Monday, August 17, 2009

Secular Humanism Online News, Aug. 2009

Vol.5 No.7

In This Issue:


The Iranian Revolution (Part 1)
*By Ibn Warraq

According to the BBC there were perhaps as many as two million protestors on June 15, 2009 in Tehran and other cities, the largest demonstration since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought the Mullahs to power. The protestors were supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, considered by many to be a reform candidate, angry at his putative election defeat (the election was held June 12), and convinced of voter fraud. The much-feared Iranian security forces and violent volunteer militia members (the Basij, and imported Hezbollah thugs) were on hand to attack the unarmed Iranians, many of whom were women. In the first few days of the Green Revolution (Mousavi chose green as his campaign color), the London Guardian reported dozens of deaths.
Since the heady days of June, the Iranian government has executed dozens, perhaps hundreds (exact figures are hard to establish, and must, accordingly, be treated with caution). In the meantime, the Iranian government has begun the trial of more than a hundred protestors including senior opposition figures who risk long prison sentences or the death penalty if found guilty of “being an enemy of God.” Protests have continued, but the brave Iranians who confront the brutal guards daily are leaderless. Thus it is difficult to know where the Revolution is headed. There are signs of complex internal power struggles within the Mullacracy—the Supreme Leader Khamenei being very suspicious of even Ahmadinejad’s motives and goals. Nonetheless, the hardliners are gaining in strength with each day that passes as the Islamic regime consolidates its power. The most seasoned Iran watchers themselves are wary of making any predictions.
How are we to interpret all these events? In the United States, even the most conservative pundits and journalists were very enthusiastic about the Green Revolution, seeing it in mythic terms of freedom versus tyranny. Charles Krauthammer, Michael Ledeen on Pajamas Media, Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Sullivan on his blog The Daily Dish, Pamela Geller on Atlas Shrugs, all cheered from the sidelines. Perhaps the only journalist of note who dissented from the euphoria was Diana West of The Washington Times. For West, “Iran’s protests reflect a theocratic power struggle between rival mullahs—namely, between Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who backs Mir Hossein Mousavi, and Ali Khamenei, who backs Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Diana West’s words of caution were a welcome moment for us to stand back and reflect on the real implications of what was taking place in Iran.
We know that in the past Mousavi has shown himself to be a Khomeinist—that is to say, a theocrat, anti-Western, anti-Israel, pro-Jihadist; and he has made it clear that he will not halt Iran’s nuclear program if he is ever elected. After all, green, his campaign color, is also the color of Islam. According to some, there is enough evidence to indicate that when he was the Prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989, Mousavi masterminded the bombings of the American Embassy in Beirut that killed more than 60 people, and of the Beirut Marine barracks that killed 299 people, including 220 marines, both in 1983.
However, others within Iran itself, or Iranian exiles living in the West, believe Mousavi has changed. The distinguished Iranian film director and artist, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who was appointed Mousavi’s spokesman, said on June 19, 2009, “Previously, he was a revolutionary, because everyone inside the system was a revolutionary. But now he’s a reformer. Now he knows Gandhi—before he knew only Che Guevara. If we gain power through aggression we would have to keep it through aggression. That is why we’re having a green revolution, defined by peace and democracy.” Before the election, Mousavi did spell out some of his ideas for governing Iran; they included greater flow of information, the creation of private television networks, a review of laws that at present discriminate against women, greater empowerment of women in general, and the disbanding of the intrusive and brutal morality police. As for his foreign policy, Mousavi claims he wants to reduce tensions between nations and negotiate with the United States. He also criticized Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.
The Green Revolution must be seen as a continuation of a “movement” that began in 1999, and even earlier. This is underlined by the massive show of support for the opposition in Iran that was organized from London by one of the Iranian student leaders of 1999, Azadeh Assadi. Between July 23 and 25, thousands of people around the world held protests to denounce human rights abuses in Iran. July 25 was the “Iran Global Day of Action” when 85 cities around the world participated, including Amsterdam, London and Stockholm, with as many as 4,000 protesting in the Swedish capital.
It is possible that the goal of the protestors has changed from reform to regime change, now demanding a secular form of government.
(Watch for part two in the next Secular Humanism Online News!)
Ibn Warraq is a leading scholar of Islam. He is a Free Inquiry columnist, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry, a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism, and the author of "Why I Am Not a Muslim," "What the Koran Really Says," and more recently, "Defending the West."

CFI’s 2009 Summer Institute Examines Secularism in America Today
By Nathan Bupp and John Shook

Leading experts on secularism and secularity came together this year at the 2009 Summer Institute sponsored by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism. Titled A Secular Summit, the seminar sought to describe how new research is revealing that the secular and nonreligious are becoming a visibly large and potentially powerful segment of society. From demographics and polling, psychology and sociology, to culture studies — A Secular Summit explored today’s fresh curiosity about agnostics, atheists, secularists, and nonbelievers generally.
The 2009 Summer Institute had three main aims. First, to supply three consecutive weeks of education for adult and international students delivered by prominent scholars and CFI staff. Second, to invite leaders of major secular institutes and organizations to deliver addresses and join panel discussions at CFI. Third, to consult with these scholars and leaders about secular people, the progress of the secular movement, and how CFI can continue to play its role in advancing secularism into the future. We recorded and videotaped as many of the presentations as possible for future sales of DVDs and re-use in online educational programs.
Although attendance was about 30 percent less than past year’s summer Institute (mostly caused by the recession, we think), the students and internationals (3 Russian, 2 Chinese) seemed pleased and impressed by the scale and quality of the educational presentations and the major addresses. Also, since some major events and speakers had evening and weekend slots, more than 800 people attended the Summer Institute for one event or another.
The educational quality was consistently high, and most of the areas of CFI’s (and the Council’s) missions were thoroughly explored and explained. Core topics of skepticism, religious criticism, separation of church and state, secular humanism, ethics, and naturalism received presentations from CFI staff including John Shook, Tom Flynn, Eddie Tabash, Paul Kurtz, Ibn Warraq, Derek Araujo, Norm Allen, Joe Nickell, Richard Hull, Lauren Becker, and Debbie Goddard. Summer research fellows presented their research on a naturally humanistic ethos and criticism of alternative medicine. The presentations by atheist author Ron Aronson and atheist filmmaker Brian Dalton (Mr. Deity) were thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking.
The major addresses by Barry Lynn (of Americans United) and Dan Barker (of the Freedom from Religion Foundation), and the debate between John Shook and Christian apologist Doug Geivett, were all well-received with significant attendance. CFI was happy to have such prominent representatives from other secular organizations and a major theologian at our headquarters within the span of a few days. Also, Barry Kosmin, Gregory Paul, Phil Zuckerman, and Luke Galen—four of the top demographers studying the nonreligious -- were here for three days to share and compare their latest research. Most of the senior staff of CFI were in attendance during portions of the Summer Institute and benefited from their consultations with these leaders and scholars. The 2009 Summer Institute helped advance CFI’s stature as a place for the highest level of intellectual work on secular and humanist issues.
Nathan Bupp is Vice President of Communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry/ John Shook is Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry

“Profiles of the Godless” Receives Media Attention
Free Inquiry magazine has just published the best statistical portrait yet available of atheists, agnostics, humanists and other nonreligious Americans, based on data collected from nearly 6,000 respondents. The study, called the Non-Religious Identification Survey (NRIS), was conducted by Luke Galen, an associate professor at Grand Valley State University (Grand Rapids, Mich.) in conjunction with the Center for Inquiry. We are happy to report that Galen’s reader-friendly summary of the survey’s findings (“Profiles of the Godless,” Free Inquiry Vol. 29, No. 5, pps. 41-45) has been picked up by the media. Demographer Luke Galen received international attention when he was interviewed on BBC Radio/London about the survey and its findings. You can view a sampling of more media coverage below. Read CFI's press release here.

CFI Files Amicus Brief in Salazar v. Buono
On August 5 the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism, filed an amicus brief with United States Supreme Court in the case of Salazar v. Buono. The high court is scheduled to hear this high-profile church-state case on October 7. At stake is whether a Christian cross may remain atop Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve in California. CFI is urging the Supreme Court to uphold previous rulings by the 9th Circuit that have ordered the cross’s removal.
Read the press release here.
Read the full amicus brief here.

Tom Flynn interviewed on Point of Inquiry
Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry, was interviewed on the June 27 episode of CFI’s popular podcast Point of Inquiry.
In his discussion with host D.J. Grothe, Tom Flynn talked about his new role as executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and the relationship of that organization with the Center for Inquiry, including contrasting the Council's grassroots network of secular humanist and freethought societies with the growing network of Centers for Inquiry throughout North America. Flynn also explores the philosophical underpinnings of the Council for Secular Humanism, and takes on the currently controversial topic of the relationship of atheism to secular humanism.
Be sure to listen here.

Council for Secular Humanism 30th Anniversary Conference: Oct. 7-10, 2010, Los Angeles
What has the indoor swimming pool from Cocoon, the dizzying staircase from Vertigo, and the stained-glass ceiling from The Poseidon Adventure?* (Hint: It's also the site of the Council for Secular Humanism's 30th anniversary conference, just announced.)
The Council for Secular Humanism will hold its 30th anniversary conference October 7-10, 2010 (please note, that's next year) at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. This breathtaking monument to old L. A. grandeur and Hollywood pomp will furnish the elegant backdrop to a conference no secular humanist will want to miss.
Speakers and registration details will be announced in the future on the Council's website,, and in the pages of Free Inquiry. But for now, SAVE THE DATE!
* Well, strictly speaking, not the actual ceiling from The Poseidon Adventure; detail hounds may recall that a stunt man fell through it. But the film's set designers copied the huge stained-glass ceiling overarching what is now the hotel's main lobby.

The Virtual CFI Community
When you can't make it to an event...
We know it's not always possible to make it to an event, but that doesn't mean you have to miss out! CFI has a thriving online community where the free thinking never stops.
Check out our new blog, Freethinking, at Regular contributors include Ron Lindsay (CFI's new CEO), Tom Flynn (ED of CSH and editor of Free Inquiry magazine), Joe Nickell and Ben Radford (CSI Investigators Extraordinaire), and others.
If you're looking for more of a two-way discussion, the CFI Forum is the place for you. You'll find lots of different topics where you can jump right in and join the free thinking and debating. Meet others who share your values from all over the world, and participate in CFI's "virtual community" online.
Would you rather listen to a great interview on CFI topics? Point of Inquiry is the premiere radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry featuring the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics, and renowned entertainers. You can listen to the episodes on your computer, copy them to a CD for your car or home stereo, or download them to your iPod or MP3 player, in addition to hearing the show on a few dozen campus and community radio stations across North America.

Finally, we're happy to say that CFI has been granted a coveted YouTube nonprofit channel which is allowing us to make available hundreds of hours of CFI programming for FREE without the standard 10-minute-content-limit reloading frustrations. You'll find program listings on our own CFI Digital Media page or you can go directly to our CFI YouTube channel. If you'd like, you can subscribe to the CFI channel and you'll be notified every time we add a new program to the list.

Secular Humanism Online News is edited by Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry. nbupp@

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The Council for Secular Humanism is committed to free inquiry, reason, and science, the separation of Church and State, civil liberties, nontheism and humanist ethics. It does not endorse candidates or parties, nor does it take political positions as a corporate body. We open our publications to a wide range of opinions, including dissenting viewpoints; opinions expressed in columns and articles do not necessarily represent the views of the Council.

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