Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Humanist Newsletter – August 2020

Kia ora: In the May 2020 Newsletter there was an account of the arrest and detention of Murabak Bala, the President of the Nigeria Humanist Society. Now in August 2020 Murabak is still incarcerated. Pleas from his wife for news of her husband and the father of her young baby go unheeded. The Kano Police Chief defies Court orders to allow his lawyers to see him. A faithful friend continues his vigil of placing a Facebook post every day.

Today’s post: 29 July is Day 92 of Nigeria’s shame

Between Murabak Bala, who made a facebook post describing prophet muhammad as a terrorist, and members of Boko Haram, who have not only challenged the the sovereignty of Nigeria, but killed millions of Nigerians, and destroyed properties worth billions of naira, who would you prefer that the Nigerian government release and compensate?

A sane and humane individual will opt for Bala who only exercised his right as a Nigerian, as a human being. However, the Nigerian government and majority of Muslims feel that Mubarak Bala should be killed while members of Boko Haram are released and compensated. This alone, should tell you that we are leaving among wolves.

A professor of political science, a high ranking member of the Islamic community in Nigeria once praised Boko for choosing a good name, ‘Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (Arabic: جماعة أهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد‎, “Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad).’ However, he criticized them for killing Muslims. I remember him saying, all paths adopted by Muslims to serve allah shouldn’t be criticized because, at the end, it is for Allah’s glory. All must be interpreted as a form of worship. This way, he endorsed the madness displayed by all Muslim sects. Even now, as I write this, his voice resonates in my head.

Again, this ought to tell you the level which Islam has corrupted our society. The rule of law is disregarded by those saddled with the responsibility to enforce it because they desire to protect a foreign religion which devalues human life, promotes division, and war. Also, a significant proportion of the population keep mute in the face of an illegality against one of their own, because he seeks to destroy the opium which has kept them slumbering.

All these, reinforces Mubarak’s views, and brings to the fore, the malevolence of Islam. #FreeMubarakBala

It is also a sad month that Erdogan, President of Turkey, has reinstated Hagia Sophia as a Mosque. This 537 Byzantine Cathedral was established as a museum in 1935 by the secular Turkey of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  

2020 Humanist NZ AGM 3 August 2020 – 6.30pm Thistle Inn

The 2020 AGM will be preceded by a talk ‘Unsettling Pakeha Fragility’ by Penny Leach. This presentation is from Penny’s thesis towards her Master of Arts in Politics at Massey University NZ. Below is the abstract to Penny’s thesis.

“In this thesis, I explore the way that Pakeha (settler) identity can act as a barrier to, or alternatively, as motivation for, engaging with colonialism and decolonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand. I also discuss Pakeha conscientisation, and how Pakeha can ¯continue to hold ourselves accountable on this non-linear journey. I construct a composite epistemology drawing from interpretivism with an explicitly structural element, critical feminism and action research with a Baradian twist. This is used to explore the journeys of seven participants grappling with being Pakeha, discovering their complicity in colonial structures and practices, and imagining different ways of being and decolonised futures. I search for their edges of comfort, and at times, our conversations enable an evaluation of previously uninterrogated positions. As a Pakeha researcher, studying other Pakeha, while trying not to re-entrench colonial structures, I am conscious of the need to try to engage ethically in this topic alongside my participants as we work on ourselves and each other. The Baradian action research element imagines participants as accomplices in a broader project of understanding our complicity in colonialism and disrupting our own Pakeha defensiveness. This approach accounts for the inevitability that our encounters facilitate change, in both the research and the participants, through involvement in the thesis. I draw heavily on literature across the themes of whiteness, white fragility, settler colonialism, Pakeha identity, ignorance, uncertainty, discomfort and ethical engagement. I find that there is a high degree of alignment between the theory and the experiences of my participants. This holds both in terms of the problem space they recognise in Aotearoa, and the way they navigate complicity, seek to make space, catch ongoing colonial processes in their own ways of being and reach toward uncertain futures.”

If you have an interest in promoting humanism in NZ we would welcome you onto our committee. With this new era of Zoom you do not need to be Wellington based. If there are issues you would like raised at the AGM please outline and send to

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Distant But Together

A Virtual Celebration of Humanism American Humanist Association 2020 Conference

This online Conference replaces Miami 2020, the Humanist International World Congress and General Assembly, which has been cancelled because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Florida has had a total of 400,000 cases of Covid-19, with 65,000 in Miami alone. As we know, the pandemic continues in the USA.

This Virtual Conference will take place on Saturday, August 8th at 11:00am – 6:30pm Eastern (8:00am – 3:30pm Pacific).

For our NZ TIME ZONE this is Sunday 9 August from 3.00 am until 10.30 am. Details of speakers and registration can be found at Once registration is completed, a Zoom link will be forwarded to enable online participation.

The 2020 General Assembly will now be held at the large meeting room at the Humanists International offices in London on Friday 16th October 2020 at 12noon. This will be a basic, business-only General Assembly with the minimum number of items to allow for business to be conducted quickly and efficiently.

End of Life Choice Act Referendum

This Act gives people with a terminal illness the option of requested assisted dying. Parliament passed the End of Life Choice Act, but it will only come into force if more than 50% of voters in the Referendum vote ‘Yes’

Humanist NZ has prepared the following Questions and Answers also featuring on the Humanist NZ Facebook page

Q: But children could have their parents killed for the inheritance.

A: There is a huge difference between killing people who ask for death under appropriate circumstances, and killing people without their permission. The bill sets out that people requesting an assisted death have to have two medical practitioners and a psychiatrist approve the request. There’s a process for health practitioners if they suspect someone has been put under pressure to request an assisted death. Advanced age is not a reason for the approval of a request for an assisted death. The eligible person is the person in control, and is responsible for choosing the time and place for the procedure.

Q: Vulnerable people will be pressured to end their lives.

A: In the End of Life Choices Bill welfare guardians can’t make decisions for the person in their care. Health practitioners are not able to initiate any conversations about assisted dying. To be eligible, the person requesting an assisted death must be suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end the person’s life within 6 months; and is in an advanced state of irreversible decline in physical capability. Mental disorders or mental illnesses, disabilities of any kind and advanced age are not criteria to approve a request for an assisted death.

Q: But it happens anyway – we all know doctors give a little extra morphine at the end of someone’s life.

A: If this is the case, then why object to having more safeguards in place to protect vulnerable people? The End of Life Choices Bill ensures that the person can be fully in control of the process.

Q: But suicide is legal anyway.

A: Some people are unable to end their own lives because of the nature of their illness or disease. For people who have a progressive disease if they are unable to request an assisted death, they may choose to end their own lives earlier than they’d want to but while they’re still physically able to. Instead of dying in secret and alone, an assisted death means that whanau and friends can support the person at the end of their lives.

Q: Against the will of god?

A: 48% of New Zealanders stated in the 2018 census that they had no religion. If your personal beliefs are that an assisted death is against the beliefs of your religion this view shouldn’t be imposed on others who don’t share your beliefs.

Q: What if they change their minds?

A: The End of Life Choices Bill is clear that throughout the process health practitioners have to regularly discuss other options for end-of-life care. There’s a clear process laid out for ensuring the person is able to rescind their request at any point.

Q: We should have proper palliative care.

A: Assisted dying is not a replacement for palliative care. People who support assisted dying also support quality palliative care. The aim is to reduce an individual’s suffering, and respecting a person’s right to be treated as an autonomous human being. The End of Life Choices Bill allows for more choices for individuals. Palliative care will not always be an adequate solution for all people – for example some people may not want to go into a hospital, others would prefer to die while they are fully alert and able to say goodbye to their family.

Q: It is against the Maori world view.

A: In pre-colonial Māori society there was a form of euthanasia, where death was sped up for people who were incurably suffering. There’s no one overriding tikanga that is permanently unchanging and should be rigidly adhered to.

MP Willie Jackson told Parliament that three high-profile Māori leaders he had spoken with said “they were tired of hearing this was a violation of our culture”.

“All were unanimous that in their view tikanga evolves, tikanga changes and there is no one tikanga,” he said.

Q: Not in the person’s best interests?

A: A well-designed system for euthanasia will ensure that patients are aware of their rights and that health practitioners assess the patient properly. The process is designed to ensure that person requesting an assisted death is not rushed.

Q: Health practitioners shouldn’t be forced to perform procedures to which they object.

A: In the End of Life Choices Bill health practitioners are not under any obligation to assist any person who wishes to exercise the option of receiving assisted dying. Employers cannot punish employees who have a contentious objection to assisted death. If a health practitioner has a contentious objection the person requesting an assisted death can request a list of a replacement medical practitioners.

Q: If we allow voluntary euthanasia then soon, we’ll allow involuntary euthanasia.

A: This is a slippery slope argument – if we allow something relatively harmless today, we may start a trend that results in something currently unthinkable becoming accepted. There is a huge difference between killing people who ask for death under appropriate circumstances, and killing people without their permission. The End of Life Choices Bill sets out proper regulations and control mechanisms to be put in place to allow for voluntary euthanasia on request.

Education and Training Bill: This Bill was discussed by the Committee of the whole House on 22 July. Following this, the 3rd Reading was also passed on the 22 July. The Bill just awaits the Royal Assent. Clause 56 remained included in the Bill. This Clause allows for opting in to Religious Instruction rather than the previous opting out. Though there is disappointment that recommendations to remove religious instruction completely from state schools this is a significant achievement. Opt-in will cause a significant drop in the number of people who sign up for RI. Our secular community will still need to campaign for a complete repeal of religious instruction. We did it for blasphemy, we  can do it for religious instruction.

·   A little piece of History: The massive work of the Secular Education Network (SEN) follows on from the work of Jack Mulheron (1924-2006), secretary, and others on the Committee for the Defence of Secular Education (CDSC). CDSC was formed in 1978. They were particularly concerned that schools were being used by the CEC to push their sectarian doctrine, and that the religious programmes of the CEC were being used during official school hours under the heading “Moral and Religious Education.” It is good to remember Jack at this time with the Education and Training Bill progress and with the recent death of Jack’s wife Soni Mulheron. We pass on condolences to Jack and Soni’s family. The following link is to an article in the August 2012 Humanist NZ newsletter which outlines previous long-standing activism to remove religious instruction from NZ’s state schools.

·       Humanists International: Humanists at Risk :Action Report released June 2020: We are familiar with the Freedom of Thought Report first published in2012. In 2016 an on-line edition was introduced. The Report examines every country in the world for its record on upholding the rights and equality for non-religious people. Issues of legal discrimination and outright persecution and violence are considered. Until NZ repealed the NZ Blasphemy Law in 2019, we featured in this report. This new Humanists at Risk Report exposes a lack of separation between state and religion, as well as an array of tactics used against humanists, atheists and non-religious people in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka to limit their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly .In these countries, Humanists and atheists face intimidation, threats, arrest and prosecution, and even death, for sharing their views on social media. For some, while challenging legislation is important in the long-term, their most immediate concern is simply achieving recognition and respect. The full report can be viewed at:

·             Gaylene Middleton

Peter Bacos,

Westernization and Laicization from the Ottoman Empire to a Secular Republic in Turkey

This is the part two of Peter Bacos’s talk given at the Thistle Inn on the 8 June 2020 on the

modernising reforms of Mustafa Kemal to create the secular industrial nation of Turkey

The French Revolution was the first great movement of ideas of the Christian west which had a real effect on the Muslim world; it found a favourable reception among the elites and the thinkers and affected profoundly all the layers of Islamic society. Despite the long confrontation between Christianity and the Islamic world the great upheavals which Europe had earlier known, such as the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation had excited no echo and no reaction among the Muslim peoples. There are two things that they have not wanted to imitate from their neighbouring countries, printing and clock making. There were two reasons for this; first Holy Scripture would no longer be Holy Scripture if it were printed and that is why out of respect they wished to conserve it in manuscript; and clock/watch making would diminish the role of the muezzin for they were responsible for calling the faithful to prayer at the mosque at designated times. The banning of printing in Turkish or Arabic continued until the beginning of the 18th century. The first book appeared in 1729; when the printing press was closed in 1742, 17 books had been published the majority of which were in Turkish and dealt with history, geography, and questions linguistic. The printing presses re-opened in 1784 and from then on, they multiplied rapidly in Turkey. Their attraction to the French revolution must be attributed to its laicity; the Revolution was the first great social upheaval of Europe to have found an intellectual expression purely non–religious. Laicity in itself has nothing particularly seductive for Muslims but in a movement western which was not Christian, indeed anti–Christian and of which the principal sectors wanted to emphasise the divorce with Christianity the Islamic world would hope to find the secret of the power of the west without compromising its own beliefs and traditions. Soon commenced a process that with time was going to transform the aspect, the identity, and the hopes of all of Islam. It is during the years 1792–1807, from the very first reforms of Sultan Selim 111 to his deposition that the conceptions of the west penetrate for the first time with force in the Ottoman empire.

The most important channel of transmission of these ideas was military instruction. In the previous centuries Islam had suffered many defeats at the hands of the west because in domains like engineering, navigation, and artillery it was vastly inferior. Selim III introduced a vast reform of his armies in order that they may rival their adversaries as much by its equipment as by its training and efficacity. Selim had reserved a central place in his projects to new schools, military and naval, which dispensed a training in artillery, fortification, navigation, and administration. The French help played a considerable role in it; French officers served as professors and teachers, all the pupils must learn French while that the European library of some 400 volumes acquired for the occasion was almost entirely French and included a copy of la Grande Encyclopédie. From all this was born a new social element, a corps of young officers of the army and navy, familiarised with certain aspects of western civilisation, by study, reading and personal contacts, knowing at least one European language, generally French but sometimes Italian, and habituated to consider western experts as their mentors for methods new and better. These men could no longer, like the majority of their contemporaries despise the infidel and barbarous west from the summit of a comfortable and unassailable ignorance. However, these reforms met stiff resistance and a mutiny broke out among some of the soldiers when they were forced to adopt European style uniforms. Selim was deposed and a year later Mahmud II ascended the throne. He was determined to continue the reforms of his predecessor and this sultan would not be contraried; he promulgated a new edict ordering the creation of a new style army in the European manner, and when this led to a mutiny of the janissaries in Constantinople, the praetorian guard of the Sultan he had them massacred. Between the extermination of the janissaries in 1826 and his death 13 years later, Mahmud embarked on a vast program of reform which laid down the path that all the modernisers of Turkey would take in the 19th and also in the 20th century. So, Mustafa Kemal was not the first man to modernise Turkey as is mistakenly assumed, but he was revolutionary in his approach to religion.

The following year, 1827, the Sultan sent cadets of the army and the navy into various European capitals, heralds of a vast procession of Turkish students in Europe who on their return were going to play a role of immense importance in the transformation of their country. The same year a school of medicine was opened at Istanbul which must train doctors for the new army. The school included a preparatory stage, giving the equivalent of a primary and secondary education laic, the first ever in Turkey; the courses were given in Turkish and French and a certain number of professors came from Europe. Between 1831–1834 two other military schools were opened, the School of Imperial Music one of whose first professors was Giuseppe Donizetti, the brother of Gaetano, the famous opera composer. More important was the School of Military Sciences, which saw itself as the Saint–Cyr of the Ottoman army and imitated as much as circumstances permitted its French model. There also the foreigners played a role essential in the teaching, and the practice of a European language, generally French was the prerequisite for these studies. Up till now the Sultan had concerned himself only with military education, but now he turned his attention to the primary and secondary teaching of the ensemble of the civilian population. Another series of reforms helped the sultan in his politics of centralisation, the amelioration of communications. In 1831 appeared the first version of the Moniteur Ottoman, in French naturally directed by a Frenchman; a Turkish version followed a few months later. The reading of this journal was imposed on the public service. It permitted the Sultan to make his political views and his objectives known to his civil servants, and became even more effective with the putting in place of a postal system from 1834. One laid out new roads and the introduction of the telegraph in 1855 and of the railway in 1866 were going to considerably reinforce the centralisation of the state.

A new constitution was granted in1876 but Abdülhamid II abolished it in 1878. Though violently opposed to ideas liberal and constitutional the new padishah did not oppose himself in any way to reforms and westernization in which he saw the means of reinforcing the Ottoman empire and its power. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was during the first years of his reign that the movement of the Tanzimat, reforms legal, administrative and pedagogic reached their apogee; at the same time tendencies already noticeable at that earlier epoch towards a new despotism, centralised and absolute became even more entrenched. It is in higher education of which his Grand Vizir multiplied the establishments and the students, that he recorded his most remarkable success. The school founded in 1859 for the training of civil servants was reorganised and expanded in 1877 while its subject matter was revised to include modern subjects. Far from staying there, Abdülhamid created 18 new establishments of higher and professional teaching including the schools of finance (1878), law (1878), beaux arts (1879), commerce (1882), civil engineering (1884), veterinary sciences (1889), police (1891), customs (1892) and a new school of medicine (1898); some of these institutions proved ephemeral but in their ensemble they left a lasting imprint. The foundation of a Turkish university was going to crown this ambitious edifice. This project, caressed since 1845 had come up against numerous difficulties and had known several false starts. It was only in August 1900 that the Darülfünun, that one will call later the University of Istanbul opened its doors; Turkey acquired in this way the first modern university truly indigenous of the Muslim world.

When Abdülhamid II acceded to the throne Turkey possessed only some hundreds of kilometres of railway track. The first line, which was a British concession, connected Smyrna to Aydin which was inaugurated in 1866 and participated in the development of Anatolia of the south–east. From 1885 the railways multiplied in Turkey especially under the impulsion of foreign concessionaires. In 1913 the empire possessed only 6,246 kms of railway less than the kingdom of Belgium whereas at the same period France and Britain had over 50,000 each. When, 12 August 1888 the first direct train quit Vienna for Istanbul a new breach opened in the crumbling wall which separated Turkey from the west.; the traffic on the new line, regular and direct accrued year by year especially with the putting into service of the special international train that was called the Orient Express. The eastern dimension of the empire was symbolised by the railway of the Hejaz connecting Damascus to Medina; commenced in 1900 it was financed by donations from Muslims the world over and played an important part in the pan-islamic politics of the sultan. Turkey showed herself less interested in the construction of roads and the development of the postal service enjoyed only limited success. On the other hand the telegraph spread rapidly; like so many other inventions and innovations the telegraph arrived with war. It was in effect the English and the French who installed the first telegraph lines in Turkey during the Crimean War; the first message expedited from Chumna to Istanbul via Edirne and from there towards Europe, in September 1855 announced that, “ the allied forces have entered Sebastopol.” The Turks understood rapidly the value of this new means of communication. The war over, the Frenchman, Delarue, who had laid the line Edirne–Istanbul, received a concession to extend the network to other regions of the empire.

Kemal was born in Salonika, now part of Greece in the year 1881, although biographers are not sure about the exact date. His father was a junior civil servant who tried his hand at business with disastrous consequences. He claims his father, who died when he was a boy was a freethinker but that might just be an embellishment to give authenticity to his own unbelief; his mother was however a devout Muslim, We don’t know where Mustafa got his scepticism towards religion from but his education must surely have played a critical role. From the age of 6 he attended a primary school which based its teaching on science, not just the Koran. After that he went to a military school; these schools which had been transformed by Ottoman reformers, often with foreign advisers, were free of social prejudices and away from religious influences. They had become the most modern establishments of the Ottoman Empire. He learnt to speak French from an early age; his German was never as good, and as his biographers say nothing about English I assume he could not speak it. In 1896 he entered the Military College of Monastir (Solonika) and three years later the Imperial School of Military Engineering at Istanbul, which was organised on the model of Saint Cyr, the Sandhurst of France. During his studies at the academy he became interested in the theories of Auguste Comte whose influence on many Ottomans was great. Like many other officers strongly influenced by Positivism he became interested in the works of French philosophers of the 18th century, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and the Encyclopaedists. Other authors he read were Alphonse Daudet, Balzac, and a number of works of H G Wells in French, one of which he had five editions of. He and his co–disciples denounce with virulence certain traditional aspects of Ottoman society and direct most of their criticism against the Sharia.

Mustafa Kemal was appointed military attaché at Sofia, Bulgaria in 1913 and this marked a turning point in his life. Previously he had had a brief visit to Paris, but this was the longest period he would spend in a western capital. Sofia was a Balkan city of no great distinction, but it had a western veneer and Kemal was enchanted. In the 1880’s the Turkish city had been razed to the ground, and boulevards, avenues, parks and gardens had been laid out in the European manner; its yellow stuccoed architecture had an elegant rococo air, suggestive of a small German principality. At Sofia he discovered a taste for dance; a modern man must know how to dance and once president he will give great balls to which all those who wish to make a career in republican Turkey must go to make a good impression. One night he was taken by a friend to the opera to see Carmen. He was very impressed not just because he was invited into the Royal Box. This was western civilization, there was nothing like it in Turkey; Istanbul barely had a theatre, let alone an opera house. Years later, as president, he would have opera houses built in Ankara and Istanbul. Another impression made on him was that women did not wear the veil; Turkish women should be freed from the bonds of slavery which is what marriage meant to them in Islamic society.

The transformation of the mosque Hagia Sophia into a museum by presidential decree in 1934 after 431 years of consecration to the Muslim religion marks the salvo of a new, and last, great offensive against Islam. The decree proceeded from the idea that secularisation of the prestigious mosque, in which are buried several sultans, would permit to relativise the religion by making it clear that Islam is only one part of the identity of the building; the Greek Orthodox aspect of the building was restored by the Byzantine Institute of America. The state was making clear that Islam was only one phase in the history of the Turkish people. Ataturk flirted with the communists but he never wished to abolish religion like the Bolsheviks. The French have a phrase anti–clerical and that best describes his politics towards it; he wanted to make religion a personal matter and free it from unreasonable practices. As far as his own personal beliefs were concerned, he was far more dismissive. In Istanbul he used to drink, dance, and carouse the nights away till the small hours of the morning at the Park Hotel, a superb establishment overlooking the Bosphorus, besides which there was a mosque with a minaret. Up till then when the muezzin chanted his prayer the music and the dancing stopped out of respect. But once when Kemal was drinking at his table the muezzin’s cry, Allah Akbar would be heard he said simply, “It is inconvenient. Remove the minaret.” And the minaret was taken down that night! I think it’s fair to say he had nothing but contempt for religion.

And what of the legacy of Ataturk? His successor as president Ismet Inonu abandoned the laicism pure and harsh of Ataturk which did not prevent him from losing the election in 1950.There was the return of chaplains, the reintroduction of religious teaching at the request of parents, and the creation of a theological faculty at the University of Ankara; the religious broadcasts appear on radio and according to some sources 5000 new mosques were constructed and twenty religious schools opened. At the same time a law was adopted inflicting three years’ imprisonment on anyone who will attack or insult the memory of Ataturk. There have been three coups mounted by the army, in 1960, 1971, and 1980, and always in the name of preserving or protecting Kemalist ideals; some commentators have described the Turkish model as, “democracy with bayonets.” Politicians still use him as a touchstone, though with different motives. In appearance though he has preserved all his value sacramental, even totemic. His portrait is displayed in all public places, ministerial offices, and grocery stores. His bust and his most symbolic declarations are omnipresent and everyone thinks it normal and even legitimate to find the face of Ataturk on scholarly manuals. However, many believe that with a resurgent Islam we are witnessing the twilight of Kemalism and President Erdogan’s actions have only increased this trend in the last decades.