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Celebration of Human Rights – UN Article 19

Freedom of seech

The local UN Association organises an annual Celebration of Human Rights, based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, with a different local group acting as host and choosing a theme based on one of the articles.

This year we are hosting the event and we chose Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Free speech is especially topical this year, in view of the attempts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to introduce an international blasphemy law, and individuals being arrested in the UK for expressing their opinions on social media sites like Facebook. As most of the contributors to the UN Celebration will be representatives of local religious organisations who are affiliated (as we are) to Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource, it will be interesting to hear what they make of the theme. Each group, and other organisations who’ve been invited, will make a short contribution to the celebration.

Local politicians and media people have been invited, including the Mayor of Ipswich. The venue is the Atrium on the ground floor of the West Building at University Campus, Suffolk, where we’ve been meeting for the past year. We’ll be there on December 11th from 8pm. Please come and hear a variety of opinions on this very important subject.

Everyone is very welcome and refreshments will be provided, but if you let us know you’re coming it would be helpful. Click here to RSVP.

Click here for a map and directions (pdf).

Space is big

Frame from 100,000 StarsAs Douglas Adams wrote, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Well now you can explore some of it through the wonders of internetery and the enthusiasm of some star-gazers at Google, who’ve created 100,000 Stars, a virtual tour through just a little bit of the universe, where there are far more than 100,000 stars; nobody knows how many, but it’s a mind-bogglingly huge number. Anyhow, go explore, while listening to a soundtrack from videogame score composer Sam Hulick. 

Don your space suit, then click here for your space odyssey. You can zoom in and out, so you’re in partial control of where you go, but be warned: “Scientific accuracy is not guaranteed. Please do not use this visualization for interstellar navigation.” Click on the question mark in the bottom right hand corner for instructions, which begin,

100,000 Stars is an interactive visualization of the stellar neighborhood created for the Google Chrome web browser. It shows the location of 119,617 nearby stars derived from multiple sources, including the 1989 Hipparcos mission. Zooming in reveals 87 individually identified stars and our solar system. The galaxy view is an artist’s rendition based on NGC 1232, a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way.

Muslim mob mentality

As news spreads of the killing of the US Ambassador to Libya, J Christopher Stevens, by an angry mob reacting to a film about Islam, there’s also news that Channel 4 has cancelled its screening of Tom Holland’s film, Islam: the untold story, in response to threats from Muslim extremists.

The film that prompted the Benghazi assault on the US Embassy, as well as demonstrations in Egypt, was made by an Israeli filmmaker, Sam Bacile (who’s gone into hiding), and was promoted by Morris Sadek, an extreme anti-Muslim Egyptian Christian campaigner who lives in California. It’s a rubbish film, whatever you think of Islam, with wooden acting, comedy beards, and an inflammatory depiction of Islam. Click here to watch it

Tom Holland’s film, shown on Channel 4 recently, is not a rubbish film; it’s a documentary that records the research Holland has done into the origins of Islam. Click here to watch it on 4oD. The Telegraph reports, “The investigation into the origins of the religion claimed that there is little written contemporary evidence about the prophet Mohammed”. This reminded me that Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou said more or less the same things about King David in the Old Testament and Jesus and the origins of Christianity in her BBC TV series last year, yet there were no Jewish or Christian mobs baying for her blood – though some American fundamentalists probably would have been rather rude about her, if they’d seen it. Uneducated Muslims in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Libya live in social groups where the men and women are segregated, independence is frowned upon, and a mob mentality is easily developed. It’s taken centuries to get this way; simply being rude about them isn’t going to change anything.

The main Abrahamic monotheistic religions‘ stories have been changed as they’ve been passed down through the generations, like Chinese whispers, so now there’s very little truth in any of them. In spite of this, anyone who dares to say so is likely to be threatened by those who prefer to remain in ignorance than to question the nonsense they’ve been conditioned to believe. One of the biggest problems with all of them is their fundamental sexism, but atheists can be just as guilty of that.

Instead of picking fights with theocracies, it would be better if some of the money currently being spent on military hardware was used to provide education. In the long term, it’s the only thing that can make a difference. Most of the men in the Muslim mobs were taught by imams in madrassas, the only form of schooling they ever had.

“Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.” – H G Wells

September newsletter

SH&S NewsOur September newsletter is ready for you to download.

There are book reviews, a report about the popular new Ipswich Café Scientifique, a complaint to the BBC, and a piece about the imaginary ban on crucifixes at work that some Christians are complaining about.

Print a copy for yourself and pass it on to your friends.

Click here to download a copy (pdf).

Meeting at UCS – 10 minute topics

Ten minute topics has always been a popular format. You are invited to suggest a topic for ten minutes of discussion. It can be anything you like. Everyone writes a topic on a scrap of paper and they’re drawn from a hat (or another suitable receptacle). Sometimes this generates ideas that can be followed up at a later date.

Click here for maps and directions (pdf).

No religion, no conscience?

A couple of days ago it was reported that Moors murderer Ian Brady had given a sealed envelope to his mental health advocate that may or may not give details of where he’d left the body of his victim Keith Bennett, who was twelve. Today it was announced that Keith’s mother, Mrs Winnie Johnson, had died. Interviewing Mrs Johnson’s solicitor, John Ainley, on BBC News 24, weekend presenter Maxine Mawhinney asked if Brady was religious. Ainley said he wasn’t. Mawhinney said that this meant that Brady wouldn’t have a conscience about his crime or about withholding information about where Keith’s body might be found.

Should we be angry about this sort of thing? It’s the sort of casually judgemental comment that we hear all the time from religious people, but newsreaders ought to know better. A complaint is one its way.