Kia ora:
we send special greetings to members in Christchurch and surrounding environs on the second anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Monthly Meeting: Tuesday 2 October
Open to the public – All interested people are welcome – bring a friend

Geoffrey Robertson

Member of the United Nations Justice Council
*** Please note the change of day and venue ***
Geoffrey Robertson QC, member UN Justice Council
Geoffrey delivered the Inaugural Christopher Hitchens memorial Lecture at the 2012 Melbourne Atheist Convention.
He has delivered ground breaking judgments on the illegality of recruiting child soldiers and the invalidity of amnesties for crimes against humanity.
This is a video presentation.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend..
Refreshments and nibbles provided
Come, share your views, and learn from others
Venue for meeting: Arthur Street Entrance, Thistle Hall, 293-295 Cuba Street (upper Cuba Street, Wellington.
We meet from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm
The venue and date have changed because the Department of Conversation staff suddenly informed us, just days before, that Turnbull House would close from Friday 24 August for earthquake strengthening and will not be available for at least 2 years.
We have been fortunate to find Thistle Hall at such short notice. The room, however, has proved a little small so we welcome suggestions for other venues.

Radio Access:
Humanist Outlook, 10.30 am, 783 kHz Wellington, on Saturday 13 October, 10 November, and 8 December 2012, and 5 January 2013.
Humanist Outlook is broadcast at 10:30 am on Access Radio, Wellington, 783 kHz, every fourth Saturday.
If you are outside the Wellington area, go to www.accessradio.org.nz to listen or to download as a pod cast after the event.

Previous August Meeting:
Mark Fletcher gave us a comprehensive talk about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, including a critique of her position on Islam. Ayaan has been influenced by her experience of Western politics where talking through a political stance contrasts with Somali politics where political positions are often resolved with violence. In Infidel Chapter 13, she writes ‘In Somalia, you attack. You hit first. If you wait to be hit, you will only be bullied more. I was taught that too.’ After helping to deal with a Somalia family’s situation she writes. ‘I cycled home thinking, “This is why Somalia is having a civil war and Holland isn’t.” It was all there. People in Holland agree that violence is bad. They make a huge effort to teach their children to channel aggression and resolve their disputes verbally. They had analyzed conflict and set up institutions to regulate it. This was what it meant to be citizens.’

Mark also showed some video clips of interviews and debates with Ayaan. She is a most able speaker.

It is distressing to listen to current news reports of Islamic violence that has erupted over a recent film, with protests occurring as near to us as Australia.

2012 AGM & Seminar:

AGM: Saturday 29 September 4.30 pm:
Mark Fletcher’s home 28 Meadowbank Drive Belmont. Please contact us if you would like to join our committee. We would be pleased to welcome you.

Seminar: Sunday 30 September 1.30pm – Level 4, Kingsgate Hotel, Wellington

Professor Jim Flynn, Otago University:
Humanism and Philosophy

Professor Jim Flynn, Otago University, will speak to us on Humanism & Philosophy. Professor Flynn has recently published Fate & Philosophy, July 2012. Chapter headings include “Is the good society possible?” and “Is free will possible?” The seminar room is on Level 4 of the Kingsgate Hotel. Awa Press will be present with Professor Flynn’s books for purchase and signing by Professor Flynn. There will be an opportunity to gather after the seminar for refreshments and if you wish to have a light meal at 5.15 pm. Kingsgate Hotel menus will be available before the seminar for you to make an order.

We will hold our seminar at the Kingsgate Hotel. Hawkestone St, Wellington, with a light meal afterwards.

Professor Flynn will explore themes from his current book: Fate and philosophy: A journey through life’s great questions (2012, AWA Press). His talk entitled “Humanism and Philosophy” is based on a secular humanist perspective

Topics:

  1. Does God or nature or anything else hand us our ideals or must we find them within?
  2. How can we argue against those who have anti-humane ideals?
  3. Is a good society possible, or does it self-destruct?
  4. Is free will possible?
  5. Does science rest on faith in the same way that religion does?
  6. What exists: Science versus religious experience.

Professor James Robert Flynn PhD FRSNZ (born 1934), Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, researches intelligence and is famous for his discovery of the Flynn effect, the continued year-after-year increase of IQ scores in all parts of the world. His discovery was profiled in a 2007 article in The New Yorker magazine.

Originally from Washington DC and educated in Chicago, he immigrated to New Zealand in 1963. The Flynn effect is the name given to a substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world. Test score increases have been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. In an interview in July this year Professor Flynn said that he has now found that women’s IQ scores are rising faster than men’s, but he’s not sure why.

One possible explanation is that women have a slightly higher potential intelligence than men and are only now realising it. Another is that women’s lives have become more demanding as they multitask between raising a family and going out to work. But Wellington poet Laurice Gilbert, a member of high-IQ society Mensa, thinks it could be because more women are coming out of their shells and embracing their intelligence.

Professor Flynn has written a number of books. His research interests include humane ideals and ideological debate, classics of political philosophy, and race, class and IQ. His books combine political and moral philosophy with psychology to examine problems such as justifying humane ideals and whether it makes sense to rank races and classes by merit. The Torchlight List published in 2010 proposes the controversial idea that a person can learn more from reading great works of literature than they can from going to university.

Evolutionary Psychology:
NZ Humanist Society and NZ Skeptics member Peter Clemerson will give a set of seven evening presentations on Evolutionary Psychology from Wednesday 3rd October at VUW. They will cover such subjects as: The Descent of Humanity, the Evolution of Morality, Our Emotions, Cognitive Abilities, and Sexuality and Mate selection. In other words, how and why did we become the human beings we are? Peter thinks that to understand our world we should know something about evolutionary psychology. He graduated BSc at Manchester University, Manchester, and worked in the information technology industry. Peter recently completed an MA degree at Massey University and continues at Massey as a PhD student. The sessions are from 6pm until 8pm with a break for refreshments. More details can be found at: http://cce.victoria.ac.nz/courses/11-evolutionary-psychology-a-beginners-guide

Female Genital Mutilation:
We have had two responses to the five enquiries to NZ medical organizations. The Royal N.Z. College of General Practitioners responded with a request for an article for their magazine Pulse. This article, written by Peter Clemerson, is included with this newsletter. The Royal A. and N.Z. College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have written to assure us that they have measures in place to counter this abhorrent practice.

Secular Education:
www.facebook.com/KeepReligionOutOfSchoolNZ and www.facebook.com/SecularEducationNetwork. Have you been keeping up with developments?

Obituaries:
Peggy Slater, of Khandallah, Wellington, an Honorary Life Member of the Humanist Society of NZ., died peaceably on Saturday 15 September age 98. Peggy was an early member of and former Chairperson of the Wellington branch of the Humanist Society of New Zealand and later a council member, the first Wellington Humanist Marriage Celebrant, and a long time campaigner for Voluntary Euthanasia and a MENSA member. Peggy was a regular attendee at Humanist meetings until several years ago. A private funeral will be followed by a celebration of Peggy’s life in the Khandallah Town Hall, Wellington, between 4pm and 7pm on Friday 28th September. All Humanist members warmly welcomed. Our thoughts are with Peggy’s family at this time.

William (Bill) McLeod, of Kilbirnie, Wellington, died peacefully on Saturday 15 September in the 9th decade of his life. Bill spent five years as the treasurer of the Humanist Society of New Zealand and continued to attend the occasional meetings until earlier this year. A non-religious memorial service for Bill will be held at 2 pm on Friday 21st September in the Baptist Church, Resolution Road, off Onepu Road, Lyall Bay.

Nepal
UTTAM NIRAULA

Establishing a Humanist School in Nepal

This article is about the Humanist School that Eleanor Middleton visited in Nepal earlier this year. On her return to New Zealand, Eleanor spoke about her experiences at a Wellington meeting of the Humanist Society of New Zealand. The school, previously named Harvard International School, has been renamed SOCH School.

Nepal is the youngest secular country in the world. A people’s movement in 2005 established a long awaited secular state in Nepal erasing the label of ‘the only Hindu country’ in the world. Though its constitution is now secular, yet all national institutions have been created during the earlier Hindu regime. The idea of Hinduism has been so deeply injected into the population that many people cannot think beyond it even after the secularization of the nation. Thus, in transition, Nepal realizes the need for a strong movement to make people aware about the importance of secularism and the creation of a science-based society. This realization has led to Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal going national.

Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal is a very active Humanist organization in Nepal. It is also a member organization of IHEU. It has been campaigning for secularism and against retrograde cultural practices in Nepal. It has also started working with the government to fight against violation of human rights in the name of religion and culture.

SOCH realised that scientific and rational thinking is essential from childhood. When a person has grown up with a religious and superstitious mindset, it is hard to make them realise the importance of free thinking even if they want to know. Thus, along with several activists, SOCH Nepal realized the dream of opening a Humanist school in Nepal to make children think freely without any preconceived notions. The mission of the school is to get children to enjoy the process of discovery and reflect upon the vast possibilities of a human being. It is not an anti-religion school, but one where students can think for themselves.

The school is called SOCH School. It was started in January 2012. Currently, 181 students from 4 years to 18 years are studying there. There are 26 staff members. Apart from the regular curriculum SOCH organizes online classes with international schools, international teacher volunteers visit the school to share ideas, and organize debates on scientific thinking and discovery etc.

SOCH Members have established a fund to sponsor poor children to study in the school. There are many brilliant children without access to good education. SOCH sponsors some of them. All management team members and advisors are from a Humanist background. Some of them are internationally renowned Humanists.

SOCH also offers accommodation to international volunteers who come and teach in our school. Utilising that facility, teachers from Australia, Scotland, and The Netherlands have already started volunteering in the school. This has helped students to understand and appreciate different cultures and broadened their minds. SOCH appeals to all Humanists to volunteer in this school if they can manage the time.

Most of the parents of the school’s children have a religious background. Therefore, it is difficult to convince them of the need for free thought. But SOCH Nepal is ready to tackle this problem as a movement based organization. It is always a challenge to work in a closed society using new ideas. But our mission is to make the coming generation in Nepal understand the need for free thought and scientific attitude for future prosperity. SOCH wants support from all Humanists around the world to achieve this mission.

Reproduced from Free Inquiry August/September 2012

Human Rights
PETER CLEMERSON

Female Genital Mutilation

This article was written for magazine of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

On the 1st January 1996, the New Zealand parliament incorporated an amendment to the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961, making the practice of Female Genital Mutilation

(FGM) illegal. Sections 204A and 204B were added to the Act to prevent the practice of FGM in New Zealand, to make it illegal to assist in any way in this practice, or to relocate a New Zealand citizen so the procedure could be performed outside New Zealand.

Examination of the Hansard accounts makes it clear that the intention of the amendment was both to prevent FGM being performed on any person in New Zealand and on any New Zealand citizen overseas. The law applies regardless of any consent that the person may have given or other reasons such as a cultural, religious, or other custom or practice, although it does allow some exceptions for specific medical reasons.

Although UNICEF reports that the practice of FGM is declining in some parts of Africa, it is still widely practised there, even when illegal, and also in west and south Asia. As a significant proportion of New Zealand’s refugee immigrants come from these parts of the world, the Humanist Society of New Zealand is anxious to ensure that FGM does not become an established practice in New Zealand. There is evidence that FGM continues to occur in western countries that have outlawed the practice. In France, such cases have resulted in prosecutions. In this regard, it is encouraging to note that Dr. Anwar-ul Ghani, the president of the Federation of New Zealand Islamic Associations stated that he and his organisation condemn the practice as “unislamic”.

We appreciate that the law, as we understand it, does not put an obligation upon anyone aware of a case of FGM in a child born in New Zealand to report it to the authorities. In this respect, New Zealand laws have fallen behind the legal systems of other counties with which we can compare ourselves. All Australian states have enacted legislation to make the reporting of child abuse mandatory, although the definition and the organisations to whom the abuse should be reported vary from state to state. Victoria, for example, has explicitly criminalised FGM and made reporting of it mandatory, indeed, reporting is mandatory by listed professional groups if on reasonable grounds it is believed that a child is at risk of FGM. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, Canada, has mandated their physician members to report cases to the child protection authorities even if they believe that FGM is only being contemplated for a child.

A New Zealand government green paper was published in 2011 in which mandatory reporting is mentioned as a possible response to child abuse but it does not specify particular types. On July 27th this year, the Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced a White Paper for Vulnerable Children to be released in October this year with public submissions to follow. However, there is no clear indication of when relevant legislation would pass through parliament, or indeed whether it ever will. The need for such mandatory reporting was recently emphasised by Garry Evans, the coroner investigating the deaths of the Kahui twins.

As far as Humanists are aware, all present reporting of child abuse by persons or organisations not closely connected with a child is voluntary.

As marriage is legal in New Zealand from the age of 16, if parents’ consent is forthcoming, girls born in this country after January 1996 are now reaching marriageable age. Later this year and from 2013 onwards, members of The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners may examine pregnant women who were born in NZ after January 1996 and who have been subject to FGM. This would have been carried out illegally.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand suggests that professional bodies such as the RNZCGP advise their members to report such cases, in advance of any mandating legislation, as they are the people most likely to encounter them. Advice to members currently emphasises cultural sensitivity where it is relevant, e.g., Aiming for Excellence: RNZCGP Standard for NZ General Practice, and we fear that such sensitivity might be used as a justification for inaction.

As the Crimes Act amendment mentioned above explicitly excludes cultural or religious practices as mitigating factors, such advice would be to report these cases of FGM to the police.

If this is regarded as too precipitous in advance of any mandating legislation, another recommendation could be to report only the fact of such cases to the RNZCGP who could compile statistics of occurrences and their severity (see http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/overview/en/index.html)

Data collection, avoiding multiple counting of individual cases, would reveal whether the practice is widespread. If necessary, more energetic action could be taken at a later date, assuming that new legislation fails to be enacted in the medium term.

In summary, the passage of time since the enactment of the 1995 Crime Act amendment could result in illegal cases of FGM coming to the attention of the members of the RNZCGP. The Humanist Society of New Zealand would like to encourage this body to provide advice to its members in accordance with the suggestions made above.