Book-burning advocate may head UNESCO

The United Nations is again causing controversy with member states continuing their desire to set limits on freedom of expression. With Japanese Koichiro Matsuura stepping down as head of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the race is on to select a replacement.

Farouk Hosny

Farouk Hosny

The current front-runner among seven candidates is Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny, 71. It is generally accepted that it is the Arabian region’s “turn” to head UNESCO, and Hosni is supported by the Arab League and many African nations.

However it has recently come to light that just last year Hosny advocated burning books to the Egyptian Parliament; specifically, any Hebrew books found in the Alexandrian Library. “Burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you.”

Hosny has since backpedalled, apologising for the remarks. His primary reason for lighting the match is the Israeli treatment of Palestine – he claims that anger at this behaviour caused him to make a spur of the moment remark; a claim that is not universally believed. An open letter from Claude Lanzmann, Bernard-Henri Levy and Elie Wiesel quote Hosny as saying in 2001: “Israeli culture is an inhuman culture… aggressive, racist, pretentious… based on a simple principle, stealing that which does not belong to it and then claiming it as its own.”

Hosny has replied in the French newspaper Le Monde, saying that “I want to solemnly say that I regret the words that I used. I am a man of peace. I know that peace comes through understanding and respect. In the name of these values I want to go back on the words that I used, which were taken as an appeal to burn Hebrew books.”

An apology is well and good – but can Hosny be believed? His stint in the Ministry of Culture has seen him censor media, films, and music – even to the extent of having heavy-metal fans arrested. How can this man be a suitable candidate for heading up the Culture programme of the United Nations? Political anger is one thing, but to allow that anger to translate into a call for book-burning is quite another – how can any candidate who has ever supported book-burning be deemed acceptable for this post? Whatever polit-speak Hosny spouts in pursuing election, his past actions speak louder than words. Hosny may have been a favourite for the post, but the current scandal being played out in European newspapers may see him outvoted as the European countries may now vote against him.

The final vote takes place in October – be sure to let your government know how you want it to vote. We’ll keep you updated!

An image of Jesus is found in your Marmite. What do you do?

Hey, it could happen.

Cycle of Discovery: Atoms, Nuclei, Hadrons, and Standard-Model Particles

The discovery of the fundamental constituents of the Universe has gone in a cycle:

  1. Discovery of a few entities. Category may be poorly defined or not even properly recognized.
  2. Discovery of many entities. Well-defined category.
  3. Discovery of regularities among the entities.
  4. Discovery of underlying simplicity and the causes of the regularities.

These entities have gone through that cycle, with all but the Standard Model completing it:

  1. Atoms and chemical elements
  2. Atomic nuclei
  3. Hadrons
  4. Standard-Model particles

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God the Crocodile…

Behold, a modern day Captain Hook has ventured into the wilderness to preach hell and damnation for the Cult of the Crocodile. Sobek is less than pleased with our disrespect:

Death’s Lover – by recursive prophet

I’ve had a love affair with death
From the day that I was born
When I stood at the portals of life’s mortal bond
And there paused, my desires torn

For I knew the time had come to end
My blessed unity
That now I’d have to stand alone,
And to feel, and hear, and see.

Alone in the light; beneath a stranger’s glare
And through those eyes I would somehow know
That I now had my space, and had entered the race
Yet be haunted wherever I might go

For I knew that for certain, my lover would return
Once again in her arms I would be
Then together back we’d walk, with no need to feel or talk
Through the halls of eternity.

Are Atheists Fully Human?

Not according to Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor, recently speaking on BBC radio. Apparently a transcendent relationship with God is an essential part of the human experience, and one without which an individual cannot be fully human.

No word yet on whether the good Cardinal also finds sexuality an essential part of the human condition. One hopes, for the sake of local altar boys, that he is celibate – as indeed the Catholic Church demands he should be. Does he consider that this makes him less than human also, I wonder? I expect the Cardinal would reply that just because he can do something doesn’t mean that he should, or that he simply must.

So how does his abstention from one essential part of human experience somehow make him any more completely human than those who choose to abstain from a different (and much less necessary) part?

Answer: it doesn’t.

Community Profile: JamesBannon

How did you find out about online freethought communities, and what’s your favourite thing about them?

I heard about IIDB when I was a member of, where I used to “discuss” religious belief with believers. Since then, I’ve joined FF, TR! and Secular Cafe. I’m also a member of a couple of private boards.

I enjoy discussion of all kinds and the community aspects. Most of all, I like just goofing around and being silly.

What board or fora are we most likely to find you in and what will you be talking about?

Any of the above. I post about equally on all the boards. I don’t have any specific favourite areas, it depends on what I find interesting / controversial at the time.

If you had to spend your life marooned on a tropical island with three people that you’ve met online from this community, who would they be, and why?

What a question! There are many people whom I respect and / or regard as very good friends and who have given me much needed support. I guess my first choice would be maddog. We see eye-to-eye on many issues, she’s very intelligent and she’s one of the kindest & sweetest persons I’ve ever met on-line. However, I could say that about many people: Thalia, Puck, Garnet, MT, David B, Luis Garcia, Oolon Colluphid, Nephesh, Stormlight, Leesifer and many others. I love them all really.

Which freethought or humanist thinkers have most inspired you?

I don’t read a lot of the modern thinkers, except snippets here and there on-line. My favourite philosopher is Hume because he makes us think about what it is to know something.

What’s your least favourite religious verse, and why?

Again, a difficult choice as there are so many one could condemn. I think, perhaps, my least favourite is the parable of the sheep and the goats. Think about what happened to the goats, through no fault of their own. Really, however, the whole Abrahamic edifice is based on the principle “might is right”, and that is something I would never agree with.

If you could get rid of one stupid anti-freethought argument, what would it be? Why do you hate this one above all the rest?

I think I would get rid of Pascal’s Wager. It is such a spurious piece of reasoning and has been debunked many times, yet it is still trotted out as if it had any meaning / relevance.

Invisible Pink Unicorn or Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Invisible Pink Unicorn, though my personal favourite is my invisible, pink bunny rabbit friend called Harvey. He’s rather a nice fellow. You should meet him. (And if I say he’s pink, then he’s pink, dammit!)

So what is it you do with your life when you’re not hanging around here, anyway?

Not a great deal, really. I’m disabled, so I don’t work at the moment. When I can concentrate, I like to read, listen to some music, think and keep in touch with friends and family. Other than that, most of my time is spent on the boards.

What’s your favourite book, and why?

Difficult! I guess I would plump for 1984 by George Orwell. It shows what kind of dystopia could happen, given the right technology and people with the will to use it for those ends.

What’s the most embarrassing song you sing and dance to when you’re absolutely sure no-one else is around?

Not sure about singing, but my favourite dance tune is “The Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat” by Weather Report from the album “Mr Gone”. I like a bit of head-banging too, Rage Against the Machine is my current favourite for that. Also, I couldn’t go without mentioning King Crimson!

What’s the one thing you want to do with your life before shuffling off this mortal coil?

I’d love to do a space walk! It must be absolutely awesome to look down through your feet and see the Earth. However, since that is out of the question, I’ll settle for a trip to see all my on-line friends.

What’s your poison? How much of it is needed to drive you under the table?

Alas, I can no longer indulge in a tipple as it doesn’t mix well with my medication. My favourite used to be a good quality Brandy.

Lucky #13: Who do you nominate to be interviewed for next month’s issue?

Maddog would make an interesting subject!