Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Alexander Aan: I Got A Letter From John Baird Giving Canada's Official Position... Sort Of.

Foreign Affairs Building of Canada.
So back in June I became so tired of hearing nothing coming out of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs concerning the gross injustice done to Alexander Aan that I snapped.

So I wrote the Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird a letter stressing my concerns.  You can find a PDF copy of the letter here

One part of the letter was boldfaced:
I believe it is your duty as the Minister of Foreign Affairs to show the world that Canada does not condone the persecution of anyone based on religious views. I urge you to make a statement condemning this and to express support for Mr. Aan’s right to disbelieve in a God.
Unless I missed a memo I haven't found such a statement by Canada - at least publicly.  Not a peep about Mr. Aan's situation pro or con.  If anyone has any information otherwise, I would be thrilled to hear.

So I had pretty much given up on the whole thing ages ago.  So imagine my surprise when I find a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in my mailbox Monday morning!

Dear Mr. XXXXXX 
Thank you for your letter of June 14, 2012, concerning the situation of Mr. Alexander Aan in Indonesia. 
The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canada's foreign policy.  Canada has been a strong and committed supporter of the individual's right to freedom of religion and conscience and to that end, the Government of Canada has committed to creating a new Office of Religious Freedom within Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.  We envision this office as a  vital part of our efforts to promote human rights, encourage the protection of religious minorities around the world, and promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance. 
Canada and Indonesia have held a human rights dialogue (a formal meeting of senior-level officials from both countries) on seven occasions since 1997 to engage on human rights issues.  At our most recent human rights dialogue with Indonesia, which was held on June 11, 2012, Canada expressed its concerns regarding violations of freedom of expression and opinion in Indonesia.  In addition, the Embassy of Canada to Indonesia regularly advocates for the protection and promotion of human rights and continues to raise freedom of opinion and expression with Indonesian government officials. 
Please be assured that the Government of Canada is monitoring Mr. Aan's situation in Indonesia and will take every appropriate opportunity to continue to raise concerns on human rights issues. 
Thank you again for taking the time to express your concerns. 
John Baird, P.C.,M.P.
Well, I'm still rather impressed I got any response at all, but I can't say I'm really impressed by the response itself.  I suppose it's about all I could have ever expected.  Thanks for writing me back!

I do plan on writing back to remind him about Alber Saber.

Scene from Miracle on 34th Street.
Of course, the thrust of my initial letter isn't really addressed at all.  Notice how there is also no mention of Atheists or Agnostics or non-believers - only religious minorities.  Unless we count as a religion minority.

The first substantial paragraph about the new Office of Religious Freedom is a bit of propaganda that doesn't surprise me.

It's the next paragraph that strikes me as nothing more than fluff fluffed up more fluffily with a bunch of dates and qualifiers so as to appear to actually say much more than it really does.

Finally it's the third paragraph that pretty much sums up the government's position concerning Aan.  I'll paraphrase - the good Minister can write me back if I get this wrong:
We believe in protecting religious minorities and the freedom of expression.  We know what happened to Mr. Aan and, don't worry, we're monitoring it closely.  But we're not going to say anything publicly about this or do anything substantial at all.
Sounds like something the Christian God would do when it comes to suffering.  Maybe I would have been just as well off getting on my knees and praying.


  1. Well, good on you! To be honest, I'm surprised and impressed myself by the response myself.

    Although what's more frightening--having lived a few years in Indonesia--is how an essentially secular country still ends up the hostage of theological dominance.

  2. Hi Kade. Thanks for the comment!

    Yeah, I was amazed I got a response. Maybe he's just using it as an opportunity to boost his Office of Religious Freedom, which, as you can probably tell from other posts, I don't really support.

    I'll likely write him another letter including Alber Saber and Sanal Edamaruku and counterpoint it with the cases he *did* condemn publicly. I think I may be able to find a "pattern". But maybe not - I'll see when I write the letter.

    I'm beginning to think that "good old fashioned letters" using paper and envelopes is just more effective than those online petitions. It's right there - infront of the politician. It's less easy to ignore by clicking the "Archive" or "Delete" button.

  3. I would most certainly agree with you and well done on your part when it came to this letter. I would also encourage that you continue your efforts as outlined in your response. There's always potential in these strategies. If one gets them to own up in writing then it can certainly make them a hell of a lot more liable.

    Not that I'm trying to knock on noble petitions here, but the internet's become over-saturated with various 'causes'. So much so that people in power can ignore much of it and actually get away with their ignorance. At the same time, because everyone's now hooked on the social network and e-mail, letters have become rare. So it stands to good reason that if you want to get someone's attention, send 'em some old-fashioned post.

  4. that's only if the envelope gets opened

  5. My previous comment disappeared, so I will re-post what I can recollect.

    You've done well with the letter. While I am not trying to downplay the effectiveness and nobility of online petitions, I do believe that the extremely saturated nature of the internet and its social media have somewhat taken the sting out of such movements; there's very little that allows such ideas to stand out against the overwhelming white noise in the background. With everyone shouting at maximum intensity over e-mail and the the social network, letters have not become the lesser common commodity and this is why I believe that there's possibly hope for getting a point across through good old fashioned post seeing as not that many people expect letters these days.

    This all may well be cheap PR, but so long as you can get them to start owning up and taking positions in writing, you also achieve the task of having a solid point of reference to scrutinise them against. So keep up the great work! I'll probably start pestering David Cameron with some letters of my own.

  6. It got flagged for some reason by Disqus' spam trap. As you can see, I've also been futzing with the blog a bit so there was a (hopefully) momentary moment when it reverted back to Blogger comments. Apologies!

    I may post about this in the future. It's really not hard at all to write a one-page letter (they won't read anything longer) and throw it into the mail. The postage is even free in Canada when mailing to your MP - so you save your 61 cents!

    Hey! Thanks for the comment and for pointing out your comment got screened out by Disqus! I may not have seen it otherwise for awhile.

    Didn't know you were in the UK!

  7. Thanks for your comment Kelly. I was shocked when I got something back.

  8. Sorry this got screened by DISQUS earlier. And the funny thing is it didn't seem to screen out the piece of spam I got on another post. Oh well.

  9. Disqus seems to think spam bots are more credible than real people, eh? Perhaps it's the machine becoming self-aware and realising humanity's flaws. Lol.

  10. No worries. My stuff gets flagged a lot. Disqus thinks I'm a bot.

    Anyway, yeah. I look forward to more posts on this topic. Someone's gotta' take a stand and approach these politicians in the most unorthodox of fashions. Accosting them with some hard mail might be a good start.

    I've been placed, but now I am content in the UK. . . plan on really becoming David Cameron's most annoying pen pal. ; )

  11. Some of those bots have humans turning the cranks! But Google in particular is very disturbing sometimes with it's ad placements. Like it's reading my mail and my blog! Wait... it is!

  12. Your gifted with the talent to write impressive articles, thanks for this great stuff, helped me at right time.


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