All posts filed under: Human Rights

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 …

‘Pinkwashing’ and Traitors to the Human Mind

Last week, the neologism ‘pinkwashing’ made an unwelcome return to news headlines. On Friday January 22, protesters bearing placards denouncing Israel disrupted an event organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force as part of its Creating Change conference in Chicago. The protesters, it seems, were upset by the involvement of an Israeli LGBT organisation called Jerusalem Open House and a Jewish LGBT organization called A Wider Bridge that, the JTA reported, “seeks to build ties between gay communities in North America and Israel”. Over at the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy blog, law professor David Bernstein was flabbergasted. “Many participants,” he wrote, “describe the demonstration as both anti-Semitic and physically threatening (and the hotel felt obliged to call the police), but we can limit ourselves to the sheer craziness of radical LGBT activists shouting “free Palestine” and anti-Israel slogans to shut down an event involving an Israeli LGBT organization when Israel is a gay rights haven and the Palestinian territories, to say the least, are not.” This was, as I hope to explain, to miss the …

Springtime for Demagogues

I. Rochdale, Rotherham and Cologne Western culture is successful because it recognises individuals and treats them equally under the law. People brave seas in rickety boats because they want a piece of that. After the Rochdale and Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) scandals there was some push back, always from people on the Left, against the idea that there was a ‘conspiracy of silence’ rather than mere inefficiency. The abnormally slow dissemination of information following the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, and other events which have subsequently come to light, have helped confirm the reality of this. People are refusing to treat certain criminal events like they would others. Such a ‘conspiracy of silence’ not only betrays the principle of equal treatment, it is ultimately counter-productive. This problem shares the same root with some of the notions of ‘diversity’ with which I have increasing difficulty accepting. Simply put, discrimination is discrimination and regardless of the quality of your motivations it poisons what it touches. In the case of the sexual assaults, I’m not sure …

Original Sin: the Sexual Motivation of Religious Extremists

I. In late October of 2014, Iraqi News reported, as ISIS forces rampaged through Diyala province, one of their soldiers found a thirty-year-old woman resting at her home and attempted to rape her. She fought back, wresting away his gun and killing him. This incredibly brave woman was brought before ISIS’s Sharia Court, which promptly condemned her to death and had her publicly beheaded for this defense of her honor, thus laying bare the utter hypocrisy of all claims that draconian laws regarding sex are intended for the protection of women. The gory spectacle of radical Islamism at work that began in the Middle East and has spread its crimson tendrils abroad from there is terrifying to behold. To the eyes of those lucky enough to enjoy a secure place in one of the prosperous modern democracies, the violence unfolding on our television and computer screens has an almost hallucinatory quality. Surely, our brains say, this cannot be real. This sort of thing cannot be happening in this day and age! Recently have I felt …