Friday, 21 November 2014

Interview With Raif Badawi's Daughter

Raif Badawi's daughter, Rajwa. (source)
Ex-Muslim Moroccan Christian evangelist Brother Rachid has already released a video interview with jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar along with some short clips of their children. That one looks compelling, but is in Arabic and lacks any English subtitles.

Well, just a couple of days ago, Brother Rachid released a more complete interview with Raif's daughter, Rajwa in Arabic with English subtitles. In it, he appears to be visibly disturbed by the situation and perhaps also struck by the girl's obvious stoic bravery after two years of having to deal with her father in jail and now being lashed weekly.

This video along with the the previous one seems to be a message directly to Saudi Arabia and Arabic speaking people within and without Saudi Arabia.


Oh, and the Canadian government's Office of Foreign Affairs and Office of Religious Freedom is useless against $audi Arabia -- even when his wife and children are now living in Sherbrooke, Quebec!

Feeling motivated?

Here's information on how to write the King of Saudi Arabia.

Here's how to leave a telephone message with the Saudi ambassador and send them a fax too (bottom of post)!

Sign this petition at Change.org.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Alberta Far Right Party Strikes Down Equality Statement: Atheist VP Communications Resigns

Terry Lo looking awesomely dapper in his outfit before attending Hullabaloo 2014. (source)
Terry Lo looks like a pretty fun guy, according to his Twitter feed. My cursory look at this, along with his blog, Calgary  Dreamer, really makes me wonder how he ever fit into the creepy, extremist and rather theocratic Alberta Wildrose Party. If I'm to understand Alberta politics, Progressives actually voted for the somewhat not crazy conservative party so these totally crazy social conservatives didn't get into power.

Well, just yesterday, Lo posted his resignation from the post of VP of Communications in a post on his blog.
Today, I made a small stand for what I believed in, leading to what probably was the shortest time I’ve ever held office as VP Communications for the Wild Rose Party in Calgary-Glenmore, and the end to my association with the party as well. Being the surrogate dad to a gay son, Asian, AND atheist, I was always an unusual member of the party. But a few events in the last year made me realize that I was in a place that was morally (to me) untenable. I resigned today with no reservations.
Uhm... yeah... not a great match. How does this sort of thing even happen? In his official resignation letter he points out the problems with this party.
As a member who is Asian, Atheist and parent of a LGBT son, I hoped to change the ill perception that resulted in the Lake of Fire debacle. When our leader, Danielle Smith, had championed the inclusion statement in the 2013 AGM, I had truly believed that I was a member of the right party, and it was in this spirit that I had made my decision to serve the party in the best way I saw fit.

But even despite what I saw as an appalling misstep in defeating the 2014 vote re: GSAs and the protection of LGBT youth against bullying, I still had hoped to help change the tone and give an inclusive message to the public at large. After all, if one such as me could be a member, then anyone can be a part.
But in the time between my election and now, several events at the Glenmore Rally and during the by- elections has led me to believe that I was mistaken, and as such, find myself at this decision. The final breaking point was the revocation of the inclusion statement at the AGM this past weekend DESPITE our leader’s own recommendation, and how it used to show that WR was truly an inclusive party.
Huffington Post explains how the party held a vote during the Glenmore Rally where they decided to remove a statement of inclusion that would essentially apply to all races, religions (or no religion), LGBT people etc. -- you know, human beings.
Party members on the weekend voted against adopting as policy a statement supported by Leader Danielle Smith that affirmed the rights of everyone regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation and other differences.

The expanded definition had been held up by the party for a year as the shining example of a new moderate centrism palatable to Albertans across the political spectrum.

Instead, members voted Saturday to go with a broader policy to recognize that "all Albertans have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities."

In the 2012 election, the party appeared to be on the road to winning when it was derailed by controversies that included comments by one of its candidates who, in a blog, had urged gays to repent or face an eternity in hell's "lake of fire."
That's right... "Lake of fire!" You'll find Lo's reaction to universal inclusion being dropped at the  Glenmore Rally in this picture he posted on the blog post.


Lo identifies as many atheists I know do -- as a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. I don't consider myself a conservative, but we need more conservatives like Lo! Really, the right wing has gotten downright nutty.
I’ve always seen myself as a fiscal conservative, but socially liberal. I believe in a balanced budget, responsible use of the public purse and more. But I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m a strong supporter of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and a firm rejection of organized religion. I would suppose that would make me a moderate of sorts. I also try to emulate and follow a modern version of chivalry, whereas the highest aspirations of a person should be in service of others, and built a name in support of charity and goodwill in Calgary. I despise anyone who will not support the strength of their convictions, and I really do try to back my own acts come what may.
In actually, this breed of conservative -- the kind I can get along with -- is a rare breed these days in both Canada and the US... okay, especially in the US. Lately, conservative has come to mean Bible-thumpin', anti-choice, anti-LGBT, but this wasn't always the case. He felt out of place in the PC party for social agenda reasons and out of place from the NDP party for fiscal agenda reasons -- Wild Rose seemed to be an alternative at the time.
But being a member of a sports team with gay members, and looking around at random WR events, I knew this was far from the truth. What was sad was this was confirmed as I walked around. But in those several chats, what especially disturbed me was that LGBT people were described as “uppity” and “whiners”. This wasn’t a bad joke, or even a casual careless statement. Looking at each face, it was an honest belief. Needless to say, I was actually angry, no more like pissed and furious, on TV as I was positioned to stand right behind Danielle at the rally. I was close to storming off that day, but calmed down by the end of her speech.
Wild Rose also joined the Conservatives to vote down bill 31-19, which would have made it mandatory for schools to allow Gay Straight Alliances in schools (GSA). Lo's own son is gay -- preventing the formation of GSA groups is a blow against people like his son and rightly so. He thought there was some hope for the party even after this, but the removal of the equality statement was too much.
Ideologically, I believe now that the party is swinging far right again on social issues, and as such, totally in opposition to my own beliefs. And ANY party that visibly does not protect my son, is one that has lost my support, and in fact, earned my opposition.
Good on ya, Terry! I'm happy to see you dumped the party and you're unabashedly atheist as well!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Lives of Two Sick First Nations Girls vs. Group Rights & 'Faith Healing'

By LaurMG. (Own work.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
We all know how that court case went down on Friday. I think it's rather depressing that our country allows children to receive unproven, unscientific treatments for life-threatening conditions like cancer.

The state is no longer in the business of defending gravely ill First Nations children from hucksters who would sell them ridiculous woo cures. First Nations parents can now forgo real medical treatment for their children and go off to massage establishments in Florida to be treated by a bogus 'naturopathic doctors' -- who are neither even licensed naturopaths nor doctors... nor even First Nations traditional healers!  These believe vitamin C and raw food can cure people of cancer. What have we come to here?

The one take home point here is that this decision is not in the best interest of the child.

In fact, the first child to have stopped chemo, Makayla Sault, has become gravely ill again.
On Nov. 6, Christian music star Adam Crabb posted on Facebook and Twitter that Sault was critically ill. Crabb posted an update on Nov. 8 that was signed by her father, Kenny Sault.

"As many of you know Makayla suffered a major infection and had to be hospitalized (Nov 5)," read the post.

"At that point because of her weakened immune system from chemo (that she stopped 8 months ago) the doctors gave her 24 hours. She is home (Nov. 8) and is asking for the body of Christ to stand in the gap in prayer for her against this infection."

He went on to say the Nov. 9 service at the fellowship centre was being dedicated to his daughter.

"We are asking all churches around the globe to dedicate a time to prayer in their service," he wrote. "We are believing together for divine miracles to take place … Nothing is impossible. She thanks everyone for their outpouring of love."
Her father insists the infection is due to the chemo. The sad thing is, this could be true, but quitting chemo and going on a boat cruise and being out and about with compromised immune system is not at all standard medical protocol. It seems that no matter what happens, it will never be the leukemia though, always the chemo.

I find myself rather nauseous thinking too much about this, so I thought I would sprinkle a random sampling of reaction from people who are evidently more rational than the judge in this case.

In A native ‘right’ to refuse life-saving medicine? It does natives no favours, the Globe and Mail writes:
Aboriginal rights are an elemental part of Canadian law. They are also a complicated part, a fact never made more clear than last week when an Ontario judge ruled that an innocent aboriginal girl must be allowed to die in the defence of those rights.
...
It is hard to believe that anyone could be so determined to protect a right that they cannot see the agony J.J. will endure. Without chemotherapy, a young girl’s life is going to be ended by an entirely treatable medical condition. Would a parent in 16th-century Canada whose child was dying from a painful ailment have turned down the opportunity to save her, had it existed?
In the Winnipeg Free Press,  Prof. Arthur Schafer, director of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics writes:
The decision pits the protection of First Nations' rights against a child's right to timely medical intervention, effectively creating two standards of health care for children.

"The first implication is that Canadian children in need of care and protection will be protected by the courts, except when they are First Nations children," Schafer said.

"This decision establishes the right of First Nations children to die unnecessarily."
In an excellent article, Doctors say science doesn't back First Nations girls' treatment, Tom Blackwell exposes this for what it is -- little girls falling prey to a sham, quackery, snakeoil, a charlatan.
The late founder of a Florida alternative health clinic that treated two cancer-stricken Canadian aboriginal girls built her program on the notion that wheat grass holds remarkable healing properties, born out partly by a Bible story and the eating habits of dogs and cats.

Hippocrates Health Institute still extols the virtues of the grass - and at least twice in the past six months its director promoted such theories at a southern Ontario First Nations community.

Sham-science watchdogs are calling the clinic's treatments essentially useless, but its message seemed to resonate at the Six Nations reserve and a neighbouring Mohawk community.
Rosie DiManno writes in the Toronto Star -- emphasis mine.
Aboriginal culture, not a youngster’s very life and death dilemma, has triumphed. Traditional healing can be substituted for the scientific medical intervention that has a 90 to 95 per cent chance of curing a gravely ill little girl.

It was indeed a precedent-setting decision from the bench. I will be blunt: First Nations parents can now kill their kids — because that is the inevitable consequence — on the grounds of aboriginal sovereignty, the historical exceptionalism which invests aboriginal peoples with special legal and constitutional status.

That’s what the jam-packed courtroom was cheering Friday, showing how dismally skewed priorities have become in this sad case where everybody clearly has striven to do the right thing for a cancer-stricken 11-year-old — and got it catastrophically wrong.

How this finding, delivered by Ontario Court Justice Gethin Edward, can be reconciled with an existing ruling rendered years ago by the Supreme Court of Canada — that state intervention is a legitimate restriction on religious freedom when a minor’s life is at stake, a decision that arose over the refusal of Jehovah’s Witness parents to permit blood transfusion for their severely anemic one-year-old daughter — remains to be seen. But an appeal would take time, even if expedited, and that’s what the little girl hasn’t got, time.
She goes on to write that group rights are the paramount issue; not a child’s life that hangs in the balance. She is cultural collateral. This is the ultimate conflict here. It would appear that the court has decided to not intervene to save the lives of these children for political and historical reasons -- by honouring treaties and the autonomy of these nations, it is allowing them to effectively let their children get sick and, sadly, die.

DiManno, like many of the other writers, goes on to point out that both mothers packed up and went to a resort-style massage centre -- a quacky clinic in Florida which seems to pack a whole lot of woo and very little -- if any! -- authentic First Nations healing! 

This last frustrating observation is made crystal clear by Wayne K. Spear in the Huffington Post. Spearhimself a Mohawk, writes an article on the very thought that re-occurs to me every time I think about these cases: Why Does the Fight For Aboriginal Rights Equal a Rejection of Science? He drills down to the very tragic core of this problem an is concise and excellent.
A growing number of people are turning away from, and against, science and modernity, and for a number of causes -- environmentalism, mistrust of corporations, dislike of secularism, traditionalism, and in extreme cases religious fundamentalism. Alternative medicine has been a growth industry for years, and there's no reason to expect a reversal of this trend. Get ready for more parents who prefer crystal to chemotherapy, vitamins to vaccines, and prayer to Prednisone.

That last one has received less-than-due attention in the media. When the mother of Makayla Sault told the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that she had "initially went against [her] beliefs and logic and started chemotherapy at the McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton Ontario," she mentioned "ancient Indigenous knowledge" and the Hippocrates Health Institute of West Palm Beach, Florida. But neither she nor her pastor husband, nor her supporters, nor the media (to my knowledge, at least) have mentioned the one belief that perhaps most makes sense of it all: the belief and active prominence of the parents in a fundamentalist Christian sect that teaches the merits of faith healing.
In previous posts about Makayla, I've pointed out that her parents are both evangelicals and that Makayla herself believes that Jesus told her to leave the chemo and that she is cured. However, popular media has either ignored this or downplayed it. There is a whole lot of faith healing in there, of underlying evangelical Christianity. Just re-read Makayla's father's prayer request above -- released by a Christian music star!

Spear goes on.
Now imagine that this case had been wrapped in the cause of faith healing, as earlier this year the Schaibles of Pennsylvania had attempted to ennoble the death of their eight-month-old son -- the second such death of a child in their family, both from easily preventable and treatable cases of pneumonia. No, that wouldn't have done. The cause of indigenous rights, in contrast, doubtless presented itself as a more playable move. And since I'm a Mohawk myself, I've some flint in that game and must object.
Spear wraps up by suggesting that this isn't even a win for aboriginal culture in Canada. New Age treatment at a Florida massage therapy centre all based on a Christian Jesus-vision just might not be representative of their culture.
I'm embarrassed by the thought that this campaign is only promoting the idea that Indians are credulous, as well as unclear on the difference between Onkwehonwe-Neha and New-agism. I suppose the right to say no to medical science is indeed a right, but it seems like a shabby right to me in an era when science-based medicine is making considerable advances.

This campaign -- a mixture of Christianity, alternative medicines, New Age dabbling, and traditional herbs -- strikes me as an abuse of cultural integrity, rather than its defence. Unfortunately I've arrived too late: Justice Gethin Edward has already given the business a seal of approval.
In the end, it appears that nobody really wins here -- except, perhaps, the charlatan herbal treatment centre in Florida.

It's a terrible tragedy and I don't see it getting any better from this point forward.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Quebec Journalists & Intellectuals Come Out In Support of Raif Badawi

Prof. Normand Baillargeon appearing on Tout Le Monde En Parle. (source)
As almost all of you probably know, jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar and their three children have succesfully escaped and now live right here in Quebec, in Sherbrooke. I write about this as much as I can.

Over the past weeks and months, I've been blown away at how Quebec media have supported Raif's plight in print and on television. So much so, it's hard for me to keep up. Authors and journalists all over the province are speaking out in support of the unjustly jailed activist. They are calling out the brutality of the Saudi government and demanding this man be freed and brought here to Quebec to be with his family.

Just a few days ago, we have prominent journalist Jean-François Lépine coming out strongly in favour of Raif's release in a November 14th Radio Canada interview. My attempt at translation is in italics.
À qui aimeriez-vous écrire?  
Au roi d'Arabie Saoudite, Abdallah, pour lui parler de Raif Badawi, un jeune blogueur qui a été incarcéré le 17 juin 2012 et condamné par le tribunal pénal de Djeddah à 10 ans d'emprisonnement, à 1000 coups de fouet et à une amende de 1 million de riyals (près de 290 000 dollars) pour des propos tenus sur son site web, prônant une plus grande transparence de l'État saoudien. Nous sommes à genoux devant l'Arabie Saoudite, pourtant c'est une des puissances les plus réactionnaires et les plus violentes de la planète.

To whom would you like to write?
To the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah, to speak to him about Raif Badawi, a young blogger who was incarcerated the 17th of June, 2012 and sentenced by a Jeddah penal jury to 10 years in prison; 1000 lashes; and a fine of one million riyals (about 290,000 dollars) for what was said on his website, (where he was) asking for more transparency in Saudi government. We are on our knees before Saudi Arabia, but it is one of the most radical and violent powers on the planet.
In stark contrast with English Canadian media and US corporate media, I'm beginning to see a sort of groundswell of support for Raif right here in Quebec. Most recently was just last Sunday evening on the popular discussion program Tout Le Monde En Parle.

Towards the end of the show, guest Normand Baillargeon, who is a well-known academic in Quebec, interjected this (~1:50:17):
Je veux dire un mot. J'ai un ami en Arabie saoudite qui s'appelle Raïf Badawi. Il est condamné à mille coups de fouets... vingt par semaine pendant cinquante semaines. Ce qu'il a defendu c'est la liberté de s'exprimer librement sur tous les questions et compris religieuse. Sa femme et ses trois enfants sont à Sherbrooke. Amnistie internationale fait une grosse mobilisation pour lui. Vous allez sur le site, vous pouvez signer les lettres et le ramener ici avec ses enfants.
I would like to add something. I have a friend in Saudi Arabia called Raif Badawi. He is sentenced to 1,000 lashes... twenty per week for fifty weeks. What he defended was the freedom of expressing oneself freely concerning all (?) religious questions. His wife and his three children are in Sherbrooke. Amnesty International is running a large campaign for him. Go onto the site, you can sign letters and bring him here with his children.
His words came out quickly because it was the very end of the show. So I had some trouble transcribing and translating towards the middle, but the message is clear enough!

Anyway, the show notes include a link to a petition to the Saudi King for Raif's immediate and unconditional release. The petition already has over 7,000 signatures.

What's extra awesome about this is he timed the message out so it would appear during the closing credits of the programme, just before Le Téléjournal, which is the primary nightly news program on Radio Canada, equivalent to The National.

I had a brief Facebook conversation with Prof. Baillargeon and he has sent me a link to an appeal he wrote on behalf of Raif in French -- a call to action. If my translation skills do not fail me utterly, I'll post it here in English.

Normand also took Stephen Harper's conservatives to task for decimating and muzzling scientific research here in Canada in a worse way than Bush's go at it awhile ago. So he gets extra points for that!

Thank you, Normand Baillargeon!