Category Archives: Human rights

The Ungrateful Refugee

 

 

 

I listened to an interesting interview with Dina Nayeri the author of the book The Ungrateful Refugee. I have not read her book.  I hope to. She is a refugee from Iran who came to the United States at the age of 10 with her mother and a sister. Her father stayed behind and her mother supported the two girls on her own as  he rarely sent money to help.

She asked an important question: Just because she is a refugee who became a naturalized American citizen does that mean she has to give up the right to criticize her country? Other Americans are allowed to do that? Why not her?

Recently Donald Trump criticized 4 American Congress women of colour all of whom are  American citizens. In fact 3 of them were born in the US.  After he made comments suggesting that they go back to where they came from, he said what he really meant was that if they did not like it here they should go back. “If you re not happy here you can leave,” he said.  I suspect that many people agree with that. But are they right?

As Nayeri said, by such actions, Trump, and those who agree with him, are trying to separate immigrants from US born citizens. Lets call them native citizens. He is really saying these citizens who criticize their adopted country are second-class citizens. No one denies that native citizens have the right to criticize their country. Free speech is fundamental to being an American (or Canadian) citizen. Why not citizens who were born elsewhere?

We have to remember as well that the old refrain, “Go back to where you came,” is a common racist trope used since time immemorial as a way to tamp  down the immigrants, or refugees, or anyone who is “other,” or anyone who is unlike us. Particularly this has been used against people of a different color. It is a racist trope. Do we really want to endorse such?

When Nayeri escaped Iran with her mother and sister they fled first of all to Dubai, then to Italy, from where they became asylum seekers in the United States. Eventually they were allowed to get asylum in the United States and in time became American citizens. She was grateful for the help she got.

However, Nayeri was signaled as a very young child that she was different. She was an outsider. She did not belong there. Other kids called her mean names.

She reacted by trying to be the perfect immigrant. She had to be “the best refugee possible.”  She felt she had to over achieve in order to belong. As Nayeri said in an article in the Guardian, “We were never comfortable. We kept squirming inside our own skin, trying to find a way to be ourselves while satisfying all the people who wanted us to transform instantly into them.”

She responded to these pressures  by getting tough. She became a “kick ass” martial arts athlete.  It was hard. She had to put up with a lot. As she said, “I loved winning at a male sport. I was still angry about so many things – hijab, the Islamic Republic, the fat old church men who made high-school football players feel like gods while they shamed women who dared to want too much. I survived on egg whites and water-packed tuna doused in vinegar and mustard, salted baked potatoes and watery fruit.” In time she got straight A’s in school and became a national Tae Kwon Do competitor all in an effort to get accepted into Harvard University. She did not quite make it. But she got into another Ivy League school—Princeton. Not a bad second choice.

In my opinion any citizen should be free to criticize her country. After all that is the only way countries get better. They are never perfect. Even if we love them and love the way things are now, we should be able to criticize them and hope to improve them. No country is perfect. Every country should welcome criticism. Every country should welcome refugees and that means giving them the right to speak up.

Inequality of Power in the Military

https://www.dropbox.com/s/iqn5jwmvsk8cb60/Screenshot%202019-03-27%2023.13.07.png?dl=0

 

The military is peculiarly powerful. This is particularly true in the United States where I have spent the last 3 months. It is also one of the most hierarchical institutions on the planet. Wherever you have a military you have those in power and those subject to power. You have the officers and the grunts. You don’t want to be a grunt.

If you add sexual/gender power imbalances things get even worse. Arizona, where I have been living, has been exposed recently by an American Senator of all people. Recently Arizona U.S. Senator Martha McSally surprised the state and even the country by announcing during a Senate subcommittee meeting that she had been raped while she was in the Air Force. McSally spent 2 decades in the Air Force before she became a Senator. Much of that time was served here in Arizona at very bases close to where we are living. In fact she was the first female pilot to see combat. She also said she felt like she had been victimized again when she reported the incident to her superior officers. Interestingly, she said, “I thought I was strong, but I felt powerless…The perpetrators abused their position of power in a profound way…I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experience was handled…Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me allover again.”

If this could happen to a woman who ultimately was promoted to Commander, we have to wonder what would happen to a less powerful female in the Air Force? The uncomfortable fact is the American military, probably like every other military in the world, Canada’s included, has for too long been a male dominated institution in which there is a strong power imbalance that is magnified when gender inequality is added creating a truly toxic brew.

As reported by the Arizona Republic, The Pentagon officially reported 6,769 sexual assaults in 2017, nearly a 10 percent increase over the prior year. But advocacy groups such as Protect Our Defenders say the true number is likely 15,000 to 26,000 annually. I don’t know about you but I found that a shocking number. According to the Pentagon’s own statistics that amounts to about 20 sexual assault per day! If you accept the number from the critics it could be as high as 722 per day! According to a Rand Corporation Report last year, in a Sierra Vista base here in Arizona, about 1 in 12 female soldiers were sexually assaulted during the year of the survey. Remember these are assaults not harassments.

The American military, like the Canadian military, has for years been trying to stamp out sexual assault and harassment under pressure for various sources. Clearly their success has been about as great as the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the Arizona Republic reported that a recent Pentagon report showed that sexual assaults spiked nearly 50% in 2017-2018 despite years of focus on the problem. That report also showed that 60 percent of military victims who reported rapes suffered career-ending retaliation. It is hardly surprising that young women are reluctant to come forward with complaints.

The report also identified 2 particularly vulnerable groups: young, unmarried females of lower ranks and personnel aboard ships (where women are far from protection.) It is clear that the issue is power. Powerful men (and yes most of these are men) abuse vulnerable women. It really is that simple. Not all of the men, but too many. The inequality of the power is the key. Just as it is in cases of coaches abusing athletes, priest and nuns or priests and young people in the church , employers and employees, teachers and students, parents and children, and men and women. Wherever power is uneven, people must be on alert.

I don’t know if there is any evidence that women would do a better job of this than men, but it is difficult to believe that they could do worse. Maybe its time to give women a chance. We need someone like John Lennon to create a song about that. We can’t all compose songs, but at the very least it is time for men to speak up. All of us.

Fear Porn

Fear Porn

 

In recent years many people in the west have characterized refugee issues as security decisions rather than humanitarian issues. This has had important negative consequences for refugees. As Jennifer Welsh said in her Massey lectures, “One implication of this ‘securitization’ of asylum seekers is the tendency to reframe the responsibility to tackle refugee situations as a matter of peace and security and to focus on immediate causes of displacement.”

This approach causes many people, such as my own current Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, to concentrate on the destabilizing effects of the presence of refugees on neighbouring country’s security, communal cohesion, and national identity. People like Falk believe that refugees are dangerous. They fear refugees and therefore make poor decisions about them.

Such irrational fears have spread around the world but particularly to the United States. Of course, as I have indicated elsewhere, the United States is a peculiarly fearful nation. They especially fear the influx of migrants and immigrants and refugees from the Muslim world and from Mexico. It is not an accident that many of these people that they fear have skin colours other than white. In my opinion this is the legacy of the American history of racism going back for centuries to its horrible treatment of indigenous people and importation of African-American slaves and their offspring.

President Trump himself was filled with venom and anxiety at the thought of the approaching brown hordes. Then he turned to filling his supporters with fear. That is something he has a unique talent for. Of course it is easy to mock absurd fears, but fears are important. They are used to generate hate against people seeking asylum. Stoking fear and hate in a democratic state is a very dangerous thing.

Donald Trump capitalized on these fears to get elected President in 2016. It did not matter that the United States had an extremely onerous vetting process of all such possible entrants to the country. It’s not a perfect system, but it is probably the best in the world.

Trump also tried again, with less success, to capitalize on such fears just before the Mid-term elections in 2018. He warned of the so-called “Caravan” of refugees and asylum seekers heading from Central American including Hondurans and others to the United States. Donald Trump and his close ally Fox News ratcheted up the fear to such an extent that millions of Americans feared this group of rag-tag people consisting by most accounts of a lot of women with young children.

The Republicans claimed the Democrats were organizing this crusade and that they believed in completely open borders. Trump was a master of manipulating this to his own advantage. He said he would send 5,200 troops. Later he increased this to 15,000 troops. Not just border guards, but troops. According to the Washington Post, “This appears to be the largest such peacetime deployment of active duty U.S. troops a the border in a century.” This was more troops than the Americans sent to fight super scary ISIS. The American troops were also ordered to secure the border walls (remember many already exist) with razor wire.

Of course all of these security people were being added to a border already hyper-militarized with 16,000 border guards, 5,000 ICE personnel, 2100 National Guards and many deportation agents. All this to oppose men, women and children who might throw rocks.

Many Americans interviewed on television said this was an invasioneven when they were more than a thousand miles away. It became a huge election issue and fired up his base of supporters. This was not surprising since Trump and his Fox allies relentlessly fueled the fears. Sean Hannity, watched by millions of Americans, repeatedly referred to this as “an invasion” as did other Fox contributors. He also referred to it as a “a mob of humanity.” Donald Trump himself repeatedly referred to it as an imminent “invasion of our country.”

All of this was done while the invading “army” without weapons was a couple of months away. What kind of invading forces give the target country a 3 months heads up?

Would young mothers take their children on such a perilous journey if they were not fleeing something they really feared? Like gangs that were to a large extent fueled by American deportees returning to their presumed homeland. These gangs were often fueled by drug money from American consumers. Should we not show some empathy for them? Or should we listen instead to demagogues? These people are suffering; they should not be demonized.

Even other stations, besides Fox, are getting on the bandwagon against these demonsapproaching the border? Trump tweeted, “the caravans are made up of some very tough fighters.” Later in the same day, October 31, 2018, 5 days before Mid-term elections he tweeted again, “Our military is being mobilized at the Southern Border. Many more troops coming. We will NOT let these Caravans, which are also made up of some very bad thugs and gang members, into the U.S. Our border is sacred Must come in legally. TURN AROUDND!”  Clearly he wanted to scare the crap out of people. Some have called it Trump’s scaravan.

Talking about the Caravan while helping a Republican candidate in Florida Trump said this about the Democrat rival,

 

“Andrew Gilliam wants to throw open your borders to drug dealers, human traffickers, gang members, and criminal aliens. That’s great. That’s what we want. Let those people pour in folks. Let them join come join you on your front lawn.”

 

Trump is a master of stoking fears.

There were actually 4 caravans that appeared to be heading toward the U.S. The Washington Postdescribed the situation this way,

 

Military planners anticipate that only a small percentage of Central American migrants travelling in the caravans U.S. President Donald Trump characterizes as “an invasion” will reach the U.S. border, even as a force of more than 7,000 active-duty troops mobilizes to prevent them from entering the country.

According to military planning documents, about 20 percent of the roughly 7,000 migrants are likely to complete the journey. The unclassified report was obtained by Newsweek on Thursday.

If the military’s assessment is accurate, it would mean the U.S. is positioning five soldiers on the border for every one caravan member expected to arrive here.

“Based on historic trends, it is assessed that only a small percentage of the migrants will likely reach the border,” the report says.”

 

It turned out the military planners were not as worried about the potential migrants as the American President. The military report was more concerned about Americanmilitia groups eager to lend their well-armed support. As the Washington Postsaid, “The assessment also indicates military planners are concerned about the presence of “unregulated armed militia” groups showing up at the border in areas where U.S. troops will operate.”

Trump was also quick to characterize the members of the caravan as scary individuals, even though most other reports, other than Fox News of course, said they were mainly women and children fleeing violence in their own countries often caused by gang members that had been deported there by American authorities. Trump described them this way at different times: “many young strong men,” “very tough fighters,” “terrorists from the Middle East,” “hardened criminals,” “lepers,” “people with small pox and TB,”  and “a lot of bad people.” Another Republican added, “pedophiles,” and “wife beaters”. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else. Added to that, according to the Washington Post, “He also insists the number of migrants heading north is much larger than estimates put forward by U.S. and Mexican officials.” Of course Trump has never allowed the facts to stand in the way of the hateful or fearful messages he wants to send.

Trump said similar things in April that everyone forgot about. Trump painted a picture of a large group of migrants near the border as rapists and pillagers. It turned out to be 400 people requesting asylum which they are legally entitled to do.

Then Trump added that if any of these people throw rocks the troops should fire their guns. Reminds me of the Gaza strip. Is that what American has come to?

It was no accident that Trump made a huge issue of these caravans a few weeks before the American midterm elections of 2018. He did not want to wait until the potential migrants arrived as that might blunt the political message he wanted to use in those elections. Now he is doing it again to gain support for his big beautiful wall.

Trump, together with many of his supporters loves what Bill Maher called Fear Porn. Why is that? I think that Trump like populists and demagogues around the world uses fear to drum up support for his policies. He does that because his ideas have little rational basis. How else can he get people to support them? Porn sells.

People are entitled to the presumption of innocence and Judges should not be rapists or harassers

The recent hearings in the US Senate to consider and decide whether or not Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a judge on the US Supreme Court exposed some of the glaring weaknesses in the American system of judicial appointments to that nation’s highest court. Remember that judges are appointed for life and can have a profound effect on many social issues of great importance. Issues such as the right of women to an abortion, or the rights of a foetus, the rights of gays and lesbians, and countless other important issues. No doubt America should put the best people on that court.

In criminal law there is an expression, ‘better to let 10 guilty criminals off than send 1 innocent person to prison.’ That is acceptable in a criminal court.  Is that the appropriate principle to other important decisions? Not always I would suggest. No one in his or her right mind would say, ‘Better to have 10 rapists as judges than decline one innocent candidate.’

The problem of course is what should the decision makers do when the evidence is not certain or all the facts are not in? That can be difficult. Did the American Senate get it right?

What are people to do when all the evidence is not in? In a criminal court it is clear. The court cannot convict unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.  If the judge or jury decides the case is not certain, a verdict of not guilty is required. That is as it should be. But what about other circumstances? What about outside the criminal court?

I think environmental law has found a workable solution.  It is called the precautionary principle. This means that decision makers should act to prevent harm when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in. For example, if someone proposes to install a petroleum pipeline that might or might not lead to environmental contamination should the pipeline be approved or not? This principle requires that the pipeline which might cause great harm, only be approved if the persons who wants it gives reasonable credible evidence that it is safe to do so.

If it is not certain whether a particular course of action will create harm or not, as for example when the existing scientific evidence is unclear or uncertain about whether it will lead to serious harm or not, the precautionary principle imposes an obligation on the proponent of the  course of action, such as a pipeline, to prove that it will not lead to harm until further evidence makes it clear that the harm can be averted. In other words, policy makers are required to protect the public when there is a reasonably plausible possibility that a particular action will cause harm.  The decision makers can and should act to do this even it is not certain that the action will lead to harm. These protections can only be relaxed when further sound evidence makes it clear that no harm will result. The onus of proof is on the proponent to establish a lack of harm. Not the other way around.I think the American Senate ought to have been guided by such thinking in the case of Judge Kavanaugh.

In the case of the Senate hearings both the complainant Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the proposed judge, Kavanaugh made plausible cases in support of their position. Kavanaugh came on strong and made a forceful defence against the allegations. On the other hand, Ford was clearly credible too. She made some inconsistent statements about what happened 36 years ago, but it would have been suspicious if that were not the case. I would say it was not certain beyond a reasonable doubt who was right.

The Senate appointed Judge Kavanaugh on the basis, I believe, that Dr. Ford’s  allegations were not proven. I think the Senate put the onus of proof on the wrong person. It should have said, Kavanaugh must prove he was innocent on a balance of probabilities, not on beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ford’s testimony might not have led to a conviction in a criminal trial, but it certainly was enough to reject him as a judicial candidate for a lifetime position to the highest court in the land. The public should not be required to accept a candidate as tainted as Kavanaugh, even though he might be innocent, because the public should be protected from the immense harm he might inflict on the public as a result of his lifetime appointment unless he could first prove that he was worthy.

Judge Kavanaugh was right when he called the hearing a national disgrace but not for the reasons he said so. It is a disgrace when the weighing of judicial appointments becomes a pure partisan game on both sides. It is a disgrace when an alleged sexual assault victim becomes a pawn in a political game. It is not a disgrace when an unworthy candidate is rejected for high judicial office when on a balance of probabilities, even if not beyond a reasonable doubt,  it is clear that he is wholly unsuitable for that office.

I would put it this way: If you were on the board of your local school division would you hire Brett Kavanaugh to be a janitor for the school? Not me.

Establishment of Religion

Recently I posted about the establishment of religion clause in the US. We don’t have such a clause in our constitution but we do have a clause guaranteeing religious freedom, which has been interpreted to include freedom from religion.

I like the English philosophers who often went by the name of liberals.  Today, liberalism is a bad word in many circles—particularly in the United States. I find it very congenial. I am not talking about the Liberal party in Canada or the Democratic Party in the US. I will leave that for another day. I am talking about small “l” liberalism.

I think the philosophy of liberalism was started in England by John Locke, who lived mainly in the second half of the 17thcentury. That’s a long time ago, but I think its important. Locke’s ideas were borne in the crucible of English politics during this time. That history had important effects on liberalism. And it is important today, though too often forgotten.

The Reformation and the problem of religious minorities was central to Locke’s political philosophy because those were the burning issues (literally burning issues) of his times. By the 1680s there was clear political unrest in England. Until then this was not an issue all values were shared because everyone in Europe was a Roman Catholic. Until then the issue of minority rights did not arise for there were no minorities. After that political theorists had to figure out how can we live in a society together when we don’t all share the same values? We are still trying to solve that problem.

The religious wars of the 17thcentury were incredibly bloody and Locke and the liberals did not want to see them repeated. In the 21stcentury we should be no less vigilant.

2 years ago, Chris and I attended a lecture at the University of Manitoba by Professor Steve Lecce. I have often thought of what he said. He said, that the key question of modern and contemporary political theory is, according to Lecce, “How should we live together in society when we don’t all share the same values?

According to traditional liberals, the state is not an instrument for pursuing common goals, but rather an institution that allows each of us to pursue our own personal goals while living in society with those who have different objectives. Where values diverge, as they now inevitably do in any post Reformation society and in particular in modern societies that include immigrants from around the world, how can we live together in peace and harmony without resorting to might is right or without resorting to the ability of the majority to dominate? Liberals say that there are some things the majority or the powerful should not be able to do. Instead we will have a method of settling disputes fairly. The state in such circumstances has to be like a referee or umpire. That is why the state must remain neutral between religions for example. It should not assist one religious group to establish its religion over others.

This was very important in the Reformation when religious freedom was the critical issue of the time. It is still important. It is particularly important in places like Steinbach where religion is very important. The Reformation splintered the dominant religion and cleared the way for new problems that were irrelevant before then when everyone agreed.

Until the Reformation a common religion bound us all so that this was not an important issue. Religion until then was the social glue that kept us together. After the Reformation, religion became an explosive issue that could blast society apart. And it often did. It still often does that. Before the Reformation religion was the basis of societal trust.  After the Reformation religion became an instrument of distrust. We still live in this post-Reformation world.

There were 2 possible solutions to this problem of religion after the Reformation:

 

  • A religion can be imposed by force or power to achieve religious unity. This was tried with great vigor in the religious wars of the 17th The result was great misery and abject failure. John Locke developed his philosophy just after those wars which were burned into his memory. Unfortunately, now many of those memories are vague or forgotten.
  • The second possible solution is the radical idea proposed by liberals like John Locke–toleration. That had never been tried before. It was truly deeply revolutionary. It is important to remember this when modern liberals are often seen as dull and boring theoreticians. In the 18thcentury this idea was profoundly revolutionary. Many hated the idea of tolerance because they saw it as capitulation to evil.  Liberals said we had to accept differences.

 

Nowadays toleration, a value that was revolutionary in its day, and I would submit, is revolutionary today, can seem like very thin gruel compared to the spicy virtues reflected by much more aggressive and powerful advocates like ISIS, Boko Haram, Donald Trump, and their ilk. It can seem wishy-washy just like–well—liberals. The liberals stand for permitting others to have their say. This is much less sexy than threatening to ban them, or build a wall to keep them out, or kill them. However, in a world charged with the most vicious of religious hatreds like that of Europe in the 17thcentury or our current world in the 21stcentury, tolerance is not wishy-washy at all. After all the 17thand 20thcenturies were the two most violent centuries in the past 500 years according to Steven Pinker. [2]Tolerance is the most vital of all the virtues! Liberals should step to the plate with vigor and confidence. Liberals actually represent our best chance for civilization to endure.  At least so liberals believe.  At least so I believe.

In the 17thcentury there were those who feared the worst from this revolutionary new idea of tolerance.  Would this not lead to the destruction of public morality?  Personal morality should never be permitted to undermine public morality, it was widely believed. This in fact is the essence of Conservatism! It is stillthe essence of conservatism.

It is still vitally important in a community like Steinbach today as I write.         Recently, our little community has been challenged by a young Lesbian couple who wanted the schools in our area to teach about all families and not ignore the diverse kinds of families like theirs. They want respect. They do not demand acceptance, but they want to be recognized. Many in my community–the modern conservatives–believe sincerely that this can lead to the disintegration of the modern family and with it our cherished western society. The conservatives don’t want to tolerate the lesbians. They feel that this will lead inevitably to the disintegration of all that they hold dear. This is classic conservatism.

Liberals challenge this view. Liberals hold that we can each freely have our own personal opinions and morality without challenging the social order or value of society. Let people disagree. We can all get along provided each of us accepts limits. We must tolerate each other even when we believe others are wrong. This will not destroy society. In fact modern liberals, like Justin Trudeau, believe that the diversity of modern society will strengthennot weaken society.

That means that we must put reasonable limits on our religious values too. We can hold them personally as much as we want, as vigorously as we want, but we cannot impose those values on others. The social value of imposing religious values was rightly discredited after the religious wars of the 17th century. We don’t want to go back there. That is why we in Steinbach must accept same sex marriage as a permitted alternative life style that must be respected, even it is not accepted. This respect will not destroy society it will strengthen it. To live in society we must respect others even when we disagree with them. That is why traditional liberals say that no religion should be established by the state. Everyone should be absolutely free to choose whatever religion they want, including no religion at all. Then we might be able to live together even when we have fundamental disagreements. If we learn tolerance we have a chance of living together. If we don’t we stand no chance.

Many people on the religious right today seem quite willing to permit a religion to become established by the state, provided of course it is their religion. Mennonites at one made a similar principle at the heart of their own position about religion and politics. They knew from profound personal experience how an established religion, such as the Catholic religion in their case, could be used against them to try to beat down their rights to practice their own religion. Nowadays, too many of Mennonites have forgotten this important lesson as they try to impose their own religious views on others. This is what they have done in Steinbach.

A good friend of mine said I must be “even-handed”. I agree. He suggested I had not considered those who advocate imposing Sharia law on us here in the west. Actually I have never encountered that, but if it happened here I would denounce it just as strongly. Muslims too must learn the benefits of tolerance. All of us must.