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Happy International Women’s Day

Because of a rather unfortunate circumstance known as “being a student at the University of Chicago,” I have been too busy to write about the myriad of topics that I do want to cover. And I’m even late for this one.

But I hope you just had a great International Women’s Day. We in the West like to talk about topics like reproductive rights and “equal pay for equal work.” These discussions are really important, and they should by all means continue.

But let us not forget about less fortunate women in countries and cultures.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali said this in an International Women’s Day speech in 2006. She was specifically addressing the crime of honor killing.

Cultural and moral relativists sap our sense of moral outrage by defending the position that human rights are a Western invention. Men who abuse women rarely fail to use the vocabulary the relativists have kindly provided them. They claim the right to adhere to an alternative set of values- an “Asian”, “African” or “Islamic” approach to human rights. According to this point of view, when husbands, fathers and brothers seek to own us as their property, this is an expression of culture or religion and should be respected.

March 8th is Women’s Day. Every year on this day we celebrate our accomplishments and condemn our suffering. But one day isn’t enough. We need more than a day–more than a year or a decade. We would need a whole century to fight the ongoing gendercide against us.

Finally, we need a worldwide campaign against the cultures which permit this kind of crime. Cultures which endorse the physical elimination of girl babies, which do not feed and care for them, which deny women their rights over their own bodies and fail to protect them in any way from the worst kind of physical abuse–these cultures need to reform. They are not respectable members of the community of nations. Today, on International Women’s Day let’s name them and shame them.

Though not nearly as bad as others, my very own culture is also notorious for its gender bias. In places like southern China, obsession with having a son has led to an overflow of unwanted infant girls and a surplus of as many as 32 million extra males. The result is a society where many females have a dim future and where many males will not be able to find a wife, contributing to problems like human trafficking and crime.

Different places, different problems, same need for reform.

Societies must change, and we should start now.

The Problem with Islam

It is suggested that Muslims and Atheists are the in the same boat. We’re both distrusted minorities in America. So it makes perfect sense that we hold hands and sing together.

I find this to be a very nice trick not particular to Islam but true of religion in general. When it is weak and marginalized, it wants acceptance and pity from everyone else. But in places where it does have real power, it betrays and insults the very humanism that they claim to share with us.

You don’t have to look further than the fact that Muslims too have a poor grasp of scientific reality in their denial of evolution. Statistics like these tell you almost everything you need to know about people who claim to understand divine truth: they don’t have a clue.

We are also sick and tired of the fact that whenever we point out gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Islamists, we are often asked to change the topic to Israeli violations. As much as we want to help with the humanitarian crisis in Palestine, it is inexcusable how the theocratic actions of Gaza’s Islamist rulers are conveniently overlooked.

All of this stems from and results from a group of human beings who don’t just believe in God, but who also think they know and understand the Final Revelation of God, who believe that the angel Gabriel literally communicated through an illiterate man the words of the Koran.

The specific problem with Islam is that a) Muslims are not secular enough b) there aren’t enough people leaving the religion. The latter is true for religion in general, and the former comes from the fact that there aren’t enough people willing to metaphorize and interpret away things that should be outrageous to them.

As much as I dislike religious “intellectuals” who come to us with a smiling face and an intellectually-dishonest, watered-down view of their religion, I view it as a bittersweet sort of secular progress: a testament to the fact that religion has had to give up so much in the light of science, reason, and common sense. I would very much welcome the secularization of Islam, and I believe it is happening in many circles in the Muslim world, especially amongst young people.

And we must address the shameful treatment of apostates, not just in Islamic countries but also in secular ones. It’s utterly unacceptable for a group of people to want to be treated with dignity and respect when the fact is that they don’t allow for that same level of respect in their own communities. You don’t have to look any farther than America to hear about young adults and teenagers wanting to “come out” as atheists, but are unable to do so because they would lose the entire community they grew up in.

The good news is that you can always sense a high level of embarrassment from Muslims about the Islamic penalty for apostasy, which is somewhat inspiring.

Zionism, Atheism, and the Struggle to Live Purposefully

Yesterday, I watched this excellent documentary by the BBC about ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers who dedicate their lives to repopulating parts of the West Bank.

It’s a very vivid portrayal of the tension and intense hatred on both sides, and I very much recommend that you watch the whole thing.

What really stood out for me was the conversation between journalist Theroux and a young man [YM] near the end of the documentary:

[YM]: This is our land. You can come and kill us and do whatever you want. We are going to stay here. We are going to die for this country.

[Theroux]: And kill for this country?

[YM]: If necessary, yes. I don’t know if mentally I can do it, but by the law of God, you are supposed to do it. You told me you’re an atheist. Do you like it?

[Theroux]: A lot. It’s very comforting. It’s very comforting to know that there’s no one up there looking after me.

[YM]: It’s comfortable… sure. I think it’s a–you forgive me already right?–a stupid way of life. What are you here for? You think you came from a monkey? Everyone likes to think there’s a big thing behind us, not that we are here just to work, get money, feed our children, and die, and that’s it. You are supposed to be a good man. You are supposed to work for God, not just for yourself.

Of course, the ironic thing is that we’d probably all be better off if we only worked, made money, fed our children, and die. We’d be better off if we didn’t have a great voice in our head calling for us to steal property and kill those in our way. And if you really are going to claim that you, another evolved mammal, actually can comprehend the commands of God, perhaps you should keep it private (or at least announce it with a great deal of embarrassment).

But as long as Israel and Palestine remain racially divided entities founded on the premise of different promises from God(s), there will never be a harmonious society that fully respects human rights.

Therefore, the inspirational thought(s) of the day will be reflections on the purpose of life by none other than Mr. Hitchens:

Inspiration in a Place of Darkness

We are all shocked and saddened by the death of David Kato, a marked gay rights activist in Uganda who bravely fought for change in a country where homosexuality is officially illegal. Lately, there have been many questions about the influence of U.S. evangelicals like Rick Warren and Scott Lively in Uganda, all of whom have had deep and long friendships with prominent local religious leaders and government officials.

What we absolutely don’t need now is more religious rationalization and apology for the explosion of ignorance and hate in arguably the most Christian country in Africa. As I’ve written about before, religious moral arguments aren’t arguments because they have often have nothing to do with the reality of the objective world. Turning to the Bible or any other religious text for guidance on moral issues at a time like this is as useless as Sarah Palin’s foreign policy advice.

In fact, I don’t actually think that someone like Scott Lively, who actually organized a conference in Uganda to oppose homosexuality, added that much fuel to an already burning fire. What I want to point out, however, is irony of his position: Lively might have thought he was washing the people of Uganda with the blood of Jesus, but who thought that he might soon do it with the blood of actual people?

You see, the only source of inspiration I can find in this mess is never covered in the media and always ignored by the religious. I’m talking about the secular community of Uganda, which is a very real thing, and a thing that shouldn’t be ignored. After all we’ve seen on the news, shouldn’t we at least listen to what they have to say?

As a tribute to the community and as something to remember Kato by, I’ll post some of the official core beliefs and goals found on the website of the Uganda Humanist Association.

Beliefs:

We believe in human rights for all people including the despised minorities.
We believe in the right of human beings to make individual choices as they determine the course of their lives.

Goals:

To oppose religious, racial and ethnic fanaticism and fundamentalism.
To educate people about humanism as a free, rational, humane, skeptical/scientific, liberal and democratic life stance and approach to human life challenges.
To carry out projects that promote social welfare and environmental concern.

Commitments

To building a non- superstitious, rational and scientifically minded society in Uganda.
To promoting unity and tolerance among people.
To instil a culture of human rights concern and activism.
To build confidence in our fellow Ugandans to live the one life they have, purposely and with dignity.

If every Ugandan could hear these simple words, I’m sure they’ll be more beautiful than anything they’ve heard from their pastors lately. That’ll be the inspirational material for the day.

Let us remember that we can always rebuild and change societies. One person. One idea. One day at a time.