International Humanist News, International Humanist and Ethical Union,
This issue deals with the World Humanist Congress 2014
held at Oxford and attended by more than 1,000 delegates from 65 countries, including Ireland. If you do nothing else today, check out these four very short videos narrated by Stephen Fry: https://humanism.org.uk/thatshumanism/
They were showcased at the Congress and we should use them to present our cause in Ireland.
Sangeeta Mall, Editor of IHN, writes about injustice in our day. In India, a Muslim man is allowed to divorce his wife merely by uttering the word ‘talaq’ (divorce) three times in front of any witness. Usually, the woman, abandoned by her husband, is left destitute. Honour killings continue in the 21st century, where men and women are killed because they choose their own life partner.
Genital mutilation continues, with the woman victims condemned to a life of suffering. ‘Untouchables’ continue to be so deemed in India, merely because of a religious construct. And still in our day girls are prohibited from going to school, victims of rape are forced to bear the rapist’s child, and people are killed accused of witchcraft. Even today, the basic human right of freedom of expression is denied to countless millions, and so many basic human rights are denied to so many. Our task is great!
In the context of the expected 2015 referendum on blasphemy in Ireland, the Oxford Declaration on Freedom of Thought and Expression, published in this issue, is pertinent, part of which, states: ‘There is no right not to be offended, or not to hear contrary opinions. Respect for people’s freedom of belief does not imply any duty or requirement to respect those beliefs. The expression of opposition to any beliefs, including in the form of satire, ridicule or condemnation in all media and forms is vital to critical discourse and any restraint that is exercised in this expression must be in accordance with article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, namely to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The best response to the expression of a view we disagree with is to reply to it. Violence and censorship are never legitimate responses. All laws that criminalise language on grounds of “blasphemy” or of offence to beliefs and values impede human freedom and should be abolished.’
Another striking article is by Asif Mohiuddin who writes about his experience of being persecuted in Bangladesh for blogging and of being arrested several times by the police for blasphemous writings. He is one of four Humanist bloggers of Bangladesh who were presented the Freedom of Expression Award at the Humanist Congress 2014.
Ethical Record, The Proceedings of the Conway Hall Ethical Society, Vol. 119 No. 11, December 2014
Received just before going to press, articles include:‘ Are we seeing signals from before the Big Bang?’, referring to a 56-page booklet (RRP. £12 at Conway Hall, London), the text of the 81st Conway Memorial Lecture by Roger Penrose in 2012. It outlines Penrose’s theory that our universe, which has existed since the ‘Big Bang’ 13.8 billion years ago, is just one of a possibly infinite series of such universes.
Points from an address by the Editor of Ethical Record, Norman Bacrac, on the Scottish Independence debate, outline reasons to oppose replacing nuclear submarines which the UK’s Labour and Conservative parties plan to do, starting in 2016, at a cost of £25 billion. Bacrac’s points include that nuclear bombs are unethical; in the event of nuclear war, Fastlane, Scotland, is a target; and maintaining the Trident system until 2060 would squander at least £100 billion.
There is a large article on climate change by David Williams which argues that global anthropogenic CO2 emissions continue to rise and he maintains that there is an increasing likelihood that the earth is heading towards an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe. He concludes with the non- intuitive conclusion that ‘by reducing the price of energy (from any source!)… total energy demand will eventually be reduced’; and that, ‘until we have low cost-competitive clean energy, the most effective and humanitarian route to reduce the growth in global energy consumption (i.e., CO2 emissions) is the continued use of cheap fossil fuel energy.’
Ethical Record, The Proceedings of the Conway Hall Ethical Society, Vol. 119 No. 10, November 2014
How is sexism still a problem in the 21st century and what can be done about it? A report of a London Thinks event last October considers that question with speakers including Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned to have a woman featured on a bank note, and Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project. Laura noted that out of 2300 works in the British National Gallery, only ten are by women; and only 15% of public statues are of women.
Duncan Bowie delivered an enlightening talk on Radical Opposition to World War I, which included several anti-war traditions within the Liberal Party, and the resignation of four members of Asquith’s cabinet upon the British declaration of war against Germany. Bowie argues that in the late summer of 1914 there was strong opposition to engaging in a European war within the Liberal government and the wider Liberal party, and that it was Winston Churchill, as Lord of the Admiralty, who pre-empted Cabinet decisions by ordering the mobilization of the navy.
Chris Bratcher has a fascinating article on Bertrand Russell and World War I. Here is a brief extract from a letter Russell wrote: ‘Sir, …A month ago, Europe was a peaceful comity of nations; if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now…he is a patriot.’ Russell edited the journal of the No Conscription
Fellowship and he objected to the prosecutions in the UK (of which we in Ireland were then a part) of conscientious objectors, including a teacher, Everett, who was sentenced to two years’ hard labour. Russell wrote: ‘Everett is now suffering this savage punishment solely for refusal to go against his conscience.’ Russell himself was fined £100 for writing the leaflet For Conscience Sake. The Government refused Russell a passport to fulfill a lecturing engagement at Harvard. Russell was dismissed from his job and reduced to living on charity from his brother and friends, and he was later sentenced to prison for six months for making a statement deemed ‘intended and likely’ to prejudice relations between the UK and the US.
Film Documentary: An Honest Liar, produced by Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom
If you get the chance to watch this 92-minute documentary about world-famous magician, escape artist and sceptic James ‘The Amazing’ Randi
, be sure to see it. It documents Randi’s courageous and costly-to-him investigations to expose psychics, religious faith healers and con-artists. A must-see! It was shown at the Guth Gafa International Documentary Film Festival held in Donegal and Meath in October and November 2014. For more, see http://guthgafa.com/
Review by Joe Armstrong