August 2008

Museum censors Darwin exhibition

Following a single complaint from a single Christian fundamentalist, an information sign - which is part of Abington Park Museums display about Charles Darwin and fossils – has been covered up.

Two parts of the sign, concerning Changing Attitudes to Evolution, are obscured with black paper, but only four lines of text are actually covered over.

It details how Charles Darwin used the study of fossils to help formulate his theory of evolution, set out in On the Origin of Species, which angered fundamental Christians and Creationists.

But following a complaint, part of the sign was covered over to avoid giving offence. The offending text reads:

He used the same layers of fossils that had supported the Genesis view of evolution to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to the rigours of its environment – the struggle for survival through natural selection leading to the survival of the fittest.

Local resident, Andy Chapman contacted the Chronicle Echo after noticing the text had been obscured with no explanation as to why during a bank holiday visit to the museum, which is run by Northampton Borough Council. “By this action the council would appear to be endorsing the views of a religious minority, and denying the right of the rest of us to see the results of rational and scientific thought,” Chapman said.

I will resist the temptation, here, to make a remark about Christians being offended by reality.

Updated: 1/9/08

Northampton City Council says that it has now removed the paper strips obscuring the information board.

Dangerous music

Cuban authorities have arrested one of the islands leading punk rock musicians, Gorki Aguila of band Porno Para Ricardo. He is likely to be charged with dangerousness, which allow the authorities to detain people who are likely to commit crimes.

According to fellow band members, he was picked up by police at his home in Havana on Monday as the group were preparing to record their latest album.

The groups lyrics are often critical of life on the communist island.

The head of Cubas illegal, but tolerated, Human Rights Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, confirmed the detention and said that so far no-one has been allowed access to visit him.

Another member of the band, which was formed about 10 years ago, lead guitarist Ciro Diaz, said he was told by the police that the 39-year-old musician would face charges of dangerousness.

Under Cubas penal code, the charge covers behaviours contrary to the standards of communist morality.

UCU activist shuts down Harrys Place

Veteran political blog, Harrys Place has been shut down after a complaint from an academic whom it claimed had posted links to neo-Nazi articles in an online debate.

Sheffield-based UCU activist Jenna Delich posted a comment in an online discussion of a potential boycott of Israel by the union, in which she linked to, and appeared to endorse, an article posted on the website of American far-right politician David Duke. The sites host subsequently received a complaint that the post was ’slanderous’, and informed Harry’s Place that it would not continue to host the blog’s domain name, saying the bloggers had breached terms of use.

Harry’s Place blogger David T told Index: ‘We have done nothing wrong. We did not breach Daily’s terms and conditions. They have put us out of business, without warning and without an opportunity to make alternative provision.’

Currently in the UK Internet service providers are liable for material posted on websites they host. ‘There should be statutory and blanket immunity for ISPs, as exists in the US,’ said David T. declined to speak to Index, claiming that discussing the issue would breach data protection laws.

Simplifying libel

Salman Rusdie has set a new – and very positive – precedent for libel actions today by accepting an apology and not seeking damages.

Ronald Evans helped to protect Rushdie after he received death threats for writing The Satanic Verses in 1989. In his book, On Her Majestys Service, Evans made a number of claims which he has now admitted are false.

Mr Evans, ghost writer Douglas Thompson and publishers John Blake Publishing apologised in Londons High Court for the hurt and damage they had caused. Mr Justice Teare made a Declaration of Falsity against the two authors and the publisher.

According to Rushdie: It was never my desire to seek any financial reward from this but simply to have it established that the truth is the truth and lies are lies - Im happy to have nailed that.

Sir Salman praised the use of the Declaration of Falsity in this case and urged others in the same situation to follow the same route.

I hope that maybe this device of the Declaration of Falsity is another way of pursuing these matters, he said.

Instead of going for the megabucks you simply go to court for the important thing which is to establish whats true and whats not.

I think its a clearer and simpler way of dealing with this and Im very pleased weve been able to use it in this way.

The relevant parts of Evans book have now been rewritten and the false allegations removed.

Olympic censorship

The International Olympic Committee filed (via) a copyright infringement claim yesterday against a YouTube video of a Free Tibet protest at the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan Thursday night.

The video depicts demonstrators conducting a candlelight vigil and projecting a protest video onto the consulate building. The the projection features recent footage of Tibetan monks being arrested as well as riffs on the Olympic logo, representing them as handcuffs.

Inevitably enough, YouTube pulled the video, but it can still be seen on Vimeo.

Israel bans Harry Potter imports

Arab-Israeli publisher Salah Abassi has been ordered (via) to stop importing Arabic-language childrens books, such as Harry Potter and Pinocchio, from Syria and Lebanon. The ban also includes Arabic classics.

The ban is based on a 1939 decree - when the area was under British mandate - prohibiting the importation of books from hostile countries. According to Abassi, however, the Arabic translations of many of these books can be found only in Lebanon and Syria.

If they were printed in Jordan or Egypt, which are friendly to Israel, I would lose no time in buying them there. Now the significance is that the Arabic reading public in Israel will not be able to enjoy the best literature, he said.

Backdoor censorship attempt finally rejected

After a year long investigation, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has rejected (via) a disingenuous complaint by the Edmonton Council of Muslim Canadians against former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant over his re-publication of the Danish Muhammad cartoons.

Yasmeen Nizam, a civil litigation lawyer in Edmonton and a director of the council of Muslim Canadians, aid the council decided to bring a human-rights complaint because, unlike criminal hate-speech prosecutions, the publishers intent doesnt matter.

Fear stunts intelligent discourse

The Wall Street Journal (via) reports that Random House have pulled a historical novel by Sherry Jones about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad after an American academic took exception to it.

The publisher bought The Jewel of Medina last year as part of a two book deal and an August 12th publication date was set. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including one Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin.

Spellberg, It should be noted, is not a Muslim. But she decided to take offence on behalf of Muslims and called Shahed Amanullah, the editor of a popular Muslim web site.

After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didnt know anything about it [the book], but telling them, Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, Jewel of Medina she said she found it incredibly offensive. He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullahs email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims Hussaini Youth under a headline, upcoming book, Jewel of Medina: A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam. Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.

Spellberg also called Jane Garrett, an editor at Random Houses Knopf imprint (with whom she has a contract to write Thomas Jeffersons Quran). Ms. Garrett recorded the results of the conversation in an email on May 1st to Knopf executives.

She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence, Ms. Garrett wrote. Denise says it is a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue. Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP. (The Jewel of Medina was to be published by Random Houses Ballantine Books.) That day, the email spread like wildfire through Random House, which also received a letter from Ms. Spellberg and her attorney, saying she would sue the publisher if her name was associated with the novel. On May 2, a Ballantine editor told Ms. Joness agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

On a May 21 conference call, Random House executive Elizabeth McGuire told the author and her agent that the publishing house had decided to indefinitely postpone publication of the novel for fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims and concern for the safety and security of the Random House building and employees.

Sherry Jones has signed a termination agreement with Random House so her literary agent is able to seek another publisher.

Defining Reality

In July I mentioned that he lower house of parliament in Belarus has approved a new bill that would change registration procedures for the traditional media and extend them to online media as well, forcing all web pages to be registered. On Tuesday the law was approved (via) by President Lukashenko.

The law stipulates that online content will now be subject to the same restrictions as the print press. The law also places greater power in the hands of the state authorities, who will be able to suspend or close indefinitely media outlets that publish material that does ‘not correspond to reality’, publish inaccurate or defamatory material or threaten the interests of the state or the public. It also gives state authorities the ability to interpret these terms as they deem fit.

Turkey Blocks DailyMotion

After blocking access to YouTube for the past three months, Turkish authorities have now turned their attention (via) on the Paris based Dailymotion.

Transport minister Binali Yildirim said YouTube was still blocked because those responsible for the site refused to cooperate with the Internet regulatory authority, Internet Iletisim Baskanligi, an offshoot of the Telecommunications Council that was founded in November 2007.

“The conditions imposed on YouTube are arbitrary and show that the authorities want to control the Internet and those who create it,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If a site has a local representation, it makes it easier for the Turkish judicial authorities to enforce the sanctions they are fond of imposing. This is unacceptable.”