All posts filed under: Human Rights

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 …

Liberalism in Peril

One of the more perplexing idiosyncrasies of American political discussion is the tendency to conflate liberal and radical leftists. This confusion has – bizarrely – succeeded in turning ‘liberal’ into a term of partisan abuse, even though a commitment to personal liberty was one of the unalienable rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence. Besides which, in terms of what they think and – more importantly – how they think­­, the difference between liberals and radicals is large. A reminder of just how large was provided last week by the reaction to an OpEd column, in which liberal journalist Bari Weiss offered stern criticism of the four leaders of the Women’s March, an ad hoc movement created to foment feminist defiance under the Trump administration. The January march itself, Weiss stressed, had been a necessary and inspiring demonstration of public dissent. Nevertheless, its leaders’ well-documented history of alliances with a litany of racist and criminal figures makes them poor advocates of liberal resistance. By using opposition to the illiberalism of Trump as a platform …

Fleeing Theocracy: An Asylum Seeker’s Defence of the West

For a few years as a teenager I was a devout Christian.  I even converted from one Christian sect to another before I entirely abandoned religious belief. Contrast my experience with that of any Muslim wishing to abandon their religion in most parts of the world and it is clear that leaving Christianity and leaving Islam are two very different affairs. In leaving Islam you might not just lose your religion but also your life in the process. The reason that Christianity, especially so in the west, is less rabid and aggressive in dealing with critics and opponents is due to the influence of the Enlightenment philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with their emphasis on free speech, freedom of conscience and the rights of the individual. Before the Enlightenment, Christianity, just like Islam today, imposed severe punishments on those it believed had blasphemed or for converting to another religion or rival Christian sect. Unfortunately, for many inhabitants of other parts of the world and even within certain communities in the west, the rights that most of …

Review: Doing Good Better — William MacAskill

A review of  Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work that Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back, by William MacAskill. Avery; Reprint edition (August 2, 2016), 272 pages. Imagine you’re walking down the street when you see an out of control stroller speeding past. A mother screams out in horror as her child rockets towards traffic. You burst into action, sprint onto the road, and divert the baby from an oncoming truck. You’ve saved a life. You’re a hero. Now, imagine doing that several times. You rescue one person drowning at the beach, drag another from a burning building, foil an attempted murder… as the saviour of several lives – you’re rapidly approaching superhero status. But, according to William MacAskill’s book Doing Good Better, we can do more than that. ‘Far more than that’. MacAskill seeks to convince that not only are we in the developed world in a position to do a tremendous amount of good, but that our approach to doing good is itself tremendously …

Free Speech and Islam — The Left Betrays the Most Vulnerable

When surveying the ill-informed, shoddy work that at times passes as in-depth journalism regarding Islam these days, a rationalist may well be tempted to slip into a secular simulacrum of John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond.  In reputable press outlets, articles regularly appear in which the author proceeds from an erroneous premise through a fallacious argument to a fatuous conclusion.  Compound all this — especially in the main case I’m about to discuss, that of the British former Islamist turned reformer, Maajid Nawaz — with the apparent intent to defame or cast aspersions, and you get worthless artifacts of journalistic malfeasance that should be dismissed out of hand, but that, given the seriousness of the subject, nevertheless merit attention. For starters, a few words about premises and some necessary background.  Those who deploy the “stupid term” (see Christopher Hitchens) “Islamophobia” to silence critics of the faith hold, in essence, that Muslims deserve to be approached as a race apart, and not as equals, not as individual adults capable of rational choice, but as lifelong members of an immutable, …

Why Charlie Hebdo Was Right to Address the Brussels Attacks

Once again, satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo has received significant opprobrium – much of it unjustified — for its recent editorial on the Brussels attacks. Posing the question “How did we end up here?” the editorial was a paean to secularism. It bemoaned the average French citizen’s inability to challenge religious fundamentalism in their day-to-day lives, an inability attributed to fear and political correctness. It described the Brussels attacks as “merely the visible part of a very large iceberg indeed,” the invisible part being widespread hesitance to ask hard questions about Islamic apologism, veiling, a refusal to sell ham sandwiches in a bakery, or why so many young terrorists go through a phase of being ostensibly irreligious. One would hope the publication would be lauded for asking serious questions about fundamentalism, free speech and the place of religion in society. Generally speaking, this has not been the case. Brookings Institute fellow Shadi Hamid tweeted that the editorial was “remarkably bigoted.” On Facebook, Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American writer, drew comparisons with the treatment of Jews in Europe …

Female Genital Cutting: Harm, Human Rights and the Possibility of a Sex-Neutral Approach

Two very different views on female genital cutting (FGC) have been aired in recent weeks. Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, a pair of American obstetricians, Kavita Arora and Allan Jacobs, recently suggested that Western societies should tolerate – and doctors should perform – what they regard as “mild” forms of ritual genital cutting on female infants and girls if their parents ask for it. Unsurprisingly, backlash in the media has been swift, with hastily-written expressions of astonishment and even outrage being published on a daily basis. In contrast, Ms. Meiwita Budiharsana, a lecturer in public health in Indonesia – where such forms of FGC are actually common and are increasingly being carried out in hospitals or clinics – argues in The Conversation that the authorities should discourage these kinds of practices and that medical personnel should not perform them. The situation is rich in paradox. Two doctors from a society that has traditionally abhorred (and in fact criminalised) any form of non-therapeutic FGC believe that certain “mild” forms should be permitted. At the …