Saturday, February 25, 2006
Welcome to the 21st century.
Sharia is not something exclusive to Islam. Christian fundamentalists and conservatives have their own version of sharia, and they are just as willing to use government to push through their agendas. Polls have shown that Christian conservatives in the US would like to see all abortions illegal (regardless of the health of the mother); divorce, nonheterosexuality, and nonmarital sex illegal; corporal punishment of children *legal*; the death penality enforced in all states; and women relegated to the home.
There is a vague sense that if Americans would only return to the True Values of the Judeo-Christian Heritage, then everything would be all right again. America would return to its rightful place as worshipped master of the world, crime would evaporate, and everyone would eat their vegetables.
Which is so word-for-word an echo of the Islamic Wahhabist desire to return to their Golden Age.
What does democracy mean when a powerful minority group can force their religious ideologies on a secular majority? The Wahhabits don't claim to be democratic; but the American Christian fundamentalists do.
I am concerned that Canadian religious conservatives, including the roster of wingnuts in the Tory ranks, might take South Dakota as an example of what kind of sharia is possible in Canada.
The sooner we bring RU486 on the market, the better.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
The Big Fat Book of Offensive Religious Cartoons
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Spying on Peace Groups
Which American religious group has been under surveillance for 350 years? It's the Quakers. So last week, when Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy revealed that the Department of Defense has been spying on Burlington Quakers, it didn't come as a surprise. We're used to it.
Leahy's revelation came on the heels of the December 14th news that the National Security Agency spied on a Florida Quaker Meeting - labeled it a threat.
If you just heard about these outrages, you might ask why the White House cares about Quakers? Why expend public funds spying on a group that many Americans primarily associate with breakfast cereal?
The answer is that Quakers are liberal Christians who believe that Jesus taught his followers to work for peace on earth. We're against war and for justice. As a result, we disagree with the policies of the Bush Administration, as we do with the policies of most Administrations.
This got us in trouble early on. First, under Oliver Cromwell, in 1652, and then with King Charles II, we wouldn't join the English army. So we were spied upon, thrown in prison, and our Meeting Houses burned down. The persecution didn't end until 1689, when Quaker leader, William Penn, convinced King James II to sign the act of religious toleration. (Which, by the way, guaranteed freedom of religion for all faiths.)
In the meantime, many Quakers came to the American colonies hoping to find acceptance. While we did take sanctuary in New Jersey and Pennsylvania - founded by the same William Penn, we were persecuted in other states. This initiated an American tradition of spying on Quakers. We were under surveillance during the Civil War, the first and second World Wars, the Wars in Korea and in Vietnam. Why should the War on Terror be any different?
There are several Quaker practices that seem to drive politicians crazy, cause them to spy on us. But, it's not just American politicians. We were active in other countries like Germany, when the Nazis were in power, and Iraq, under the despicable Saddam Hussein. They, too, kept us under surveillance and, occasionally, imprisoned our representatives, or worse.
We hold three beliefs that incense politicians of all stripes. The first is that we don't agree that violence and war are the best way to get things done. Many Americans respond: Duh, no wonder you get hassled; violence is the American way and war is good for business.
We don't agree. More than that, we feel that it is our responsibility to let elected officials know that we don't accept their militaristic policies. We may sit silently in our Sunday Meetings, but we are vocal in the public arena. Quakers have the temerity to suggest that there may be a better way to bring about world peace than by threatening, or killing, those who disagree with us.
We have a second value that pushes the buttons of many politicians - we believe in equality. We hold that everyone should have a voice: young and old, black and white, gay and straight, men and women. Many of our leaders are women. (A grandmother was the organizer of the Florida anti-war meeting taped by the NSA.)
Finally, we hold a third belief that drives the powers that be completely bonkers - we believe in openness. Quakers take very seriously the teaching of Jesus that we should tell the truth all the time. We extend this to mean that we should open all of our meetings to everyone and that we should strive to be direct. While this tradition of openness gives us a certain cachet in the progressive community, it has often met with scorn in the political world. Many elected officials scoff: How can one do the public's business by being open and direct?
Despite criticism, we persist in our quaint practice of telling the truth. In Quaker-speak we call this, speaking truth to power. This means that if we are going to stage an anti-war protest - a frequent occurrence these days - we tell the authorities about it ahead of time. It also implies that if we are going to participate in acts of civil disobedience, such as blocking the entrance to the torture school - the Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning - we give prior warning. Quakers believe that directness is the key to building trust between adversaries: we should say what we mean and then doing what we say.
Sadly, the Bush Administration finds these Quaker beliefs to be threatening. They have joined a long list of Presidencies that find it necessary to keep us under surveillance. We're sorry that they feel this way and have a suggestion that may make their job easier.
Rather than tap our phones, videotape our gatherings with hidden cameras, or plant informers among us, why don't you do the obvious? Come into our meetings and ask us what we plan to do. We'll tell you the truth. We're Quakers.
Friday, February 10, 2006
One Picture, A Thousand Outcries
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Should Hinzman Stay?
Jeremy Hinzman's case isn’t simply whether a military defector from the US should be allowed to take refuge in Canada. It raises big questions about who or what the military is.
This week the Supreme Court will hear Hintzman's arguments that the War in Iraq is not a legal or ethical war, and that even as a soldier, he should have the right of conscientious objection to it.
On one level, it's cut-and-dry: either he stays or he goes, either he has the right or he doesn't. Canada took in thousands of draft dodgers during the Vietnam War, which suggests we should let him stay. However, those were not enlisted soldiers, so they had more of a case that they were conscientious objectors.
That’s on one level. But essentially, this case poses a much bigger question: Should soldiers have individual rights?
Tradition says No. Armies have to work as a single unit, and they can't tolerate soldiers making their own decisions. Military service is not a buffet.
Yet a slew of recent court decisions suggest that soldiers can be held individually accountable for their actions, even while following orders. The American soldiers who mistakenly bombed and killed four Canadian soldiers while on a routine air mission in Afghanistan faced penalties. The soldiers who ran the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq went to jail. Were these soldiers acting as individuals at these times, or were they just "doing their duty" as they understood it? In neither case did their supervisors face any penalties, which suggests that the "“single unit" idea doesn’t hold anymore.
At the same time, another group of American troops had to face the courts because they refused to follow orders while in Iraq because they had deemed the orders too dangerous. Nobody investigated whether these orders really were too dangerous: the only question was whether they refused to obey. But what if these troops had obeyed orders and then found themselves in a situation they couldn't handle and then went berserk, nutso, shooting from the hip? They would have been held individually responsible for the results of their actions. Basically, they were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.
(Even the soldiers who tried to stop the commander who had ordered the My Lai massacre in Vietnam originally faced courtmartial. Of course, once the media got wind of the story, they were transformed into national heros).
My point is that the military is the last accepted form of slavery in the West. Once persons sign up, they no longer own their own lives. They can be shipped anywhere and ordered to do anything – including killing and dying. They are not allowed to question the motives. They are owned body, mind and soul by the state.
This system may have worked well in the past, but in the age of individual responsibility and universal education, it's fraying. We expect soldiers to think for themselves and to make ethical decisions on the spot, under fire. By punishing them for unethical actions and bad judgment, the courts have in effect assigned them responsibilities as individuals. Yet soldiers don't have rights as individuals—and aren't even supposed to be individuals.
I suspect if the military ever unionized, the face of war would change forever. And in Canada, so would the level of equipment of our soldiers and the living standards of their families. They would be slaves no more.
It bears a bit of thinking.
However, in the Hinzman case, the decision is dicey. What if we let him stay? This isn’t just a “What would the Americans say?” decision. If Hinzman can conscientiously object to a particular war as an enlisted soldier, then so can any Canadian soldier.
Maybe that's just too weird for Canadians to deal with.Or maybe it’s about time.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
The Trouble with Normal
To Westerners, rioting about a cartoon isn't Normal. But in an empty economy with no future, too much sand, too much pride, and too many guns, it is.
Normal isn't always normal.
Normal is the reason why IMHO democracy can't be parachuted into violent or totalitarian countries. It just won't take. Normal is very resilient. Look at Russia: from czarist rule to Marxist revolution to Lenin and Stalin to today, it's totalitarianism all the way. On the other hand, look how quickly the US recovered from the 9/11 attacks. Look at
Ironically, under the Wahabi doctrines that have taken over militant Islam, violent eradication of non-Muslims and their culture is the only way to usher in a return of the golden age of Arabic history -- an old, calm, strong Normal. If they take over the world again and return to the purist Islamic ways of the 7th century, God will forgive them for all their wrongs of the past and give them a better future.
It's their New Normal.
That's another trouble with Normal.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Gomery: A Canadian Perestroika
The system still works.
But the Gomery Reports show how easily the system can morph into a slimebog.
By definition, the role of the public service is to serve the public. Not the government. It's supposed to be an independent government arm of service delivery, research, and support. Yet slowly over the past two decades, the public service has been twisted into the servant of the government in power.
What's the difference?
Public servants who advise the government in power are supposed to "speak truth to power." They do the research and present the facts on the issues to the policy-makers. But insiders in the public service have told me that normally now they are expected to provide information to justify a policy decision that has already been made. If they present facts that don't support the policy idea, then they are sent back to edit it. Ministers get angry at what they see as "partisan" public servants -- in other words, public servants who try to serve the public interest.
In one case, a department presented facts that argued against a certain policy idea, but the minister went on to implement the decision anyway (which is a minster's right: he or she doesn't have to act on the public service's information). But after the decision was made, the minister required the same department to write the documents to support the decision.
Major role confusion. Political interests are like a vampire on the neck of truth.
There are other problems that reinforce this government-servant role. Heads of departments used to rise up through the ranks of the department so that they were familiar with the information and tasks before they assumed leadership. Now heads of departments are career MBAs, interested in lateral moves to rise to the top faster. They rarely stay with one department more than two years. So in effect, these heads are not interested in the department: just in their careers. They are sycophants to the government that directs their career path.
I'm not sure that these two issues have been dealt with in plain enough terms in the Gomery Reports. However, Gomery has taken on the whole notion of ministerial accountability, because it has become ministerial ubercontrol of the public service. We could blame the public service, but we have to place bigger blame on the governing parties for abusing ministerial power and riding the public service like a mule. Perhaps once this leash is cut, the public service will be able to return to its former independent role: helping the government to avoid making stupid mistakes with our money and our future.
I'm just glad it all happened.