Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kids on Fire: The American Madrassas

"Where should we be putting our efforts? I'll tell you where our enemies are putting theirs. They're putting it on the kids. They're going into the schools. You go to Palestine... they're taking their kids to camps like we take ours to Bible camps and they're putting grenades into their hands, they're teaching them to put on bomb belts, teaching them how to use rifles and machine guns... It is no wonder with that kind of intense training and discipling that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam."

So, given the shocking picture the speaker has presented, where does she think her community should be putting their efforts? Promoting secualar rationalism? Perhaps calling on people of faith to chill out? Not bloody likely. She wants to get in on the act.

"I want to see young people who are committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the cause of the Gospel as they are in Pakistan, in Israel and Palestine and all those different places."

That is, as they say, some scary shit!

A new documentary "Jesus Camp" shines a light on the Evangelical Christian version of the Islamic madrassas we keep hearing about. Clearly, fundamentalists of all stripes are preparing for Armageddon.

According to ABC News, the camp teaches children - as young as five - how to be "true Christian soldiers" and to "take back America for Christ". One has to wonder how long the 'take back America' will take to mutate into 'take back the world'! "God's Boot Camp?" asks the LA Times.

Here is the trailer:

There's a lot more shocking coverage made available by the miracle of YouTube. Watch the ABC special report here, and there are more clips from the documentary here, here and here.

See also the film's official website.

[HAT TIP: Brian M.]

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's all over if the fat lady doesn't sing

The ball of self-censorship has started to roll. The Berlin Opera has cancelled a run of Mozart's Idomeneo.

The problem is that, along with the heads of Poseidon, Jesus and Buddha, the head of Mohammed is also depicted.

So, after a warning from the security officials that the 200 year old opera "could provoke dangerous reactions" and pose a threat to the safety of opera goers (and presumably others), Kirsten Harms, director of Berlin's Deutsche Opera decided to pull the plug on the production. German politicians are not happy.

According to Reuters, Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, rightly says, "Our ideas about openness, tolerance and freedom must be lived on the offensive. Voluntary self-limitation gives those who fight against our values a confirmation in advance that we will not stand behind them."

And, according to the International Herald Tribune, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday that "self-censorship out of fear" would not be tolerated.

"This is about art, not about politics. "We should not make art dependent on religion — then we are back in the Middle Ages." said Kenan Kolat, a leader of Germany's Turkish Community, adding that it was time Muslims accepted freedom of expression in art.

Strong words all round, but will we have the courage of our convictions to stand behind them? I predict that the rationalisation that an opera (or a book, or a poem, or a painting, or a photograph, or a play or a film or a TV programme) isn't worth the life of a nun will gain currency. Of course, that's exactly right: very little is worth trading for a human life. But it's a false dilema.

By failing to assert the right to free expression in a free country, we're bargaining away a lot more than the life of a nun... or a director, or a tourist, or whoever else's blood Islamists decide must be spilt in retribution for free thought and free expression.

Friday, September 15, 2006

One Last Nail To The Coffin Of Independent Media in Iran

The National Secular Society's Newsline has just popped into my inbox and it contains a story that passed me - and I suspect a lot of others - by this week.

Iran's most prominent reformist newspaper has been closed down for failing to remove an executive accused of publishing "blasphemous" articles and insulting officials. The country's press supervisory board, run by the culture ministry, ordered the closure of the Persian daily paper Sharq on Monday after it failed to replace managing director Muhammad Rahmanian. The board said the paper had been given one month to replace him, but after the deadline ran out on Sunday he remained at the helm. "Because of 70 cases of violations, including insulting officials, religious and national figures, publishing blasphemous articles and also articles creating discord ... the board demanded the replacement," the board said in a statement.

Their competitor (I imagine) The Tehran Times ran the announcement with practically no background or reaction, but the online Iran Press Service (which publishes in English from abroad) gave a lot of background in their article One Last Nail To The Coffin Of Independent Media in Iran.

Describing Sharq as "the country’s most influential and popular newspaper", they noted:

“We are in a vicious circle, for, as a result of these pressures, closures and crackdowns, more Iranian intellectuals, journalists, scholars and others take refuge with outside-based media to express themselves and are immediately accused of collaboration with foreign media and arrested.”

Sharq is just the latest victim of a concerted attack on the media. The Guardian report on the issue notes that "another Iranian newspaper has also been closed down - political monthly Nameh has also been shut for blasphemy and insulting religious figures. The paper's editor, Majid Tavallaei, said it was closed for publishing a poem by dissident female poet Simin Behbahani, according to an Associated Press report."

The Guardian story also noted that "Iranian courts have closed more than 100 publications since 2000, most of which were reformist."

In their report, South African online news portal says that another paper, the State-owned Iran was closed in May for publishing a cartoon that offended the Azeris and led to several days of unrest in northwestern Azerbaijan province. The cartoonist and the editor-in-chief of the daily remain in jail.

What's going on here?

On Wednesday afternoon, I was showing a friend from South Africa around London. As we walked from Charing Cross station towards Trafalgar Square we heard quite a commotion coming from the opposite pavement. Being a journalist, she was quite eager to see what it was all about. "Good heavens," said I, "that's right outside South Africa House!"

I took the snap above on my camera phone (hence the poor quality) as we approached.

The protest was by a group of Zimbabweans angy that Thabo Mbeki will not take the lead in a regional effort to do something about Robert Mugabe's regime.

The Institute of War and Peace Reporting has a critical piece outlining exactly what Thabo Mbeki's failings on this issue are. And this is why Zimbabwean activists have moved down The Strand from the Zimbawean embassy towards South Africa House.

Of course, no noddy badge for guessing which UK politician is swanning around on the world stage (literally) with Mugabe!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What to do about Darfur

Sunday 17 Spetember 2006 is the Global Day for Darfur.

While a great deal of activity is proposed for this day to draw attention to the criminally under-reported situation in the region, I sense that there is a shortage of ideas about what to do about the situation itself.

At the public meeting organised by the Euston Group last week, some of the ideas - especially those proposed by the Aegis Trust, like boycotting produce from the Sudan, writing to one's MP and protesting to the Sudan embassy - would, in my opinion, be limited in their effectiveness. A government this shameless cannot be shamed into acting (or not acting, as the case may be) and the economic pressure of a boycott most likely will be felt by the farmers, not the corrupt politicians transferring hard currency by the suitcase full into European banks.

Did the collapse of the Zimbawean economy stop Robert Mugabe's shopping sprees in Paris and Rome, for example?

That is not to say that symbolic gestures can't be galvenised into a wider and more effective programme of action. They are important as a component of consciousness building, which is perhaps the first step to something more concrete.

But, what's next? What needs to be done on Monday the 18th and beyond?

Peter Tatchell has some ideas, which I present now for discussion.

Last year, Tatchell helped organise a "die-in" outside Downing Street in which 250 Darfurian refugees and some supporters participated.

Tatchell proposed the following programme of action:
  • Enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur to halt the Sudanese bombing of African villages
  • Send into Darfur a 15,000-strong UN peace-keeping force to protect the civilian population and aid workers, keep the warring factions apart, and disarm the militias
  • Provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care to the victims of the conflict, and provide the refugees with assistance to leave the camps, return to their homes and rebuild their lives and communities
  • Impose sanctions against the Sudanese government leaders and the leaders of the Janjaweed militia, including an arms embargo and arraignment before the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, torture and crimes against humanity

"Darfur is a needless, preventable humanitarian tragedy, caused by the complacency and inaction of the UK government, the African Union, the United Nations, and the European Union. The international community has Darfur’s blood on its hands," said Tatchell.

More controversially, Tatchell ascribes the lack of action on the Left to the fear of being branded "Islamophobic".

"The threat of being labeled "Islamophobic" is inducing a new wave of moral paralysis, as evidenced by the way most leftists ignore the role of fundamentalist Islam in the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, where racist Islamists are exterminating the black African population."

Of course, this is fear is neither insubstantial or unsubstatiated. Ian Donovan wrote in "What Next?" journal (edited by Bob Pitt of Islamophobia-Watch notoriety). Criticising Harry's Place, the Alliance for Workers Liberty, and the Communist Party of Great Britain for supporting Tatchell, Donovan wrote:

"What these opportunists did not print, however, or even mention or criticise, was Peter Tatchell’s public call for Iraq-style sanctions against Sudan, and for a blue-helmeted, United Nations imperialist armed force to invade that country and "sort out" the communal conflict and ethnic cleaning that is going on in Darfur. As everyone knows, this would mean the US and its allies under another flag, as in the Korean and 1991 Gulf Wars," said Donovan.

No wonder they had no ideas to save the lives of the 400 000 now dead and a million more waiting to die.

Once again, sections of the Left give priority to Muslim oppressors at the expense of the Muslim victims of that oppression. Let us be clear: what is happening in Sudan has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with racism and racial supremacy. Arab Islamists are "ethnically cleansing" black Africans - most of whom are also Muslims (but Muslims of the wrong race).

But there is no need for us to be paralysed by this poison. Wearing a blue hat on Sunday must be a start to a robust plan of action. Argument is better than silence, so let the debate begin.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What I shall say to Stephen Green

I’m looking forward to ‘meeting’ Stephen Green on Saturday. I shall be in Canterbury to attend the AGM of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association, whose magazine – GHQ – as you know, I edit.

We have been tipped off by an evangelical Christian in Canterbury - whose loathing of Mr Green marginally outweighs his loathing of gays and “pagans” (as he calls Humanists) - that Green is intending to hijack their ‘peaceful demonstration’ against our AGM.

The group, which calls itself “Christian Family & Youth Concern Fellowship” had been planning to register their protest against our supposed aim of “promoting sexual deviancy and paganism” in a “holy city” and their leader, a Rev Darryl Griffiths, wrote to the hotel hosting the event in an attempt to get them to either cancel the event or allow their mob to wave banners in the car park. Fortunately they were told to get knotted and that no molestation of the hotel’s guests would be tolerated.

So they decided to hold a “pray-in” instead. Enter Stephen Green.

Re G&LHA Conference, Canterbury.
Sorry not to be in touch before. I should be interested in the hymn-singing vigil you mention, and could advertise this and support it with people. I'll be pleased to send you the latest Christian Voice newsletter if you would be kind enough to email me a note of your land address and church attended ...
May God bless you.
Yours sincerely,
Stephen Green, M.A
National Director, Christian Voice

But, says Rev Griffiths in his correspondence with GALHA:

“Unfortunately, I learned yesterday afternoon that one of our members, a bit of a ‘loose cannon’, has taken it upon himself to alert Stephen Green of Christian Voice to the G&LHA conference (sic). This was done without consulting me, or other fellowship members. Stephen Green is well-known within the Christian Community for his outspoken views and for a somewhat strident approach to those with whom he disagrees. Our concern is that he may well organise his own protest, which is certainly against our wishes.”

As an aside, I’d take Stephen Green’s approach any day. It is far less insidious than Rev Griffith’s alternative. Griffith says:

“Our fear, is that Stephen Green may turn up anyway, undoing all the valuable outreach work we have done in helping gays who seek salvation through prayer and Christian fellowship. If he does, we wish to make it clear that he does so without the approval or encouragement of the FYC fellowship. We oppose stridency from any quarter, as it's always counter-productive in bringing the wayward back to the fold.”

What is his vehicle for this? Why, the Alpha Course, of course!

“[W]e will be contacting local newspapers in order to advertise the Alpha Course and encourage homosexuals to turn away from the dark path they have chosen,” says Griffiths.

The Alpha Course targets people who want to “explore the meaning of life” – in other words, people who feel lost, alienated, depressed and directionless. People who are emotionally vulnerable: like many lesbian and gay people whose minds have already been brutalised by The Church. Alpha is to religion what McDonald’s is to cuisine – and they have just as stringent branding rules. So successful is the commodifying of evangelicalism that they now advertise on London busses. (This is no surprise, since half of London’s busses are run by Stagecoach – owned by another homophobic religious nut. But I digress…

Stephen Green is in all sorts of trouble at the moment. He’s facing a prosecution for “using threatening words and behaviour” at a Cardiff gay pride event. From what I can ascertain, this didn’t amount to much more than doling out ‘turn or burn’ type leaflets.

An unrepentant Green claims that his “rights to free speech have been challenged”.

And, he’s absolutely right. I’ll go on record as saying that I support his right to express his views in a peaceful manner. The police and the courts have no moral right to pursue people for simply expressing their thoughts and opinions, as long as they do not incite violence or make violent threats.

But, since Stephen Green only speaks the language of fundamentalists, I would have to refer him to what Jesus says (as reported in Matthew 7:5):

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Stephen Green is no supporter of freedom of speech. I shan’t rehash the disgraceful tactics he used to try to shut down Jerry Springer: The Opera, since I covered it on the GALHA blog at the time.

Of course, Green and his ilk don’t balk orchestrating prosecutions of “religious hatred” when some sad facts are pointed out at their expense. The Gay Police Association is facing a possible prosecution after they revealed in an advert that the majority of homophobic incidents reported to them had a religious component.

As Peter Tatchell pointed out yesterday in his Comment Is Free piece:

“The GPA advert has reportedly prompted thousands of complaints to the Metropolitan Police by supporters of religious pressure groups, as well as by die-hard fundamentalists. They have expressed no concern about the death threats, but they want the ad banned and are demanding the prosecution of the GPA. The Met is now investigating whether the GPA advertisement constitutes an anti-religious hate crime. It has referred the complaints to the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Isn’t this all getting a bit too much? I have no illusions that the bulk of homophobia is generated by men in frocks. I want the right to confront them without the fear of prosecution. I do not fear their ludicrous tracts – bring ‘em on I say – because they can be defeated with persistent reason and clear-headed logic. I don’t need the long arm of the law to protect me from Stephen Green. But, if he has the courage of his convictions, he needs to explain why he needs the law to protect his beliefs from me.

So I shall tell Mr Green that, in this instance at least, I’m prepared to act on Jesus’s advice (also in Matthew 7), even as he so flagrantly defies it. I shall do unto others as I would have them do unto me. If he arrives on Saturday with his slogans and leaflets, I shall intercede if the Canterbury police emulate their colleagues in Cardiff. I shall say:

“For f…reedom’s sake, officer, let the man speak his mind!" – and, if necessary, I shall offer to be arrested along side him.

This madness has to be challenged.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wear a blue hat on September 17

September 17 2006 is the Global Day for Darfur.

Individuals and organisations around the world will join peaceful demonstrations, rallies, marches, and other events to draw attention to the criminally under-reported plight of the people of Darfur. September 17 marks the first anniversary of the signing of the UN World Summit Outcome Document, which enshrined the international doctrine of the "Responsibility To Protect"

Despite the pledge: “to take collective action …if national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”, the violence in western Sudan has not stopped; in fact, in some parts of Darfur, the violence has grown worse.

"People are still being killed and raped and displaced - every single day," say the Day For Darfur organisers.

On September 17 people around the world will take part in the Global Day for Darfur to show world-wide support for the Darfuri people and to put pressure on our Governments to protect the civilians.

We hope that you will be able to join us on the Global Day for Darfur.

Wear a blue hat on September 17th, and joining in protests and events to help the people of Darfur.

To view with Quicktime click here

Monday, September 04, 2006

Government ghaners church’s support

The clergy in Ghana are backing their government’s decision to ban a conference for gay men and lesbians. The government has pledged to take “disciplinary action” on anyone “breaking the law”, reports GayWired.

Because homosexuality is illegal in Ghana, this has been widely interpreted as referring to anyone attending the conference.

Information Minister Kwamena Bartels, said in a statement that “Government would like to make it absolutely clear that it shall not permit the proposed conference anywhere in Ghana… Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality are therefore offences under the laws of Ghana.”

While he has the backing of the clergy (surprise, surprise) apparently some members of the public have used radio phone-in programmes to (anonymously) criticise the government’s lack of respect for freedom of speech. But of course, others support the Church’s stance.

Once again, when draconian measures are taken to deny LGBT people their legal rights, religious leaders can be counted on to cheerlead the persecution.

The South African edition of The Independent, reports that the Ghanaian government claims that allowing the conference will undermine the country’s “culture and morality”.

In a statement that quite clearly contradicts his own stance, Mr Bartels told The Independent: “It's not illegal for them to meet and talk, but we in Ghana don't want to encourage it. They can go and do it elsewhere.”

Another report stated that the conference centre had denied that any such conference was planned. One might speculate that the government and the church made it all up in an effort simply to create a moral panic and stir up homophobia.

News from a Bubble

My friend Vincent Maher, currently the director of the New Media Laboratory at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism & Media Studies in Grahamstown, South Africa (my old stomping ground, when I taught there in the late 90s, and studied there in the late 80s) has developed an innovative way to ‘aggregate’ the day’s news.

Check out

The site aggregates news  - categorised into technology, world, US, UK and South African -  and converts the stories into tags and renders them as floating bubbles where the size of the bubble is determined by the frequency of the tag. It also shows which tags are the most clicked on by users.

What it basically does it create differently sized balloons which inflate according to the frequency of certain keywords. In today’s news aggregation, we see that keyword “police” has made the largest bubble, while terms like “Climate” and “rainfall” have made teeny-tiny little ones.

The application is still in ‘beta’, but says Maher, “It’s like a dog, every day I wake up and train this thing - I have to train it which words to keep and which to discard.”

He says he didn’t create it intentionally. He’d been thinking about new ways to aggregate the news and “had some bubble code lying around”. “I just started messing about”, he says.

It might not be the most efficient way of searching the news, but it is loads of fun, turns up unexpected stories and has loads of potential to visually demonstrate both news priorities and reader interest as Maher develops the technology.

Paul Simon's Surprise

Paul Simon’s new album ‘Surprise’ (which can be previewed here) has some interesting observations about the direction religion is going. In one song, ‘Wartime Prayers’, he notes:

Prayers offered in times of peace are silent conversations, Appeals for love or love's release In private invocations But all that is changed now, Gone like a memory from the day before the fires. People hungry for the voice of God Hear lunatics and liars Wartime prayers, wartime prayers In every language spoken, For every family scattered and broken.

In another song ‘I don’t believe’, he sings:

I don't believe we were born to be sheep in a flockTo pantomime prayers with the hands of a clock

The albums title track opens provocatively with the song “How can you live in the Northeast?”

How can you live in the Northeast?How can you live in the South?How can you build on the banks of a riverWhen the flood water pours from the mouth?How can you be a Christian?How can you be a Jew?How can you be a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu?How can you?Weak as the winter sun, we enter life on earth.Names and religion comes just after date of birth.Then everybody gets a tongue to speak,And everyone hears an inner voice,A day at the end of the week to wonder and rejoice.If the answer is infinite lightWhy do we sleep in the dark?

Of course, it being Paul Simon, you’re not going to get any unequivocal statements and his meaning is often obscure.

As a long-time fan, I must say, I don’t rate this album as anything approaching his best work. It’s competent, but, from what I heard on the preview, is rather pedestrian. But “People hungry for the voice of God, Hear lunatics and liars” – what a line!

Homophobic terror: The Talibanisation of Iraq

Peter Tatchell reveals the targeted execution of gay Iraqis by Islamist death squads

(as published in) Tribune - London, UK - 1 September 2006

Parts of Iraq, including some Baghdad neighbourhoods, are now under the de facto control of Taliban-style fundamentalist militias. They enforce a savage interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for ‘crimes’ like listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.

Iraq is sliding fast towards theocracy and is likely to end up similar to Iran. The power and influence of fundamentalist militias is growing rapidly. Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Blair-backed Iraqi government. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s ruling coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship.

Despite this goal of clerical fascism, the Socialist Workers Party and the Stop The War Coalition support Muqtada al-Sadr. They invited his representative to speak at the anti-war rally in London on 18 March. Not to be outdone, the July issue of the left-wing monthly Red Pepper gave over a whole page to white-washing al-Sadr’s crimes against humanity.

The terrorisation of gay Iraqis by these Islamist death squads is symptomatic of the fate that will befall all Iraqis if the fundamentalists continue to gain influence.

Under Saddam Hussein discrete homosexuality was usually tolerated. Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of gay people is commonplace. It is actively encouraged by Iraq’s leading cleric, the British and US-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as indicated by the following reports received from my clandestine gay activist contacts inside Iraq:  

Wissam Auda was a member of Iraq’s Olympic tennis team. His dream was to play at Wimbledon this year. He had been receiving death threats from religious fanatics on account of his homosexuality. On 25 May, his vehicle was ambushed by fundamentalist militias in the al-Saidiya district of Baghdad. Wissam, together with his coach Hussein Ahmed Rashid and team mate Nasser Ali Hatem, were all summarily executed in the street. Their crime? Wearing shorts. An Iraqi National Guard checkpoint was about 100m from the site of the ambush, but the soldiers did nothing, according to eye-witnesses.

The father of 23 year old Baghdad arts student, Karzan, has been told by militias that his son has been sentenced to death for being gay. If his father refuses to hand over Karzan for execution, the militia has threatened to kill the family one by one. This has already happened to Bashar, 34, an actor. Because his parents refuse to reveal his hiding place, the Badr militia murdered two of his family members in retribution.

Nyaz is a 28-year old dentist who lives in Baghdad. She is terrified that her lesbian relationship will be discovered, and that both she and her partner will be killed. They have stopped seeing each other. It is too dangerous. To make matters worse, Nyaz is being forced by the fundamentalist Mahdi militia to marry an older, senior Mullah with close ties the Mahdi leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. If she does not agree to the marriage, or tries to run away, Nyaz and her family will be targeted for ‘honour killing’ by Sadr’s men.

Gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police. Iraq’s security forces have been infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. They have huge influence in the Interior Ministry and the police, and can kill at will and with impunity.

Fourteen year old Ahmed Khalil was accused of corrupting the community because he had sex with men. According to his Baghdad neighbour, in April four men in police uniforms arrived at Ahmed’s house in a four-wheel-drive police pick-up truck. They wore the distinctive face masks of the Badr militia. The neighbour saw the police drag Ahmed out of the house and shoot him at point-blank range, pumping two bullets into his head and several more bullets into the rest of his body.

In the chaos and lawlessness of post-war Iraq, hundreds of young boys are being blackmailed into the sex industry. The sex ring operators lure the boys into having gay sex, photograph them and then threaten to publish their photos unless they work as male prostitutes. If their gayness was publicly revealed, the boys would be executed by the Islamist militias. They are trapped.

Wathiq, aged 29, a gay architect, was kidnapped in Baghdad in March. Soon afterwards, the Badr militia sent his parents death threats, accusing them of allowing their son to lead a gay life and demanding a £11,000 ransom. The parents paid the money, thinking it would save Wathiq’s life. But he was found dead a few days later, with his body mutilated and his head cut off.

The UK gay rights group OutRage! is working to support our counterpart organisation in Baghdad, Iraqi LGBT. Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of gay activists inside Iraq’s major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra. These courageous activists are helping gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Syria and Lebanon. The world ignores the fate of LGBT Iraqis at its peril. Their fate today is the fate of all Iraqis tomorrow.  

* Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. They don’t yet have a bank account. The UK gay rights group OutRage! is helping them. Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!”, with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT”, and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT.

More info on Iraqi LGBT:

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Quack's Charter

It's outrageous. And yet another cowtowing to irrational superstition. Once again the touchy-feelies trump evidence-based science. The modern-day medicine-show carpet-baggers who call themselves "homeopaths" will now be allowed to display their absurd claims on the box under the National Rules System. This insane move, apparently, "is designed to bring homeopathic remedies into line with licensed medicines".

According to The Guardian:

Packaging on homeopathic products will be allowed to describe the illnesses they claim to be able to treat under a controversial licensing scheme introduced by the government today. The National Rules System is designed to bring homeopathic remedies into line with licensed medicines - but doctors and scientists say it will legitimise products that have no scientific evidence to support their claims.

Perhaps, if the government wants to bring homeo-potty into line with licensed medecines, it should start by requiring that it comply with clinical trials and peer-reviews to verify and replicate its medicinal claims!

Evan Harris MP is entirely correct to say that this move has "diluted and polluted" the regulation of medicine.

While the government's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency claims that "this is a significant step forward in the way homeopathic medicines are regulated. Products authorised will have to comply with recognised standards of quality, safety and patient information," Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London quips: "This is like licensing a witches' brew as a medicine so long as the bat wings are sterile."

If you think about it, what other products - medical or otherwise - are allowed to make untrue or unverifiable claims?

The horror is that an uninformed person will buy a homeopathic product based on the snazzy packaging and the claim on the box, not realising that it is not the equivalent of Savlon, or any other clinically tested and known-to-be-effective remedy and then use it in an emergency. If your toddler burns her hand or bumps his head, do you want to be unknowingly administering some play-play salve that requires a belief in mumbo-jumbo and an outer-body experience to be effective?

Hopefully some consumer advocacy group will turn this insanity to its advantage and bring a case against products which cannot demonstrate that they do what they claim to do.

Study after study has shown that so-called homeopathic "remedies" show little significant differences as a treatment that sugar pill placebos.

Recently a wealthy sceptic, James Randi, offered $1 Million to anyone who could provide convincing evidence of the effects of homeopathic "medicine". The BBC's Horizon programme went to great legnths to win the money, but failed miserably. The concluded:

"To Randi's relief, the experiment was a total failure. The scientists were no better at deciding which samples were homeopathic than pure chance would have been."

So why is the government flying in the face of solid evidence? WHy are euphimisms like "complementary therapies" being drafted in to obscure the bleedin' obvious? Perhaps Prince Charles is running the country. We should be told.

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society has allerted me to a related incident. In the US, reports The Washington Post, "small but growing number of practices around the country that tailor the care they provide to the religious beliefs of their doctors". Brochures advertise services by doctors who blend "the best of modern medicine with the healing presence of Jesus Christ."

Jesus, of course, believed that "unclean spirits" were the cause of medical complaints.

How long before the UK starts allowing the Gideon Society to make medical claims too?