Friday, 7 June 2013

Office of Religious Freedom Ambassador Mentions Atheists! But We're Not Really His Greatest Priority.

CFI Kevin Smith (left),  CFI Michael Payton (centre),  Ambassador of 
Religious Freedom Andrew Bennett (right).
There is an interview published today in the Globe and Mail with Andrew Bennett, the ambassador of the somewhat-newly minted Office of Religious Freedom.

In it he actually mentions the plight of persecuted atheists and the non-religious around the world!

And then he pretty much admits that, well, they're just not a big priority for him, really. Oh well.

I found this synopsis of the interview first.  I here preserve my initial reaction.

New religious-freedom watchdog faces uphill battle
The religious-freedom ambassador said he’s also monitoring the treatment of atheists abroad. “Freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have a particular religious faith,” he said. “I think that’s just logically consistent.”
Well at least atheists have logic to save them because there doesn't seem to be much basic human compassion or love of basic human rights going on within the office of Foreign Affairs when it comes to jailed, tortured or killed atheists. Right, I guess that's theoretically consistent, right?
But he signalled his greatest priority would be believers. “The vast majority of people being persecuted are people of faith. They are the ones that are being killed. They are the ones that are facing legislative and regulatory restrictions.”
Well I guess that's only logical too, isn't it? Because it's only the people of faith who are being killed or facing legislative and regulatory restrictions.

Un-freaking-believable.

But this is a second-hand account of what Bennett said. I later found that the Globe also provides a more verbatim version of the interview that contains a more detailed account of his response. Kudos to the Globe for asking him about  the treatment of atheists and what he is going to do about it! - the very first question on the page!

Verbatim: Andrew Bennett explains the mandate of his office
On how his office will monitor treatment of atheists 
Freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have a particular religious faith. I think that’s just logically consistent. With regards to atheists and people who choose not to have a particular religious faith … obviously we need to listen to their concerns. 
I would say that we see in the world today – there’s some concerns around atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, for example. We need to monitor that situation, which we are. … 
So just because we haven’t made a statement doesn’t mean we’re not following it. 
On whether he will defend the rights of atheists 
It’s a concern but I think we also need to realize the vast majority of people being persecuted are people of faith. They are the ones that are being killed. They are the ones that are facing legislative and regulatory restrictions. 
So the concerns of atheists, I understand it. And we will monitor it. And we will speak out if we need to. But I think we can’t lose sight of the fact that disproportionately the people being persecuted for freedom of religion are believers. 
People of faith are the ones that are worshipping. They are the ones that are engaging in missionary activity. They are ones that are being forced into conversion in certain countries.
Again, we have this idea of people who choose not to have a particular religious faith as if not believing in something is some sort of conscious choice. I suppose, if I were living in Iran, I would choose to say I was a believing Muslim, but that to say I truly believed in the Prophet would be a lie, plain and simple. My freedom of expression is squashed.

And the situation in Bangladesh. They are monitoring it? This is the same verb I got in John Baird's response to my letter about Alexander Aan.  Monitoring the situation seems to be code for not doing anything to me.

Yes, they need to monitor the situation and do something about it. Otherwise, who's mandate is it to protect the rights of non-religious people? Do we need some other organization that deals with human rights in general and does not discriminate against people based on whether or not they are religious?

Practically speaking, the ORF not making any statements comes to the very same thing - whether they're following it or not. In fact, I think that inaction is even less excusable if you're following it because then you cannot claim ignorance. Like God himself, the ORF knows about the situation and is sitting aloft in the clouds doing nothing about it when they have the power to act. So how are they any the less to blame for their inaction by monitoring it?

Now is the time to speak out, Mr. Bennett. You really need to.

And yes, I do see that the people being persecuted are indeed disproportionally are believers.  This is absolutely horrible and I am all for protesting it and condemning it.

As for the disproportionality of this.  I think it's proportional actually. The majority of people on this planet are one religion or another. Very few people are non-religious.  If they're is going to be any persecution in the name of religion, it's highly likely the people on the receiving end are going to be religious.

But for those who are not religious - the cracks are wide open and they are falling through them. They're getting no love from anyone in this situation. They are showing up on no one's radar. Why is this?
People of faith are the ones that are worshipping. They are the ones that are engaging in missionary activity. They are ones that are being forced into conversion in certain countries.
Who cares whether or not people are worshipping? Who cares about whether or not they are doing missionary activity? How does this elevate their priority over those who are not religious? Honestly, should it make a difference that these people are religious? It shouldn't really because these are basic human rights.  But I can understand this is an Office of Religious Freedom.  They're mandate is to protect religious people, well at least in practice.

As for forced conversions. Atheists are being forced into conversion in certain countries every day. They are forced by religious people to shut up or go into exile on a regular basis - when they even dare to speak out. To say atheists are not being forced into silence or secrecy under pain of dire circumstances is, quite frankly, an affront to reality itself and seems rather disingenious.

So, it seems that even after his long-awaited meeting with the Center for Inquiry, Bennett just doesn't see a problem with the treatment of atheists and the non-religious across the world. Apparently he is undaunted by the 2012 IHEU report, what's happening in Bangladesh, Alber Saber, Alexander Aan, Iranian atheists living in fear, bloggers like Sharif Ahmed, and the list goes on.


I digress.

Anyway, maybe the office is just bogged down. Perhaps they just haven't had a chance to prepare any statements in denouncing the muzzling, persecution, jailing, beating and killing of those who don't happen to believe in any religion.
After he was released from more than a week of detention by Sri Lankan police last month, Muslim leader Azath Salley personally telephoned Ottawa’s High Commission in Colombo to thank Canada for condemning his arrest. 
It was an unusually quick success for Andrew Bennett, the Harper government’s newly minted Ambassador of Religious Freedom, whose denunciation of the imprisonment a day after the arrest made Canada one of the first countries to speak out publicly in defence of Mr. Salley’s rights.
The day after the arrest.  Mr Bennet whipped off his Clark Kent glasses, donned his Super Man suit in mere seconds, and did the right thing - saving Mr. Salley. This is fantastic work.

I completely support Bennett's work to protect the basic human rights of the religious across the globe. I just wish he would take off his Clark Kent glasses and save the day for those who are being persecuted in the name of religion because they are, themselves non-religious. What gives?

Come on, Mr. Bennett.  We know you have the power.  It's only logical.

1 comment:

  1. Veronica Abbass7 June 2013 20:18

    Love this post. Great analysis. Thanks Godless.

    ReplyDelete