I remember a while back during one of my courses, I got into a heated discussion with a professor about the wearing of the Muslim veil. Needless to say my colleagues were surprised to hear that as a former Muslim I opposed the Muslim head scarf (the burka, hijab, and niqāb).
For its entire mystique the Muslim head scarf, in all its form, is nothing more than male ownership of female sexuality. Little do western observers realize that often the choice between the wearing of the hijab and not wearing it comes down to severe physical harm. Instead, it is assumed that women who wear the veil do so of their own volition.
And while this may be true in some instances, the concept of choice can only be used as a valid reason in the context of an environment free of medieval sexual apartheid. Consider this, currently in the Islamic republic of Iran the penalty for not wearing the veil correctly is seventy-five lashes. The lashes are sometimes administered publicly for the purpose of discouraging others from following suit. Similarly In Saudi Arabia (the birth place of Islam and home to its holy shrines) the punishment can be as severe as beheading by sword.
We also hear Muslims and their defenders espouse the concept of modesty, often perversely citing examples of sexual assault on women whom dress provocatively as evidence of the hijabs necessity. But this line of argument assumes that women who dress provocatively are asking to be assaulted and further whitewashes the fact that in cases involving women that have been raped and assaulted in a Muslim country the women are sentenced to stoning while men pay a mere fine.
It is important to also consider the hijab to be more than a religious obligation. This is especially true of women who wear the head covering in western countries. Immigration is a traumatic and emotional experience. It is often the case that as immigrants we find comfort in familiar customs that not only distinguish us from the rest of society but also gives us a sense of communal solidarity.
The western observer should be weary of assumptions behind the wearing of the veil. There are many women around the world to this day that struggle against sexual oppression in places like Iran and whose rights have been ignored for sake of medieval traditions. Whatever the politically correct view may be, the Muslim head scarf is a form of sexual repression whose sole purpose is to validate male ownership (father, husband etc) of a women’s body and “honor”. There are many women around the Muslim world that would relish the opportunity to dress as they please, and would only dream of not being harassed because of the way they dress themselves. It irks me to see women in Canada “choosing” to wear this medieval costume, knowing that there are women elsewhere who are being severely harmed because they “choose” not to wear it. To me, this is akin to a freed slave wearing a slave collar proudly!
Considered the largest secular gathering in all history, the Reason Rally took place at the National Mall in Washington D.C. on March 24th, 2012, and Free[SAY] was there. The overall message of the rally was that atheists do have a strong population and that we, just as any other people, deserve our voices to be heard. It was also a day to celebrate being part of our group, and to celebrate our identity as atheists. We are often misunderstood as a group, and the Reason Rally was an excellent way to show our true faces and what it means to be atheists.
Free[SAY] began travelling from Toronto on the Friday night before the event and arrived in Washington D.C. the next morning. We checked into our hostel which was small and cozy (with bunk beds!) for our group of nine. We were looking forward to this event for months. As soon as we heard the events date announced we instantly began working out how we could bring our campus group of atheists to the rally. We had never attended such a huge, historical event before. So naturally, we were very excited and proud to be a part of it. We were so anxious to find out what it would be like to be a part of the rally.
Even though it was raining lightly, and it was slightly chilly, when we arrived at the event by metro, I was stunned by the crowds that had attended. It was announced that there we were among 20,000 people altogether! What an amazing turn out. Nothing else could describe the emotions I felt being in such a wonderful crowd of people. What especially moved me was knowing that we were all connected by one seemingly simple idea, the idea that we are without a god. It was beautiful and most importantly, powerful.
To know that I was side by side with people who honour reason, rationality, science and knowledge felt amazing. To know that we were not being judged by our rejection of religion but instead we were accepted, understood and celebrated for it. We embraced our atheism will full force.
It was great to hear the speakers messages, not timid or ashamed, speaking about the rejection of superstition, and about the atrocities that religious ideas can bring about. There was also humour, music, and poetry. Most of all there a feeling of respect. Respect for the equality of all people regardless of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation or ability. Everyone was welcome to take part in the rally.
The messages were about the education of people about reason and science, about protecting our governments from fantasies and superstitions. It was about being moral without religion, without a god above us.
In the end, the idea that Free[SAY] took from the Reason Rally was that we as atheists should be proud of ourselves, and that we should stand up against those who bring religious ideas and actions that are harmful to our society. That we should not be afraid to be atheists openly.
The Reason Rally was like the grand coming out party for atheists. At least for myself I can say that it was the first big secular event I had attended, and it will be an important part of my life forever. It was certainly an awesome way to finish Free[SAY]‘s year!
Here is a great photograph of our group with the Washington Monument behind us.
“What is this ban on abortion? It is a survival of the veiled face, of the barred window and the locked door, burning, branding, mutilation, stoning, of all the grip of ownership and superstition come down on woman, thousands of years ago.” – Stella Browne
Does person-hood begin in the womb or after birth? Is abortion the murdering of an innocent human child or is it simply terminating a mass of cells? What do abortion rights have to do with women’s equality? Why even talk about abortion in the first place?
Why we need to talk about abortion.
I know you may be wondering why I would even want to discuss abortion when it appears as though most people have made up their minds on this debate, and there’s no turning back for them. However, this notion is wrong. Change is possible. Opinions and moral convictions are not stable. Remember the good old days when society condemned premarital sex and divorce?
Our views on abortion are evolving rapidly, just like the topics that people have debated over in the past, such as child labour, the voting rights of women, and slavery. All of these issues are now universally agreed upon. It’s vital that we discuss abortion so that awareness can be brought about.
A woman is a person. So…?
“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Margaret Sanger
To begin, I give you the basic premise that women are indeed persons, and therefore deserve equal rights, respect and dignity as do all other persons. There is no longer a question about the person-hood of women. Although the reality of equality has not completely been attained, we can agree that women are people. Therefore, I believe that women should have the ability to make decisions about what is and isn’t good for themselves. It is without a doubt that women have the right to autonomy and one cannot have true autonomy if they do not have it over their own physical bodies.
What is in debate here is at what point does person-hood begin? Some say it starts at conception, others when the zygote becomes a fetus and some say it begins when the baby is born. It’s a question which is disputed by many.
What is person-hood anyway? And how does one define it?
When deciding if one is a person or not, there are a few key questions to ask.
1. Can the entity act in the world and respond to its environment?
2. Is the entity aware of its own existence?
3. Does the entity possess rights and duties?
4. If it can claim the right to live, does it live independently?
I will now examine these questions and provide answers as to whether or not a prenatal organism should be considered a person.
- A fetus cannot act in the world nor respond to the environment except in response to it’s provider’s body, its mother.
- A fetus and even newborn babies do not yet have awareness of their own state, emotions or motivations. It is not self aware and therefore cannot acknowledge it’s own existence. We also cannot disregard the state in which the fetus exists within it’s mother’s womb; the fetus is asleep, surrounded by darkness and connected to a placenta which provides the nutrients and blood necessary for growth. The fetus is actually in a sedated state due to the low oxygen pressure and substances provided by the placenta which cause sleep; such as steroidal anesthetics.
- A fetus cannot possess rights or duties unless it is sentient and self-aware.
- Let’s say that the fetus should have a right to life. If this is true, it should also be living independently. A fetus cannot do this because it can only live while being attached to and being nourished by it’s mother. It requires it’s mother’s life to live.
Based on the answers to the questions listed above, a fetus does not have true person-hood.
What a fetus looks like at 12 weeks, contrary to some misinformed beliefs of pro-life advocates:
When abortion is illegal, women are not safe.
“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” Prof. Mahmoud Fathalla,MD, PhD
Whenever a country has tried to outlaw abortion, it has only lead to dangerous consequences for women. Many women have died or have been injured when abortion was illegal due to unsafe practices. This is why people have fought so hard to have the right to choose. Why would we go back in time knowing that it will cause harm towards all women?
If we seriously honor and respect the individual rights of people, then we cannot possibly return to the horrifying idea of laws that will both force women to bear children against their will and force women into getting dangerous abortions.
Not all women who get pregnant can have safe pregnancies.
Many women who suffer with heart disease, sickle-cell anemia, kidney disease, severe diabetes and other illnesses require that they have an abortion because of the potential life-threatening consequences a pregnancy or childbirth could have on them and/or the fetus.
An accidental pregnancy or a rape can destroy a woman’s life if she does not have access to abortion.
It is a horrendous idea that some people are trying to push, that even if a woman is raped she should not have an abortion. It could bring her economic, emotional and personal freedom to an absolute halt. Even a consensual but accidental pregnancy could have a devastating effect on a woman’s life. Forcing someone to have a child they did not want takes away all of her personal choice.
Therefore, I believe it is vital that women have the right to choose what happens to their own body and that abortion be legal. It is vital for their safety, health, and for their freedom and autonomy as an individual human being.
What if we could recreate a religious experience by simply flipping a switch in the brain? What if we could produce the feeling that someone or something is watching over us on demand? According to neuroscientific research conducted with The God Helmet, this may be possible.
The God Helmet, invented by Stanley Koren and used primarily by Dr. Michael Persinger, has forced us to reconsider the neurological basis of religion in the brain. The headgear is controversial because when electromagnetic waves are sent through a subject’s temporal lobe, it can create the feeling of a religious experience, or a sense of belonging. “We basically imitate what happens within the brain itself during a mystical experience,” says Dr. Persinger.
In this engaging lecture with guest speakers Trevor Carniello and Dr. Michael Persinger, learn about how The God Helmet works and discover the origin of religious experiences in the brain. Join us in this exclusive opportunity to be able to ask Dr. Persinger questions and find answers to your curiousities about God, the brain and religion.
The lecture takes place on Friday, March 9th at York University.This event is brought to you by Free[SAY]: Freethinkers, Skeptics and Atheists at York in collaboration with the Center For Inquiry.
When: Friday, March 9th 2012 7:00pm
Where: York University, Accolade West Room 109
How Much: $5 York Students
$7 General Admission
Tickets will also be available at the door
To encourage and promote involvement in both Free[SAY] and the Centre For Inquiry we’re offering FREE ADMISSION to “Faithless: Better without God” (details here:http://www.cficanada.ca/ontario/events/how_dan_barker_lost_his_faith_in_faith) AND “The God Helmet: Your Brain On Religion” with the purchase of a Student Membership for one year to the Centre for Inquiry.
For more information about the event and to purchase tickets please visit: http://www.cficanada.ca/ontario/events/the_god_helmet/
Atheists have now been found to be the fastest growing minority group. We are no longer being silent and closeted about our beliefs. The question is, how does one transition from being devoutly religious to being an active atheist? In this compelling presentation brought to you by Free[SAY] and the Centre for Inquiry we will hear the deconversion story of a man who lost his faith in faith.
Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is now the largest organization of freethinkers. He is also an accomplished musician and songwriter. However, what makes his story fascinating is that he began his career as an evangelical preacher.
At the age of 15, Dan accepted Christ as his savior and a few months later accepted what he felt was a calling to join the ministry. Dan received a degree in Religion at Azusa Pacific University and was ordained into the ministry by the Standard Community Church, California, in 1975. Barker also co-pastored in three different churches, and for eight years he was a cross-country evangelist. He preached for a total of nineteen years and has over two hundred published and recorded Christian songs that he has composed.
So what made Dan Barker lose his faith in religion? Free[SAY]: Freethinkers, Skeptics and Atheists at York in collaboration with the Centre for Inquiry, will be bringing you Dan Barker to tell his deconversion story at York University on March 1st, 2012. The presentation will be taking place from 7-9 PM at Accolade West, room 109.
When: Thursday, March 1st 2012 at 7:00 pm
Where: York University, Accolade West Room 109
How Much: $5 York Students
$7 General Admission
Tickets will also be available at the door
To encourage and promote involvement in both Free[SAY] and the Centre For Inquiry we’re offering FREE ADMISSION to “Faithless: Better without God” AND “The God Helmet: Your Brain On Religion” (details here:http://www.cficanada.ca/ontario/events/the_god_helmet) with the purchase of a Student Membership for one year to the Centre for Inquiry.
Before I begin I would like to state that the purpose of this article is not to enable people of competing belief systems (namely Christianity and Judaism) to assume that their convictions are somehow at a higher standing, vindicated of their destructive elements or otherwise victimized. This piece is not meant to score one for the good guys and lay one on the brown baddies.
Islamophobia is real and it is the byproduct of the post 9/11 world in which we live in. I recently came across this video while procrastinating on YouTube so I thought I would share with you. The clip is from the ABC show What Would You Do?
You will notice that while some of the costumers in the experiment sided with the Muslim girl the majority remained silent or even joined in the abuse. You might feel sympathetic, you might even feel angry and you have every right to. But should we react in a similar fashion when Islam as a religion is criticized by public intellectuals? Should we simply label anyone who criticizes Islam a racist Islamophobe?
Islamophobia can also be imagined and it is a byproduct of the knee-jerk politically hyper-sensitive atmosphere surrounding Islam. In this clip, famous atheist Sam Harris is speaking about the violent fundamentals of Islam.
Is Islam a religion of peace? This is not a question that should automatically result in scorn. It is a perfectly legitimate question which every single freethinking humanist should be entitled to ask. Is it racist for one to merely state the fact that the punishment for apostasy in Islam is death?
The point is that our reaction to Islamophobia should be more nuanced.
Clearly there exists a fine line between Islamophobia and critical analysis of Islam. But most often the critical analysis is lost in the language of hyper-sensitivity. For me this is a lazy reaction which scarifies critical thinking for the sanctimonious feeling one gets when proudly proclaiming support of multiculturalism. “they have their ways and I have mine” “oh don’t say that!!!! That’s Racist/Islamophobic etc.” If you fancy yourself a free and rational thinker these responses should not be convincing, you must have the courage to acknowledge the fact that much like any other religion, Islam is subject to criticism.
More importantly however there are many Muslims as well as ex-Muslim voices in the Muslim world and abroad, that wish to engage in the critique. I once asked one of my TAs who identified herself as a feminist to give me her opinion on Ayaan Hirshi Ali. She said that while she liked her works she did not particularly appreciate the” vitriolic tone” she uses to critique Islam. But how could a white middle aged feminist living in the west possibly understand the hatred that Ali feels? She has certainly not lived the life of a Muslim woman and yet she felt vindicated in her claim that Ali was not using nice words in relation to Islam. Indeed the western observer that is exposed to the Islamophobia debate must understand that Islamophobia can also work as a weapon to censor descent from within and should not be so easily accepted.
I leave you with this clip of Hirshi Ali debating Avis Lewis on the nuances of Islamophobia: