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Archive for the ‘Secular’ Category

The Brexit vote and the rise of Islamism

Posted by Secular on June 30, 2016

Much of the doom and gloom predicted as a result of the British decision to leave the European Union is unlikely to eventuate. The fears are overblown. There is no obvious increased security risk. The trade issues can be negotiated. Movement of people between borders may change little.

While there were many factors motivating the vote, a significant one is a reaction against Islamisation. This a is hardly mentioned by commentators, but it is certainly the main reason for anti-EU sentiment in Holland and France, where the open borders policy is more relevant. Islamism creates an undercurrent of discontent. Not all of this can simply be dismissed as xenophobia or “Islamophobia”. There are some legitimate concerns. The average person could see that elements of Islam, especially its preference for sharia law, are hardly compatible with British values of equality. The political elites have refused to recognise the problem of Islamism or to effectively address it. It adds to the perceived lack of sovereignty. Hence the reaction, which is likely to be replicated in other parts of Europe. The European Union has more to fear from the Brexit vote than Britain.

There are real problems with the European Union, and a cogent case could be made for leaving. The common currency, which Britain had the good sense not to join, has been a disaster for countries like Greece. They are denied the exchange rate flexibility to re-balance their economies, while Germany benefits from an under-valued Euro. Had the European Union remained as the Common Market, a free trade zone, it would have been sufficient. Even as such, it was not ideal, as it erected significant barriers against non-European goods, such as Australian agricultural products, and still does.

But the ambitions of the European Union did not stop at free trade. The vision was one of a “United States of Europe”, with supreme powers invested in the European Commission. This made it attractive for surrounding countries to want to join, and the addition of the Eastern European states added to its presumed importance. But there was never a prospect of full fiscal integration that a federal system would require. It is an unstable half-way house. The European Union has become an unstoppable bandwagon heading for an impossible destination. It is a flawed project. Britain was right to get out.

These perceptions of the EU’s failings however are unlikely to have been the only factor in the Brexit vote, even though they provided a valid justification for it. Resentment of immigration was likely to have been a more dominant factor.

A lot has been said about the numbers of Polish immigrants, which certainly have made their presence felt. However the migration that occurred after Poland joined the Union is likely to have been beneficial to both Britain and Poland. The Polish people in Britain have not set up enclave communities, sought to impose their own laws, made demands upon wider society or engaged in terrorist attacks.

This is not to suggest, of course, that all Muslims follow an Islamist agenda. However a certain proportion do. The problem is not inherent in the people themselves but with the nature of the religion they are required to follow.  The doctrines of Islam, literally interpreted, are incompatible with secularism, human rights and democracy. In the political ideology of Islamism, sharia laws must dominate. This is because the laws of Allah are placed above civil laws. Such laws cannot be changed democratically.

It is an unfortunate part of current political discourse that these matters cannot be raised without facing accusations of “hate mongering” or “Islamophobia”. However unless we are are aware of the content of Islamic teachings we cannot properly evaluate the issue. In Islam the example of the Prophet Muhammad is held as exemplary. Yet the biographical details of the Prophet, which are held in Islamic doctrine to be authentic, depict a figure who engaged in insurrection, mass beheadings, took sex slaves and a child bride. It is not an example that should be followed in the 21st century, but it is being followed. Muslim reform advocate Maajid Nawas refers to it as “a global Islamist insurgency“.

Given the apparent acquiescence of social liberals, and the support given to Islamism by the “regressive left”,  it is no surprise that many voters turn to right wing anti-immigration parties. The Brexit vote is, in part, a manifestation of this. However this is hardly a solution to the to rising social tensions and violence that Islamism portends.

The only alternative to the rising tide of Islamism is a more rigorous implementation of secularism. This is what the Secular Party seeks to advocate. Only the Secular Party proposes this solution. We are not a right wing, but a liberal minded party. Yet we are continually constrained by a reluctance to speak openly on this issue due to accusations that we are offensive to Muslims and promoting bigotry. This is not the case at all. We are very much aware that the people who suffer most from the oppressive and misogynist aspects of Islam are the Muslims themselves. We support efforts of Muslim reformers to address these issues.

The most important step towards secularism that we can take, and foremost in our policy aims, is to stop indoctrinating children with religion in schools. Any religion. Children should be taught about religions, including the mythological legends on which they are all based. Children must be encouraged to critically evaluate and make up their own minds about religion based on reason and evidence.

In Australia there is only one political party that is pledged to implement such a policy: the Secular Party. We will not only prohibit religious instruction during school times. We will not fund religious schools, saving up to $10bn per year. We will stop any school from promoting to children that there is such a thing as the ‘one true faith’.

This is the only way we can start to get society back on a more rational track. We live in turbulent times. The widespread prevalence of the religious mindset, and the aggressiveness of Islamism, clouds the minds of the current political elites. They have no solution. We do, and we will remain resolute in promoting it.

John Perkins

Secular Party

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The human cost of Islam

Posted by Secular on December 16, 2015

All increases in human welfare can ultimately be ascribed to ingenuity and innovation. In early societies, after the development of agriculture, religions may have had some positive social function in bringing people together. In general, however, religions seek to prevent or delay the development of knowledge that might threaten belief in the religion’s dogma. Thus religions bear an untold cost in human welfare due to their inhibition of technical progress that would otherwise have occurred sooner. So the overall historical contribution of religion to human welfare has been negative. This is particularly the case with Islam.

The historical legacy

After the Romans adopted Christianity, the Greek schools of learning were closed down. Following that, Rome fell, and the Dark Ages ensued in Europe. The knowledge of the Greeks, however, was maintained and developed by the Arabs. The Arabic numbering system, derived from India and including the number zero, was a momentous achievement. Arguably, it enabled all subsequent advances in science, as well as commerce. Thus for several centuries the Arabs led the world in knowledge.

Despite what is claimed by Islamic advocates, these achievements were in spite of, not because of, Islam. The scientists operated independently from the religion, under the tutelage of Arab rulers who saw a benefit in their research. This was not to last, however.

After the establishment of Islam, there were numerous doctrinal disputes regarding the imposition of religious strictures. In the 8th century, the Mutazilites were a group that argued that the Koran was “created in time” and that Islam should be open to reason. They were soon persecuted, but a degree of openness remained, and trade and industry prospered.

The end came in the 12th century, when philosophers began to question the inerrancy of the Koran. After that, the strict faith of the theologian Al-Ghazali was imposed and enforced. This held that everything was caused by Allah, and that resort to reason and rationality is useless and should be condemned. This turning point has been called the shutting of the gate of ijtihad, or the closing of the Muslim mind. It led to the abandonment of research and investigation. It also led to the centuries-long decline in the Arab world relative to Europe, from which it has never recovered.

The suppression of knowledge in this period is typified by the fact that the printing press was banned in the Arab world for 300 years after it was introduced in Europe. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire led to a brief relative decline in the power of Islam in Arab society, but this was again reversed with the rise of strict enforcement of the theology of Wahabism and Salafism in the 20th century.

More than a decade ago the United Nations Arab Human Development Reports, investigating why the Arab world lagged in a whole range of socio-economic indicators, identified three major deficits: in freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge. It would not, or could not, however, state the basic cause: Islam. Since then, the situation in the Arab world has become immeasurably worse. Yet still, there is widespread denial that Islam is the fundamental cause of the problem.

The power struggle between Islamist agitators and authoritarian rulers, who try to keep them at bay, is a conflict that has been repeated endlessly in the Islamic world throughout its history. The recent events in Egypt are a typical example. This instability is the reason for poor economic and social conditions in the Arab world. This in turn fosters greater Islamism. We cannot blame colonialism, or poverty, or oppression, or the Americans, although they have not helped. The underlying cause is Islam itself.

Islam is an ideology that is anti-democratic, anti-secular and inimical to universal human rights. It is not just critics and ex-Muslims who attest to this: the Islamists themselves proclaim it. This is not a reflection on the desires and beliefs of the average Muslim: it is a doctrinal characteristic of the religion. The essential reason for this is the military foundation of Islam, as explained below. But before we dismiss these contentions as ill-founded speculation, we should consider the enormity of this issue.

The greatest cause of human suffering

The suffering that Islam brings upon Muslims is immense: over 140 million women and girls have been genitally mutilated, as sanctioned in the Hadith. Hundreds of millions more women and girls suffer daily from the wearing of oppressive garments, as mandated in the Koran to “protect” them from Muslim men. The rise in global Islamism in recent decades has made these issues far worse.

The global surge in Islamism has been largely instigated by the development of Saudi-funded madrassas and Islamic schools around the world, including in Australia. As literacy and educational attainment has increased in the Muslim world, so has the degree of Islamic religious indoctrination. A whole generation has arisen under instruction that the tenets of the Koran must be accepted without question. While it often downplayed, these tenets include incitements to violence. The consequences are awful and the Arab world is again bearing the brunt.

The Arab “spring” has now turned to winter, and the inherently conflictual nature of Islam has intensified. Any group perceived as deviating from the laws of Allah is deemed worthy of punishment. As a result of the sectarian war in Syria, more than 200,000 are dead, a third of the housing stock has been destroyed and more than three million refugees produced. The rise in adherence to Islamic ideology is progressively bringing more chaos and mayhem to countries where it has influence. Iraq, Libya and Yemen can be added to the list of “failed states” that already includes Somalia, and in part, Nigeria, Mali, Pakistan and Afghanistan, to name but a few of the obvious cases.

The violence and destruction in these countries is ongoing, with worse in prospect. In the Middle East there are now over 13 million children who are not in school due to religious conflicts. Instead of getting an education, they are being trained in brutality. This portends a grim future, to an extent unprecedented in the modern day.

How should we evaluate the magnitude of this destruction, population displacement, deprivation and carnage? Famines, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes cause human suffering, but in these cases it is transient and can be remedied. With Islam, the calamity of its destruction is daily. It is persistent, pervasive and endemic. There is no relief in sight, no chance to rebuild. This is of an order unlike any natural disaster. Islam is by far the greatest cause of human suffering in the world today.

Islamic State is Islamic, very Islamic

One would think that these circumstances would give rise for concern, particularly amongst those who are able to perceive that the mythical beliefs at the core of Islam have been utterly refuted by contemporary knowledge. Instead, there is widespread denial that religion has anything to do with this daily calamity.

The Islamic State’s widespread use of violence and repression is claimed to be an extremist interpretation, an aberration of the true “religion of peace”. It is “not Islamic” according to President Obama. Such people are mystified as to why the Islamic State is attractive to recruits.

In fact, the Islamic State is meticulously following the Koran and the deeds of the Prophet. It is attractive to recruits for the very reason that it is authentic to the history and doctrines of Islam. It represents an historic revival of the military campaigns that first established the religion. Of course this is difficult for the apologists for Islam to admit, but warfare is Islam’s essential founding characteristic. The Prophet Muhammad was a military leader. It is impossible to understand the world today without understanding this.

In 7th century Arabia, Islam was created, established and spread by the sword. That is why both the Islamic State and Saudi Arabia have a sword on their flags. After his exile from Mecca to Medina, the Prophet Muhammad launched an insurgency, attacking the Meccan caravans. Following a series of battles, he triumphantly conquered Mecca, and thereafter all of Arabia, forcing all to convert to Islam. No other religion was created by force in this way.

Muslims have a disingenuous attitude to this part of their history, and many are ignorant of it. Rather than a self-serving aggressor and warlord, they publicly proclaim their founder as a paragon of virtue, a selfless individual who was unwillingly forced to do his best to serve Allah. From Islamic historical sources themselves, however, we can see Muhammad in an entirely different light. The earliest biography, by Ibn Ishaq, was written more than a hundred years after Muhammad’s death, but is very detailed. It depicts Muhammad as ruthless and violent.

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics describes Muhammad’s biographical depiction as “exceedingly unfavourable”. As well as being expedient and unscrupulous, “He organises assassinations and wholesale massacres. His career as tyrant of Medina is that of a robber chief, whose political economy consists in securing and dividing plunder.” The unflattering nature of Muhammad’s biography tends to add to its credibility. However its authenticity is not as important as the fact that it is what Muslims believe, even if covertly.

Beheading is mandated in the Koran as a punishment for infidels. There are numerous war proclamations by Muhammad in the Koran. It is no coincidence that the Islamic State engages in mass beheadings, conquest, and the sexual enslavement of captive women and girls, because this is what the Prophet himself did.

It is the duty of all Muslims to follow the Koran and the example of the Prophet. In what is seen as an historic opportunity, many young Muslims are now trying to do just that. Travel, adventure and idealism are prerogatives of the young. But religious fervour is the main motivation for joining the Islamic State. It is the fulfillment of an apocalyptic vision, a place where only the laws of Allah apply. Despite what the apologists say, young Islamists have the means to identify what is at the core of their religion. Their desire to identify with and join the Islamic State should be no surprise.

The secular response

It is natural for people to want to cast uncomfortable truths from their minds. It is natural to want to believe the best in other people. For the religious, it is difficult to accept that cherished beliefs could be false or harmful. It is particularly difficult for well-meaning Muslims to realise or accept that there is evil at the core of their religion. Naturally, Islamic apologists would want to deny, conceal and play down any undesirable characteristics of their religion, particularly when they are engaged in public relations exchanges with non-Muslims.

It is understandable too that when subjected to injustice, Muslims should feel aggrieved. It is also understandable, that, in order to advance their cause, Islamists should seek to label all critics of Islam as “racist” or “Islamophobic”. That is an obvious defensive tactic. It should be no surprise that believers would behave in a way that their religion demands.

What is surprising is the apparent lack of concern about the tragic suffering that Islam causes. Compared with other humanitarian disasters, there is an apparent indifference, a callous disregard. This apparent lack of concern is particularly grievous amongst atheists and rationalists, who should have the capacity to see through the dissembling and obfuscation that religious apologists bring to the issue.

What is even more surprising is the widespread uncritical acceptance, even by atheists, of contentions that apologists for Islam often make. Even more extraordinary, perhaps, is the tendency of many of the liberal-minded, including atheists, not just to side with and support, but to actively advocate on behalf of the apologists for Islam. In the circumstances, the notions of misplaced empathy, political correctness, cultural relativism, all seem inadequate to explain this phenomenon. Readers of this magazine may be aware of a particular instance of this in relation to a representative of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

In 2004, in a celebrated case, the ICV took a Christian group, Catch the Fire Ministries, to court on the grounds that their description of the nature of Islam vilified Muslims. The ICV won, but the appeal was settled out of court. The case involved a fascinating account of the interplay of law and religion. In it, the barrister for the defense, David Perkins (no relation) described the Islamic Council as “in conventional and descriptive terms, a political pressure group. It desires to control, within Victoria … the content of speech about Muslims. Specifically, it wishes to bring about a state of affairs by which some opinions (which, ex hypothesi it disagrees with) about what the Koran says, can be suppressed”.

We must conclude that the ICV has been very successful in this task. One of their advocates, Shereen Hassan, apparently has a reputation as a “progressive” and “feminist” Muslim, even though both terms are a priori at least, entirely inconsistent with the doctrines of Islam. As a professional dissembler and provider of disinformation on Islam, she is perfectly entitled to her views. I can certainly attest, however, as a participant in university debates, that what ICV representatives may say in public relations mode can be very different from what they might say to a Muslim audience.

The anomalous willingness of atheists to act as advocates of Islam is a phenomenon we need to assess. The many arguments, or rather excuses, that Islamic apologists put forward need to be examined more critically. We should not accept that any criticism of Islamic violence and oppression is due to prejudice, racism, bigotry, victimisation, alienation, colonialism, capitalism or irrational fear. Islam’s rejection of secularism, human rights and democracy is a legitimate cause for concern. In response we need to advocate these principles more stridently.

While we may sympathise with those who genuinely suffer injustice, as atheists we should not forget that religions are false and can be dangerous. We should seek to dissuade people from believing in and following them, not encourage them.

We can sympathise with those who advocate reform of Islam. This could be a useful tactical gesture in at least sowing the seeds of doubt in Muslim minds. It is highly unlikely to succeed, however, as it has been attempted many times in the past and failed. Islam requires submission and obedience to the Koran, which cannot be revised. The objective should be a move away from religion towards reason and rationality. Discarding the more egregious aspects of an ideology, while retaining its myths, knowing them to be false, is not a worthwhile exercise to engage in.

Greater security crackdowns on Muslims will be counterproductive and produce more alienation and antagonism. It is treating the symptoms, not the cause. The notion that Islamic extremists can be deradicalised, by the “correct” training in Islam, with the assistance of groups such as the Islamic Council, is the height of absurdity. That government money should be provided for them to do this is the antithesis of secularism. We need to reclaim secularism in Australia. We should not be afraid of advocating reason in response to terrorism: we should be afraid of not doing so.

There is no military solution. Victory over the Islamic State will not resolve or defeat the historic challenge to human well-being that Islam represents. Secularism is the only solution. Had Iraq been provided with a secular constitution after the 2003 US-led invasion, then the virulent Shiite sectarianism that caused Iraq’s disintegration could have been avoided; likewise in Afghanistan. Without a secular vision, there is only the prospect of deepening and spreading conflict.

As atheists, we have a grave responsibility. We have the ability to perceive that religions are pathological delusions. Believers do not have this perception. We know that their beliefs are based on ancient myths and lack veracity. Believers do not have this insight.

Knowing what we do, it is insufficient and counterproductive merely to condone and support moderate believers in the vain hope that they will find a solution. They won’t. Instead we must assert our point of view. We cannot succumb to relativism, as if all views are equally valid. We cannot accept violations of secularism and human rights merely because of cultural sensibilities.

Of course, we need to be tactful as well as persuasive. People have a great emotional attachment to their unfounded beliefs. But we cannot shirk this challenge. We need to be critical of Islamists, as well as other religionists, and not defend and support them. We need to end this perversity, where the worse the behaviour of Islamists becomes, the more many atheists appear to rise to their defense.

We must, of course, do this in a way that does not target Muslims as people. We need to criticise beliefs, not people. We need to portray religion as the problem, to which secularism is the solution. After hundreds of years of religious wars in Europe, secularism was invented to counter this problem. The human cost is enormous. Secularism is sorely needed now. Let us resolve to advocate it.

John L. Perkins is an economist and is president of the Secular Party of Australia.
Note:  This article was published in Australian Rationalist, Volume 97, Winter 2015. (curiously, in that publication. the title was changed, to the seemingly rhetorical: “Question: Is Islam to blame for the terrorism and violence in the Middle East?”).

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Not shutting up about child marriage

Posted by Secular on September 27, 2013

by Moira Clarke

Transcript and comments on debate, “Islam or atheism”. Disclaimer: While we can agree that atheism as a cause should not be conflated with that of secular government, when dealing with a movement that is politically active and is inherently anti-secular, we should certainly take an interest in any discourse which seeks to challenge secular viewpoints.

There was a very interesting exchange during a debate in Melbourne last week . . . and a subsequent statement put out on Twitter that would lead one to imagine that the debate had never taken place.

The debate’s topic was, “Islam or Atheism: which makes more sense?”. It was held at Swinburne University on the evening of 20th September, and organised by iERA. Speakers for the “atheist” side were John Perkins and Ian Robinson. Speakers for the Islamic side were Hamza Tzortzis and [name withheld*].

The partial transcription that I have provided starts shortly after 1:53:20 into the video and continues for the next few minutes.

Audience members, as verified earlier in the video, were mostly of the Islamic faith.

At the start of this segment, John Perkins said that he wished to raise a question that related to morality and the Qur’an.

<transcription begins>

John Perkins: The claim of Islam is that these texts are a source for the perfect kind of morality. Now I’m sorry [directed to the audience] if what I might raise causes discomfort, but I believe that I need to do this to demonstrate a point. I’m going to start at Sura 65:4. “If you are in doubt concerning your wives who have ceased menstruating, know that their waiting periods shall be 3 months. The same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated.” As we know, the marriage of children in Islam is permitted, and the prophet Muhammad himself took a wife at the age of six, and the marriage was consummated at the age of nine — as we are informed. Last week in Yemen an eight-year-old girl died on her wedding night of internal haemorrhaging. Her new husband was forty years of age. Can you please indicate the perfect morality of the Qur’an that is indicated by my quote and this occurrence please.

[Some in the audience clap.]

[name withheld*]: Had the child reached puberty?

[Gasps and other disturbance from the audience. One audience member tells another not to swear. One audience member yells, “Does it matter?”]

[name withheld*]: Of course it matters! Of course it matters whether the child has reached puberty! That is precisely the point! Could you, John, or anyone, reach an absolute moral conception about the right age at which a marriage may or may not be consummated? Is there any positive position to provide me a basis for that morality? Why is it that in western cultures until recently, some countries, the age of marriage, (Tzortzis correct me if I’m wrong) twelve in some places, thirteen in others. Until last century, in western European countries, in medieval Europe, girls used to get married as early as eleven and twelve. So this is happening in many cultures around the world, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not just Islam that this is madly happening. But to answer the question. Islam, and the sources of Islam, and the hadiths [inaudible], which is classified as meaning a good transmission or a correct transmission it says, yes, it says the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) consummated the marriage with Aisha at the age of nine. I’m not going to deny that. That’s not bad — if she had reached the age of puberty at that age, then we say: probably that is fine. [To John] I want you to show me otherwise. I want you to show me how, if she had reached puberty and it is wrong, why?

John Perkins: Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [name withheld* interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either [name withheld*] or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.

Hamza Tzortzis: There’s other Islamic principles that you have to take into consideration, right. For example, it’s not just about. . . You see, I’ll ask you the question, what age should a woman get married at? [Pause.] You answer me, what age should she get married at? Give me an age!

John Perkins: When she’s old enough.

[Audience disturbance, laughter, Hamza crying out, “What does that mean?”]

Hamza Tzortzis: You give me a number! I want an answer.

John Perkins: The legal age here—

Hamza Tzortzis: [interrupts] Wait a second, what is the legal age? What is the legal age?

John Perkins: Eighteen.

Hamza Tzortzis: In England it’s sixteen. In Spain it’s twelve. In Greece it’s thirteen. In some places in America it’s twenty-one. This is the fallacy of secular law. It’s very arbitrary. This is our law: it’s nothing to do with age. Now listen to the principles. Number 1. Is she physically fit? Number 2. Is she emotionally ready? Number 3. Is she mentally ready? Number 4. Is this socially acceptable? Number 5. All these different kinds of principles that we apply. And it happened, that there was an outlier from the statistics that a nine-year-old was physically fit, was mentally ready . . . was . . . given by her own father and the tribe, so we have principles which makes our law far more typist, rather than putting a number, saying, you can do it when you’re sixteen. There are some sixteen-year-olds in this country that can’t even tie their shoelace. The point is: if that’s all you’ve got, a sexed-up view of sharia law, a Fox News narrative, if you study the situation properly it’s based on principles that you apply to different scenarios, and yes, if you apply them properly, the eight-year-old will not get married, because look you’ve damaged her, because the problem I have, is that there is no harming, so there should be no harm. So the point is this is really about sharia law on the basis of [inaudible] things and BBC News and Fox News and god knows what we have.

[Audience claps and cheers loudly.]

<transcription ends>

I wonder at what point anyone could decide, according to those so-called principles, that any nine-year-old child was an “outlier”, and therefore should be married and made to have sex with a man. If Hamza had been present at the arrangement of the wedding in Yemen, helping to make that decision, would he have been able to tell that during subsequent sexual intercourse the little girl was going to be “damaged” to the point of death? Would he have stopped to think about the trauma she would have suffered, even if she had not died or been injured? Would he have thought to inquire as to whether she could continue to go to school, in addition to being this man’s “wife”? I wonder how these “principles” could possibly be determined for any other nine-year-old, or twelve-year-old, or (in some cases) seven-year-old. Elsewhere in the debate, Hamza ridicules John and Ian on their confidence in scientific knowledge, such as evolution, claiming that knowledge stemming from the supposed authority of the Qur’an is just as valid, simply because John and Ian had not personally conducted the experiments documented in the peer-reviewed literature. It is therefore difficult to imagine by what means Islamic clerics would determine that a nine-year-old child was physically, emotionally and mentally ready for sexual intercourse with a man, or that an eleven-year-old was similarly prepared for pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Since the Qur’an is imagined to be the source of all knowledge, why look further? Of course, the minuscule detail of the child’s informed and willing consent was not mentioned. And on that note, it is a pity that, due to their age, gender and social status, no one will ever apply principles 1, 2, 3 and 4 to either Hamza or [name withheld*], with or without their consent.

Here is Hamza’s statement on Twitter, issued a few days after the debate:

twitter20130927

I don’t believe any comment is necessary.

At this point in time a Royal Commission is being conducted into revelations of generations of child sexual abuse in institutions in Australia, with the Catholic Church taking centre stage. We know already that religious power is an extremely effective means of perpetuating abuse. I would dearly love to pack that same lecture theatre at Swinburne full of survivors of child abuse, those who have had the courage to tell their stories to the Royal Commission and other abuse inquiries. I would like nothing better than to give Hamza the opportunity to explain to them the four principles upon which we can determine that a child is ready for sex with an adult. I’m sure they’d be fascinated.

As for other issues with being “physically ready”, a girl’s body is not mature enough to endure childbirth until her late teens, and if sufficient medical help is unavailable the results are often tragic. Perhaps Hamza and [name withheld*] should take the time to look up the condition called “fistula” to educate themselves on one – just one — of the possible adverse outcomes of early childbirth.

I would have thought that in Australia and in the 21st century it should not be necessary to defend the premise, “child marriage is a harmful and immoral practice, and is contrary to the human rights of the child”. However, just to clear up any remaining confusion, please refer to the sources below.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/child_marriage_20130307/en/
http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/
http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/international-day-of-the-girl-child-my-life-my-right-end-child-marriage

Here is the story of the child in Yemen, as covered by the international organisation Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/09/10/yemen-end-child-marriage. It was also covered by publications such as Reuters and Al Jazeera. I neither know nor care what Fox News had to say, as I do not typically look at their material.

There are objective criteria to be applied, and claims of immunity from criticism simply because “others do it too” or because similarly poor standards applied in western countries generations ago don’t wash. If they did, we would not be able to criticise any instances, anywhere, of slavery, child labour, crimes against homosexuals, women being treated as second-class citizens, and racist immigration policies. All of these evils have, in the past, existed in the West, due to ignorance and the abuse of power.

It does not follow that we should remain silent.

Postscript 28/09/2013

Hamza has seen this post, and let’s just say he’s not happy. His immediate response was to claim that I was lying. “Interesting that you ignored my condemnation during the debate of the Yemen case. Shame on you.” and “Are you lying again? Where’s my condemnation of the Yemen case?! Lying is immoral, do you know that?” When @TheRationaliser suggested that perhaps I had, indeed, missed some additional material that immediately followed the transcribed segment, I went back and checked. Nope. Nothing missing.  Since posting I have modified just one word on a reader’s correction. Nothing has been added or removed. The original transcription already contains Hamza’s “condemnation” of the Yemeni case, but he somehow missed that when he read it. Why?

I suspect the problem is that Hamza’s own recollection of the debate has him fiercely railing against the death of that poor child, without reservation, perhaps giving it almost as much gravity as the remainder of his response. The transcription, however, reveals what really happened. Hamza condemns the Yemeni case in only a few words, less than a single sentence, and even that is heavily qualified by his insistence that it only happened because his “principles” were not (somehow) correctly applied, thus skirting around the real problem, that anyone would consider it okay to rape another human being, let alone an eight-year-old child, in any circumstances. Not only that, but this “condemnation” was immediately followed by another, that being the way such cases are portrayed by the media.  and that somehow somebody’s “sexed-up” view of sharia law is the problem, rather than the inevitable consequences of that law.

Hamza is angry to see his words in writing because, as a transcription, they are stripped of his showmanship, All we see is what he is saying, the argument itself, devoid of any public speaking gimmickry that might serve to make such an unpalatable position seem reasonable to an already malleable audience. His argument, naked without its sugar coating, cannot withstand scrutiny. The unrehearsed and unpolished words of John Perkins, however, despite the fact that the transcription removes the pain that is evident in his voice, retain their sincerity and hence their power to evoke a similar response in the reader.

Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [name withheld* interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either [name withheld*] or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.

Postscript 28/06/2016

*Name withheld The name of the other person who took part in this debate is now withheld on humanitarian grounds because the the person involved was suffering bigoted abuse due to his debate contribution. It is in the interests of free speech that such debates take place without fear of intimidation, by any side. It was requested that we delete this entire page but we declined to do so.

 

Posted in Child abuse, Secular | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

School chaplains and trivia nights

Posted by Christopher Owen on August 7, 2013

6th August 2013

Media Release

Schools should not be holding trivia nights to raise funds for school chaplains, according to Secular Party spokesperson, Greg Plier. “A public and supposedly secular school has decided that the best way to care for their students is to employ religious chaplains,” said Mr Plier. “Frankston High School has just held a trivia night to raise money. Why not do that to better resource their Student Wellbeing Team with properly qualified counsellors or welfare officers?” Mr Plier stated that the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (NSCSWP), despite the name change, is virtually exclusively for the employment of chaplains by church-based providers.  “Frankston High School and state schools throughout Australia educate many children from families that are of religious minorities and from families that have no religion,” he said, “yet the vast majority of chaplains and religious providers are Christian.  The NSCSWP direction that school chaplains are not to preach, proselytise, evangelise their faith, or promote a particular religious belief is completely at odds  with the requirement that they must be endorsed by a recognised or accepted religious institution.”

He emphasised that chaplains and evangelical organisations such as ACCESS Ministries have no place in Australia’s secular inclusive public school system. “The Federal Government and schools should not be in the business of advancing religion,” said Mr Plier. “Clearly, the employment of chaplains is against the secular principle of separation of church and state.”

Mr Plier concluded with a reference to the Secular Party’s policy that the National Schools Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program be replaced with a single program supporting only qualified counsellors and student welfare officers in schools.

Greg Plier
Victorian Delegate
Secular Party of Australia
0402 355 508
gplier@secular.org.au

Posted in Chaplains, Education, Media Releases, NSCP, Secular | Leave a Comment »

Council prayers

Posted by Secular on April 27, 2013

In December of last year, Cr Doriana Coppola of Charles Sturt Council in South Australia initiated a proposal to remove prayer from the pledge before Council meetings. Cr Coppola’s issue was that the outdated practice was not appropriate for the diverse community that Council represents.

What was intended to be a simple and uncontroversial proposal has been anything but. The churches are up in arms, the media got involved, and the matter was put forward for community consultation.

Council will review the prayer and pledge and come to a decision on Monday 13th May at 7 pm at Council Chambers, the Civic Centre, 72 Woodville Road, Woodville.

You can show support for Cr Coppola by attending this meeting.

Flinders Secular Society has created an event that will support the secular position, that there should be no prayer at any level of government, in keeping with the principle of church-state separation. (Note: you don’t have to sign up with this event, since the meeting is open to the public.)

The Secular Party’s position is that Council should remove all forms of prayer from its procedures, including at the opening of Council meetings. The Secular Party’s submission to Council appears below.

Review of Pledge and Prayer
Secular Party Submission to the City of Charles Sturt Council

March 2013

Introduction

The Secular Party of Australia thanks the City of Charles Sturt Council for giving the public this opportunity to comment on Council’s review of the pledge and prayer that is recited at the opening of Council meetings.

On behalf of our members and supporters, we urge Council to remove all forms of prayer from its ceremonies and procedures, including at the opening of Council meetings. We propose that this should be replaced with a pledge in which councillors will conduct their duties with honour and integrity, endeavour to promote good government, and confirm their responsibility to the people whom they serve.

We would add that the current acknowledgement to the Kaurna People is entirely appropriate, and we believe that it should be retained.

Prayers in Council are not inclusive

The 2011 Census demonstrates that the proportion of Australians who identify as Christian is in significant decline. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that Christianity was at just over 61% throughout Australia and only 57.3% in South Australia. Australia is a multicultural society; consequently the population now represents many religious views, including polytheistic traditions, and no religion. For Council to attempt to cater for all those views and any future faiths is unrealistic. Indeed, there is no reason why Council should have to do so.

It should be evident that any sort of prayer, no matter how ‘inclusively’ it is worded, will by definition exclude all non-religious members of the community. Again, according to the 2011 Census results, 22.5% of Australians stated that they had ‘No Religion’ and this proportion was much higher in South Australia, at 28%. We believe that the true figures for non-religious Australians are higher again.

  • The Census form places the option of ‘No Religion’ last. This in itself will guarantee that those giving the response of ‘No Religion’ will be underrepresented.
  • Some people consider the question to be impertinent or as having nothing to do with matters of the state, and therefore refuse to respond.
  • Many non-religious people don’t take the question seriously, and give a joke response such as ‘Jedi’.
  • The Census form is misleading. The form asks the person to state their religion. As a result many people who were baptised or initiated into a particular religion in early childhood will indicate the faith of their parents, even though they no longer practise that faith or even believe any of its doctrines. This is particularly true when the religion doubles as a cultural or family identity.

We do not, therefore, consider that any governmental body in Australia should identify with any particular religious tradition or with religion in general. To do so means that the body has no intention of faithfully representing the proportion of its community who do not adhere to religious practice.

Prayers in Council subvert the religious freedom of councillors

Given that a significant proportion of Australians do not identify with any religion or else do not identify with any monotheistic religion, it is reasonable to say that there will also be councillors who do not identify with the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

To include the practice of Christianity (or any religion) as part of Council procedures, such as the opening of Council meetings, forces councillors to practise that religion or to attend a religious observance. Clearly, this contravenes the religious freedom of those councillors.

At the same time, there is nothing to prevent a religious councillor, of any faith, from praying outside Council meetings or, indeed, at any time privately within his/her own mind.

Prayers in Council breach principles of church-state separation

The principles of secular government and church-state separation guarantee that no particular religion can gain undue influence over government and thus impose doctrine on all, that government will not suppress religious freedom by supporting a state doctrine, and that elements of the supernatural lacking evidence are not considered by the state. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states that ‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance . . .’ While the Constitution applies at the federal level, it is indicative of the spirit in which this nation was founded. The wording is very similar to that of the Constitution of the United State which guarantees church-state separation and therefore religious freedom. Unfortunately, the principles of church-state separation are not currently observed at the levels of state and local government. It would be disappointing if this situation were to continue.

If Council chooses, by its procedures, to pay homage to a deity, the implication is that councillors are beholden to a higher authority than that of their office. Councillors should be beholden to the rule of law and the people whom they represent. They should not be making decisions based on religious doctrine or the authority of an ‘Almighty Father’.

Religious observance by governmental bodies is detrimental to church-state separation. We therefore submit that all prayers be removed from Council proceedings.

The appeal to antiquity is invalid

The usual argument in favour of imposing religious observances in governmental proceedings is the notion that Australian culture is, historically, based on Judaeo-Christian influences. This is the argument from tradition, or the appeal to antiquity.

Tradition alone does not constitute a valid reason for retaining any practice. Some ‘traditional’ beliefs and practices can be harmful and divisive. It was not so long ago, for example, that homosexual Australians were criminalised. There is no reason to believe that Christianity or any religious faith is beneficial, in and of itself. Furthermore, if we accept that governmental prayers should be retained on the basis of tradition, irrespective of the religious makeup of the general population, we would also have to accept that true ‘tradition’ is that of the First Australians, since their beliefs and practices predate those of the white majority.

We do not accept that any beliefs or traditions should hold sway.

Conclusion

The Secular Party of Australia is opposed to religious observances in governmental matters. We maintain that councillors should focus on matters pertaining to their office, without appeal to the divine or the supernatural. Council prayers are offensive to a multicultural Australia, defy the principles of church-state separation, and violate the religious freedom of councillors.

We hope that these arguments assist Council with its decision.

Posted in Government Submissions, Secular | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Teachers at Islamic College ordered to wear hijab

Posted by Secular on February 15, 2013

15 February 2013

Media Release

The sacking of teachers at the Islamic College of SA’s West Croydon Campus for refusing to wear the hijab is a clear violation of human rights, according to John Perkins, President of the Secular Party of Australia.

“Existing laws leave employees vulnerable to abuse, and the government’s proposed anti-discrimination legislation has failed to fix that,” Dr Perkins said. “The new legislation will continue to exempt religious institutions from laws that apply to all other employers. Christian schools, hospitals and employment agencies will still be able to refuse employment to gays, lesbians and single mothers. Once again, religion trumps intrinsic human rights.”

The ruling on religious attire at the college was introduced in 2012, at which point teachers were told they must comply or face the sack. Two female teachers have subsequently lost their jobs and are seeking redress in the courts.

Dr Perkins emphasised that the hijab is a religious symbol, and as such should not be imposed on others. “If a Muslim teacher at a Christian school were ordered to remove her hijab for no good reason, there would quite rightly be a huge uproar,” he said. “The Secular Party of Australia supports the rights of the religious to practise the requirements of their faith, but not to compel others to do likewise.”

He added that many of the religious organisations exempt from anti-discrimination laws are in receipt of government funding or else are under government contract. “It is time to end the practice of allowing taxpayers’ money to fund religious bigotry against women, the gay community and other religions,” he concluded.

John Perkins
President, Secular Party.
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 8008.
Tel 0411 143744


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Federal election 2013

Posted by Secular on February 1, 2013

The Prime Minister has announced that the 2013 federal election will take place on September 14th. The Secular Party intends to contest this election, and we are seeking your support.

How you can help

  • Voting. We need your primary vote, and by word of mouth you can encourage others to support us too.
  • Donations. Elections are extremely expensive, and we need your assistance. This is a fully registered party so most donations tax-deductible. All donations go towards election efforts — we have no paid staffers, and all our people work as volunteers.
  • Volunteering. If you have any time to spare at all, please contact mclarke@secular.org.au.
  • Attend meetings.
  • Participate in our social media, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Join us! Membership is free, and it’s easy to join with our online form.

Why support the Secular Party?

The Secular Party is the first and only political party in Australia that stands for separation of church from state, this being vital for a liberal, secular democracy. The word ‘secular’ means non-religious, and secular government means a government free from religious influences.

Religious institutions enjoy significant financial privileges through taxation exemptions and government grants. Naturally, this loss has to be made up for by the taxpayer elsewhere. Even the commercial enterprises owned by religious organisations are still eligible for tax breaks, to the disadvantage of their competitors.

Meanwhile, religious organisations are exempt from anti-discrimination legislation, and are still free to discriminate against the LGBTQI (e.g. gay/lesbian) community, women, individuals of other faiths and those of no faith. Only recently, the government introduced draft anti-discrimination legislation, but failed to remove the so-called ‘rights’ of the religious to discriminate, even when they are in receipt of government funding. Meanwhile, religious bodies such as the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Church use their influence to block socially progressive legislation such as marriage equality, voluntary euthanasia and stem cell research. When viewed against the background of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, many Australians are wondering why this situation continues in the 21st century.

None of the major parties are willing to stand up to the churches.

We are not a one-issue party; please refer to our policies. We are socially progressive and economically progressive. All our policies are based on evidence and reason and, where applicable, scientific consensus. In particular, we have strong policies on climate change, which we consider to be critical.

Background

The Secular Party was incorporated in 2006, and participated in the 2007 federal election by running candidates as Independents. The party was registered in 2010, shortly before the federal election. Although only just registered, we were able to field over 30 candidates across Australia in that election.

Party leadership

There are 11 on the national committee. John Perkins (Victoria) is President. Ian Bryce (New South Wales) is our Vice President. Rosemary Sceats (Victoria) is our Treasurer. Moira Clarke (South Australia) is the Secretary of the association. We also have delegates for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. The AEC lists John August as our Public Officer and John Perkins as the party’s Secretary. We can be contacted by email or phone, and are also available for meetings.

Preferences

Preferences will be determined closer to the election, but supporters can gain an idea of how we will preference by considering our choices for the 2010 election. We put Labor ahead of the Coalition, and the Greens ahead of Labor. Some socially progressive minor parties were placed ahead of the Greens. Parties such as Family First and the DLP were placed last.

We will be very clear concerning our preferences in plenty of time for the election.

Further questions

We can also be contacted on info@secular.org.au.

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Jekyll and Hyde: the poor man’s Anti-Discrimination Bill

Posted by Secular on January 1, 2013

by Moira Clarke

The draft legislation for the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 was released towards the end of the year, and was greeted with a good deal of ambivalence. This is not so surprising, since here is a ‘human rights’ bill that endeavours to place even further limitations on free speech, an ‘anti-discrimination’ bill which is a recipe book for how religious institutions can continue to discriminate, a piece of legislation that provides workplace protection for religious people but none whatsoever for those of no faith.

Link to article published in Online Opinion, 2 January 2013


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in External publications, Religious privilege | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Report on global persecution of the non-religious

Posted by Secular on December 13, 2012

A number of global secular organisations, including IHEU, the CFI have contributed to a ground-breaking report on the persecution of the non-religious.

We’re all aware that religious minorities around the world are always at risk in this respect. Less widely publicised is the situation regarding those of no faith, which is possibly much worse.

According to the CFI, ‘The report examines the laws and conditions in 60 different countries in which atheists, humanists, and skeptics are persecuted or discriminated against — in 2012 alone. Laws in these countries include restrictions on rights regarding citizenship, marriage, and access to education, as well as the criminalization of religious criticism, and even the mere expression of nonbelief. In many cases, the punishment for this kind of “crime” is death.’

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Child abuse inquiry exposes deeper questions

Posted by Secular on November 17, 2012

13 November 2012

Media Release

The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on heeding calls for a wide-ranging inquiry into child abuse in religious institutions. To improve the operation of these organisations, it should be made mandatory that all disclosures of criminal activity, whether in a confessional box or elsewhere, be reported to the police. Failure to do so should be a criminal offence. The time for such exemptions for religious bodies has passed.

The inquiry raises a deeper question. Why is it that religious organisations have been able to indulge with impunity in gross abuses for decades? What is it about the nature of society’s attitude towards religion in general that allowed this to occur?

Blame must be attributed to the archaic legal status attached to the advancement of religion as being, of itself, a charitable purpose. It is legally assumed that all religious activities are not merely benign, but beneficial. All the subsidies and tax concessions granted to religious organisations derive from this legal status.

It should by now be obvious that religions are not necessarily beneficial, and indeed can be harmful. Hence their unwarranted charitable status should end. Ethics and morality are better determined on the basis of the universal principles of compassion, honesty, justice and freedom.


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Child abuse, Media Releases, Religious privilege | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »