All posts filed under: Human Rights

Life as a Kuffar: My Seven Lost Years in Kuwait

It’s December, 2017, and I’m awash in late-afternoon sunshine, sitting outside around a table with old friends and former colleagues. The setting is a farm in the agricultural sector of Kuwait. We’re drinking tea and maybe bootleg date rum, reminiscing. Some of us are smoking shisha. There are dogs at our feet. At night, the courtyard lights can be programmed to flash and glow in different colors. If you stand on the roof, you can see the oil fires burning at Burgan, the largest oil field in Kuwait. This is my first time back since I lived in Kuwait between 2006 and 2013, when I was in my thirties. It was a period during which I became uglier, angrier—and, finally, broken. I returned last year to see familiar faces and revisit old haunts. But I also came to figure out why I broke. Was it me? Or was it Kuwait? I find that some things have changed and many have not. That’s true of me. And it’s true of this country. It’s big things like …

Speaking Out About Islam – Lubna Ahmed, Rebel With a Cause

Her voice broke with anguish and remembered fear at times as she told me her story. She is only twenty-six years old, yet the courage and conviction she has shown befit a war hero with years of battlefield experience. She has, in fact, found her life threatened, and on a battlefield of sorts – an ideological one on which she has been defending her rights, and specifically, her rights as a woman. In 2015, she decided that she could remain silent no longer, and came out internationally as an atheist on The Rubin Report (Dave Rubin’s popular Internet talk show) in a deeply Islamic society, knowing the mortal risks awaiting her, and had to flee her homeland. But even in her new life in California, she has to live concerned for her safety, as do all those ex-Muslims – and especially women – who publicly denounce Islam. Yet she remains undaunted. Her name is Lubna Ahmed and she hails originally from Baghdad. She is an engineer by education, a truth-telling rebel by character and vocation. I …

False Hopes and Invisible Enemies

People are pattern-seekers. When we observe patterns in the natural world we often seek a deeper explanation for them. An example of a pattern that has captured the attention of academics is the disparity between men and women in fields like mechanical engineering and pediatrics. Culture is an obvious explanation for some disparities: if a wave of Irish immigrants to Boston joins fire departments, and Italians start restaurants, then we might expect that the next generation of Bostonians will contain a disproportionate number of Irish firefighters and Italian restaurant owners. Similarly, if low-skilled immigrants tend to work in jobs like construction and agriculture, we might expect to find a lot of low-skilled workers who move from Central America to the United States to work on construction sites and strawberry farms. Another obvious way to explain divergent outcomes between groups is that some groups – ranging from races and sexes, to religions and political partisans – have been discriminated against or persecuted by others. In other words, members of some groups throughout history were not given …

Femen’s Inna Shevchenko: Fear of Causing Offense Has Cost Too Many Innocent Lives

Editor’s note: As we enter 2018, brave women are protesting Islamic modesty culture and laws in Iran. Jeffrey Tayler has documented women’s protests against modesty culture in Europe for years. What follows is an interview conducted by Tayler with Femen’s leader, Inna Shevchenko, in 2017. A female activist has just sawed down a giant Christian cross on the central square of the capital city of Ukraine, in protest against the prison sentence meted out to Pussy Riot band members for the “punk prayer” they had performed in a Moscow cathedral earlier that year. What fate awaits her when she flees, personally threatened by her country’s president for her audacious deed, to France, the self-proclaimed “homeland of human rights?” Upon her arrival in Paris, do orchestras greet her with rousing renditions of La Marseillaise? Do accolades of support pour in from the French media? Does she settle, finally, into secure environs, certain, for the first time in her young but politically active life, that she can pursue unhindered her feminist struggle for human rights and the propagation of …

Making a Stand for Cultural Universalism

Earlier this year, I spoke at a panel discussion in New York City to mark the unveiling of Quebec—an enormous 9’ by 10’ painting that aspires to capture the full sweep of French Canadian history on one canvas, from Samuel de Champlain to the modern age of indigenous activism. The American artist, Adam Miller, grew up in the Pacific northwest, and studied the great masters in Florence. The evening’s featured speaker was Donald Kuspit, an eminent Jewish art critic who briefly lived in Quebec, but otherwise has little connection to the largely Catholic society of French Canada. He described Quebec as a luminous postmodern take on the Baroque—a style that took definitive expression in the works of Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens—and praised Miller for channelling influences adapted from the book of Genesis, imagery of the dead Christ, and Sandro Botticelli’s 15th century masterpiece, Adoration of the Magi. Which is to say, Quebec is very much part of that great cultural mash-up we call Western culture. And if Miller—who does not speak French—had engaged in …

Islamic Feminism’s Depressing Future

A review of Women, Faith and Sexism: Fighting Hislam, by Susan Carland. Melbourne University Press (May, 2017) 266 pages.   Dr. Susan Carland is an important public figure in the Australian landscape, especially at a time of heightened cultural intolerance. As an academic, a Muslim convert, and the wife of the most widely recognized Muslim in Australia today – journalist and TV presented Waleed Aly – Carland often finds herself in the role of the defender of Islamic faith in Australia. She has personally experienced two different (and currently clashing) cultures closely, has had the privilege of examining them from a social theory perspective, and is blessed with eloquence and charm. Who better to explain what is going on? On the one hand, we keep hearing about and seeing evidence of the unequal treatment of women within Muslim communities the world over. On the other, we find that Muslim women are among the staunchest defenders of Islamic faith and community. So how are we to reconcile these two realities? And to what extent are regressive practices coded …

Sarah Haider on Normalizing Dissent: A Conversation

After a couple of false starts, Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) finally kicked off its Normalizing Dissent Tour at the University of Colorado Boulder. On the evening of Thursday, October 5, more than 90 people assembled to hear a panel of three Ex-Muslim women – EXMNA co-founder Sarah Haider, Saudi activist Ghada, and writer and editor Hiba Krisht – discuss “Islam, Modesty, and Feminism.” At the request of Secular Students and Skeptics Society (SSaSS), the student organization that invited EXMNA, campus security took the unusual precaution of searching all bags for weapons as the audience filed into the lecture hall where the event took place. Fortunately the event, which included an hour-long Q&A, proceeded civilly. Krisht, who was raised as a Shi’a Muslim in Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, said in her opening statement: “I felt I was lying with every movement, lying with what I was wearing, lying with my actions because I would pray in front of them [her family] even though I didn’t believe in God.” Ghada described an upbringing nearly as harsh. When as …

The Problem with the Neurodiversity Movement

Every morning when I wake up I feel a heavy sense of trepidation as I contemplate the complex series of social interactions I will have to navigate in order to make it through the day at work. Being on the autism spectrum makes me instinctively averse to the superficial chit-chat I am expected to engage in in my job as a retail cashier. To my mind at least, small-talk serves no real practical purpose. It just makes me feel on edge and increases my overall stress levels as I expend huge amounts of cognitive energy decoding idioms and non-verbal communication. Unfortunately, retail work is about the only employment option available to me at the moment because my Asperger’s Syndrome affects my ability to relate to others. Because of my condition, I am prone to be blunt, sometimes to the point of rudeness, which is a personality trait that tends not to sit especially well with many members of the so-called ‘neuro-typical’ or non-autistic world. As a relatively isolated 20-something Aspie with few friends, I decided …

From Ancient Times to the Present: Transferring Guilt Makes a Mockery of Justice

One of the foundations of modern ethics is crumbling. Having rights is about being respected as a human individual who shapes his or her life through choices. Whether with respect to original sin, honour based violence, the burqa, or ‘burkini’, ‘incitement’ to violence, or white guilt—the transference of moral responsibility from individual moral agents to others, or from others to the individual, makes a mockery of justice. Either we are responsible for our own behaviour or we are not. Imagine how wonderful it would be if we could all take credit for other peoples’ good deeds. But we cannot, and we do not because only the moral agent responsible for the act deserves praise—or conversely, blame. The Doctrine of Original Sin Transference of guilt has its religious precedent in St. Paul’s Christian doctrine of original sin, according to which the entire human species is tarnished by the sins of their disobedient progenitors, Adam and Eve. Transferring guilt across generations from ancient ancestors to their heirs was highly convenient for religious authorities. It created a very …

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out. A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.” To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime. *      *      * The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures. One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the …