30 April: Amnesty International Telford group talk on Inequality

Amnesty Telford logoSHG members and readers may be interested in a free lecture sponsored by the Amnesty International Telford Branch on the subject of inequality.

Ana Caistor Arendar, Head of Inequality Campaigns at Oxfam, will give a talk entitled Even It Up at The Studio (next to the Chapel), Wrekin College TF1 3BH at 4.00 pm on Thursday, April 30th.

Free admission, refreshments provided.  There will be a collection to cover expenses.

Queries to Paul Francis, francisliberty [at] btinternet.com or phone 01952 728694

21 April meeting of Ludlow and Marches Humanists: Taking the Lid off the Mediaeval Church

ludlowA talk by Bob Milner. Bob is a local landscape historian who enjoys delving into the stories, rumour and scandal behind the great (and small) events and people of the past, Bob is well known for discovering the quirky bits of history nobody ever told you!

Tuesday 21 April 2015, 7.30pm, at  The Friends Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane Ludlow SY8 1DZ. Email: rocheforts [at] tiscali.co.uk

Under 35 and non-religious? The word that best describes your worldview might be ‘humanist’

James Fogg, in this guest post on HumanistLife, discusses the increasing popularity of the humanist perspective among young people, as well as the broad popularity of BHA campaign areas within that demographic.

Your views on various issues, and the rational, empathetic approach you took to get there? It has a name. Photo: Jacob Bøtter

I believe many people, young and old, are unconsciously living a humanistic lifestyle. Never before has Humanism been so unconsciously prevalent in the lives of young people. According to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, two thirds of today’s young people between ages 15 and 34 say they have no religion, and this means that they are happily finding their own way… without need for religious guidance. If you’re in this demographic, many of your friends will probably be humanists as well, often without realising. In fact, the UK population shares a great deal of common ground when it comes to a ethical issues and questions – and many of them will take a decidedly ‘humanist’ approach to answering these questions. When it comes to these sorts of questions, the views of the public at large, and young people in particular, align with those of the British Humanist Associations and its portfolio of campaigns.

‘Faith’ schools

With 51% of the British population identifying themselves as non-religious, we can safely assume a large proportion of children will not be brought up in a religious home. However, one third of state-funded schools are ‘faith’ schools, and children are sometimes very susceptible to misinformation. As they regard schools as places of education they may automatically assume all that they are taught is fact-based. We of course know better. But needless to say, religion is not fact-based. It is riddled with flaws including archaic doctrines, irrational behaviour, illogical thesis, and mythical beings.

The only place religion should have in schools is in the History and Religious Studies curriculums – it is of course right that young people learn about major world religions. But it’s wrong to teach them that any religion is literally true, as can be taught in ‘faith’ schools.

A Guardian poll in 2005 for example, found that 64% of people surveyed opposed state-funded faith schools of any kind. I firmly believe there is no such thing as a Christian, Islamic, Jewish child or otherwise. All children are born blank slates, without knowledge of custom or religion, until their minds are introduced to religious ideas or indoctrination, at home or in schools. Opposition to ‘faith’ schools is one area where the BHA and humanists generally act as prominent voices for the views of a wide swathe of people in Britain.

Equality and human rights

Human rights, covering things like the right to know our own minds, to express our own thoughts and beliefs, the right to education, a fair trial, freedom from slavery etc. are universal. We have these rights by dint of being human. Human rights are a bulwark against inequality, prejudice, and oppression. Equality and human rights are one and the same thing, and it is these simple truths as to the basic rights we require to live our lives – as encoded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which best encapsulate what it means to be free, to be human, and to be who you are with confidence and without worry.

 Marriage equality

The YouGov/Sun Poll from 2013 found that three quarters of people aged 18-24 supported the right of same-sex couples to have legally binding partnerships, referring to civil partnerships. Many more polls since have found broad support for same-sex marriage and civil partnership rights across the population, and consistently among young people. Humanists and the BHA have a strong history on this issue, and one they can be proud of. For example, humanist organisations around the world, including the BHA here in Britain, have been at the forefront of campaigns for marriage equality. I believe we can look forward to a time when ‘coming out’ of the closet and perhaps even concepts of sexual orientation are regarded as old-fashioned.

Assisted dying

This is a sensitive subject for many people. It raises many questions about ethics and the level of control we have over our own lives, and it’s a subject I feel passionately about. People should have the right to die. It’s as simple as that. I hope I live long enough to decide how I go, and if not, I hope I go out in style. Around 80% of the British population support a change in law allowing the terminally ill help to end their own lives. The current law mandates relentless suffering, and makes no concessions for the right to autonomy. Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is an important piece of proposed legislation, and has been a lightning rod for a much-needed wider discussion around this issue. The BHA advocates for anyone suffering an incurable illness, who has made a committed and uncoerced decision, to have an assisted death should they want one. This, I believe, is the most ethical position and it is one motivated by a humanist perspective on ethics.

For me, that’s what Humanism is all about: rational thought and compassion working for the benefit of everyone. For the purposes of illustration I have chosen just a handful of the BHA’s campaigns. There are more, and there is plenty more good work to be done.


James Fogg is a volunteer at Young Humanists, the new section of the British Humanist Association for 18-35 year olds. Young humanists are invited to the launch party taking place in London on 27 March – find out more at www.younghumanists.org.uk/launch. You can follow Young Humanists on Facebook and Twitter.

Another atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh

From the International Humanist and Ethical Union on 30 March 2015:

Washiqur Rahman’s Facebook banner declares “#IamAvijit”, after the leading secular and humanist blogger, Avijit Roy, who was murdered a month ago in Bangladesh.

Washiqur babu

This morning Washiqur Rahman himself was killed in similar circumstances: a machete attack by assailants on the streets of Dhaka. The brutal attack took place close to Rahman’s home. Police have reportedly taken two men into custody who were detained at the scene.

Bob Churchill, Director of Communications at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) comments: “We are deeply saddened that yet another rationalist voice has been so brutally silenced in this vile backlash against atheist bloggers. Our thoughts are with Washiqur’s family and we stand in solidarity with the many individual thinkers and writers from Bangladesh who exercise their right to discuss religion — Islam in particular — frankly and critically. This is a human right, freedom of expression, and it should be respected and protected in Bangladesh, as it should be respected and protected everywhere.”

Asif Mohiuddin, who was also the victim of a machete attack in 2013, but survived and now lives abroad, described Washiqur on his Facebook page as a “humanist” and a true wit. He told the IHEU: “He was a good friend. We spent hours over tea discussing blogs a few years ago. He had a great sense of humor, his satires were amazing. I named him the George Carlin of Bangladesh! Personally he was very polite, a nice human being. He wanted with all his heart, a true secular country, where everyone can practice their freedom.”

Arifur Rahman, another fellow Bangladeshi atheist blogger, saw Washiqur recently at a social meetup. Washiqur was “a soft spoken personality,” says Arifur, and “his writing was very good. He was… careful, but that did not save him… The culture of impunity that has spread over the last few years clearly has very damning results. It is now the consensus inside Bangladesh, be it silent or spoken, that ‘if you drop an atheist in the open street, nothing will happen to you, you will be treated as a hero.’ The word ‘Nastik’ (atheist) has been vilified in Bangladesh (and the rest of the Muslim world); they are seen as sub-human, it is OK to kill them.”

Washiqur’s writing

Washiqur also used the hashtag #WordsCannotBeKilled, introduced by Avijit Roy’s daughter following her father’s murder. In that vital spirit, we share some words from Washiqur Rahman.

Mild-mannered in person, Washiqur’s satire could be bitingly incisive and insightful. Writing a 52 episode series for Dhormockery.com (a satirical Bengali site), called “Jaw-crushing answers to insulting comments of atheists” (see: questions 1-20, questions 21-40) he enumerated questions raised by critics about Islam, alongside answers commonly given to them, but paired the questions together in order to highlight how the answers are very often in tension, or contradict each other entirely. For example:

Insulting comment 21: Islam is claimed to be ‘the best and the complete way of life’. Does that mean that slavery is valid for eternity?

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a humane religion. Slavery was not forbidden because of the situation of that time. But there scope for ‘qiyas and ijma’ (consensus and reconsideration) in Islam. That means any custom can be abolished

Insulting comment 22: Why then Muslims are not agreeing to equal inheritance for girls through ‘qiyas and ijma’.

Jaw-crushing answer: See, Islam is a ‘perfect and complete way of life’. Its ‘codes of life’ has been formulated for the overall welfare of humanity. Islam has basically given women the highest honor. But you want to abolish the laws of Allah for the sake of inconsequential earthly benefits. This is not acceptable.

For Bangaldesh’s Independence Day, he wrote a poetic lament about which sections of society really are liberated, and those which are not. The piece reveals many wider social justice concerns, alluding to the apparent immunity from prosecution faced by some garment factory owners, and the injustices faced by many of the poorest in society:

আজ বাংলাদেশের স্বাধীনতা দিবস।

মোল্লা স্বাধীন, জঙ্গি স্বাধীন, ছাগু স্বাধীন, মুমিন স্বাধীন, দুর্নীতিবাজ স্বাধীন, রাজনৈতিক নেতা স্বাধীন, পাতি নেতা স্বাধীন, ধর্ষক স্বাধীন, সামরিক বাহিনী স্বাধীন, সুশীল সমাজ স্বাধীন, পিনাকী স্বাধীন, শফি হুজুর স্বাধীন, দলদাস স্বাধীন, গার্মেন্টস মালিক স্বাধীন, লঞ্চ মালিক স্বাধীন…

স্বাধীন নয় কৃষক-শ্রমিক,
স্বাধীন নয় কথিত সংখ্যালঘু-আদিবাসী,
স্বাধীন নয় মুক্তচিন্তার মানুষ,
স্বাধীন নয় মানুষ হতে চাওয়া মানুষগুলো…

Today is Bangladesh’s liberation day

The Mullah has freedom, extremists have freedom, Muslims have freedom, the corrupt have freedom, political leaders have freedom, adulates of the political leaders have freedom, rapists are free, the armed forces are free, so-called civil society is free, intellectuals who support Islamists, they also have freedom, religious leaders have freedom, the garment factory owners have freedom, the ferry owners have freedom.

Not free: the farmers and labours
Not free: indigenous people and minorities
Not free: Freethinkers
Not free: All the people who just want to be human…

Known on Facebook as Washiqur Babu, Rahman also blogged at Shocholayoton and posted at an online message board called Logical Forum. Washiqur Rahman is also a pseudonym and we’re not using his full given name on advice.

Sweden’s feminist foreign minister hammered for confronting Saudi Arabia

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

Special Representative of the Secretary-

From the Spectator

If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair. It has all the ingredients for a clash-of-civilisations confrontation.

A few weeks ago Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. As the theocratic kingdom prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men, she was telling no more than the truth. Wallström went on to condemn the Saudi courts for ordering that Raif Badawi receive ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. These were ‘mediaeval methods’, she said, and a ‘cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression’. And once again…

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