The Importance of Being Honest

Yesterday had me thinking about freedom. About what it is, and how it is achieved. And about what it isn’t, and how it is so easily given away. It had me thinking about how often we’re unaware of our chains and how often we realise they are there, but pretend not to notice. We issue excuses, exceptions and denials, “oh, I never wanted to do X, Y or Z anyway”, covering up for cowardice and self-deception. It also had me thinking about how giving up our own freedoms ultimately leads to the denial of those freedoms for others. Given that the theft of freedom from those with the least privilege will hurt the most, the voluntary surrender of freedom by the privileged is an abject failure to stand in solidarity with others. Giving up your freedoms, or pretending they haven’t been taken, isn’t only a dereliction of duty to yourself, but to everybody else. A couple of quotes came to mind:

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Nelson Mandela

Both speak not only to what freedom is, but how to achieve it. Now I know he’ll be mighty bashful being quoted next to MLK and Mandela, but yesterday I also saw a status update from a friend for whom I have a great deal of respect and high regard. It’s a short story from earlier in the day about how he chooses to respond to the social pressure he experiences as a man of Bangladeshi descent who chooses not to fast during Ramadan. Note, “how he chooses”, “chooses not to fast”; these are his choices, that he makes and takes responsibility for. The person most skilful at stealing our freedom and limiting our horizons is usually ourselves. Often, but not always, we can choose more than we might like to acknowledge. It’s uncomfortable, because it’s empowering, and means making decisions, making changes and taking responsibility. But not much freedom comes without responsibility, and so sometimes a choice has to be made: deny yourself freedom to avoid the burden of responsibility, or stand tall, be free, and know that you’re strong enough to carry that responsibility, and that it’s more than worth it. I digress…

The social pressures around fasting can be and, so I was reminded yesterday, are stifling; whilst people in the UK are spared state enforcement and punishment, “community policing” works a treat – the fear that someone else might find out you’re not fasting is very real and very effective. Don’t take my word for it; check out the many threads on the CEMB forum by ex-Muslims forced into starving themselves for 18 hours a day, without any fluids, for fear of what might happen if they get found out (e.g. If this is the case for generally independently minded ex-Muslims, just imagine the pressure on those who still identify as members of the Ummah. So, given the context, the following is inspiring (though not at all atypical of the chap in question), not only because of his determination to be true to himself, to be free, but for the way in which it’s done – with empathy and compassion.

So, here he is, Imtiaz Shams:

“The importance of being ear(hon)nest,

I know there’re a couple of people on my FB who are, like me, irreligious. Regardless of what you believe or not, here’s a little tip (that I’ve gotta follow too). Yes, coming out as believing / not believing is vital for any change, because it pushes the fabric of truth and gives us a voice. But HOW you do it is equally important, at the very least, if we want to help other people understand. We’re all fighting an uphill battle, and while we’d like it to not be important, it really is.

Just went to my local butchers, have been visiting for a while, they play nasheeds and have halal food. Good people.

Was chit-chatting with a guy, who asked, “how’s your fast going” after I asked him the same question. I said something like “I don’t fast”, and his eyes widened.

But we talked, and I told him my story, how strongly I believed in the science and morality aspects of my previous religion, but over time I couldn’t face what (to me) were the facts and differences. Initially he was very, very shocked, and I could feel other people listening in.

Comes out my local butcher did a 2 year Masters on Comparative Religion in Bangladesh, and after we talked for a while, went from “how could you have done that???” to taking my side when another butcher pulled me up on it, saying that I seem like a good guy and shouldn’t be judged. I then offered to help him with his UK University applications, and we left smiling.

This is also why, even with all the horror stories, especially those that I’ve heard/seen happen to my friends (who also left), there is hope. And it’s so important that we start putting ourselves out there as actually existing, and be strong against any bad stuff and maintain our faith in things changing.”

Strange Priorities, Distorted Moralities

The BBC reports from Bangladesh: “Up to half a million Hefazat-e-Islam supporters gathered in the city, where rioters set fire to shops and vehicles…Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest!”) and “One point! One demand! Atheists must be hanged”, the activists marched down at least six main roads as they headed for Motijheel”.

Half a million. Half a million! Protests after the Dhaka building collapse reached twenty thousand, yet here, for what really matters, are half a million.

What does it say, when less people protested the deaths of over 650 labourers in desperately unsafe working conditions, than march calling for the execution of their fellow countrymen for being atheists? What does this say about priorities, about the distortion of morality, and how have we got here?

Is it not possibly the case that contributing to this desperate display of inhumanity is a religious text that holds lack of belief, above all else, to be the worst possible crime? A text in which the sacrifice of hundreds of lives for profit is forgiveable, but lack of belief in a particular god is not? Does a text that obsesses on the endless torture of non-believers, that goes to great lengths to distance, denigrate and other those who aren’t monotheists, not bare some of the responsibility when hundreds of thousands are more enraged by others holding a contrary opinion than by the suffering of the hundreds killed and thousands injured in the Dhaka building collapse? Must this always be blamed on culture, on politics, on circumstances, must the central ideology always be protected from due criticism and apportioned blame?

And yet I am still asked, regularly, “how can you be moral if you don’t believe?” More suitable would be the retort, how can you be moral if you really do?

Syria: The Planet of the Daleks – A story of Death, Hate and God (Guest Post)

Guest post by Wael Alkel. Wael is an admin for the Syrian Atheists Facebook page.

It’s not new for me and Syrians like me to feel alienated in our own country. Throughout the years we have struggled with a conservative society in which concepts like free speech, gender equality and civil rights are partly rejected by most of the people. That being said, Syrians were generally moderate and tolerant in comparison to most neighbours in the Middle East and despite my alienation I never for once looked down at my fellow Syrians as inferior or less human.

Syria was ruled for the last forty years by the Assad family,who came to power via a military coup and installed a brutal dictatorship that robbed the people of basic rights and liberties, plunging the country into police state corruption. The Assad family came from a very poor Muslim minority called the Alawites. Alawites are a fraction of the Shiite sect of Islam. To bluntly summarize the origins of this sectarian divide among Muslims, it all started after Mohammad’s death, when his cousin and son-in-law Ali, along with Mohammad’s daughter Fatima and their sons Hassan and Hussein, entered into a dispute over power  with Mohammad’s wife Aisha and his best buddies Abu Bakir and Muawiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān. The conflict ended with the latter team getting into power, their supporters became what is known as the Sunni sect while Ali’s supporters became what is known as the Shiite sect. The conflict never really ended and over a thousand years later they are still fighting that outdated battle, with Iran playing the role of leadership for the Shiites  and Saudi Arabia playing the same role for the Sunnis . They have been engaged in a sort of cold war style conflict by fuelling sectarian strife in other countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and now Syria.

Anyway back to Syria, where the Sunni majority and Alawitesminority have been coexisting in harmony for years. As soon as the Assad family came to power it used the existing sectarian divide to ensure it remained thereby appointing over 90% of all army officers (especially the high ranking ones)from the Alawite minority, in addition to filling the key positions and presidential inner circle with Alawites as well. The regime worked hard to incite fear of what the Sunnis would do to minorities if they ever came to power, while keeping the majority of Alawites in poverty to retain control overthem. In 2011, the Arab spring knocking down one dictator after another inspired the Syrian people to revolt against the regime. Thousands of Syrians from all religions, sects, and ethnicities marched in the streets in peaceful protest demanding freedom, democracy and the end of Assad’s tyranny. There are no words to explain the joy I felt marching with them for the promise of a new,better Syria. I looked with disgust at those who justified the dictatorship in fear of extremism and sectarianism. They all gave the example of the brutal Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who managed to keep the lid on sectarian hate in Iraq with an iron fist, before it erupted after his downfall, claiming thousands of lives. But that was not acceptable to me, knowing that this man dropped chemical weapons on his own people, murdering tens or even hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds without discrimination. Somehow the concept of accepting the lesser of the two evils looked so evil in itself.

The Assad regime never wasted time or gave diplomacy the slightest chance; it immediately started a harsh  crack down on the demonstrators, shooting live ammo at peaceful protesters and soon enough  even bombing and shelling rural demonstrations in an effort to quell the revolution. The killing continued in a monstrous and sectarian fashion, targeting the Sunni population specifically, in efforts to turn the revolution into a sectarian civil war so that the regime could convince the Alawite minority that it is fighting for their protection from impending slaughter. In the stench of death rose up religious extremism as, in their helplessness, people started seeking the help of god and  the comfort of believing in  a better life awaiting  those who were stolen from this one. The Syrian secret service focused its efforts on the utter destruction of any Alawite opposition, which wasn’t hard as some of the sectarian fuelled Islamist Sunni opposition began to shun them, accusing them of being an extension of the regime for merely belonging to a minority that too suffered injustice under Assad’s rule. One massacre after another left every Syrian with horrific images of slaughtered civilians, children, women and the elderly. An unrivalled display of inhumanity and sectarian bigotry sent shocking waves of sadness and anger, claiming every drop of compassion and mercy from everyone who bared witness to the atrocity.

Soon enough the peaceful protests ended, only to be replaced by a rebellion of armed, mostly Islamist, militias,  first started by army defectors who refused to shoot civilians but later, thanks in part to Saudi petrodollars, infused with foreign Jihadi elements.

With every massacre people got more and more sectarian. To most Alawites these children who are slaughtered are being killed so that their children may live, while to Sunnis these dead children are the justification for the killing of the Alawite’s children once the regime is toppled. Who pays the price for this never ending circle of hate, prejudice and bigotry? Innocent children, of both sides, these children who were born merely human, not Sunni, Alawite or even Muslim to begin with, they were born pure and untainted with our savage differences posed by our irrational beliefs.

People have gotten so sectarian and hateful that I started to abstain from talking about politics with them in real life. Now, as I browse through Facebook and Youtube all I see in the top comments are promises to annihilate a sect without mercy. My greatest disgust was when I saw a comment made on a Facebook status of a secular revolutionary activist, who said that justice is to punish those who committed murder, regardless of their sect. This particular comment had over two hundred likes, surpassing all others  on the above mentioned status, and it said“sorry but it themes that you didn’t suffer yourself from the loss of a child slaughter with machete then disfigured with rocks and feet. They very few Alawites who aided the revolution will be spared but the others will be killed along with their children to answer for their crimes against our sect”. I kept wondering in my head, how could two hundred people cheer for this horrific vengeance disguised as a perverted sense of justice?

It is safe to say that the majority of Syrians think in that sense today. Never did I feel alienated from all of them this way. They all now feel like hordes of Daleks (hateful aliens in the popular Sci-Fi series Doctor Who), full of fear and hate, shouting “EXTERMINATE…EXTERMINATE”. It saddens me to see every drop of humanity in them consumed by a war that has claimed the lives of over 80,000 people, and yet I fear what they will inflict upon everyone else in the days to come.

Once we were a home to some of the greatest civilizations humanity ever witnessed, we walked tall with our people’s innovation, science,philosophy, medicine and art. We gave safe refuge to hundreds of nations and cultures that fled to our land. We were the center of the old world and the hub for world trade. Our land was invaded countless times yet always welcomed and assimilated the invaders into its own complex mix of cultures. How could we shame such proud history with hate, and anger? How could we let religious myth poison our hearts and minds? Fuck your gods for if they are not false they stood idle watching tens of thousands of innocent lives suffer and die. Fuck Ali, Fatima, Hassan, Hussein, Aisha, Abu Bakir, Muawiyah and all Mohammad’s motherfucking companions, for they are no different from Assad, causing the death of people just so that they can cling to power. These corrupt power-seekers have been herding you like cattle for thousands of years, turning brothers against each other and all their heads combined are not worth a single hair from the head of an innocent child.

Here we stand, the very few human survivors on the new planet of Dalek Syria, calling out for help from the rest of the world. French archaeologist André Parrot once said “every civilized man has two home lands, his motherland and Syria”. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, in the name of the humanity we share, help us save the cradle of civilization from complete destruction and its people from devastating civil war. Raise awareness of the brutal crimes of the regime and demand international military intervention, before this spins further out of control into a fountain of death and suffering.

Wael Alkel

(Many thanks to Christopher Roche for editing and proof reading)

Syrian children sit in the rubble.

Syrian children sit in the rubble.

The Muslim World That Isn’t

Dear British Media,

I do wish you would stop referring to Muslim majority countries as “the Muslim world”. It’s not only divisive and unhelpful to dichotomise the planet into Muslim and non-Muslim, but completely nonsensical. It is no more “the Muslim world” than the UK is a Christian country or Europe a Christian continent, which they aren’t. Individual humans have opinions, countries and regions don’t, and they certainly don’t get them by virtue of perceived majority belief. Muslim majority countries are home to millions of those of other and no religious beliefs; these people count too, but get dismissed in the generalized narrative. Just as you recognise the multifaceted nature of Europeans and inhabitants of the Americas, and refuse to reduce them to a one dimensional and inaccurate label, please too extend that same understanding and courtesy to Muslims and non-Muslims living in the Middle East and North Africa.

The term is also particularly harmful in the present context. Talk of violence, anger and murder in “the Muslim world” has the implication that Muslims, as a homogeneous block, are rampaging and destroying without dissent, which is nonsense. Sensible, liberal and secular Muslims have spoken out against the moronic violence, hundreds of millions haven’t taken part in it at all, and yet they too become unwittingly represented by the worst and most destructive elements within their respective countries.

Kindly consider you preconceptions and prejudices, and act accordingly.

Yours faithfully,

Confused Ape x

We Won’t Be Silent!

In the face of religiously inspired and justified social control and human rights abuses, we will not be silent.

Xmas, Poop Throwing Chimps, Ugandan Schools and Joseph Ratzinger

Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, a Festive Festivus (two days belated), a wonderful Winter Solstice (3 days belated) and, of course, a very Merry Christmas (or Xmas) to one and all!

Christmas vs Xmas

An interesting little tidbit to start with, if only because its something I didn’t know until recently: the X in “Xmas” is neither in reference to the cross on which poor old Jesus of Nazareth is said to have whistled his last tune, nor a recent attempt by militant secularists (sic) to “take Christ out of Christmas”, as has been reported and is commonly thought. “Xmas” has, in fact, been used by pious Christians for centuries. The “X” originates from the Greek letter Chi, the initial of the Ancient Greek word “Χριστός” (transliteration: (khristós), which translates as “Messiah”, “the anointed one” or…”Christ”![1]

A Deserving Cause: Poop Lobbing Welsh Apes

Suzi, a resident Chimpanzee at the Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary

In the past couple of years it has become tradition within half of ConfusedApe’s family for Christmas presents to take the form of donations to a deserving charity. All of the obvious nicey-nicey altruistic mush aside, charitable donations also avoid the horror that is last minute Christmas shopping (take a trip to your local shopping centre on the 23rd of December next year for unequivocal proof that we really are nothing more than confused, no strike that, fucking clueless, apes). Another benefit is a post-Christmas absence of the otherwise inevitable hoard of useless tat bought by unimaginative relatives acting purely under the pressure of present giving convention.

This year donations on behalf of ConfusedApe’s relatives were made to two charities: the Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary and the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust. The former seems to do some wonderful work and is well worth a visit if you have the time and means. During our last venture there we had the pleasure of one particular cheeky chimpanzee, Tubman, throwing handfuls of mud and, I suspect, excrement at us whilst manically screaming. Video footage is available and will be added at some point in the future. Having gone to such lengths to make a lasting impression, it seemed only right that Tubman be rewarded. Accordingly he has now been adopted (in the sponsored sense; no social services involvement) for a year by ConfusedApe’s family.

Ugandan Humanist Schools

Whilst relatively well administered from the top, the Ugandan education system is overstretched, underfunded and riddled with imaginable compromise. The introduction of fee-free Universal Primary Eduction at the end of the last century contributed significantly to an overwhelming increase in the number of children attending primary schools, from 2.2 million in 1986 to 6.6 million in 1999.[2] Whilst this is unquestionably a significant improvement versus the status quo ante, most children depart the education system upon graduation from primary school, their parents or other family (~2 million children are orphaned by HIV/AIDs) unable to afford the necessary fees for the continuation of their education. According to the most recent figures available from UNICEF, over 80% of primary school age Ugandan children now attend a primary school, but less than 20% of their secondary school-aged counterparts have made the transition.[3] The problem is particularly pronouced in poorer rural areas. For those few children who are ‘fortunate’ enough to attend secondary schools, they are often segregated on the basis of religious belief, potentially fuelling inter-religious tension and certainly doing nothing towards an integrated society.

Pupils at the Mustard Seed SchoolWith all of this in mind, we’ve funded a scholarship at one of three schools supported by the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust. The schools make an enormous difference not only to the education and prospects of their pupils, but also to their health (previous donations have funded sources of clean water and facilities for the preparation of much needed wholesome meals) and the well-being and self-sustainability of the wider community, with locals offered employment in teaching, administrative and construction work. All administrative costs, including trips to visit the schools, are covered by the charity’s trustees, so 100% of any money donated gets to those who need it.

“The Pope”

At these times of year we come to expect old men wearing ridiculous clothing and holding even more ridiculous views to be inexplicably paid attention to by the news media. Sure enough, the Cardinal formally known as Joseph was given precious news programming time to spout the patently obvious, the wholly irrelevant, and the batshit insane, all whilst maintaining a level of condescension that’s difficult to attain without believing the guff you’re spouting is infallible by virtue of your party hat and costume.

Joseph Ratzinger, Covered in Gold, Tells Others to Pray for the Poor and NeedyAccording to the BBC (and thanks to Josh for sending this article over), Ratzinger requested that we all “see through the superficial glitter of this season and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem”. I just about managed not to giggle at a senior Catholic clergyman demanding that we ‘discover’ a small vulnerable child and then felt immediately guilty, not out of any respect for this charlatan or his empire but because its farcical catalogue of failure and demonstrable complicity with regards the cover-up of child rape is only a source of humour because the alternative is to cry. I digress.

The reason that this man and his organisation should be held in contempt (child abuse, homophobia, proliferation of HIV infection, etc. aside) is summed up quite well later in the article: “Wearing cream and gold vestments, the Pope…also prayed for those who would spend this Christmas in poverty and suffering.”[4] You could not make it up.

One day people will hopefully look back in bewilderment as to why anyone paid any attention to this cruel, callous hypocrite and his misogynistic, homophobic, death cult, the cause and maintainer of so much needless suffering and misery for the most vulnerable of our kin. In the meantime, a big fuck you to Joseph Ratzinger and a very happy Christmas (or Xmas, as you please) to everyone else.

Take care,

ConfusedApe x






Surprising (Absence of) Response to the Nigerian Anti-Gay Bill


Three weeks ago the Nigerian Senate passed, and broadened the scope of, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2011. The motivations, contents and consequences of the bill are discussed elsewhere. In summary though, this legislation, which still requires approval by the lower house and President, will worsen an already bleak situation for gay Nigerians by prescribing imprisonment not only for those found guilty of entering into a same-sex marriage, but so too those accused of same-sex public displays of affection. Friends, families and associates of the accused are also liable to be imprisoned, whilst any groups suspected of having a gay rights agenda will be banned.

It is immediately obvious that oppressed gay Nigerians will not be the only victims of this legislation, but too political opponents from whom the government would prefer national and international audiences do not hear. It seems quite likely that an accusation, or even generated suspicion, of homosexuality would suffice in the swift removal and silencing of individuals and groups who fail to cooperate with those in power.


In response to the Bill’s progression, I decided to write to the elected politicians for whom I am a constituent, asking that they take any diplomatic measures available to halt its ascension into law. Letters went sent to my local Member of Parliament, seven Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and twelve London Assembly Members (AMs). The letters sent varied only in the introduction paragraphs, in which reference was made to the commitments to sexuality equality made by their respective party leaders, where applicable. Below is an example sent to my MP, Theresa Villiers:

Dear Theresa Villiers,

I was dismayed and appalled to learn that Nigeria’s new anti-gay Bill
has just passed its First Reading in the House of Representatives after
being approved by the Senate a week ago. Considering the importance
that David Cameron has placed on tackling sexuality discrimination and
inequality, I hope that you too will take interest and action against
this alarming development in a Commonwealth member state.

Under the legislation same-sex marriage and civil unions are to be
banned, with 14 year prison sentences for participants and 10 years for
helpers and witnesses. Worse still, gay advocacy groups and even
same-sex public affection will banned. Any displays of affection
between members of the same sex could be punished with 10 year prison
sentences. This sweeping criminalisation contravenes both Article 42 of
the Nigerian constitution, which bans discrimination, and the African
Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Articles 2 and 3), which Nigeria
has signed and pledged to uphold.

Such discriminatory, repressive and inhumane legislation cannot be
allowed to enter the Nigerian statute books without unequivocal vocal
condemnation and challenge. I implore that you take whatever action
possible, at the very least by registering your opposition with the
Nigerian High Commissioner, to pressurise the Nigerian government to
halt their journey down this dreadful path. This is now an urgent
matter to which your prompt intervention is desperately needed.

Yours sincerely,

ConfusedApe {Name removed}


It has been just over two weeks since those letters were sent and I would like to briefly share with you the responses I have received thus far. In terms of party allegiance, those contacted breakdown as follows: 8 x Conservative, 4 x Labour, 4 x Liberal Democrat, 3 x Green and 1 x Independent (formally BNP). Ignoring automatic receipt emails, eight politicians responded. Unsurprisingly, three were Green Party politicians who were “extremely concerned”, “fully shared [my] sense of outrage” and who have all now made representations to the Nigerian High Commissioner. One, the Green MEP Jean Lambert, has also written about the issue on her website. Also not too surprising was the lack of response from the formally BNP but now independent London AM, Richard Barnbrook. (That said, I do recall a scandal over a film directed by Mr Barnbrook, which was variously described as “Gay porn” and “Marxist”. Perhaps I should have been more expectant of his support.)

More surprising were the responses from members of the three largest parties. Of the five other respondents, four were Conservatives (although one simply suggested that I refer the matter elsewhere). My local Conservative MP expressed her concern and pledged to contact both the Nigerian High Commissioner and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whilst two Tory MEPs enacted procedures at the European Parliament on the issue. One of the Conservative MEPs also outlined her efforts in overturning the ban on homosexuality in northern Cyprus.

Only one of the four Liberal Democrats responded (although she did co-sign a letter from the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and to the Heads of the European Commission delegations to Nigeria (and Cameroon), “asking that they put pressure on the relevant political authorities to stop the Nigerian bill from becoming law (and halt the number of arrests in Cameroon)).” The three LibDem London Assembly members, Mike Tuffrey AM, Dee Doocey AM and Caroline Pidgeon AM, all hid behind claimed limitations of remit, limitations which their Green Party counterparts seemed all too willing and able to ignore.

Most disappointing, as a party, however were Labour. Not a single one of their four politicians (two London Assembly Members and two MEPs) even bothered to acknowledge the letters, never mind pledge support or take any action.

It all seems rather topsy-turvy: the right coming out in support of human rights, liberals remaining rather muted and the (Labour) left struck decidedly dumb. Of course this ignores the commendable responses received from all contacted members of the undoubtedly Leftish Green Party and it is true that the sample size is far too small for us to draw any conclusions without resorting to unjustifiable extrapolation, but the results have been surprising nevertheless and will certainly contribute to my decisions at the ballet box next time around.

The First Post.


I don’t have much to say, and even less that you would likely be interested in knowing. This blog exists first and foremost for me. I have a terrible memory that all too often leads to significant frustration when new and exciting ideas (usually expounded by others, but occasionally my own) slip from my mind into an abyss whence little returns. Repetition and organisation of newly acquired information is known to facilitate consolidation and aid mental clarity. This will be my place do to just that, and most probably to release a little steam as and when required. You might not want to bother lingering here too long, but if you do, please don’t expect much resembling relevance or coherence. I am, after all, just another confused ape.