Weekly Link Roundup

• President Obama signs a law to fight British libel tourism by barring such judgments from being enforced in the U.S.

• My esteemed guest author, Sarah Braasch, has an article in the latest issue of The Humanist on the French burqa ban.

• After a scary brush with mortality, everyone’s favorite squid-loving atheist professor is back in action. Visit his blog and leave some get-well-soon comments!

Did a Catholic priest carry out an IRA bombing? And if so, did the church help cover it up and shield him from justice?

• Susan Jacoby contemplates the theodicy of the bedbug.

• And last but not least, An Apostate’s Chapel has this outstanding example of the eloquence, wit and wisdom of Robert Ingersoll, written in response to a Salvation Army-organized vigil of several thousand Christians praying simultaneously for his conversion. (Spoiler: It didn’t work!)

Why Atheism Is a Force for Good
You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
New on the Guardian: Beyond Debating God’s Existence
Atlas Shrugged: Bring Me a New Black Guy
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • silentsanta

    Again, I find Sarah’s articles on the Burqa to be deeply troubling. While I have agreed with nearly all her articles on other topics, I cannot help but sense this article was deeply founded in the rejection of the Burqa as a symbol, and the great majority of the article focusses on it in that manner.

    By contrast, the segments that mentioned a ‘public safety’ angle were miniscule and made no real attempt to examine or explore the real or purported ‘public safety issues’ that are supposed to somehow arise from women being allowed to wear the burqa; without solid support, that seems little more than vague kind of fear-mongering. I am led to conclude that the article’s objection is almost wholly a rejection of the symbolic.

    I do not and cannot support the legal banning of symbols; not even those of the KKK, nor Fascism, nor even Theistic Satanism, and I see nothing in the symbolism of the Burqa that warrants departure from the way we treat those contemptible analogues.

    The burqa is a piece of cloth, and without the essentially emotional symbolic objections, only objection to the Burqa that makes the slightest bit of sense to me is objecting that women are being coerced into wearing it. This seems to me to be about as objectionable as coercing women into not wearing it, which is the main effect- and clear intention of the public ban. This legislation -like the article- is clearly about the burqa, and the public debate doesn’t seem remotely interested in other types of ‘masks’ or quantifying the public safety threats that they must supposedly represent. I think the legislation should not try to dress itself up in generalist secular clothes when it (and all its proponents) are so clearly and demonstrably focusing on the burqa-as-symbol. To invoke a wider principle applying to masks (eg flu masks?) seems underhanded and disingenuous in the extreme. We should be upfront about our objections, dressing them up this way robs us of our integrity.

    And we need this integrity. We need to let our passion for liberty and justice and equality shine out as unquestionably sincere. Not this. Because without sincerity, our enlightenment values no longer remain universal principles for the emancipation we want so much, they become tools to vilify others when convenient, to make them feel unwelcome because we want them to go away. When what we need is for our enlightenment values to remain untarnished, uncheapened, held up exultantly and with integrity even when it’s hard, where these values can exert their powerful magnetic appeal, so that all over the globe, people will freely acknowledge this sincere passion for justice and equality, and strive to build these principles into their own societies. If we cheapen the coin of liberty by presenting this clearly anti-Muslim legislation as a ‘public safety issue’, that will do an enormous amount of damage to that great segment of Muslims who are trying to decide whether enlightenment values and ‘Human Rights’ represent noble universal principles or simply tools to oppress foreigners.

    I endorse harsh penalties for coercing women into wearing the burqa (which is one part of that law), but cannot endorse legal restrictions on women who choose to wear the burqa. If the law presumes to be able to detect whether women are being coerced (which is clearly tremendously difficult, but which the law already anticipates doing), then there is no compelling reason to apply penalties to women who voluntarily don the burqa.

    One more point: If there was really an authentic public safety issue (rather than a fabricated pretext), then we would expect the penalties for wearing the burqa voluntarily to be no different (or perhaps more) than the penalties associated with being coerced, as the purported ‘threat’ to public safety would be the same.

    @Sarah, as I imagine you read this: I hope you don’t see my objections as an attack on you personally. I think you are a great writer, and I admire you deeply for much of the work you are doing so passionately, and for the struggles you have overcome. I find your arguments on this specific article uncompelling, and in some places unsettling, but this is the exception rather than the rule, and I have a great deal of respect for you.

  • Demonhype

    Get a load of this whiner on the article about SPEECH:

    Gladiatrix Gladiatrix

    12 Aug 2010, 3:33PM

    Nice to see that racism is alive and well in the US Senate, and that those who are not US citizens no have no hope whatsoever of redress against US citizens who tell/print/broadcast lies about them.

    Anyone suing an American should make sure they are in this country first and request that the court holds the person’s passport until not only after judgement but until every last penny of the damages awarded has been paid.

    All British publishers should require US authors with immediate effect to sign a waiver of the SPEECH Act and to acknowledge in writing that their work is subject to English/Scottish law, and that they will accept the jurisdiction of this country’s courts. Any author who will not do so should be told in terms that their work will not otherwise be published.”

    *SOB* Boo hoo hoo, I don’t wanna play with you guys anymore if I can’t have my WAAAAYYYY!!!! WAAAAAGHHH!

    What a goober. What an asshole. What a great way to cut Britain off from all the rest of the free world. Pissant.

    Comments there are closed, so I’ll say this here: Dude, you are WRONG. You have always been wrong and always will be wrong about this. You will be wrong until you grow up and realize what freedom actually means and that you do not have the right to be the global thought police.

    How is it “racism” to protect free speech? Is it because so many Muslims are using it to violate free speech by proxy, since they have so many of their own people firmly under thumb but can’t usually touch people in free countries with pesky free-speech laws? Well, if the shit fits…[/DonaldDuckDunn] Besides, I thought it was a religion, not a race?

    I am so fucking tired of people slinging accusations of “RACISM!!!!!” whenever they get called on their shit. Racism is when I refuse you equal opportunities to employment, education, housing, medicine, shopping, and other life necessities entirely due to your race. Racism is not when you get called on abusing a law to silence people you don’t like, especially not globally. Deal with it.

    Unfortunately, my often-dimwitted mother is on the side of the libel tourists. I’ve explained to her time and time again how effective libel legislation works and how Britain’s libel laws are a detriment to free speech and how they have the effect of making everyone terrified to say anything for fear that they will be taken to court and bled dry by someone who doesn’t like their opinion. In one ear and out the other, naturally.

    She keeps putting it into hypothetical involving rumors. “What if some idiot went around telling people that you fuck pigs?” Wow, so that means that, like, every town in America should have tons of people in jail because they spread some stupid rumor. She fails to understand reality, and refuses to educate herself on the facts. No, she’s got an Opinion, and nobody should ever have their Opinion questioned, especially when their Opinion is based entirely on emotionalist knee-jerk reactions. Seriously, I can’t get her to sit down and read the facts, and when I try to summarize how things work she ignores me and repeats her mantra of “if you say something mean and hurtful, you’d better be able to pay”.

    The only people I see who are fans of Britain’s backward freedom-choking laws are clueless morons like Momma there, or butthurt rich fucks/butthurt religiotards (esp. Muslims, sorry but it’s true) that want to find ways to silence criticism that hurts their tender feelings.

    How can one woman have such encyclopedic knowledge of every serial killing since Jack the Ripper, but not be able to understand such a simple premise as libel laws and how they work? Oh, yeah, I forgot. Libel laws aren’t titillating and fun like reading about Jeffrey Dahmer is.

    Sorry, rant. Just had another fight with the Grand Dame of all Ignorance. She reads books on serial killers and assumes that she has the Be-All End-All Expertise on all Legal-Type Stuff, even sans information–apparently, the Gods of All Legal Knowledge pour the facts into their Acolytes through some Divine Osmosis. You can imagine how infuriating it is to debate something like this with someone like that. My brother’s girlfriend and her mother are the same way–wilfully ignorant, no knowledge much less command of the facts, but lots of smug grins and emotional and intuitive arguments.

    (You know, how it’s counter-intuitive that the cosmos do not revolve around us? They argue from the angle of the guy saying the sun goes around the earth because “it’s obvious”, then refuses to look at any of the facts or arguments and just smugly repeat their mantra over and over as if that is the same as an intelligent debate. You see it all the time with religiotards, especially Creationists. “Well, Ford made my car, Samsung made my monitor, Reebok made my shoes, and my husband made that spice rack so it’s just obvious that some intelligence made the world! And I will assert that science backs me up while ignoring all the scientific data that you put in front of me, because I KNOW I’m right, dammit, and I know that if I keep this smug behavior up you will get frustrated and blow up and I will win by default, because everyone knows that truth is determined by tone, so THBBTT!!”)

    AAAARRRGGHHHH!!!!!! I didn’t need this today!

    BTW, what is with the False Dichotomies from dunderheads? You’d think that there are two choices: Either Britain’s model, wherein anyone can sue anyone from anywhere in the world in Britain for anything they don’t like, and then the other choice which is anarchy. Seriously, there are recourses for actual libel in America, and I’m pretty sure that if you have a geniune case you could bring it to court. I get the same thing with the death penalty supporters. “But without it there’d be ANARCHY!!!!” Yes, because it is so obvious your opponents are suggesting that murderers be let to openly murder every day, maybe six times before their morning coffee, and be untouchable by the law as a matter of course. That or the death penalty. No other option exists. Ass.

    I have been very belligerent lately, haven’t I? I’m very irritated recently at nearly everything–I suspect I’m just losing some tolerance for the idiots I am constantly surrounded by–and people who support Britain’s libel laws for some reason always put me in a frothy-mouthed rage wherein I become a ravenous monster who seeks to shred the ignorant with my mouth full of sharp, keen, inconvenient facts. Even at the best of times. :)

  • Demonhype


    I see your point, though I don’t agree that the security problems are enough. (If I chose to walk around in some feature-obscuring mask all the time, I would be arrested and sure as hell wouldn’t be permitted in any banks or to obtain a driver’s license without removing it during that time.)

    I also am dubious about the laws punishing women for wearing the burqua, especially since it really sandwiches the victim between the law and their victimizer and creates a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of situation for them. I’m not sure that harsh penalties for those forcing women to don the burqua are enough, however. Often that sort of thing will come after they have enacted their own penalties on the woman for refusing, and most of those penalties are non-reversable. Why would you defy your father just because you know the law will punish his coercion when you also know that it will likely happen post-coercion, when you will be either dead or horribly maimed, or that even if it is just being cut off from your entire family you will lose the support on which you depended to live?

    Perhaps what would help is some kind of actual significant support for women who choose to leave the burqua behind, kind of like an Islamic Battered Women’s Shelter that specializes in the kind of obstacles a Muslim woman would face. Some places that offer significant protection, education, employment assistance, and that sort of thing. And (this is important) will have enough resources and won’t turn anyone away ever. That is important because there will undoubtedly be women who can only get away with coming there once, and once their father/husband/brother finds out it is guaranteed to be dangerous or fatal for them. And that could be a big obstacle for women seeking help, that they have a limited window of contact and they might not be willing to take the chance that they will be turned away.

    I agree with the anti-burqua sentiments, but at the same time it’s not always that easy to leave something like this even when you want to, and the anti-burqua laws assume that this is as easy as choosing to wear shorts instead of jeans. Kind of like some of those kids who try to leave Mormonism and have been so set up for failure that they need significant help to understand how to find work, manage money, arrange for an apartment–all manner of things that we take for granted. That alone can be a huge obstacle. Then add the killings and maimings to that, and you can see why these women might be afraid to sneeze the wrong way.

  • Sarah Braasch


    Totally cool. I constantly struggle with my position on burqa bans. (But, I still come down in favor.)

    I want to foment discussion — both pro and con.

    I’m finishing up a new piece right now that takes my argument in yet a different direction.

    So, I’ll bite my tongue here, but keep it coming.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ok. I will just say one thing:

    The face veil is not just a symbol. It is also a physical barrier, an act of effacement and segregation, an obscuring of one’s identity.

    I would defend any woman’s right to wear hijab in public, just as I would defend any KKK member’s right to wear his robe and hood in public.

    But, I would not defend a KKK member’s right to wear his mask in public.

    He does not have this right.

    And, with some disagreement, the courts in the US have generally tended to agree with me.

  • Sarah Braasch

    That last bit was in the original piece in The Humanist, but got massaged out during the editing process.

    I have to ask you then, SilentSanta, how would you go about justifying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 68. Those portions which include the federal government regulating the conduct of private citizens in the public space.

    (Yes, I know that technically they relied upon the Commerce Clause. But, everyone knows that that is just smoke and mirrors. They gave themselves no other recourse, since the P&I and PorI clauses have been massacred. Personally, I think we should bring them back.)

    But, without the BS commerce clause argument — how would you justify telling a private citizen that he or she cannot segregate themselves by race in the public space, if they so choose?

    It seems to me that you’ve given yourself no alternative but to say that they should be able to do so.

    Damnit. I said that I was going to bite my tongue.

    Ok, I’m done now. I welcome all challengers.

  • lpetrich

    On the subject of bedbugs, the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus claimed that bedbugs have a purpose: keeping up from sleeping too late. Mice also have a purpose: reminding us to clean our houses. On a more pleasant note, pigs are very fertile so that we may have lots of nice meat to eat. Needless to say, Chrysippus has had many Xian successors.

  • http://paulforpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/morality-exposed.html keddaw

    @silentsanta – blah, blah, blah. I only say that because you talketh the sense and I agree with what you said, but you said it better than I could have.

    @Sarah Braasch – this is one of many issues which the courts are wrong on. They are wrong because the stupid politicians put laws in place that are dumb. No politician/judge/police officer/citizen has a right to tell me what I can and cannot wear on common property unless they can show an obvious and definite harm that what I am wearing will cause. Vague ideas about carrying weapons (2nd Amendment anyone?) or segregating myself from society are bogus.

    If I choose to solely seek out members of my own race (race is a false concept, but we’ll let the melanin criticism slide) then that is my right as a free and autonomous individual.

    Sarah, if I decide that the breast is a necessary part of human communication then do I have the right to force people to show me their breast while we do commerce? Is the face so different? And even if it is, what about people with disfigurements, burns, botox or birth marks?

    And how can the commerce clause possibly apply when we can sell over the phone or internet where facial recognition is irrelevant?

  • Rollingforest

    I saw a church sign today that said, “If God is pulling at your heart, don’t let your mind interfere.”

    Translation: “Don’t think, just believe whatever we tell you.”


  • Maynard

    “If God is pulling at your heart…”

    Hmmm. Perhaps this was PZ’s problem? ;)