Monday, 20 October 2014

Raif Badawi's Wife, Ensaf Haidar, Speaks Out On the Daily Beast

Ensaf Haidar (source)
Over the past while, I've been writing about the amazingly brave and strong Ensaf Haidar, who escaped the tyranny of Saudi Arabia to successfully obtain asylum here in Quebec with her three children. Since her arrival, she has tirelessly fought -- in concert with Amnesty International -- to get the Canadian government, and the world, to stand up and demand the release of her utterly fearless and courageous husband, Raif Badawi, from unjust imprisonment and torture in Saudi Arabia.

This is no small task, as the so-called democratic governments seem to get pretty weak livered and forgetful of human rights when the scent of oil money gets too strong. I've also noticed over the months that French media here in Quebec seems to cover this story far more closely than English media in the rest of Canada or the United States. I'm now thoroughly convinced that mainstream media in the United States is bought and paid for by corporate interests -- I wonder about media outlets in the rest of Canada these days, I really do.

Well, today Ensaf got published in a pretty big deal new media web publication, The Daily Beast, and I hope this gets her struggle some more greatly deserved coverage.

Wife of Jailed Saudi Blogger: My Husband Is a Victim of the Thought Police

In it she goes into some detail of the insane sentence for blogging (emphasis my own).
My husband, Ra'if Badawy, has been in prison in Saudi Arabia since 2012 for disrespecting Islam. At first, he was sentenced to execution for being an apostate. In May, his sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison, a fine of $100,000 and 1,000 lashes. He is to be lashed 50 times each Friday after prayers until it reaches 1,000 lashes.

Ra'if is not a criminal. He is not a murderer or a rapist. He is a blogger. That's it. His only crime is being a free voice in a country that has no tolerance nor understanding for freedom.
She also adds the tragic irony that Western democracies are supporting Saudi Arabia's efforts against ISIS when the Saudi state jails and tortures people for freedom of expression! I'll also add that the Saudi state has beheaded far more people for ridiculous crimes like witchcraft than ISIS has beheaded prisoners. What is going on here?
Saudi Arabia is leading the fight against ISIS, an organization that lashes and murders those who peacefully oppose it. Isn't it ironic, then, that Saudi Arabia does exactly the same as evidenced by its treatment of bloggers like my husband? What kind of justice is it to sentence a young man to prison and lashes whose only crime is speaking freely?
It's heartbreaking too. So far she has not told her children the full story concerning their father's sentence. How could mere children cope? She's had to resort to fictitious stories about travel bans imposed on him by the Saudi government, but it's only a matter of time before they ask why they cannot talk to him on the telephone or over Skype, if they haven't already.

As a father of a five year old myself, it makes me emotional just thinking about this. If I were in Saudi Arabia, I would surely be alongside Raif in jail and you might be in trouble just for reading these words.

Although the Canadian government -- and the Office of Religious Freedom!! -- could have done more to protest this despicable imprisonment and torture, at least they gave Ensaf and her children refuge and a base from which to safely petition for her husband's and their father's freedom.
I arrived in Canada after escaping Saudi Arabia via Cairo and Beirut. We will settle here and attempt to have a normal life, but always await Ra’if’s return.
I don't think letters to the government will help here. I think they are probably all bought out. I think that letters to newspapers, lighting up Twitter and Facebook and getting out onto the streets is what's necessary.

These people in Norway have the right idea.

I tried contacting Ensaf before, but I suspect there could be a language barrier. I'll see if I can get an idea when the next protests are in Quebec and other places in Canada and publish them here. Time to hit the pavement.

Meanwhile, here's that Daily Beast article again.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Fame, Fortune, Possibly Notoriety Awaits You!

Hello! Is there anyone out there? Can you write words on a computer screen and make these things called sentences and paragraphs and stuff?

Want to be read by... dozens? Maybe hundreds... maybe...

Okay, so if you can do these things and you can write about stuff that is not conspiracy theory but rather sensible yet entertaining items (at least vaguely related to this blog), then why don't you write something up and send it to me? You could even ask me first if it's the sort of thing I would like to post here and I'll let you know and I'll be really nice about it too.

I know. I'll get some flak for this, but those who are not a white, cis male like me will get extra points. Of course, I will take any compelling post, but I'm sort of trying to make things a little more varied around here and get some extra perspectives, you know?

If my readers really dig your posts, I'll even give you your own account and let you enter and edit your own posts, which is totally not because you'll be doing all the work for me.

I'll admit, I do have trust issues so I might still keep the publish button for myself, but I promise to be reasonable -- trust me. Ironic, right?

Okay, anyway, drop me a line if you're interested!

Images of Women Censored By Ultra-Orthodox Vandalism In Israel

Concept art of proposed Egged bus ad which I believe says, 'We are women of Jerusalem, nice to meet you.' (source)
There's been controversy brewing in Jerusalem for the past six years, at least. It's about bus adverts featuring women -- any women at all. These aren't the half-naked sort you are likely to find on placards here in Montreal -- these women are fully-clothed, and yet this is even too scandalous to Orthodox Jews.

Thirty-six year old Sarit Zussman, who self-identifies as religious, wanted to have her picture put on the side of a bus as part of the Yerushalmi movement. This is a political organization with the goal of promoting secularism and curbing religious extremism in Jerusalem.
But even as Zussman tried, the odds were stocked against her. The sign with her photo never made it to an Egged bus. Egged, along with the Cnaan advertising firm, which is the exclusive franchisee for advertising on Egged and Dan city buses, refused to mount them.
The Yerushalmim movement and City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria refused to back down, and submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice, which was accepted. Transportation Ministry officials said they were absolutely opposed to barring women's images on their buses, which set off a debate between Cnaan and Egged over the length of the women's sleeves. The end result of that debate? No images – either of men or women – will appear on Egged's advertisements from this point forward. Egged says the decision was prompted over fear of bus vandalism. Zussman, however, came away feeling more motivated to fight than ever.
This is all in a story on October 3rd over at Haaretz. The signs were to feature women from the chest up with necks, faces and arms exposed. Apparently too much exposure for ultra orthodox Haredi Jews.
The signs from Yerushalmim's campaign were to feature photographs of female residents of Jerusalem with the caption, “Women of Jerusalem, nice to meet you,” and were set to be plastered along the sides of the city's iconic green Egged buses.
The above motto speaks to how images of women have been censored out of Jerusalem society in recent years. Many women, like Sarit, want to reintroduce themselves to society and show that there is nothing shameful about being a woman out in the public square.

It's also significant that a city councilwoman would oppose to censorship like this. Imagine how difficult it would be for her to get necessary exposure to be elected if her image was not allowed to be put up in public! Well, that was the case six years ago on Egged buses. I wonder how women real estate agents would do their jobs?
As much as Egged officials try to deny it, their business decisions bear great cultural significance. Knowingly or not, innocently or not, Egged and Cnaan have become active participants in a bitter culture war from which they have little chance of coming out clean.

Despite the fact that the people running the show at each firm are, themselves, not Haredim, and several pledges of avoiding politics notwithstanding, these firms are actually aiding the Haredi victory in the battle over Jerusalem's character.
Furthermore, it seems that Haredi Jews, who have the biggest problem with images of women in public places, also are the most numerous clientele.
But vandalism seems to be only part of the story here. The decision not to show images of women, even at the price of not advertising in Jerusalem at all, must be seen in the context of a business eager to hold on to its most important clientele – the Haredi riders who take up more seats than any other sector of the population.
Well, just a couple of days after the publication of the article, Egged decided to allow the advertisements afterall.
The campaign to reinstate the images was spearheaded by Yerushalmiot head Shira Katz-Vinkler, and Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim), who holds the education and women’s rights portfolio, and whose own picture was once barred from buses during a political campaign six years ago.

At the time of her campaign, Egged refused to include her image, fearing a violent backlash from extreme haredi sectors, which routinely tore down such advertisements and threw rocks at the buses carrying them.
Noting the prevalence of hardei vandalism against buses with women’s images affixed to them, the government agreed to compensate Egged for any damage caused by the reinstituted practice.
This was good news. Except, wait... I'm hoping that any vandals would be fined appropriately if they were caught!

Well, it turns out that not long after the images actually made it onto buses, they were vandalized.
A few days ago, according to the group, the ads were vandalized.

“These images of everyday women of all faiths send a powerful message to anyone who seeks to limit the participation of Israeli women in public life,” NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said Tuesday in a statement. “In a healthy democratic society, it is crucial that the voices of 50 % of Israel’s population be welcomed. I expect the police to thoroughly investigate this vandalism and bring the perpetrator to justice.”
Here's one of these offensive adverts.

I find anyone who is offended by this advert deeply offensive.