Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Even God Hates Christmas

"Put Christ back into Christmas," urges Trevor Phillips.

Sir Trevor says the public should ignore "political correctness" which apparently have seen nativity plays banned from schools and xmas lights bannished and that these 'silly season' stories, he suspects (quite rightly, I'm sure) point to "an underlying agenda to use this great holiday to fuel community tension".

Generally speaking, he's right. But there is one major flaw to his underlying logic. Christmas never belonged to Christians in the first place. It is simply the Christianisation of a festival celebrated in many cultures for millennia.

In fact, one of the most "traditional" of Christmas rituals is actually a blasphemy. Yes, the humble Chrismas Tree is an eclesisatical no-no. The Bible says:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

That's from Jeremiah 10. Similar sentiments are expressed in the book of Issiah, which also seems to suggest that God hates chestnuts roasting on an open fire too.

Anyhow, don't take my word for it. For an informative talk on the subject, why not come along to a talk by Dr Robert Stovold, author of "Did Christians Steal Christmas" on Friday 14th December, 7.30pm, at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London.

Mulled wine and mince pies will be available to take the chill off the winter night. The talk and refreshments cost £5.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Protest Saudi Brutality Today!

If you are free and in central London over lunch today, why not join us at a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy?

The protest is organised by the NUS LGBT group with support from OutRage! and others.

Here's the press release:

Gay men sentenced to 7,000 lashes

Protest against potential death sentences

Friday 19 October, 1:30pm - 2.30pm
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street, London W1J 5DZ

On the 2 October 2007 two young men in the Saudi Arabian city of Al-Bahah were reportedly convicted of 'sodomy' and sentenced to 7,000 lashes. In Saudi Arabia same-sex relations are illegal and the maximum penalty is death.

7,000 lashes can be fatal, depending on how many lashes are delivered at any one time.

To protest against the persecution of queers in Saudi Arabia , the National Union of Students LGBT campaign is organising a protest outside the Saudi Embassy in London this Friday. The protest is supported by LGBT human rights group OutRage! Peter Tatchell is a guest speaker.

The protest comes ahead of the State Visit to the UK of the bloodthirsty Saudi tyrant, King Abdullah bin Abdul Azaz al Saud, on 30 October 2007

Mr Tatchell said: "The British and US governments support the despotic, corrupt Saudi regime. As well as flogging and executing gay people, the Saudi leaders are guilty of detention without trial, torture and the public beheading women who have sex outside of marriage. Migrant workers are de facto slaves. The media is heavily censored. Trade unions, political parties and non-Muslim religions are banned. The country is a theocratic police state," he said.

"We call on individuals and groups, LGBT or otherwise, to protest against the continued criminalisation, imprisonment, torture and murder of LGBT people in Saudi Arabia," said Scott Cuthbertson, NUS LGBT Officer.

"We will be handing a letter of protest to the Saudi Ambassador, HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, calling on his Government to respect the human rights of its own LGBT citizens. Please join us in the struggle for Love without Borders - LGBT rights around the world - and make your views known to the Saudi Ambassador on Friday."

"This year NUS LGBT Campaign is campaigning for 'Love without Borders'", added Claire Anderson, another NUS LGBT Officer.

"Around the world, LGBT people are persecuted, imprisoned and even murdered in state-sponsored homophobia. We live in a global community and no longer can we stand by while LGBT people are persecuted. Now is the time to use our freedom to fight for the rights of others across the globe. When abuses of human rights take place we must not be silent."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

URGENT ACTION - Stop UK deporting Iranian to her death!

The media has been full of debate and discussion about the deportation of a convicted killer to Italy. I don't want to get into that debate, except to note that the consequences for Learco Chindamo of deportation to Italy would be relatively inconsequential when compared to the probable fate of Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian, about whom there hasn't been a single column inch in the mainstream media.

Pegah Emambakhsh is an Iranian national who sought asylum in the UK in 2005. Her claim was rejected and she was arrested in Sheffield on Monday 13th August 2007. She is scheduled for deportation to Iran on 27 August 2007.

If returned to Iran, she faces certain imprisonment, likely severe lashings and possibly even stoning to death. Her crime in Iran is her sexual orientation - she was in a same-sex relationship.

Ms Emambakhsh escaped from Iran, claiming asylum, after her lover was arrested, tortured and subsequently sentenced to death by stoning. Her father was also arrested and interrogated about her whereabouts. He was eventually released but not before he had been tortured himself.

Ms Emambakhsh has a more than well founded fear of persecution if she is returned to Iran. She belongs to a group of people - gays and lesbians - who, it is well known, are severely persecuted in Iran.

According to Iranian human rights campaigners, many lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs came to power in 1979.

In 2006 a German court ruled that an Iranian lesbian could not be deported as she risked death because of her sexuality.

The UK Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) have chosen not to believe that she is in danger if returned to Iran, even though the UK government are well aware of the dangerous situation that gay people face there.

The BIA will be committing a serious miscarriage of justice and a gross human rights violation if they insist on Ms Emambakhsh's deportation.

The Asylum Seeker Support Initiative in Sheffield are now getting Pegah new solicitors in order to make a fresh claim for asylum based on new evidence and expert testimonies. A stay of deportation is needed to give Pegah time to prepare and submit this fresh claim.

Pegah's MP, Richard Caborn, has already won one stay of deportation and is working secure another postponement of deportation on 27 August.

You can help. Please write or email asap the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and to Pegah's British constituency MP, Richard Caborn (see details below).

Pegah Emambakhsh's Home Office reference number is: B1191057. This number must be quoted in any letter, so the Home Office can identify
and access her case.

Letters need to be sent TODAY by first class post to arrive tomorrow, Friday 24 August, at the latest. If you can't send a letter, a fax is a good alternative, and an email is certainly better than nothing. Mark all correspondence "For the persona attention of..."

Please write to:

Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary,
2, Marsham St,
London SW1P 4DF

Fax no: + 44 (0) 207 035 3262 or +44 (0) 207 035 2362
Email: smithjj@parliament.uk

Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP,
Sheffield Constituency Office
2nd Floor, Barkers Pool House
Burgess Street
Sheffield S1 2HF

Fax: + 44 (0) 114 275 3944
Email link for Richard Caborn

Please don't let Pegah be quietly deported to face torture or death. Our letters can make all the difference.

In related news, the Daily Mail has a story, with photos, of the public flogging of 25-year-old Saeed Ghanbari, convicted under Iran's 'morality laws' of drinking alcohol and having sex outside of marriage.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bishop of Hereford should hang his head in shame

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) has welcomed news that the gay man who was refused employment as a youth worker by the Bishop of Hereford has won his case.

Cliff James, secretary of GALHA said: "This important case will tell churches that their prejudice and homophobia will not be tolerated in employment – not even for bogus religious reasons. The bishop of Hereford's actions were a disgraceful display of crude intolerance and we hope that he is thoroughly ashamed of himself. The Church is rapidly having to learn that it is no longer a law unto itself and that injustice is no longer acceptable, even if it is committed in the name of religion."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tube Chiefs Ban Gay Times Advert

From the publishers of Gay Times...

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the legalisation of homosexuality, and the Gay Times team intended on celebrating such a landmark with a loving, expressive London Underground advertising campaign seen opposite. However, the image was rejected.

In response to this, GT have partnered with The London Paper to run a poll on behalf of GT in the paper and online asking readers if they feel this image is inappropriate for the tube. The results of this poll will be published in The London Paper, and will then be put forward to the London Underground to allow for comment.

The Freedom campaign will still be running on the London Underground, but with different imagery to that shown, at a number of stations including Kings Cross, Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Tottenham Court Road.

Millivres Prowler Group (the publisher of GT) feels very strongly about this, and would like to ask for your support. The LGBT community enrich all aspects of society and we feel they deserve recognition for their contributions.

Feel free to use this image as it will be the cover of the August issue of GT magazine, and please mention the poll that will be running all week in The London Paper and on the website – the more opinions we get the better. We'd like to take this opportunity to thank you in advance for your support of this issue.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The global resurgence of religious intolerance

From Washington to Baghdad and beyond, religious intolerance is making a comeback; threatening democracy and human rights.

Peter Tatchell interviews feminist commentator, writer and secularist, Joan Smith on his Talking with Tatchell interview on online TV station 18 Doughty Street.

Two centuries after the Enlightenment, religious ignorance, superstition, sectarianism and prejudice are on the rise again. Reason, science, liberalism, democracy, secularism and humanitarian values are under attack from fundamentalists within many faiths: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. They want to reassert religious dogma, authority and control. More and more of these zealots are prepared to use violence; as evidenced by the growth of religious-inspired terrorism.

Liberal and progressive people of faith are on defensive in large parts of the world; often being eclipsed by the shrill voices of religious fanaticism.

Even in a wealthy, well-educated democratic nation like the US, the Christian Right has succeeded in hijacking the Republican Party and the Presidency, propagandising creationism and sexual abstinence, and securing a prohibition on the federal funding of stem cell research and condom use as a method to prevent HIV.

In Britain, the Church of England bans women bishops, faith schools tolerate the bullying of lesbian and gay pupils, and religious extremists have succeeded in closing down the play Behzti and cancelling regional performances of Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Central to the global resurgence of religious intolerance are attempts to police gender and sexuality; including restrictions on women's reproductive rights and their access to economic and political power, and escalating state-sponsored assaults on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in countries like Catholic Poland, Muslim Iran and Anglican Nigeria.

We also see rising religious sectarianism in countries such as Iraq, where rival Shia and Sunni Muslims are car bombing and assassinating each other in a bitter battle for clerical supremacy and state power; and in Palestine where fundamentalist Islamists have displaced secular nationalists from the leadership of the national liberation struggle and are seeking to impose their particular interpretation of Islam on everyone else.  

To view the programme, click on this link.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A disorderly establishment

"Given that less than 2% of the population now regularly attends a Church of England service each week, it is difficult to know what purpose it serves 'in the national life'," says Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society in his Comment is Free piece today.

Nevertheless, a government green paper says:

"The government reaffirms its commitment to the position of the Church of England by law established, with the sovereign as its supreme governor, and the relationship between the church and state. The government greatly values the role played by the church in national life in a range of spheres."

Rather than witnessing the slow fade-out of superstition and the ultimate end of religious privilege, we may now see the opposite as other religious sects, cults and outfits jockey for position and begin to demand the same privileges and exemptions that the Church of England enjoys.

"Britain is the only country left in the democratic world that allows clerics to sit in its legislature as of right and Mr Brown and his cronies seem quite happy with that," says Sanderson.

Read his full article here.