Date published: November 1, 2010
Judging by the Cover
I have always associated the Humanist with support of gender equality. Your cover (S/O 2010) made me change my mind. As a feminist it caught my attention but not in a good way. It might also be considered anti-Islamic which is not pro-feminist, no matter what Sarah Braasch ("Lift the Veil, See the Light") may believe about the garments some Muslim women wear.
St. Paul, MN
I want to applaud you for the courageous cover of the September/October issue. My guess is you will take some serious flak for it. However, as an old advertising gal - long before I entered the ministry- one of the things I know is that "sex sells." And when covers like this catch a persons attention he or she is inclined to read inside. Obviously I wouldn't be pleased with a cover that exploited women. But this one did not. What it did was highlight the cover story in a very marketable way. Also I was very pleased to see how many women contributed articles to this issue. In the past, women were always underrepresented in the Humanist, so I am delighted to see all these very thoughtful, bright women writing for the magazine.
Rev. Suzanne Paul
Editor's note: In order to explore issues we must be willing to expose them. Art has always functioned as a way to elicit reaction and stimulate debate. The September/October cover of the Humanist presented a provocative image (an original oil painting) to introduce the dilemma humanists and feminists face regarding a woman's choice to expose herself or to mask her identity, and when and whether it's truly a choice. Critical thinkers acknowledge that pornography and Islamic dress codes for women are complex issues. We provide a positive example by engaging in rational debate on such topics.
Still No Consensus on Porn
If Jennifer Bardi is the voice of humanism, I'm going back to church. If I had wanted to hear President Obama trashed I would have turned to Fox. If I had wanted to read the self-serving blather of a porn queen ("The Humanist Interview with Nina Hartley," S/O 2010) I would have bought Hustler. Pat Robinson will be thrilled to tell his followers about that one! Perhaps in the next issue she could interview a few of the women with whom Tiger Woods slept, especially if they're married atheists.
While we have always shared the Humanist with our two grandchildren who are beginning to be skeptical of theism, they will not see the last two issues. We thought true humanism was better than this.
Otis and Mary Ellen Evans
Melissa Bollman's article on pornography ("Shifting Positions: Humanist Perspectives on Porn," S/O 2010) mentions a 1985 humanist panel discussion where, despite deep divisions, all were in agreement "that porn both perpetuated and reflected a culture of filth and malaise, that it was ultimately a symptom of a sick society."
Laments that society has gone to the dogs have been with us since, well, society began. But it's a gross error to romanticize prior epochs as halcyon times of higher morality. Past humans had the same biological impulses and peccadilloes we do; what they lacked was our outlets for them. What some decry as a modern sinkhole of depravity is just the fact that we have less suppression of our natural sexual feelings.
In the same issue, Luis Granados discusses the family "honor" code in many Muslim societies decreeing that a father must kill his daughter for refusing to submit to his tyranny ("Saving Aqsa Parvez"), and which even required letting a four-year-old rape victim bleed to death. Now that's what I call a sick society.
Frank S. Robinson
...Or the Burqa
Thanks for having the eloquent Amanda Knief write on this topic ("Liberté, Egalité- de Féministes! Revealing the Burqa as a Pro-Choice Issue," S/O 2010). I know it makes for "good magazine" to offer a pointcounter point ("Lift the Veil, See the Light") but Knief 's piece is the only humanistic response to the burqa ban issue.
Barry F. Seidman
Oak Ridge, NJ
The problem with Amanda Knief's article is that she doesn't seem to realize that no one chooses subservience unless brainwashed or forced. It's like saying African Americans chose to sit at the back of the bus, or that they chose to use a different restroom. If the burqa is truly a symbol of subservience only to God, why don't the Islamic men wear it? Also, why don't more moderate Muslims speak out about the treatment of women or even the honor killings? As it was said in the '60s, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
Having read the arguments for and against the wearing of head-to-toe coverings by Muslim women in the September/October Humanist, I'm surprised no one pointed out the obvious threat of vitamin D deficiency, which poses many adverse health consequences. Exposing one's skin to sunlight is an important factor in maintaining an adequate level of vitamin D. There is even concern about vitamin D deficiency in people who use sunscreens on a regular basis.
I would like to suggest that vitamin D levels be measured for a significant number of observant Muslim women and compared with a control group of women who share a similar diet but don't wear full-body coverings. This might answer the question of whether these women are more at risk for rickets or other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
Spending my summers in Scottsdale, Arizona, I have great compassion for those observant Muslim women who are forced to tolerate inappropriate attire in comparably hot weather.
Harold L Saferstein, MD
Contentious Question of Complicity
I was dismayed by Luis Granados's comment in "Saving Aqsa Parvez"(S/0 2010) that "the biggest winners in the humanist revolution wrought by Atatürk were Turkeys women."
Kemal Atatürk was the consummator of the Armenian Genocide and responsible for the genocide of many other minorities in Turkey during his rule. He is also responsible for the various laws in today's Turkey, one of which forbids citizens from criticizing Atatürk. According to human rights organizations, Turkey has some of the worst records for torture, unjust arrests and disappearances, and "unsolved" murders mostly committed by state-sponsored nationalist groups that call themselves "Kemalist." Holding Atatürk up as a secular saint and omitting mention of the atrocities he committed is like calling Adolf Hitler a great industrialist and omitting mention of the Holocaust.
Luis Granados responds: The first round of the Armenian Genocide in the 1890s was launched under the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid, while Atatürk was a student; the 1915 killings were arranged by the "Young Turk" triumvirate, with War Minister Enver Bey as the principal decision maker. Atatürk was defending Gallipoli at the time, and (to his frustration) was largely shut out of government decision making. Even pro-Armenian treatments of the killings, such as Nikohy Hovhannisyan's The Armenian Genocide, don't mention Atatürk. As for the "genocide of many other minorities in Turkey during his rule" none of the many histories of Turkey I am familiar with delineate such activity. Concerning contemporary problems, blaming Atatürk for abuses occurring seventy years after his death, committed by an Islamist-leaning government he would have despised, is about as fair as comparing him to Hitler (whom he also despised). When you look at the corrupt, clergy-dominated, about-tobe-dismembered country he took control of in 1923, and compare it to the peaceful civil society with surging literacy and democratic values he left at his death in 1938 (not to mention the massively improved treatment of women, which is what I was writing about), Atatürk ranks with Nehru as one of the most effective humanists of the twentieth century.
James Zimmerman's column on proselytizing by Jehovah's Witnesses ("Questions for Door-Knockers," S/O 2010) brought to mind an incident my friend Amy reported to me. It seems Amy's mother had been speaking to a couple of Witnesses on her front steps for a while. Although her mother was brought up Jewish, she had moved toward socialism and agnosticism, a common occurrence among members of that generation in the 1940s. She was in the process of dismissing the unwelcome guests just as Amy approached the group. "Father, son, holy ghost," she said, shaking her head with exasperation. "It's all too confusing. I'll make it simple for you: there's only one god, and we don't believe in him."
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