus as the saviour’ and the ‘messages of the angels’. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to latch on to the summer riots as a means of assuring us that society is disintegrating and unless we listen to God we’re all on our way to hell in a handcart.

The riots that happened last year have provided much fodder for the religious opportunists. The disturbances were used as evidence by many who think we need a “spiritual” dimension to prop up their otherwise unconvincing message.

Inconveniently for such arguments, Government papers released in from 1982 showed that similar riots had happened then, in the midst of the reign of Margaret Thatcher, and described as the most serious civil disturbances ever seen in peacetime Britain. Even then they had despaired of finding a solution and no doubt the Archbishop at the time was on hand to tell us that unless we went back to church we’d all be dog meat within a generation.

In fact, the riots in Tottenham and elsewhere last year are not unique. They are part of a long British tradition.

No, Armageddon has not arrived, whatever the Pope or the bishops try to tell us.

Such expressions of frustration break out at regular intervals – and have done for centuries. (See here and here for example) and quite often in the past the churches have had a hand in the perpetuating the iniquities that were being protested about.

Mr Cameron’s speech about bringing “Christian values” back to the centre of British life was eagerly embraced by those who long once more for control. In an article in the Daily Telegraph, the right-wing former bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, wrote “Much of what Mr Cameron said is music to my ears.” Well, it would be. (Read the whole article). Nazir Ali, like so many other conservatives, longs to drag us back to some ghastly, non-existent “Golden Age” when Christianity ruled the world.

As is usual over Christmas, the newspapers were full of religious propaganda. All balance is tossed out of the window by the editors and commentators. From the Daily Mail and Telegraph we expect it, but even the Guardianstarts a constant bark of religious apology. In its Christmas editorial, the paper said: “In the new century’s age of uncertainty, the Christian tradition must not be allowed to become the preserve either of fundamentalists or of the right. But that requires progressives who are also atheists to turn down the volume and acknowledge the contribution of Christian thinking. Peace on earth, goodwill to all.”

The Guardian often publishes these kinds of articles that seek to make a case for the value of Christianity and the case danger of non-belief. (See here and here and here.) But they do not sit well with the readers. When comments are invited, the below the line sections are full of angry rebuttals. Why does the Guardian continue to run these features when they so obviously infuriate so many of its readers?

The upshot of all this may be nothing more than an outburst of right-wing press crowing about the renewed power its hateful philosophy has attained. Or it might be a significant sign that authoritarianism and a reduction of civil liberties will shortly follow.

National Secular Society | Terry Sanderson | 3rd January 2011

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