31 October 2006

Debating Humanism

This month's New Humanist contains a review by former Little Atoms guest Nick Cohen of a book, Debating Humanism, from the IOI/Spiked/RCP stable, and which contains contributions from former Little Atoms guests Frank Furedi and AC Grayling.

Nick has the following to say about Furedi's contribution;

Furedi provides a reason beyond their inability to grasp elementary principles for keeping our new friends at arms length. His essay shows in embarrassing detail the leader of the RCP isn’t very bright. First, he flirts with epistemological relativism while denying he is doing it. Then he makes a good point for bad reasons but lacks the courage to follow it through because its inevitable conclusion conflicts with the party line. He, too, insists that opposition to religious intolerance shouldn’t define humanism. Instead, we should challenge the environmental movement’s ‘culture of misanthropy’ which denigrates the human race as greedy and destructive.

He has a case. Misanthropy undoubtedly informs the dominant strand on the post-modern European left. It takes a special combination of self-hatred and selfishness to insist that we can’t judge other cultures, place democracy higher than tyranny or say that brown-skinned women in Kabul must have the same rights as white-skinned women in Paris. A genuine humanist would notice that cultural relativism leaves its adherents naked before their fanatical enemies, but Furedi can’t acknowledge the logic of his argument because to do so he would have to admit that there are movements of the religious far right and it is the duty of humanists to oppose them. The admittedly grim truth that we are going to have to fight the old Enlightenment battles for freedom of thought, the vote and the emancipation of women all over again – and not only for our own sakes – is too much for him to bear.

It’s easier for Furedi and his comrades to carry on as before and get in the way of people with serious work to do.

Oh dear!

Read the review here.


30 October 2006

Website problems

The Little Atoms website is down again, massive demand for the Francis Wheen interview this month has seen us exceeding our bandwidth again. It will be back up on the 1st nov (wednesday)


26 October 2006

This weeks show

This weeks show was due to feature Michael Gove MP, who has unfortunately had to postpone. However i'm pleased to announce that the show will instead feature the return visit of Johann Hari.


24 October 2006

A Moratorium on Executions

On Capital Punishment-

"It is intolerable. This vicious circle, which transforms lives through simple elements of political influence, must be broken as a matter of urgency. Far from such sad considerations, it is vital that Muslim consciences throughout the world call, in the name of their religion, its principles and its universal requirement of justice, to an immediate stop to these executions. We need to enforce an immediate moratorium and to open a thorough debate on the necessary reforms to be promoted within the contemporary judiciary systems. Far from the media spotlight, children, women and men suffer the worst treatments - up to capital punishment - and the Islamic world remains silent while everybody knows that the judiciary systems are failing, that children, women and men are sometimes judged without having a lawyer, without the slightest respect of the fundamental rights, sometimes simply as an example or after a trial's parody."

Tariq Ramadan, there. Reminding us again that he's not the same as Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

I tend to agree with something David Aaronovitch said on our show, that instead of seeking what divides us, we should be seeking what unites us and talking about that. Tariq Ramadan still seems like someone we can talk to, even if, (as at a recent IPPR/New Humanist event) I'm not always sure what he's saying. On this I agree with him, and it draws a definite line in the sand between him and those who believe that people should be killed for having different beliefs or lifestyles. The latter are the ones who want to be heard, and perhaps should be heard a little less.


20 October 2006

A.C. not J.C.

Anthony Grayling's latest Comment is Free post is a must-read

Any further elaboration seems unnecessary.


19 October 2006


The Francis Wheen interview is now online, you can download it from here

Enjoy the blooper, where somebody tries to get into the studio mid-interview. Was going to edit it out, but its quite funny! We didn't know what to do, but consumate radio professional Francis was unruffled.

Also, Padraig made an appearance on this weeks Moral Maze, which you can listen to here


16 October 2006


Our friends over at Engage have for some time been running an ongoing campaign in the name of academic freedom, against the proposed boycott of Israeli academics for the heinous crime of being Israeli academics.

This is not the only fight for academic freedom that Engage are involved in;

Engage notes with great concern the existence of a ban on Palestinian students attending Israeli universities as revealed in a petition to Israel’s High Court brought by GISHA, the Center for the Legal Protection of Freedom of Movement.

We endorse and support the call from Heads of Palestinians Universities to members of Global Civil Society and Academia for appropriate action to protest against this restriction on entry and re-entry.

We condemn this ban in the strongest possible terms, and call upon academics and trade unionists to protest the ban directly to Higher Education Minister Yuli Tamir.

Engage stands for academic freedom in Israel and Palestine, and for international academic exchange as a good in itself and because it can form part of a path to peace. We oppose unambiguously all attempts to apply discrimination on the basis of nationality to ordinary academic interchange, whether this be in the form of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and academics or in the form of a ban on Palestinians studying in Israel.

See here for details of how you can write to Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir and ask her to intervene to cancel the ban.

Little Atoms Alumni Shalom Lappin already has


14 October 2006

Skeptics Spiked

There is an interesting article on Spiked by Ben Pile, taking issue with the rise of the Skeptic movement. Pile makes a little too much of a comment by Randi IMHO but he's spot on about the Brights, a movement that has always struck me as a little New Agey.

"Sceptics and rationalists ought to be taking a look at their own ideas to find out why they fail to find purchase in the public imagination. Putting science and rationalism back on the map is going to take more than PR, angry rants about stupid religious people, or teaching kids that ‘science is cool’. We don’t need a police force to protect us from bad ideas. We just need better ideas".

Its a thought provoking article, read it here

Hat Tip; Sid Rodrigues


13 October 2006

Johann and Salman

Also in the Independent today is Johann Hari's fantastic interview with Salman Rushdie, discussing the Fatwah, Kashmir, Islamism and The Wests response.

Salman in unsurprisingly unstinting in his condemnation of Islamism and its apologists on the Left;

“What they want is to change the nature of human life on earth into the image of the Taliban. If you want the whole earth to look like Taliban Afghanistan, then you’re on the same side as them. If you don’t want that, you’re not. They do not represent the quest for human justice. That, I think, is one of the great mistakes of the left.”

What makes this interview interesting though, is how critical Rushdie is of the idea that America is any use whatsoever in the fight against Islamism;

“America, like all superpowers, uses only the criterion of self-interest. That’s the way in which a superpower operates. Whether it’s the Soviet Union or the United States. The criterion is what serves the interests of the power. When that coincides with what we call liberal democratic values then, yeah, it will be on that side. But superpowers of every stripe have a history of installing puppets which will serve their interests. Whether it’s in Nicaragua or the Shah of Iran. You can’t look to a superpower as a moral arbiter, because its job is not morality. Its job is the preservation of its sphere of influence.”

Criticism of both American foreign policy and the rise of Islamism isn't something we see very often from UK media pundits, Johann himself excepted of course. How refreshing.

There is also this great comment from Rushdie, which I'm happy to concede I'm including purely to provoke the inevitable offence;

“One of the great untold stories of Al Qaeda is that they are all these men who fuck little boys. They all have these disciples who they’re ostensibly training in the way of the warrior, but they’re also enjoying. For a while, then they go off – and they have their wives and families at home. It’s like Classical Greece.” Does he think Osama Bin Laden has done it? “I wouldn’t like to say,” he says tactfully. “He’s an Arab, he’s not an Afghan. But Mullah Omar, he’s another story…”

Write in and let us know if you have, Osama.

Read the whole interview on Johann's website here


Rain stops play - 2

Thanks to acts of God (the bastard) at the Resonance studio, it looks like tonight's show will not be broadcast. It will be available at www.littleatoms.com early next week


The Critic's Choice

Tonight's Little Atoms is featured in the radio listings of today's Independent, recommended in Robert Moss's Critic's Choice


11 October 2006

Jew hating fun for all the family

If, like Iran's cuddly President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, you'd like to see Israel wiped off the map, and think the Holocaust might have been a teensy bit exaggerated, and if you're at a loose end on Sunday 22nd October, you might want to get yourself down to this years Al Quds Day march

Speakers include such luminaries as Dr Azzam Tamini, George "Indefatigable" Galloway, and the inevitable Yvonne Ridley.

A Little History;

In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini called for a demonstration on the last Friday of Ramadan for the “liberation” of Jerusalem (Al-Quds) and the destruction of the state of Israel. This year the Iranian government together with its radicalised Islamist supporters have called once again to demonstrate in Teheran, Lebanon, Berlin, London, Jakarta, Toronto and worldwide. The Al-Quds Day activities fuel hatred against Jews and strengthen the power of the Islamic dictatorship in Iran and its supporters worldwide.

Of course you could also consider an alternative, and support these people

You probably won't have as much fun though.

Hat tip: Harry's Place


Rain stops play

Due to a combination of torrential rain and a heavily oversubscribed meeting, I didn't get to see Olivier Roy's talk on political Islam this afternoon. However, we're assured we will be furnished with a recording of the talk, so if it's any good, I'll try and put it up on the site or summat.

10 October 2006

blogga blogga hey!

Quite apart from NH and CiF, this is about my third attempt at getting a blog going. Let's hope it lasts longer than the other two (which thankfully are long dead, so don't even try to find them).
Anyway, I spent yesterday lunchtime at ippr, and will be doing the same tomorrow.
Yesterday was a joint conference NH held with ippr on life, the universe and everything, featuring Paul Davis, Michael Frayn, and Little Atoms alumnus Laurie Taylor. It was a fascinating discussion, one of those where you genuinely come out feeling ever so slightly cleverer. Newsnight even did some filming (I saw meself on telly for all of one second last night. That anchor spot can't be long coming now).
Having organised the event, we were very glad to have the BBC there. I was a little less glad after I watched their report last night - a report that seemed to try to push him into some kind of intelligent design position. Davis is pretty clear on this: what he says is that the mechanisms behind the universe seem ingenious. What he certainly does not say is that there is some kind of genius running things. But Newsnight frustatingly didn't seem to want to hear this.
Anyway, tomorrow's talk at the ippr is on another subject that most people in broadcast media (yes, I am looking at you, Channel 4 news) really don't seem to get: political Islam. The talk is being given by Olivier Roy, a clever chap with lots to say. Full report after the drop.


09 October 2006

Next Little Atoms

The next edition of Little Atoms is broadcast on friday 13th October, and is an interview with the writer, broadcaster and journalist Francis Wheen. For one week only, this show will be broadcast in the Clear Spot slot, between 19:00 and 20:00. Padraig and I have already recorded this interview, its great, don't miss it!

For more details see here