The USA is not a safe place to send kids

When I was 17, I spend a year as a student in rural Canada, which resulted in a lot of culture shock. But you’re told about that when you prepare for your trip, and also that the Canadian families are very likely going to be much more religious than what we were used to. The kids who went to the USA got similar speeches, and sometimes their experiences were similar to mine. Very often however, the experiences went like this instead:
Polish Exchange Student in US: My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists

For example, every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn’t had sex for the last 17 years because — so they told me — they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.

My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying ‘Michael, it’s time to go to church.’ I hated that sentence. When I didn’t want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn’t allow me to have any coffee.

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled — my mother’s heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

or like this: Chinese Atheists Lured to Find Jesus at U.S. Christian Schools

When Randy Liang wanted to study in the U.S., his parents’ friends at a Christian group that provides medical and small business services in Shanxi Province recommended Ben Lippen. He enrolled in January, 2010, as a sophomore, largely unfamiliar with the Scriptures and the English language.

He “really hated” the school at first, he said. “I thought they were trying to force me to be Christian. I couldn’t understand what they’re talking about. I thought, ‘This is boring.’”

Liang adjusted as his English improved and he joined teams in four sports: football, wrestling, cross-country and track. After watching a creationist video in Bible class, he developed doubts about evolution. Now a senior, he prays with teammates before games, he said. He lives in a teammate’s home, and prays with the family for success on exams.

or like this: High School Exchange Students Housed With Murderers, Sexual Predators

One of the most shocking cases alleges that at least four exchange students suffered sexually abuse over the years by the same host father — even after the first student to stay with the host reported the incidents, NBC reported.

“He said ‘this is American culture,’ and I should get used to it,” Christopher Herbon of Germany told NBC News.

or this: Exchange students live American nightmare

Jarbola said a girl from Norway, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Anne, tried to alert officials that she and some of the students were in dire straits.

Anne told CNN she had school officials send an e-mail to Aspect in October explaining how bad things were and including photographs of the inside of the home where she was placed. The home was later condemned by the city.

Anne’s high school principal took her in, but other students weren’t as lucky and spent nearly the entire school year in unsafe homes, until Children and Youth Services was tipped off about a month before school ended, Jarbola said.

Jarbola, who said Anne’s e-mail is now evidence in the criminal investigation, told CNN that when welfare officials interviewed the students, one was so hungry he wept when they gave him pizza during questioning. In all, five of the students were removed from homes where they’d been placed by Aspect.

and even though the last article is peppered with references to how very seriously the State Department is taking the cases, the end result of that taking it seriously was that the State Department requires prospective host-parents to photograph their houses and provide “outside” references, and not much else.

And exchange programs are not the only way in which bringing foreign kids to the USA can end up extremely dangerous. For one, the same reasoning that leads Fundies and Fundie schools to try to get foreign students to come to the US is also fueling the adoption-craze among fundie Christians. In the past, there have been reports of abuse related to the Fundie “To Train Up A Child” abuse manual, or the “adoptions” of Haitian “orphans” post-earthquake which turned out to be kidnappings, and other such reports. Now, there is another report about “re-homing” children, which is basically about treating international adoptees like pets, to be dumped when they become inconvenient, often onto the first person who volunteers to take them in (which, unsurprisingly, sometimes turn out to be child abusers of various kinds); and again we hear of the complete lack of oversight by US government.

It’s no wonder than that many countries are wary of sending minors to the USA. In the past, some exchange programs stopped offering exchanges to the USA; and many countries also block adoptions to the US, or insist on being able to track the well-being of these children themselves.

Intersectional look at some of the Free-Amina protests

A few things upfront:
a) This is a post about FEMEN. Therefore, there will be boobs. Don’t do what I did, and look at the below pictures while in class. :-p
b) FEMEN has an undeserved reputation as sex positive because they call themselves “sextremists” and are using their naked bodies to protest. However, apparently they don’t think that the right to do with your body whatever you want extends universally: they are supporters of the Swedish Model, for example. In fact, at least one of the Free Amina photos on their site is against the background of a self-portrait-mural in which one woman holds up a sign saying “not a sex toy” and has “no prostitution” written on her chest. So yeah. Fail on that account.
c) A lot of the comments on FEMEN’s site are assorted attempts at dismissing the protesters as sluts, whores, etc., which gets mostly ridiculed and aggressively defended against on their page; that I think shows that their “sextremism” style activism has a place, in the same way that the aggressive New Atheist style of defending the right to be openly atheist does. But that doesn’t mean that either is unproblematic, or that either fits every issue and every context.
d) There were other noteworthy instances, posted in other places on the internet, but I really just wanted to work with the images FEMEN had on their facebook, and pull out a couple interesting examples. Otherwise, this post could have gone on forever.
e) All pictures are from the FEMEN facebook page.

Alright, let’s get to the actual point of this post:

1) Activists got into a closed conference at the Institute of Arab Culture in Paris, where the president of Tunisia was giving a presentation:003The target here is directly relevant: The Tunisian government is absolutely co-responsible for Amina’s disappearance, and is part of the problem she was protesting against in the first place. On the other hand, none of the pictures I’ve seen showed the activists having anything Amina-related written on their bodies, making this appear far more generically anti-Islam, and not primarily pro-Amina.

2) Free Amina protesters in Berlin climbed a fence and took photos of themselves in front of a mosque, holding signs:003Muslims make 5.4% of Germany’s population. Anti-Muslim xenophobes make anywhere from 21% (wouldn’t want to have Muslims as neighbors) to 58% (believe that Muslims’ rights to practice their religion in Germany should be considerably limited). So I’m thinking a bunch of Germans trespassing on private property of a targeted minority might not exactly send the right message; plus, what did that random mosque have to do with Amina?
One of the women in this action is of Arab descent, and had “Arab Women Against Islamism” written across her front. A number of the other protesters had directly Amina-related things written on their bodies. That reads like solidarity with Amina, and with Arab women in general.

3) A large group of activists protested near the Tunisian embassy in Paris, got arrested for their effort:003003Two pictures this time, because the visuals of that protest were amazingly evocative of suppression of women’s right to speak up (especially the first one). Images like this are why I think the FEMEN style of protest can be quite powerful; but primarily, it is powerful in exactly this way: speaking to the right of women to express themselves.
The protesters gathered near the Tunisian embassy, a clearly understandable connection to Amina’s plight; they also had Amina-related things written on their bodies, and a number of them had stylized portraits of Amina in her now-famous photo on their backs. This could be very easily read as solidarity with Amina.
The wider context of having this protest in France could potentially muddle some of the clarity of the message. Protesting for the right to naked boobs in public spaces in a country that banned veiling in public spaces might not read as “freedom” so much as “freedom to be like us”; not quite the same thing.

4) Many Middle Eastern/North African women also participated in the Free Amina protests (pictures from FEMEN, grouped together by me for easier viewing): five pictures of middle eastern women in face-veil, showing their nude chests with pro-amina messages written on themThe women in the pictures are Egyptian, Iranian, Moroccan, Algerian, and Bahraini; at least one of them is a Muslim. All their messages refer to Amina. In all these cases, their actions directly attack a form of oppression they themselves are subject to.

5) One more from France. French-Arabic women protest in front of a mosque, burn Salafist flag. Two topless women flipping off everyone; burning flag in foreground As with the German protest… why this particular mosque? That point aside, this protest of Arab women, including one Tunisian FEMEN member, standing up against their oppressors is a powerful statement; that image is a powerful visual of that fight against one’s oppression. This too looks less like a pro-Amina rally, but given the context, it’s noticeably in solidarity with her: Arab women fighting together against common oppressor.

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bonus screenshot — a piece of advice: if you don’t want to look like you’re just being ignorantly islamophobic, it would help to do a basic google search before going out to protest:screenshot of FEMEN facebook status showing protester, claiming Hagia Sopia is a mosque

The missing piece to the stories of the Magdalene Laundries

The Report on the Magdalene Laundries is finally out, and people all over the internet are writing about it, and about the abuses that went on there.
The women and girls who were sent to Magdalene Laundries came there via the justice system, via referrals from Industrial and Reformatory Schools, via referrals from psychiatric hospitals and social services, and via referrals from “homes for unwed mothers”. These were socially marginalized women, and they were given to these nuns under the pretext of reformation and provision of social services for “fallen women”. Four orders running the Laundries were identified in the report: Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge; Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy; Religious Sisters of Charity; and Sisters of the Good Shepherd. The Magdalene Laundries were finally closed in 1996.

Now here’s the part I’ve not seen mentioned nearly enough during this round of reporting/writing on this topic, both in the news-media articles and in various blogs:
The orders who run the laundries to “help” “fallen women”* with the support of the State are still running organizations to “help” “fallen women” with the support of the State!

According to an Irish Times article, two of the orders who ran Magdalene Laundries are now running an organization called Ruhama which purports to help women “affected by” sex work. From Ruhama’s website:

Ruhama was founded as a joint initiative of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Our Lady of Charity Sisters, both of which had a long history of involvement with marginalised women, including those involved in prostitution.

Yeah. Both these orders definitely have a “long history of involvement with marginalised women”. They run Magdalene Laundries in which they imprisoned and abused those women! Why would anyone trust them not to do it again? Especially given that they have no respect whatsoever for the agency and realities of the sex workers they’re claiming to help**?

Reporting about Magdalene Laundries is important; but mentioning their likely successor is, too.
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*I apologize for the scarequote infestation, but there’s really no other way to talk about these ridiculous and deceitful terms.
**Ruhama is behind a push to institute the Swedish Model in Ireland, a model that is pretty much uniformly rejected by sex workers themselves as harmful.

Dispatches from an alternate dimension

1)apparently, Obama is just like Mugabe; also, “immaculate” is now a verb, with so far indeterminable meaning

2)Telling your congregation who to vote for, vilifying politicians from the pulpit, or making public statements about which politicians shouldn’t receive communion? Totally non-partisan and not worthy of removing tax-exempt status from churches. Reporting on the lies of Fox News? pure evil, AKA “unlawful conduct” meant to “‘disrupt’ the commercial interests of News Corp”.

3)and from the “alternate dimension I wish we lived in” department, Pelosi claims Democrats won’t let Republicans fuck them over like that again. ha hahahah ha haaaa…. *weep*

Intersectional Atheism

There is absolutely nothing on the internet about intersectionality within atheism/skepticism. I checked. The entirety of what’s out there is about atheism as part of the Matrix of Oppression in society as a whole, but nothing about the how the Matrix of Oppression works on and within atheism or the skeptical movement.

Which is why I’m writing this post despite the fact that I’m just about the last person who should, since I have a small audience, and one that’s made up to a very large degree of white, straight(-ish), guys. Someone has to make this post, and at least once it’s written, it’ll be out there on google for more relevant people to pick up on it. Plus, maybe some good ideas will come of it even here.

So, for starters, intersectionality means looking at oppression and discrimination not from the POV of identity-politics, but from the POV of the three main dimensions of oppression: the institutional, the symbolic, and the personal. We don’t think much about this in atheism/skepticism, especially as it relates to the skeptical/atheist movements themselves. We just take for granted that certain aspects of being or becoming an atheist and being/becoming a part of the atheist movement, are universal because they apply to most of the atheists we know. “most atheists we know” most often happens to be other white/straight(-ish)/male atheists (and the occasional white/straight(-ish)/female atheist who happens to live a life that closely resembles that of the male equivalent). These non-intersectional, most likely unconscious, assumptions are very likely what explains the abysmal lack of diversity in the atheist/skeptical movement.

If the goal of the atheist/skeptical movements is really to broaden the base and make atheism, and especially skepticism, attractive, acceptable, and attainable by as many people as possible, then solving the lack of diversity is essential, because white, straight, cis, middle class or higher, ex-christian(or cultural christian), anglophone guys make up a minority of the population even in Western Europe and the USA, where they’re most common. Hence the need for intersectional atheism: if we can’t figure out how the perspectives, issues, and problems of people from completely different backgrounds differ from ours, we will never be able to make our ideas acceptable to them, even if they’d otherwise already agree with us. Because people aren’t going to accept a worldview/contribute to a movement that behaves as if they didn’t exist, creates an environment in which they feel unwelcome, unneeded, or even threatened, and expects them to give up more than just their attachment to irrational ideas and/or superstitions.

So, here’s a list of stuff that needs analyzing and possibly changing, and that most importantly could really need the input of atheists/skeptics from these backgrounds:

1)Most prominent atheists are deconverts from the mainstream religion within their cultures, specifically Christianity. This creates issues and perspectives quite different from those who would be deconverting from a minority-religion, and especially from a religion closely tied to a discriminated against ethnic community. The problems WASP-y future ex-christians face are completely and utterly different from the issues facing Native Americans thinking skeptically about their tribal religions, or members of Middle Eastern diasporas thinking about leaving Islam. To them, the perspectives of secular diasporic Jews would probably be far more valuable than the perspectives of millions of cultural Christians living in cultures that are Christian or even secular-but-formerly/predominantly-Christian.

2)Related to the former is the assumption that secularization equals Westernization. Meaning, it seems to me that too many atheists assume that deconversion from a non-Christian religion automatically means also becoming part of the mainstream western culture (and on a larger scale, that secularization of a country means abandoning traditions derived from their cultures in favor of Western culture), which, in case no one noticed, is to a large degree de-religioned Christian/Euro-pagan culture. Secularism won’t ever win in non-Western countries if the choices are traditional religion vs. neo-colonialist secularism. The secularism of non-Western cultures must be a home-grown secularism that manages to separate the harmful and supernatural aspects of their culture without destroying the culture as a whole. And since the West managed that, there’s absolutely no reason to assume this cannot be accomplished with non-Western cultures.

3)Simply talking about how well feminism (and anti-racism or LGBT-activism for that matter) and atheism/skepticism go together won’t do any good if this is not something the atheist/skeptic movement actually acts on. Skeptifem said that she started her blog specifically to fill the niche of analyzing things critically from a skeptical feminist perspective. This perspective is still extremely rare within the skeptic movement, which is idiotic, because the Matrix of Oppression, and especially the symbolic dimension of oppression, lends itself spectacularly to skeptical analysis. So why isn’t there any of that?

4)Going from theory to praxis, atheist/skeptic events are also never intersectional. Part of the problem is that they’re lecture-based. The grass-roots, interactive level happens after the events, in the evenings over beers. This perpetuates already established hierarchies. And while one way to fix this is to invite more speakers from different backgrounds, another is to make grassroots participation an inherent part of the events. Interactive workshops, children’s events, and safe-rooms have been some of the things mentioned as possibilities to attract a more diverse crowd and faciliate more diverse conversation. I’d add that these sort of things need to be also part of the smaller interactive events. People with small children, people who work non-traditional hours, etc. may not be able to participate in the standard atheism/skepticism in a pub format.

5)Women who grew up within and still live in very conservative, religious, rural communities, especially if they’re also poor, depend on their church communities for social networking, influence, help etc. While internet communities help, physical rural support networks for people who think of leaving a religion are absolutely essential, because people are never likely to cut themselves off from their social safety network if there isn’t an alternative network. (this has worked somewhat on Pharyngula’s TET, both in terms of financial help and personal support. It’s still extremely spotty though)

Well, that’s all I can think of right now, and I’d definitely welcome other ideas or issues that might need to be addressed. It’s not muc right now, because there simply isn’t much to go on right now. That fact alone means that what atheism needs is something like Womanist Musings but for atheism instead of feminism, just so different perspectives can be shared between diverse writers and a wide audience. Obviously, I and my blog are entirely unsuited for that endeavor for the aforementioned reasons and because I suck at organizing people (I wouldn’t be able to convince a starving person to buy a sandwich from me, nevermind convince a bunch of diverse people I don’t know to start blogging together on the issue of intersectional atheism). But I’m curious if anyone has any ideas about which bloggers would make a good contribution to such a collective?

School-related short thoughts

1)It’s “Catholic Week” at NDSU. I’m tempted to find and print out a copy of that 1997 “protect the pedofiles” letter and hand it to the first Catholic who bugs me about their religion.

2)NDSU has, without asking me, added me to their International Student mailing list, so now I get such highly superfluous information as tips for how to dress in ND winter so as not to freeze. WTF? Do they add everyone to that list who was born abroad, without asking and without any consideration for how long they’ve been in the country/in the State?

3)My sociology classes have started discussing Marxian theory and Feminist theory. Makes for a nice antidote to the economics class :-p

4) My notebook, which I bought from the NDSU bookstore, has “soy-based ink”. Methinks soy is becoming the green equivalent of corn. and on that note: funny picture

Then, prohibition of alcohol; now, prohibition of the veil.

I was thinking recently about what it was that could be moving Muslim feminists (and feminists from Muslim backgrounds) to support a ban on wearing the veil. It makes little sense to me, since doing so won’t actually change much, other than forcing those women who actually wear that thing voluntarily to basically run around more exposed than they’re comfortable with.

And then I started reading a bit about the Temperance Movement in the 19th century. It was pretty strong at first, mostly made up of various Christian ministers, but it usually faded out eventually. Except in the States, where it actually led to the 18th Amendment. A major role in this played the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union). Many feminists and women’s rights advocates, for example Susan B. Anthony, were part of that temperance movement, because alcohol abuse led to women abuse in many cases.

Now I’m thinking that the two might be very much related. The temperance movement basically latched onto alcohol as the visible manifestation of many societal problems of the 19th century. Temperance advocates saw people drinking themselves into poverty, people committing crimes when drunk, men abusing their wives and children when drunk, etc., and decided that alcohol needed to go. However, the alcohol abuse was for the most part a symptom of other systemic problems, ones not nearly as easily identifiable or fixable, because they usually didn’t have single-point causes. To truly get what they wanted, the members of the Temperance Movement would have to lobby for a total overhaul of society as it existed at the time, with greatly improved working conditions, social welfare, laws protecting women from their own husbands, etc. And certainly, many of them did so; but Prohibition was a neater, easier defined, and evidently more easily achievable goal, maybe a sort of symbol of being able to achieve what they were fighting for.

It seems to me that this battle to ban the veil might come out of similar dynamics: it certainly is a very clear and visible symbol of what’s wrong with the strongly patriarchal Muslim culture, and just like alcohol wasn’t the cause of poverty and abuse, so the veil isn’t the cause of the suppression of women. But it’s a part of it, and making such a boldly visible step to make it go away might well be a symbol for the much more complex, difficult and long-term fights over actual, structural changes in Muslim society that will be necessary to end the horrible mistreatment of women.

And I’m afraid that another parallel is that it will be similarly useless. Banning symptoms doesn’t achieve anything at all, and merely drives it underground where it cannot be addressed at all, and where it may create even more problems.

But I can understand the need for visible, symbolic victories for the morale and motivation of those fighting the long battles. I’m still opposed to these bans (especially since feminism isn’t the only motivation for them: racism and xenophobia play a far more significant role in getting these bans passed!), but I think I’m starting to understand where this irrational desire for them may be coming from. I wish they’d find a better symbol of their fight, though…

Religious symbols

The discussion about banning “religious symbols” from public schools in France* made me wonder, how the fuck does one tell what is a religious symbol? Does government have to issue ginormous books with pictures of all possible religious clothing and symbolism, and all students have to go through a “religion detector” every morning, similar to the metal detectors in some American schools?

Probably not. So, how the hell does one tell what is or isn’t religious? And how does one avoid discrimination, when something worn by one person is a fashion statement, but worn by another is a religious statement**? I mean, “everybody knows” that a cross is Christian, a Yarmulke is Jewish and a full hijab is Muslim, but what about other symbols? Imagine for a second this sort of thing being introduced into American schools. Which of the following would qualify as a “religious symbol” and which wouldn’t***?

It seems to me that there’s a whole bunch of “religious symbolism” that would fly under the radar because it’s so rare, or because it’s close enough to mainstream culture. This sort of thing would be guaranteed to promote established privilege against the visibly “other”.

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*and, much closer to home: Niedersachsen’s new Integration-Minister Aygül Özkan has made comments about removing religious symbols, as well. If I understand her correctly though, she’s talking about classroom decorations and staff, not students; which is something slightly different.

**well, I possibly already have an answer to that, if the reports of several Muslim girls being sent home for wearing standard bandanas are true…

***And let’s hope none of the students end up with a Latino boyfriend named Jesus, either :-p