The Woman Saudi Arabia Tried to Shut Up: An Interview with Josephine Macintosh

Last month, I wrote about the remarkable events at the UN Human Rights Council, where Saudi Arabia attempted to shout down Josephine Macintosh, a representative of my employer the Center for Inquiry, as she delivered a forceful statement condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, specifically the persecution and imprisonment of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair (who just this week was sentenced to 15 years in prison).

The Saudi representative was desperate to quiet her, demanding that the council president “shut that woman up!”, but delegations from the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and France stood up for Josephine’s right to deliver her statement. (You can read my full writeup here.)

I finally managed to actually make contact with the hero of the whole story, Josephine herself, who’s been busy traveling and without regular Internet access. I took the opportunity to ask her about the whole episode and to learn a little about what motivates her, too. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. I’ve emphasized some key portions.

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What Made Saudi Arabia Panic at the UN Human Rights Council?

[Note: This is an expansion on a previous post, meant to give full context and background to the story for those just learning about this issue.]

The human rights abuses of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are not secrets. A monarchy under Islamic Law, with only rare and arbitrary local elections, and almost total subjugation of women, the West looks on with disapproval, but impotence. They are, infamously, a U.S. “ally,” being a huge source of oil and perceived as a bulwark against Islamic terrorism in an unstable region of the world. We see the oppression, the medieval treatment of half its population, and the astounding opulence of its aristocracy, and we shrug. It’s their culture; what can we do?

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President Obama, at Prayer Breakfast, Defends Rights of Those with ‘No Faith At All’

Let us take it as a given that the President of the United States’ participation in the National Prayer Breakfast his highly problematic to say the least. When we make a tradition of the elected chief executive publicly kissing the ring of sectarian religion, it turns it into a quasi-official event, flying in the face of basic secularism and the Constitution. It’s a bad thing.

All that said (and said with fervency), via RNS’s Brian Pellot, we learn that at said breakfast, President Obama had a positive message that we secularists wholeheartedly embrace: the need for people of all religions and of no religion to believe and express themselves as they will, without threat of retaliation, discrimination, or criminalization.

And, importantly, it was said before a conservative religious audience. The president said:

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Moroccan Atheist in Hiding, Pursued for ‘Shaking Faith’

Imad Eddin Habib of Morocco is no shrinking violet. At 22, he is a very outspoken and active atheist who seems to delight in ruffling feathers by the mere mention of his nonbelief. On Facebook, he posted a smiling photo of himself holding a sign that reads:

In my country people are jailed and harassed for being atheist.
This photo may cost my life, or my freedom.
But I insist to tell you:
I AM PROUD TO BE AN ATHEIST!

[Click headline for more...] [Read more...]

Oklahoma House of Representatives to Consider Repealing Blasphemy Law

In 1909, Oklahoma enacted a law prohibiting blasphemy, and it stands to this day. But if a new bill from Republican State Representative Randy Grau is passed and signed, that law will be thrown into the dustbin of history. [Read more...]


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