Sometimes… some crimes… go slippin’ through the cracks

One of the frustrating things about doing this (blogging) is that there’s only 5 blogging days in the week (4 if you consider Movie Friday) and I don’t like inundating you with blog posts. Maybe once I am able to build a larger reader base I’ll be able to get away with it, but I think one post every day is probably enough. Because a lot of my content comes from articles in the news, there are a lot of stories that I’d like to write about but don’t make the cut for whatever miscellaneous reason. To illustrate what I’m talking about, here is the stuff that didn’t make it into its own post this week.

I’ve talked recently about the unbelievable stupidity of trying to pass religious-based “morality laws” that outlaw homosexuality. First of all it’s not even “immoral”, and second you can’t legislate the way people are born. Of course, nobody has told that to Zimbabwe, who is now arresting gay rights activists on drummed-up pornography charges and “insulting President Robert Mugabe”. Hey Mugabe – you’re a moronic pig-fucker who still breast feeds and wears Rainbow Brite pyjamas to bed. Maybe we should start an “Everybody insult Robert Mugabe” day. All this while the White House and the House of Representatives are trying to abolish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Ever get the feeling some places are moving in opposite directions? Well have no fear, because we’ve still got homophobic assholes here in Canada. Let’s all join hands!

I was joking when I said women shouldn’t vote. Apparently Rabbi Elyakim Levanon reads my blog and doesn’t have a sense of sarcasm. He’s told the female members of his community that voting is a man’s job. He wants to prevent a circumstance wherein women would have different votes from their husbands. Good thing there’s still someone out there promoting “traditional family values”. Sheesh.

Yeah, it still sucks to be a woman in a theocratic country. An imam in Mali suggested that maybe women shouldn’t be religiously and legally required to obey their husbands, and the cry went up. Mali, which is Muslim, ought not to be confused with Malawi, which is Christian. They’re both asshole countries ruled by religious stupidity, but it’s a different kind of religious stupidity so the differences abound. The joke of course being that it doesn’t matter what god you believe in, you’re going to keep doing the same bigoted and abusive things to your women.

Gotta admit, it’s a step in the right direction. Zimbabwe is relaxing the tight grip that the government holds on newspaper publication. This is a good thing, as I talked about earlier this week. If you allow free media, you allow a robust opposition, which in turn allows tyrannical leaders (like Mugabe) to be cast down. Let’s hope this gains some steam. Maybe they’ll start writing about how Robert Mugabe likes to sniff the underpants of old ladies and dresses up as a Japanese school girl on weekends.

Ban internet porn? Two words: Good luck.

This is what I like to see. A school is not living up to its educational standards? Shut it down. So what if it’s a religious school? They have standards to maintain, and are staunchly refusing to adhere to provincial requirements. You don’t want to play by the rules? Great. Shut your doors.

I’m sure you think you know where I’m going with this story, but actually I’m all for it. A lot of good things have come out of the Islamic world, and those things are part of our shared history as human people. We should be aware of both the good and the bad that comes out of religion. We can take the good stuff (art, music, culture, mathematics) and leave behind the stupid parts (YahwAlladdha). Put it all in museums, and let people see all sides of Islam.

So yeah, that was all stuff from this week alone (and by this week, I mean the last week of May, because I write these things way before they go live). There are a few other things (the mosque bombing in Lahore, the rise in internet banking in the developing world, rugby becoming an integrated sport in South Africa) that I am saving and hope to write about in context with some other things. The take-home message is that there’s a lot going on out there. Lots of it negative, some of it actually wonderfully positive. I don’t have the time to write about it all, and I suspect you don’t have the patience to read my take on everything even if I did.

P.S. Bonus points about for anyone who recognizes where the title of today’s post comes from.

P.P.S. Robert Mugabe lost an arm-wrestling contest to a 6 year-old, and has Hanson posters all over his bedroom. C’mon, pig fucker! Arrest me!

Update: Pakistan’s “Everybody be Stupid Day” Facebook/Youtube Ban

You might remember a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that Pakistan, reacting to a Facebook campaign to showcase the stupidity of bans on drawings of Muhammad, decided to up the ante of stupid and ban Facebook, Youtube, Flickr… basically the whole internet. Of course, this move completely missed the point of the event, which was not about attacking Islam, but about protesting the fact that people’s individual religious beliefs are somehow sacrosanct, and that non-believers must make allowances for other people’s superstitions. Why not a governmental cull of black cats, or a ban on the number 13? Those are obviously stupid, but throw belief in a magical sky-genie into the mix and all of a sudden “there are some things you just don’t question.”

Well Pakistan is a theocracy, and like many Muslim countries is run essentially by religious leaders. So when they saw a criticism of their superstition, they reacted by throwing a tantrum, taking their ball and crying home to their mommy. But, because they’re politicians, they made sure to use the opportunity to seize more political power:

Many observers and internet users in Pakistan now feel the authorities have gone too far and used the Facebook row as an excuse to bar any content deemed too critical of the government.

Political power and opposition have a bizarre relationship, something like a rebellious teen and a parental figure. While those in power hate being opposed and will do just about anything to get out from under the opposition’s thumb, the only way to ensure long-term stability is to have an effective opposition. It forces those in power to make concessions to their policies, ensuring the maximum benefit to the greatest number. But of course, nobody who has power likes to be reminded of that. The first step in establishing an iron fist to rule over people is to silence your opposition. The trick to this, of course, is that if you’re caught doing it, then people begin to cry ‘foul’. However, if you can spin it such that you’re infringing on free speech ‘for the good of the people’, you get carte blanche to do whatever you want. This is exactly what Pakistan has done.

Even after the government started allowing content to go through again, they kept their thumb firmly planted down on Facebook. It’s funny, I was among the number of people who derided Facebook when it first came on the scene. “I’ll never get Facebook,” I said “I’m not a 12 year-old girl.” It has since completely replaced my use of MSN messenger, and largely eliminated most of my non-professional e-mail use. And I’m not the only one who’s seeing this:

The research by Spot On Public Relations, a Dubai-based agency, says there are more than 15 million subscribers (from Arabic countries) to (Facebook). The total number of newspaper copies in Arabic, English and French is just under 14 million.

I realize that Pakistan is not an Arab country, but since the Arab world is largely Muslim, and Pakistan is a Muslim country, I hope it’s not too much of a stretch to conclude that Facebook plays a major role in how many people in Pakistan communicate with each other and gather information. Shutting down Facebook is then basically the same as banning free press, a textbook tyrannical move. All done in the name of “religious protection”. YahwAlladdha forbid anyone see anything that is critical of religious superstition.

Political opposition and free press are the lifeblood of an egalitarian society. Erosion of the fundamental right to free expression is the first step in establishing a tyrant government. And if that offends you, you don’t have to read it.

Free Speech under attack… apparently EVERYWHERE

Every morning when I come in to work I scan the headlines in the CBC, local news and the BBC. The more interesting stories, or those that I think deserve my special attention, get thrown into a folder in my e-mail that I keep filed away for later. That’s why sometimes I’ll feature news stories that are separated by a few days or a few weeks. Oftentimes there’s nothing blog-worthy – stories about federal politics and African elections are interesting to me, but not really the purview of this forum.

Other days, the shit really hits the fan.

Seems like I’m always picking on China. There’s a reason for that – the Chinese government is a repeat offender when it comes to free speech. China is in its economic position because it has perfected economic and industrial techniques that were developed in the United States and Europe. Those techniques were only possible under a capitalist system that allowed free speech. It’s the height of hypocrisy to use those techniques to shut down the very principles that made the techniques possible – I am seeing flashes of Hugh Ross and other fundamentalists that rape the principles of science and logic to “prove” religion. China is using the internet, the biggest source of free speech in the history of the world, to shut down dissent. Part of me thinks that people who post comments online should be held accountable for the things they say, rather than being allowed to engage in the kind of hit-and-run tactics we see in forums all over the internet. However, that kind of accountability is not possible under an oppressive regime that makes it a criminal offense to criticize those in power.

Apparently there’s been a state of emergency in Egypt for the past 30 years, such that the emergency powers that allow the government to tap the phones of political opponents, crack down on free media and confiscate property have been on the books since then. Police are also allowed by law to beat protesters – good thing too, because as everyone knows, freedom rings with the sound of boots and truncheons on skulls. While the president has said he plans to remove the wire tapping, confiscation and media provisions, he still insists there’s a constant state of emergency, and that the laws are required “to battle terrorism”. Someone’s been paying attention to the United States – Patriot Act anyone?

How do you know when your government is corrupt? Surely one of the telltale signs must be when people are imprisoned for being critical of government policy and actions. Every night I pray that someone at Fox News spends an hour or two watching episodes of The Daily Show and realizes that it’s possible to keep your ludicrously-obvious bias while divesting yourself of obvious hypocrisy. Clearly, they never do, and feed the beast known as John Stewart’s sarcasm gland more and more each day. In a similar act of blind obliviousness, the Iranian government has sentenced a reporter to 13 years in prison and more than 70 lashes with a whip for reporting on the massive protests and accusations of fraud that surrounded the last federal election. They don’t even have to pretend to be a legitimate government at this point, it’s blatantly obvious that they’re corrupt.

Ever wonder how dictatorships get started? This is how – by giving an elected leader immunity from prosecution, abolishing term limits, and passing laws enshrining him as a figure above criticism. My prediction is that, like Egypt, a state of general emergency will be declared, the president will be granted “emergency powers” that place elections on hold indefinitely, and parliament will eventually be dissolved. It’s not rocket science… it’s barely political science. The paradox of power is that those who seek it the most vociferously are the ones you want to have it the least.

This all happened in one day.

I talk about free speech because it’s important for me. Democracy and enlightened government are built on free speech. The same rights that prevent a government from declaring it illegal for women to own property or for black people to vote have their foundations on principles of free speech and equality of personhood. When those rights are chipped away, we end up with situations like the ones I described above. It is of the utmost importance that we fight for the right to speak freely, to criticize those in power, and to have open, accountable government. I’m much happier living in a society where I can say what I want, even if it means living in a country where morons and racists are afforded the same privilege.

Pakistan gets it EXACTLY wrong

May 20th was “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (Yes, clearly I keep abreast of the latest goings on – I write these 2 weeks in advance, give me a break). People from all around the world drew pictures of what the prophet Muhammad might look like (nobody really knows) and posted them on the internet, as a protest against the actions of radical groups threatening or carrying out acts of violence against people who draw the prophet (including Trey Parker and Matt Stone). Muslims all over the world completely missed the point and protested that they were being victimized. How one is ‘victimized’ by a campaign supporting the rights of people not to be censored or physically attacked is beyond even my considerable mental powers of comprehension.

True to form, the Muslim world responded by doing exactly what everyone was complaining about, making violent threats and completely ignoring the purpose of the criticism. And of course, not wanting to be left out, the government of Pakistan blocked all access to Facebook, and for greater measure canceled YouTube as well, citing concerns that there might be content that was offensive to Muslims. First of all, Pakistan, not all of the people who live in your country are Muslim. Second, those who are Muslim have the option to simply not use Facebook or Youtube. Third, they can still use it, but not navigate to those pages they find offensive. Fourth, there’s content on the internet that everyone finds offensive (or at least should) – that’s the world. You can’t simply stick your fingers in your ears and make all the bad things go away.

Fida Gul, the lawyer who asked the high court to uphold the ban was quoted as saying:

“I am grateful to the High Court judges for this verdict… We needed to provide a message to non-Muslims not to disrespect our prophet.”

The problem with Mr. Gul’s reasoning is that it does not provide a message of any kind. It provides a giant non-message. It says to the world “every time you do something we don’t like, we will walk out of the conversation.” It says, quite proudly “we will refuse to engage in any kind of rational discussion, and let religious superstition and irrational idiocy rule our lives.” What a sad statement to be proud of.

A part of me wishes I was more sympathetic to Muslims in this matter. Right now, Islam is the whipping boy of the entire world, and people who have no dog in the fight are being dragged in. The problem is, it’s not arbitrary. Atrocious acts are being committed on a regular basis under the guise of Islamic teaching. Women are being subjugated and abused, children are being seduced into murdering people, secular education and life is being forced to make accommodation after accommodation for impractical dress codes… Islam is not being targeted at random. And while I’m sure there are many moderate Muslims who don’t think it’s right that these things go on, they complain until they are blue in the face when someone draws a picture, but there is no similar outrage when someone firebombs a hack cartoonist’s house. Where’s the protests then? Where are the Facebook groups decrying the distortion of your purportedly peaceful religious beliefs? Oh right, they’re right there next to the “Evangelical Christians for Abortion Rights” and “Jews against Palestinian civilian deaths” groups. You can’t have your hypocrisy and eat it too.

There is one group of people in this story with whom I do sympathize. Just like you’ll find in any group of people, there are many smart Muslim people who can see the point of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day – affirming the statement that one’s personal religious beliefs do not apply to anyone else. If I believe that the ghost of Colonel Sanders lives in the apartment next door, my neighbours don’t have to let me into their home to pray and eat chicken 4 times a day. Just as they are not obligated to accommodate my superstition, nobody in the world has the right to tell me that I must censor myself to abide by their religious beliefs. Talk about why it offends you, if you wish. Engage in a dialogue. But when people see that the beliefs of one group of people are affecting how they live their lives and express themselves, they have every right to fight back and do the exact same (minus the violence). While I deplore anyone who lifts a finger to hurt an innocent Muslim (or an innocent anyone) as an act of revenge for the actions of extremist groups, I cannot condemn someone for drawing a picture and forcing a debate.

China jails 3 people for speaking out against rape

Good GOD I’m glad I don’t live in China:

Fan Yanqiong, Wu Huaying and You Jingyou were found guilty of slander and harming state interests, in a trial which attracted protests outside court. They had posted videos online in which the woman said her daughter died after being raped by thugs linked to police.

Does there have to be any more evidence that free speech is a good idea? How can anyone defend the right of the state to put people in prison because it “harms state interests” to speak out against the rape of a young girl? I can imagine fewer things more horrible than experiencing the rape and death of your daughter (maybe getting sprayed with motherfucking acid, but it’s a close second). Imagine going through that horrifying ordeal, and then being thrown in jail because you talked about it. Any attempt on China’s part to claim a positive human rights record is a line of bullshit as long as they allow practices like this to even be a remote possibility.

But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t even have to slander the government, just criticize them and get locked up:

A Tibetan writer who had signed an open letter critical of the Chinese government’s quake relief efforts in western Qinghai province has been detained by police, according to a family friend.

The writer, pseudonym Zhogs Dung, is apparently a regular critic of the government. You have to admire the grapefruit-seized balls it takes to be a regular critic of a government that locks you up if your kid gets raped. After the recent earthquake, Zhogs posted a criticism of the government’s efforts, saying it was better to send money through someone you knew because of widespread corruption. “Corrupt, are we?” said the government “we’ll show you how not corrupt we are, by arresting you and refusing to say why you’re being charged!” Someone’s been paying attention to the USA’s practices with “foreign combatants” at Gitmo.

But to be fair, China does allow some free speech, as long as you’re a multi-million dollar corporation, but then you don’t get much of a choice:

China is poised to pass a law requiring telecommunications and internet companies to report any revelation of state secrets, potentially forcing businesses to collaborate with the country’s vast security apparatus that stifles political dissent.

“Information should be free!” says China. Well, “free” so long as the government wants to know it. If you as a citizen want to know what the government is doing, then you’re out of luck. But if the government wants to hack your private information… well then you’re also out of luck. Basically, if you live in China, you’re shit out of luck.

I realize that it’s an incredible privilege I enjoy, being able to insult the Chinese, American, Canadian, Indonesian (and on, and on) governments without fear of being put in jail. I take this gift seriously, which is why I promise to keep bringing stuff like this up. Free speech is bloody inconvenient. It’s probably the hardest thing to make practical. However, it’s of vital importance to the health of society. Abrogation of free speech is a threat to civilization everywhere. The only way we were able to claw western Europe out of the dark ages was through the increased availability of information and free speech. Persia and China seem poised to take a huge jump back into the good old days of religious (or secular totalitarian) domination of law and political systems, with the United States not lingering too far behind. Now more than ever (well… maybe not more than ever, but still now) we need to stand up with one voice and say that free speech is the right of every human person, and the only way to secure a free, peaceful world.

Things make me happy, y’know

I heard second-hand from one reader that this blog reads like a series of angry rants. Of course, this same reader has known me since high-school, so I’m not sure why that surprised her at all… but whatever. If I come across as angry, it’s because, well, sometimes I am angry. There are a lot of crappy things happening in the world, and I think ignoring them is not going to fix them. The more we talk about, discuss and confront the problems facing the world, the faster we’ll find solutions for them.

But lest you think that my entire outlook on life is a negative one, today I’m going to exhibit some news stories that made me happy. I should mention, at this point, that I am incredibly gay for science. There was a story about a remote-controlled robot that can perform heart surgery that made me dance a little jig on the inside (my outside was at the office – not very professional). However, there are a lot of really good science and technology sites that profile way cooler stuff than I can. This site is about race and religion and free speech – topics I find important and interesting to talk about. And despite the impression I may have cultivated thus far, there are indeed some things on these topics that make me very happy.

Of course, my hard-on for secularism and the removal of religion from society is well-documented on this site. So I was very happy to read this story of groups of young Lebanese people publicly asserting their right to both free speech and freedom from religious dictates. Lebanon has a system that is so entrenched in religion that the secular values we take for granted here make Canada look like a paradise in comparison. This made me really happy to see.

As a heterosexual man and a quasi-feminist (I believe in equal rights for everybody, which isn’t quite feminism but works quite well as a pick-up line when talking to a feminist) there is a special place in my heart for women. I joke, often, at the expense of women, but if you cut me down and looked at the rings on my trunk, you’d find that I have a deep and abiding respect for women. Islam in its present, public form treats women as an unfortunate and repugnant necessity (this is, I learn, an extremely recent “development” in the overall history of Islam). However, the sensationalized portrayal of Islam covers up the fact that, like all religions, there are individual practitioners and groups who are much less radical and far more accepting of secular principles. This story, about a group that works to teach new immigrant Muslim women how to adapt to life in The Netherlands, made me happy and hopeful for a future in which personal religious beliefs can be superseded by more positive, non-religious, affiliation.

And the women are at it again. Three girls from Palestine, seeing how their blind aunt and uncle struggled to get around obstacles and inclines, invented a new kind of cane for them to use… with freakin’ lasers! At a time when some Muslim theocratic countries won’t even let girls go to school, these girls had the wherewithal and scientific know-how to develop a new technology that could potentially improve the lives of thousands and millions of people all over the world. Yeah, theocrats are right. Girls shouldn’t be allowed education, or to own property, or vote. Clearly that would only raise the standard of living for the disabled. Who wants that?

Human beings are capable of great evil. Our history has been storied with accounts of massacre, rape, torture, unbelievable acts of cruelty… the list goes on. Thankfully, human beings are also capable of acts of great goodness. As I will write about someday soon, I think we’re turning the corner of a new Renaissance with the internet acting as the new printing press. No longer is knowledge stored up in ivory towers, unavailable to all but the initiated, but is readily available at the click of a mouse. This program, designed to bring the world to the fingertips of even the very poor, is a step in the right direction for humanity as a whole. This story, about the One Laptop Per Child program making inroads in one of the most devastated areas on the globe, made me unbelievably ecstatic. Some of the poorest kids in the world being given opportunities to learn that weren’t available to me, living in the lap of privilege, at that age – how can your heart not be warmed?

This one’s a little off-topic, but still pretty cool. City council in Vancouver has put measures in place to ensure that products sold locally are, whenever “possible and practicable”, coming from certified “Fair Trade” sources. This is the way capitalism is supposed to work, where market decisions are influenced by local forces, global conscience being one of those forces. It says good things that a city as large as Vancouver is able to make changes like this. Hopefully this idea catches some steam.

So please let it never be said that I find no joy in life. Just as there are multitudes of horrific events taking place all over the world, and I’m not going to stop talking about them, there are positive, life-affirming events taking place too. If I focus more on the negative than the positive, I do it because I want us all, myself included, to shake off the complacency that can so easily settle in and to recognize that there’s a lot of work to do. I’ll do my best to inject a bit more good with the bad, but try to remember that despite my vigorous polemic, I am a fundamentally happy person who loves puppies and rainbows and stickers.

Here’s another picture of an otter:

Happy now?

Critical Mass of crazy

In physics, there is a term called ‘critical mass’ which describes the minimum possible amount of fissile material required to generate a self-powered nuclear chain reaction. If there is less than this critical mass available for the reaction, it will not happen.

This concept can be applied sociologically, partially to explain why the forces of stupid seem to be less prevalent here in Canada than we see in the States. The United States of America (population 307 million as of June, 2009) is nearly ten times larger than Canada (population 33.3 million). That means that for every person and personality you see here in Canada there are, demographically speaking, around 10 more like that in the USA. 75% of Canadians live along a long (nearly 9,000 km) strip of land, with cities spread out over many miles. As a result of this confluence of geography and population size, Canadians are relatively more spread out than our southern neighbours.

So when someone has a crazy idea (like immigrants are putting salsa in the water supply, or that the government is stealing their dreams), it’s much harder for them to find an audience for that idea in Canada. There’s simply fewer people around, and fewer still that are willing to listen. As a result, the ideas that take root in Canada will tend to be closer to the mainstream, simply due to the fact that the most bizarre ones won’t go very far.

However, in the United States, there are 10 times as many people around to hear the weirdo ideas. You are, therefore, 10 times more likely to have someone listen to and believe your theory that dental fillings are how secret Illuminati wizards are polluting your semen with atheism. You’re 10 times more likely to have the opportunity to gather like-minded people under your banner of insanity. Once an idea is represented by a group, it gathers credibility – much like a supercritical nuclear reaction increases in energy as it goes along. Soon, you’ve got a political lobby demanding sperm screening of all political candidates who have ever had a cavity.

There needs to be a sufficient number of people in relatively easy contact with each other to allow a dumb idea to gain enough speed to be self-fueled. Just like with a nuclear reaction, a bad idea (or even a good idea that’s before its time) will peter out when it lacks the numbers required to sustain it. The disparity we can see between the market for craziness, the government distrust and splinter groups we see in the USA may at least partially explained by this critical mass issue.

Of course you might be thinking “why doesn’t India or China have 30 times the crazy of Canada?” India is actually closer to ancient Greece – a collection of non-federated city-states that is nominally under the control of a centralized government. China on the other hand is completely under the control of its centralized government. If you aren’t allowed to speak your crazy ideas for fear of having the Glorious People’s Secret Police come knocking at your door, you’re probably not going to be forming any political parties or lobbies. The USA and Canada are nation-states with closely-held free speech laws.

Free speech is clearly one o’ them double-edged swords.

Belgian bid to ban book is bad… uh… bdecision

My alliteration has seen better days, it seems.

It’s tough sometimes to see how the disparate interests on this blog (religion, free speech, race and critical thinking) fit together into an overall picture. Religion and free speech are often at odds, so that’s an easy fit I suppose. Religion stands opposed to critical thinking, so again it’s not a major stretch to tie those two individual elements together. But where does race fit in? I often find myself scratching my head asking myself the same question: are my discussions on race simply an outlier to an otherwise pro-secularist blog? Does my ‘skeptic hat’ clash with my ‘black man waistcoat’?

Thankfully, sometimes I see things in the news that help tie the whole ball of wax together:

A Congolese man is trying to get a controversial Tintin book banned in the cartoon star’s home country of Belgium. A court is to rule on whether the book can be sold in Belgium and, if so, whether it should carry a warning.

The Tintin book in question concerns an incredibly-offensive depiction of African people as stupid and primitive, as the (white) main character does them a good turn by teaching them important things about the world. Of course, it’s the world from the point of view of the European colonizers, which brings up a whole host of auxiliary issues. This man, Bienvenu Mbutu, is seeking to have the book banned on grounds that it portrays an appallingly racist view of black Africans.

I was initially torn over this issue. As a victim of the negative portrayal of black people in popular media, I applaud any decision to ameliorate the damage done by such propaganda. However, while I am a black man, I am first and foremost a Canadian. One of the things that comes with the territory of living in an Enlightened democracy like Canada is defense of the right of free speech. Banning books is the infringement of free speech, which is wrong. It didn’t sit right with me, and the cognitive dissonance bothered me.

After giving it some serious thought, I arrived at a realization. Far from being a negative portrayal of black Africans (although it is that, too), this book is a shocking revelation about the history of white Europeans (I guess, in this case, Belgians). This is a real piece of history that shows how intellectually and morally bankrupt the paternalistic society of European colonial powers was. These types of images, which rightly shock and appall us today, were seen as either harmless entertainment (for children, no less) or as accurate depictions of reality. The colonial powers thought nothing of taking land from people who they saw as little more than human-like animals. The aftershocks of this perverse racist attitude are still felt today in Africa, parts of Asia, the Caribbean and South America (to say nothing of the United States and Canada).

Banning this book would only serve to attempt to mask history. These types of publication are emblematic of a time in our world where everyone believed the lie of white supremacy. Now that we are trying to extricate ourselves (and by ‘we’ I mean everyone, white people included) from the deep entrenchment of this false ideology, we need to examine our own past to see how it affects our present. Sweeping the nasty parts of our history under the rug of contrived ignorance will only serve to prolong the issues of race and racism. Furthermore, we will lose the opportunity to use artifacts from our (recent) history to learn from our mistakes.

I think the book should be allowed to be sold, but with an introduction that highlights the context in which the book was written. Talk about the predominant attitudes of the day, admit that work still needs to be done, but while you’re at it, make mention of the amount of progress that has been made in a relatively short time. It’s only by acknowledging our past and incorporating it into our present that we can reach the long-sought future of racial integration.

Indonesia lobs one over the plate

I write a blog that highlights, among other things, the pervasive way in which religion detrimentally affects the lives of people all over the world. I also put a fair amount of effort into highlighting issues of free speech, which is something I feel quite strongly about.

Indonesia isn’t even trying to make my job difficult.

On Monday, Indonesia’s constitutional court decided in favour of its controversial 1967 blasphemy law, thwarting hopes it would be reviewed to allow new religions and sects.

Hooray for the modern world! While thousands of people work tirelessly every day to cure disease, discover more about the world and push the frontiers of human endeavour, Indonesia’s religion-controlled government (can you say “theocracy”? I knew you could!) is cracking down on people whose beliefs are a different kind of stupidity than the officially-licensed stupid. This bootleg stupid can’t be allowed to spread, or people might start realizing that if several contradictory views of the supernatural exist, they might all be wrong.

“The majority of Indonesia’s 235 million strong population are moderate Sunni Muslims, with a reputation for tolerance.”

This quote baffles me. A Muslim majority country, with a Sunni majority therein, who are purportedly tolerant (I have no idea what that means in the context of religion, particularly in a theocratic country), upholds a law banning non-sanctioned religious expression. Perhaps someone at the BBC mis-spelled “ignorance”.

While I am (clearly) not a fan of religion, I am even less a fan of state-sponsored religion. More than that, I am even less a fan of telling people they are not allowed to speak their beliefs, no matter what they might happen to be. While I make fun of places like Indonesia, Ireland, Lybia and Somalia I do so out of a deep sadness. No progress has ever been made, either by individuals or by societies, by jailing dissidents for speaking up against corrupt power. We will never be able to free people from the crushing yoke of poverty until we can throw off the oppressive influence of small-minded religious bigots. Religion has no place in either our laws or the marketplace of ideas.

Why I’m glad I live in Canada

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a big fan of free speech. Free speech means free societies. It also means it’s almost impossible to completely crush a minority group for being dissident to the majority rule. As a black man, I know why ‘majority rules’ isn’t always a positive thing.

Which is why these news items make me glad I live here in Canada (even with its tainted speech laws) and not in Somalia.

Most radio stations in Somalia have stopped playing music, on the orders of Islamist Hizbul-Islam insurgents who say that songs are un-Islamic.

Ignore for the moment the backwards stone-age attitudes of people who appear to be former residents of the town from Footloose. One of Somalia’s most well-known exports, besides pirates, is expatriate singer/songwriter K’Naan. He’s been featured on official soundtracks for the charity War Child, FIFA Soccer video games, and most recently his anthem “Wavin’ Flag” has been appointed as the official theme song for the 2010 World Cup. Counterpoint this – an internationally prolific symbol of freedom, human rights and awareness spreading his message through music – to a repressive, backwards country that won’t even let the BBC report from there. How can such a contradictory juxtaposition occur?

It’s easy – K’Naan grew up in Canada. Canada has free speech and actively supports artistic expression, even when it’s decidedly anti-government (think of the Air Farce, which happened on government-funded radio and television for the better part of 4 decades). Canada, even with its exception for hate speech (which I disagree with), allows people to express ideas freely. Contrast that to Lybia where if you complain because you’re getting tortured, they lock you up.

Free speech makes the world a better place. It’s of primary importance to the survival of any enlightened, progressive society. Erosion of free speech means the erosion of progress and liberty, both of which improve quality of life for people. Muslim apologists often say that “Islam means peace” and that devout Muslim belief is a path towards beauty. Somalia puts this claim to the lie.

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