Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Rationaliser - A Trouble Maker

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Although the term "Trouble Maker", recently attributed to me by Hamza Tzortzis, was not meant as a compliment I cannot help but take it was one.  I certainly do take pride in causing trouble against an organisation that has members who promote sex with nine year old brides and beating one's wife.  If these are the genuine held views of these people then they certainly should be exposed, on the other hand if this is no more than a misunderstanding or those people's views have changed then it is vital that this prominently stated so as many people as possible are aware of the truth of the situation.

Here is a transcription of the post Hamza addressed to me on Twitter on December 17th 2013.

He claims that his recent behaviour is to get iERA to retract statements that it has made. 
However, he is deliberately ignoring the facts. Here is a breakdown: 
On Domestic Violence - Abdur Raheem Green made some statement, that have been recently taken out of context, BEFORE iERA were formed. Green has also clarified his statements publicly. 
Hamza Andreas Tzortzis who is a researcher and lecturer for iERA officially supports Nour-DV an anti-domestic violence Muslim group. He has even give a talk for them as an official iERA member http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=o1pYFHJqRc4. The official iERA stance is to support groups fighting domestic violence and abuse. 
On Under Age Marriage - iERA have made their position clear publicly on this issue. See here http://www.iera.org.uk/press_9oct2013.html. 
Also Hamza Andreas Tzortis has been deliberately misunderstood concerning his views. He has publicly condemned all forms of child and underage marriage. See here for example https://mobile.twitter.com/HATzortzis/status/409676801360019456 and https://mobile.twitter.com/HATzortzis/status/387505707387736064, where he said: "@TheRationaliser I'm against ALL child marriage..." This includes ALL 9 year olds, and he publicly condemned child marriage practices that happen in Yemen.

In light of the above. The Rationaliser must be responsible in the way he talks about others, or he will never be take [sic] seriously by the entire community.
My accusations against iERA and/or its board members are as follows

  1. At an official iERA event in Australia Hamza Tzortzis condoned criteria which, in his own words "All these kind of principles we apply, and it happened that there's an outlier in the statistics that a nine year old [met the requirements for having sex]". See video footage here (at 1min 37s).
  2. Abduraheem Green, now an iERA director, condoned men being able to "apply some type of physical force. This is a type of very light beating" on their wives. See video footage here (at 5m 33s).
  3. During the 2011 Somalian famine iERA director Yusuf Chambers described saving Somalian's lives as saving nothing more than "just sticky clay" and encouraged viewers instead to donate money to iERA so that they can proselytise Islam to people in London. See video footage here (at 1 min 17s).

The explanations coming from iERA (Hamza Tzortzis to be more precise) most often involve the word "nuance".  Indeed it is these nuances I would like to explicitly bring out so that they may be made completely unambiguous.

In the case of Yusuf Chambers I have not yet seen a statement clarifying his position except that he was taken out of context, which he was not.  I will be most happy to see an official statement from iERA clearly stating that people with low income who cannot afford to save the lives of people during a famine and also fund iERA's proselytising aims should feed the starving.

In the case of Abduraheem Green it is said that his statement was taken out of context.  The video to which I link is 6 minutes and 54 seconds in duration and completely unedited, I find it difficult to see how his statements were taken out of context.  He says that a man has a God given right to give his wife a "very light beating|".  This is based on a verse in the Quran, Sura 4 verse 34, which is what Mr Green was clarifying in his talk.

In relation to Mr Green's statements, Hamza Tzortzis says that iERA support organisations that fight against domestic violence, and for this I sincerely congratulate them.  In error I said that iERA condone beating one's wife (my apologies), what I meant was that a man who is now a director iERA has condoned beating one's wife, and has explained the correct steps to follow in order to do it correctly.  I personally consider someone applying a beating to their spouse, no matter how "very light", to be spousal abuse.  However, not everyone will necessarily agree with me in thinking the type of beating condoned by Mr Green to be domestic abuse.  For example, at 1m 57s Mr Green says

What is the problem, therefore, that Islam has given the head of the household some allowance to use a type of force in order to prevent his family from falling into evil

The "nuance" here is that if you are beating your wife to prevent something worse from happening to her, are you actually abusing your spouse?  To use an example from Zakir Naik (not part of iERA), if you hit your wife to stop her from jumping to her death, is that wrong?  This is why I specifically wrote "how to beat" rather than using the term "domestic abuse".  In the video Mr Green condones the beating of one's wife in the circumstances where it is for her own good or the good of one's family, and on condition that the first two steps in Quran 4.34 have failed to be effective.

Not all Muslims agree with the statements made by Mr Green, in fact I have yet to personally meet one who does.  I have heard arguments that people of the time were too willing to beat their wives so this verse was a poetic way of telling them not to; the idea being that by the time the first two steps have passed the couple will want to be divorced and so there is no need for the third step.  Whether or not this is a valid argument is irrelevant at this point, if Mr Green has since changed his mind and now takes the opinion that the third step explained in the Quran is supposed to be a step that should not be exercised then I commend him.  As the video linked is very prominent I would like to see an equally prominent video with Mr Green stating emphatically that one should not hit their spouse regardless of their disagreement.  As a means to ensure this change of mind is not missed I will be more than happy to provide a link to this video whenever I see the old video mentioned, and would also be willing to publish it on my own youtube channel so that I can ensure as many people as possible see it.

In the case of Hamza Tzorzis, each time any attempt at a clarification is made it seems that some new nuance appears.  Hamza initially said that Islamic law uses a criteria for determining whether or not it is permissible to have sex with one's wife, a criteria in which the age of the bride is irrelevant.  The criteria was:

  1. Is she physically fit.
  2. Is she emotionally ready.
  3. Is she mentally ready.
  4. Is it socially acceptable.
Hamza used this criteria to explain why he thought it was acceptable for Muhammad aged fifty three to have sex with Aisha aged nine.  Whether or not Aisha was nine at the time is not something all Muslims agree on and not something I have sufficiently researched in order to form a confident opinion on, nor is it relevant to the issue at hand as I don't think that we should retrofit twenty first century UK morality onto a seventh century society in Arabia.  The issue at hand is whether or not it should now be permissible for someone to have sex with their nine year old bride.

When I pressed Hamza on this he stated that he is opposed to child marriages.  Again I deliberately used the term "9 year old bride" in order to avoid socially subjective terms such as "child" or "woman".  If according to your views a nine year old is an adult as soon as she meets the above criteria then saying you condemn child marriages is a nuance which needs to be made clear, otherwise it would be perfectly valid to hold the view that sex with a nine year old child is wrong, but sex with a nine year old woman is legitimate.

In addition to this Hamza has said that he is opposed to under-age sex.  Again here there is a nuance which needs to be made explicit.  I have not accused Hamza of promoting the idea that people in the UK should be having sex with females under the legal of of consent (sixteen), I have accused him of condoning sex with a nine year old female to whom one is married.  The overriding legal jurisdiction of one's residence is not the important factor here.  The important thing is that Hamza believes Islamic law to be the most superior, so does he think that in country operating within legitimate Islamic law it should it ever be legal for a nine year old female to be married and to have sex?

During his debate in Australia, Hamza explicitly condemned the case of a girl named "Rawan" who was allegedly married in Yemen at the age of eight to a forty year old man and died as a consequence of damaged caused during the sexual consummation of her marriage (story here).  Hamza has since repeated his condemnation of the marriage practices of Yemen.  However, during the debate Hamza stated that the marriage was un-Islamic because harm was caused to the bride and so she was clearly still a child, so this is not the kind of case I am asking Hamza to clarify his position on.

In his above statement Hamza says that his opposition to child marriages "includes ALL 9 year olds", which is certainly a big step towards clarity on the subject.  Of course the above nuances (caveats) must also be addressed before this statement can be taken to absolutely mean what it seems to mean, and hopefully does mean.

Having shared a scientific paper about premature infant care which revealed that using twenty first century medical equipment/techniques in a first world country (USA) which showed that a ten year old female is one and a half times more likely to experience a miscarriage than a fifteen year old, and twice as likely as a twenty year old (see paper here), Hamza agreed with the statistics and their consequences.

I must make clear that if Muhammad did marry Aisha at the age of nine and consummate that marriage with her, and did so at the instruction of a supremely powerful entity which gets to decide who experiences miscarriages and who does not then this research is irrelevant to that individual case, and so that is not my point of mentioning this research.  My reason for mentioning it is that it provides objective evidence to support the argument that sex with nine year old females is detrimental even with twenty first century medical technology.

Will Hamza join me and unequivocally condemn sex with any nine year old female under any system of legal jurisprudence, whether present, future, or "ideal"?

Monday, 2 December 2013

The peacock problem - part 2

This blog post has moved here

So now I am responding to this post which was a "hasty response" to my explanation of why I think Jamie needs to learn from his mistakes.

In response to @therationaliser who criticises my blog piece (here) with the intended view of saying it was my fault for creating a sexual atmosphere or perhaps setting a precedent for the wolf whistling of women.
I did not say it was the fault of Jamie, or did I imply it.  What I said was that he made mistakes that he should learn from instead of only writing about how out of order everyone else was.

Why didn’t I stop them at this point? I wasn’t on stage, this was an introductory voiceover that lasts a few minutes. And besides, I didn’t realise it would be a recurring problem- they quieted down and the show went on and when better to bring up the issue of sexist attitudes then went talking about Marie Curie.
Then perhaps a talk to them at the point you came onto the stage before you continued with the talk?  Still at this point I am not too concerned with the course of actions...

Additionally I find the implication that the sexual objectification of Nigella Lawson should be in some way expected or understood disgraceful. It was not a provocative picture, just a photo of a TV chef.
Again I made no such implication.  I merely said that this was how the boys chose to respond to the photo.  I clearly said in my post "This is not a justification for their behaviour", and also "how wrong the boys' behaviour was (and it was)".  I did not say it was excusable or to be expected, I was merely outlining how the event started off and at which point the issue should have been addressed.

On to the Bond section.
Bond is an iconic figure, when talking about the human obsession with gold I thought of Goldfinger. The film is rated a PG. Perhaps an image of king Midas would have been appropriate though something tells me that he would provide a less startling, recognisable figure as the dead and gilded figure of Jill which was on screen for a matter of seconds.
Recognisable by whom?  15 year old school children, or by those of us who grew up in the 60's?  I recognised the photo immediately as the image I saw as a child and thought "they only did that to show her in her knickers", but how many of those school children do you think have watched retro James Bond films?  However, I expect about 99% of them know the story of King Midas.  In fact only last week my 7 year old girl came home and showed me a story she wrote about a man who made everything he touches turn to chocolate, and then told me it was a funny version of the King Midas story she had just learned at school.

I’d like to take this opportunity to specifically point out that you have never seen me speak, you don’t know what images were used 
No I don't.  Was it this one, or this one, or maybe it was this one?  What do you think the director wanted you to see in this scene, gold or an almost naked woman?  Could it be possible that because as a child you were shown this naked woman, for no real reason other than sexual objectification, that you didn't even realise that the infamous scene you were about to show people was not only a sexual objectification of a woman, but in fact a woman stripped naked, murdered, and then fosilised with gold in order to actually turn her into nothing more than a monetarily valuable object?

and I find your whole piece not only insulting of me and what I do but disgraceful in the way you blame the women (or myself for having them there) as inviting this sort of action.
I wasn't insulting you.  I was criticising you in the hope that you would take it on board, learn from your mistakes, and move on to give better presentations.  Unfortunately if I disagree with how someone deals with inappropriate behaviour towards women people seem to automatically assume that it means I condone the behaviour.  This is not the case, and I made that clear in my post.

Yes, I made a quip about the wolf whistle of Jill. By now the retribution was guaranteed. That is why I said “it is interesting that you whistled again, I think this is something we’ll come back to later” or words to that effect, why not bring it up when it would make the most impact?
And here is my biggest point of criticism.  In my post I hypothesised that the students mistakenly thought you were joking.  It didn't even occur to me that at this point you actually were joking with them.  You don't bring it up later, you address it there and then so that the reprimand can be mentally associated with the act itself in order to cause a disincentive to repeat the act, and you should certainly never turn it into a joke.

Additionally if you quote me in your writing then quote me. Don’t paraphrase and put in quotation marks.
I made it clear that it was a paraphrase, I said "the speaker effectively went on to say".  I think this is a 100% clear indication that I was paraphrasing, especially as I then give three different examples, each becoming more explicit in what could be inferred from your actions.  If you would like me to change the quotes to [square brackets] or something then I will be happy to, but please don't claim I was misrepresenting you.  I was clearly hypothesising the inferences that could easily be made from your words and actions.

“I often find myself using her as an example of why women are not deficient in intelligence compared to men” I cannot tell you how insulting I find this phrase. Good grief listen to yourself. Disgraceful phrasing. It seems you work on the basis that your children have the assumption that women are intellectually deficient and need corrective examples.
Now this is a perfect example of quote mining.  My exact words were

Marie Curie.  I have told my children about her many times, and I often find myself using her as an example of why women are not deficient in intelligence compared to men (http://quranx.com/2.282?hl=two+women). 
You omitted the ", and" to change the meaning of what I said.  "I have told my children about her many times, AND I often find myself using her as an example" - which I then follow with a link providing the exact context in which I use her as an example.  Please be less hasty in future.

Now you have written your blog condemning me. I have to ask- do you think I did a disservice to women? Do you honestly think that people left the auditorium thinking wolf whistling was fine? I am a good speaker, I have delivered hundreds of science talks the organisers were please, the school teachers were pleased and the levels of presumption you reach in your blog about me and my work are staggering.
And here is the problem I am trying to get you to see.  You seem to be trying to look for fault everywhere but yourself.  You ignored the sexualisation of Nigella, not such a massive mistake, but then you showed school children a photo of a murdered naked woman...to explain the value of gold?  How do you think the girls in the audience felt when that photograph appeared on the screen?  I'd be happy to bet money that there were quite a few girls in that audience who cringed as soon as the photo appeared, and well before the unaddressed sole wolf-whistle escalated into a cacophony.  I'd also bet money that at the point the wolf whistles were occurring there were plenty of girls in that audience who felt further insult when you decided to make a joke about it.  Can you not see what you have written that you did?

If I want to use Nigella Lawson in a talk I will. I’m not going to put a man up there for fear that some people might find her attractive and grunt their masculinity at them. If I talk about obsession for gold then yes I could use old bearded Midas but you make it sound like I showed the audience pornography rather than a still from a PG film.
I don't care that it wasn't pornography, nor do I care what certification it was given by the film board back in 1964.  I find it a very poor choice for the objectification reasons I outlined above.

After seeing my show I’ve been invited to present this show Qutar after a delegation from there saw it- they didn’t seem to have issues with the content so I’m very sorry that my presentation didn’t  meet your seemingly harsher standard.
Let go of the emotion, read the words, learn from the experience, improve.

Women should not be disrespected. What the boys were doing was a vocal demonstration of degradation and I called them on it. I’m sorry you take issue with the way I did it but I am pleased with what I did. The way I did it made an impact and frankly I’m pleased the way I handled it.
You think you handled it well?  Let's see

  1. Nigella is objectified: Nothing said.
  2. A stripped naked murder victim is objectified: You made a joke about it.
  3. Marie Curie was objectified. You made a big fuss.
What is the message here?  I will certainly give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you reprimanded them for all of their actions rather than turning it into a long rant about why Marie Curie doesn't deserve it because she had a difficult life and was ultra clever (which is how your blog came across).

If you think I set out to create this atmosphere you are wrong. If you think I didn’t admonish the boys you are wrong. If you plan to review any of my shows in future- please attend first.
I didn't say that you did.  I tried to put across what I think you did wrong and why.  I think you handled it poorly and simply need to learn from those mistakes.  Stop trying to convince people you handled it really well and try looking at how you could have handled it better.  Don't trivialise sexism by joking that it's wrong if she's dead, and don't show mostly naked objectified murder victims as an example of how people like gold from a scene of a film that was made over 30 years before they were born.

You critisise me for not speaking sooner. What if the speaker felt so intimidated by the boys they couldn't speak up? What if they had done it directly to a female presenter- would it be there fault? Their responsibility to stop it?
Personally I think that anyone who cannot verbally reprimand 15 year olds for bad behaviour should not be standing in front of them in the first place.  For the rare occasions where this requirement is waived due to the speciality of the speaker (e.g. a survivor of sexual violence) I would expect them to have the sense to mention their frailty to the staff before hand and agree on some kind of indication which would be given to request a teacher to step in and take control.  If this doesn't happen due to inexperience then I would expect it to occur to someone as the experience is gained over time.  Although I suspect the description you gave is nothing like how you are, if it is then please do take my advice regarding a special indication to staff for help.

Fundamentally: No women no matter what they wear, or how they present themselves deserves harrased. EVER. I don't even care that the women weren't there. And if you think I encouraged them then then you really don't know me.
I don't know you and whether Nigella and Heather were there or not is irrelevant.  Please read through this blog post carefully, not in haste.  Try to see what I am trying to tell you.

The Peacock Problem: Response

This blog post has moved here

This is a response to this blog post.

Women are clearly presented as sexual objects in our society.  I've tried to help my son to see through it, and my wife would very much like to do some kind of travelling school lesson for boys on the subject.

Boys of this age are moving into a new social arena.  They are starting to see the sexual side of their existence, trying to make themselves attractive to the opposite gender without making fools of themselves despite not really having a clue what they are doing.  To do this they look around at how society seems to find it appropriate to treat females and they emulate it.

I have no idea why a Nigella Lawson video was chosen to start a talk on science.  I have seen little of Nigella's TV programmes but what little I have seen has made me cringe.  She throws herself at the camera as if desperate to be found sexually attractive.  For example, I saw her come on screen wearing a silk nightie "Ooh, you've just caught me coming down for a midnight snack."  "I'm going to be cooking .......but I like to call it slut spaghetti".  Now these scenes may very well be a tiny minority, but for boys with a new interest in sexuality and possibly little/no interest in cookery the only reason they are going to have heard of Nigella is because of scenes like the one I have just mentioned.  This is not a justification for their behaviour, just an opening explanation of possibly why more inappropriate behaviour followed, so bear with me.

Now if the talk had been about inappropriate sexual behaviour towards women then the reaction from the boys shows it would have been a good example video to use.  Perhaps then going on to point out how the boys acted inappropriately, why they did it, and then give them some deep insights as to why it is wrong etc.  It seems at this point no condemnation came from Jamie (according to the short account he wrote at least) so presumably some of the boys sat and mimicked what they thought the more experienced/popular boys were doing and saw this to be acceptable by fact that it was being tolerated by an adult.  At this point the talk should have stopped and the boys spoken to harshly, and that was the first mistake.

For the boys, perhaps at this point there was some uncertainty.  Was Nigella chosen for the talk because the speaker thought there was a chance she had some "fans" in the audience, did he want to show her so that they would look at her in that way?  The lack of condemnation from the speaker at this point could be seen to suggest he did, but they were probably not certain and just glad that their water-testing didn't get them into trouble.

The next part of the account was of the woman in Gold Finger being killed and sprayed with gold.  Is there anyone who honestly thinks that the James Bond films of that era were NOT all about the sexualization of women?  Every opportunity they had there would be a scantily dressed woman who wanted Bond for nothing more than sex.  Even in this murder scene the woman was killed in the most extravagantly ridiculous way just so that the film makers could have the opportunity to present a woman wearing nothing but a pair of knickers.

So, after seeing the boys react inappropriately and not stopping the talk and reprimanding them for their behaviour, the speaker went on to show a photo of a woman almost completely naked, despite the photo really having nothing to do with science or the value of gold.  How does a woman lying naked show how precious gold is?  King Midas would have been a much better example...why atoms cannot rearrange into gold without vast amounts of heat and energy, and how turning everything into gold paradoxically devalues gold.

After this second episode of wolf-whistling surely the talk should have stopped for a serious talk?  According to the account, it seems it didn't.  "Do you realise she is dead?"  How about a proper lecture about how sexual objectification is inappropriate?  How about not showing a completely irrelevant image that was originally only shot for the sole purpose of sexually objectifying women?  And the criticism about the woman being dead too, not only (according to the short account) was there an absence of of scolding but the speaker effectively went on to to say

"You shouldn't act like that.......because she's dead" - Quite a silly thing to say considering everyone in the room knows for a fact she was an actress pretending to be dead. They weren't *really* looking at a woman who was dead, so saying such a silly thing could easily come across as a joke...

"You shouldn't treat women like that......once they are dead" or "You shouldn't act like that......nah, just kidding"

And then on to what I think demonstrates the point very well.  Marie Curie.  I have told my children about her many times, and I often find myself using her as an example of why women are not deficient in intelligence compared to men (http://quranx.com/2.282?hl=two+women).  Why did these boys wolf whistle at a vintage head-shot black & white photo that was clearly not trying to present the subject as sexual?

By now I think it is possible that these boys were under the impression that the speaker is being a bit laddish and giving an example of how to present women.  I know that if this had been a public talk that I had been in I'd have objected and left. By the time the speaker started to show a picture of an almost completely naked woman lying on a bed I'd have strongly suspected he was intent on showing additional inappropriate material and that it was only going to get more explicit.

The wolf whistles here were probably the boys showing the presenter they appreciated what they thought was a joke.  The classic pattern of a joke being to lead the audience one way and then throw something completely unexpected at them.  First Nigella (not sure where presenter is going), then an almost completely naked woman (okay, confident where the presenter is going, especially with his joke about her being dead), and then suddenly.....a vintage black and white photo of the side of a woman's head.  haha, you got us, we were expecting NUTS magazine or something.

Quite frankly I am very surprised that Jamie felt it was appropriate to show a photo of an almost completely naked woman in a presentation about anything other than (perhaps) a talk about anti-objectification.  What these boys did was wrong, but I think what Jamie did was too, the boys possibly got the wrong impression from a presentation that was easy to take the wrong impression from.  Jamie needs to learn from this experience.

Instead of just highlighting how wrong the boys' behaviour was (and it was), and highlighting how society has made it seem acceptable for them to sexual objectify women (which unfortunately it has), perhaps Jamie should also see that his poor choice of irrelevant material and lack of well timed condemnation was also part of the problem.  In fact I'd say that, to all of the girls sitting in that room who heard the wolf-whistling, the lack of strong condemnation from the man at the front of the room was the worst mistake of the event.  Which was possibly reflected in their applause when the behaviour was eventually strongly condemned.  But was that still sufficient?

  • Nigella: No condemnation. 
  • Bond girl: Condemnation for objectifying a dead woman, that may or may not be seen to be a joke.
  • Marie Curie: Very strong condemnation.

And what is the message here?  You shouldn't treat women this way....if they are dead OR ultra-clever?  Obviously not, but the point at which the unacceptable behaviour is seen to cross the line is a very important part of correcting unacceptable behaviour.