Bulletin # 178 (27 September 2008)



Richard Dawkins’ website blocked by court in Turkey

Prof. Richard Dawkins
Prof. Richard Dawkins

If you are in Turkey and try to visit Richard Dawkins’ website www.richarddawkins.net, you will currently find nothing but the note: ‘The access to the site has been banned by court order’. Istanbul’s 2nd Criminal Court of Peace ordered the Turkish Telecom to block access to the highly popular website upon complaint by Adnan Oktar alias Harun Yahya who claims that the site contains insulting remarks about him and his work.

Harun Yahya is a messianic campaigner for an Islamic version of creationism, who tries to “expose” Darwin’s theory of evolution as the greatest fraud in the history of science. This bustling anti-science-zealot has enormous funds from unknown sources at his disposal. He tries to speard his numerous books, articles and films against evolution in various languages through the Internet. In 2006, he produced a weighty and glossy opus of 800 pages with the name Atlas of Creation and sent 10,000 copies of it to scientists, journalists, media and schools all over Europe. One of the recipients was Prof. Richard Dawkins. The prominent evolution specialist described the book on his website as "preposterous" and noted he was at "a loss to reconcile the expensive and glossy production values of this book with the 'breathtaking inanity' of the content.“ (Richard Dawkins, Venomous-Snakes-Slippery-Eels-and-Harun-Yahya). Oktar filed a lawsuit for the damages of mental anguish in the amount of 8000 YTL (about 4000 Euro) against the Oxford professor.

Earlier, Adnan Oktar tried and failed to ban the Turkish version of Richard Dawkin’s famous book The God Delusion. The Turkish publisher was sued and acquitted. Oktar’s claim that the book was blasphemous was rejected by the court. The book became a best-seller in Turkey. Dawkin’s book The Ancestor’s Tale – written before, but in Turkey published after The God Delusion - was released and sold out in a single day.

Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, in Turkish
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, in Turkish

After the enforcement of a new Internet law in May 2008, Internet censorship is rampant in Turkey. More than 850 sites have already been blocked since then. Sites can be banned for various reasons: if their content is deemed to be harmful to children, to encourage use of drugs, gambling, prostitution, pornography or suicide, to support the Kurdish cause or to contain insults against Kamal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey. The video sharing site Youtube for example is banned in Turkey since four months for containing videos allegedly insulting to the memory of Atatürk. For Adnan Oktar and his associates, the new censorship law is a "heaven-sent" opportunity. Before Richard Dawkin's website, they managed already to get Google Groups and WordPress.com blocked with the claim that some groups and blogs on these sites contained libelous material.

Oktar is currently appealing against a three-year prison sentence imposed for creating an illegal organisation for personal gain

„The stoning of Soraya M.“

Film director Cyrus Nowrasteh / Stills of the film
Film director Cyrus Nowrasteh / Stills of the film

At the Toronto International Film Festival this September, the debut of Cyrus Nowrasteh's film "The Stoning of Soraya M.", based on a true story, confronted the audience with all the gruesome and horrifying details of a barbarian ritual that is still being executed in today’s Iran.

Officially there is no stoning in Iran after the head of judiciary, Ayatollah Mohmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, ordered under pressure of international protest a moratorium on stoning in 2002. But still there have been several people stoned to death since then. In July 2007, the case of Jafar Kiani, stoned to death in Qazvin (north east Iran), caused an international outcry. In May 2006, Abbas H and Mahbubeh A were stoned to death in Mashhad (north east Iran). In 2007, the Islamic Supreme Court of Iran upheld several death sentences by stoning. In January 2008, Amnesty International called for Iran to abolish the stoning execution. At that time at least nine people, sentenced to death by stoning, were waiting for their execution. Strong protest from Iran and abroad during the next months pressed for the sentences to be commuted - but it is not yet clear if the victims are really saved. Meantime the National Council of Resistance of Iran and human rights organisations report about the cases of Gilan Mohammadi, a 30-year-old woman, and the Afghan national Gholamali Eskandari, both sentenced to death by stoning and awaiting their sentences to be carried out in Isfahan prison central Iran.

"The stoning of Soraya M" happened some twenty years ago and was described in 1990 by the French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahejan in his book with the same title. It is the story of a young woman, mother of nine children, who is wrongly accused of adultery by her husband Ali, because he wants to get rid of her to marry a very young girl offered to him. Suddenly the innocent and helpless Soraya is an outcast, stripped of basic human rights, marked like a sacrificial animal to become the object of a gory and blood thirsty ritual that unites the conspiring male communify of the village in destruction of the evil that she now seems to represent. The film rolls slowly from detail to detail: stones are collected - not too big, as they should not kill fast, her body is ritually washed, wrapped in a white shroud and carried on a stretcher to the stoning ground, her hands tied behind her back. There she is buried up to the armpits - and the marcabre ritual unfolds. Her two sons are forced to abjure her and join the stone throwers.

The film is made by people who have personal experience with the fear of fundamentalism in power. Director Cyrus Nowrasteh is an Iranian-American whose family had to flee Iran after the revolution. When lead acress Shohreh Aghdashloo, another Iranian-American, once spoke to a reporter in the USA about torture victims in Iran, Iranian police arrested her brother at home and kept him in prison for one year.

Indian godmen under the scanner: Asaram Bapu

Asaram Bapu
Asaram Bapu

A five-year-old boy was found dead - his head in a bucket with water - in a toilet of an ashram school run by godman Asaram Bapu in Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh. Just three days before, another boy had died under similar circumstances. And in early July, the bodies of two boys, 9 and 10, studying in the godman’s ashram school in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, were found in a dried up river bed. From one, liver and sternum were missing; the other had no more ears - a fact that seemed to indicate that they had become victims of a human sacrifice. When the police tried to hush up the cases and supporters of the godman started violent agitation in his defense, attacking investigating journalists, infuriated people of the neighborhood went on a rampage.

Asaram Bapu, 68, former cycle shop boy, is one of the richest and most powerful Indian godmen. With more than 100 ashrams all over the country and 1200 prayer centers around the world, he counts some 20 million followers and his empire is estimated to be worth half a billion Rupees (more than 180 million Dollar). He reigns with terror and violence. Devotees are scared and beaten into absolute submission. Equalling himself with Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, he threatens to destroy anybody with his curse who would question and criticize him. In his book Gurubhakti, he orders his devotees to use violence against critics, even to cut out their tongues!

Meantime, the police claim the murderer in the Chhindwara ashram was a 14-year-old student, but skepticism remains. In Ahmedabad, Praful Varghese, father of one of the dead boys, went on a hunger strike to press for an independent investigation. The chief minister promised one - but so far there are no results.

Whatever may or may not turn out to be behind the new string of shocking murders in his ashrams – they have unleashed a wave of public fury against Asaram Bapu. People are no longer ready to close their eyes from the crimes of "holy men". "There is a new awareness developing in this country and I am very, very happy about it - that is why more and more godmen are being exposed," Sanal Edamaruku commented in an interview with CNN IBN.

See two features on CNN IBN:

1. Framed or foul play - Asaram followers left wonderung (Nilanjana Bose, CNN IBN) 2. Godmen under increasing scrutiny (Samkhya Edamaruku, CNN IBN)

Joseph Edamaruku Memorial

Joseph Edamaruku (1934 - 2006)
Joseph Edamaruku (1934 - 2006)

The Rationalist Centre at New Delhi invited its friends to commenmorate the birth anniversary of late Joseph Edamaruku, eminent rationalist, scholar and author, former president of the Indian Rationalist Association and Honorary Associate of Rationalist International. The Memorial Lecture was delivered by Paul Kurtz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Center for Inquiry - Transnational and Honorary Associate of Rationalist International. Prof. Kurtz spoke about "The Scientific Temper and Secularism: Towards a New Planetary Ethics".

At the Rationalist Centre at New Delhi: Prof. Paul Kurtz delivers the Joseph Edamaruku Memorial Lecture (from left: Innaiah Narisetti, Prof. Paul Kurtz, Sanal Edamaruku, V S Kumaran)
During the International Rationalist Conference 2000 at Trivandrum: Joseph Edamaruku (in the middle) gives the First International Rationalist Award to Prof. Paul Kurtz (left: Sanal Edamaruku)

Prof. Paul Kurtz as been a friend of the Indian Rationalist Association (IRA) since many years. In 2000, he inaugurated the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the IRA during the International Rationalist Conference at Trivandrum, Kerala. He appreciated its great contributions in exposing claims of paranormal powers not only in India, but also - via substantial coverage in the US-media - in America ("In Praise of Rationalism"). Prof. Kurtz is recipient of the first International Rationalist Award, which was given to him during the Trivandrum conference by Josepf Edamaruku, then president of the Indian Rationalist Association.

Henry Morgentaler named to the Order of Canada

Dr. Henry Morgentaler
Dr. Henry Morgentaler

Dr. Henry Morgentaler has been named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honour. A surviver of the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau, he dedicated his life to fight a long and hard battle for the legalization of abortion in Canada – which was achieved in 1998, when the Supreme Court upon his appeal abolished the abortion law on human rights grounds. Dr. Morgentaler, who courageously challenged the law and practiced abortions for more than 35 years to offer women in Canada a dignified, safe and painless way to end unwanted pregnancies, had to bring great personal sacrifices for his convictions. He suffered harassment from religious fanatics and had to spend ten months in prison though finally all cases against him ended with acquittal. His decoration unleashed a firestorm of anger in the "pro-life" camp.

Dr. Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada acknowledges his determination to change Canadian public policy regarding abortion and his leadership in humanist and civil liberty organizations. Morgentaler was the founder and longtime president of the Canadian Humanist Organization. He is an Honorary Associate of Rationalist International.

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