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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Commission’

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:


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.

Here is the story of the child in Yemen, as covered by the international organisation Human Rights Watch: 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 »

Geert Wilders has the right to be heard

Posted by Secular on February 22, 2013

22 February 2013

Media Release

Numerous venues refused to host the talks by visiting Dutch MP Geert Wilders, and his Perth talk had to be cancelled. “Whatever anyone thinks of his views, Wilders should be given the opportunity to speak,” said Dr John Perkins, President of the Secular Party of Australia. “The right to free speech is vital for a liberal democracy, and this is true even when some find the message offensive. If we are intimidated into silence by fear of recrimination, our basic freedoms are eroded.”

Dr Perkins said that the Secular Party is opposed to Wilders’s more extreme proposals regarding Muslim immigration and his uncritical support for Israel. He questions the consistency of opposing the concept of an Islamic state while supporting a Jewish state. “Secular states are best,” he said.

“We should not, however, be distracted from Islam’s poor track record on human rights,” said Dr Perkins. “The ill-treatment of women, gays and apostates is well documented. While we disagree with Wilders’s suggestion that immigration from Islamic countries should be stopped, our policy is that potential immigrants must comply with secular Australian values, including (and especially) gender equality.”

On Wilders’s description of Islam as a totalitarian ideology, Dr Perkins explained that while many Muslims are moderate, their religion places sharia law over civil law. “That is inherently undemocratic. Wilders also makes the point that Muhammad was a military leader who engaged in violent acts. This is correct. It is a key factor in understanding the motivation for Islamic terrorism today”, he said.

Dr Perkins concluded that we must be free to criticise any religion, be it Catholicism, Scientology or Islam. “This is well demonstrated by the recent findings leading up to the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse,” he said. “The absolute authority wielded by any religion can all too often become the vehicle for human rights abuses.”

The Secular Party aims to remove that power and privilege, be it for Islam or any other faith. The solution is informed debate, reason and evidence-based thinking, and emphasis on the universal humanist values of compassion, honesty, freedom and justice.

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.

Posted in Media Releases | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Royal Commission terms of reference

Posted by Secular on January 12, 2013

On the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, announced yesterday — this article provides a bit of background and also has a link to the actual terms of reference.

The Conversation provides us with an explainer, and an analysis by the experts. You might find Judy Courtin’s comments of interest in particular. Some here will recall Glen Coulton’s article re the Ellis Defence in Online Opinion. If not, have a read . . . and despair.

While most advocacy groups have been praising the terms of reference one, the Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN) has criticised its limits, saying that the limit to sexual abuse only is a mistake in the light of all the other forms of institutional abuse towards children. This seems to be a fair comment, for two reasons. We need to consider that sexual abuse can be used in conjunction with other forms of abuse. Will the Commission be forced to silence victims wishing to put their experiences into context? Furthermore, if such other forms of abuse are not to be considered by this Commission, will those other victims ever have an opportunity to be heard?

Finally, this article posted today gives this Commission its meaning, in its description of the ‘hell house’, a boarding school run by the Salesian brothers between about 1960 and 1990.

Posted in Commentary child abuse | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Praise to Almighty Rome

Posted by Secular on December 15, 2012

It didn’t take long.

Article praising a bunch of Catholics praising a Catholic spokesman for saying that, yes, all those cover-ups were not only ‘widespread in the church’ but that he was ‘personally scandalised and disillusioned’.

As whistleblower and NSW Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox tweeted earlier today: ‘ Is “PRAISE” the right word when at the 11th Hr & about to be exposed they plea guilty’.

More contrition, more reform, more ‘healing’. We’ve heard it all before. And yes, this time it could be real, but so what? If it walks like a criminal organisation, and talks like a criminal organisation . . .

Posted in Commentary child abuse | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Compass Special: churches on trial

Posted by Secular on December 10, 2012

Screening tomorrow evening, ‘. . . a truly extraordinary 20 year overview that reveals Australia’s shifting attitude to what was once an utterly taboo subject. . .’ This program will be examining the abuse and cover-ups in Australian churches, and presents new research linking child sexual abuse and suicide.

Posted in Commentary child abuse | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Royal Commission update

Posted by Secular on November 20, 2012

‘Cracking the vows of Silence’, an excellent summary on the forthcoming Royal Commission, supplied by @Peter_Fox59:

Also posted today, ‘the government is asking the states and stakeholders to provide written feedback by next Monday on the terms of reference and the inquiry’s form and timetable.’

Posted in Commentary child abuse | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

It’s time . . . for a Royal Commission

Posted by Secular on November 17, 2012

12 November 2012

Media Release

Following the latest devastating revelations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and of the ongoing and systematic campaign of cover-ups by the Catholic Church, the Secular Party of Australia asserts that there is an urgent need for a national Royal Commission into this important issue. We are not convinced that the government of either New South Wales or Victoria is serious in their respective inquiries. Both of these governments are very reluctant to instigate a state Royal Commission with appropriate and wide-ranging terms of reference and full powers. One obvious question is “Why?” Is it possible that although the DLP has only one sitting MP, Peter Kavanagh, in the Victorian Legislative Council, its descendants are still a political force in other parties and governments? The Coalition in NSW springs to mind, with a high proportion of members with Catholic Church affiliation, including the Premier, Barry O’Farrell.

In the New South Wales Commission of Inquiry the focus will be restricted to the police handling and investigation of allegations of cover-ups in the Hunter region only, rather than on the Catholic Church itself, the abuse it has perpetrated on innocent and vulnerable victims, and its covering-up of these offences.

Surely this is where the root of the problem lies. It appears that neither the NSW Commission of Inquiry nor the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry is really serious about getting to the heart of the matter: who knew what about this, when did they know it, and what did they do about it? As yet no victims have been called to give evidence to the Victorian inquiry. At least now the Catholic Church in Victoria has agreed to co-operate with the inquiry and provide access to its own private files on reported cases of abuse. This is a step in the right direction. However it is to be hoped that none of the seriously incriminating material in these files will be withheld, and that none of it has already been destroyed. The NSW Government claims that its inquiry will have all the powers of a Royal Commission. Why then does it not yield to the growing calls for a proper Royal Commission into this appalling affair? Nothing less will satisfy either the victims or the general public

© 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 »