Thoughts on the Omar Khadr settlement

Stephen Harperbot’s many grave atrocities are still haunting the Liberals today, and much to my chagrin the Liberals have been slow to act on many of them. One such Ghost of Xmas Past is Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was taken to Afghanistan at the age of 15 by his father, a man allegedly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. At some point during his stay in Afghanistan, Khadr was either involved or simply proximal to a combat between AQ and the United States Army. Khadr was wounded during the combat, and was alleged to be responsible for the death of one American soldier. He was captured, and tortured “enhanced interrogated” by both Canadian and American intelligence in Guantanamo Bay. He confessed (as victims of “enhanced interrogation” are wont to do) to a series of war crime charges and sentenced to 10 years prison during a military tribunal, in violation of his rights as a minor to be tried as a minor, based on evidence extracted from torture. In addition, his war crime allegations are a violation of the Geneva Convention–if Khadr was an active combatant, as the “evidence” claimed, then killing another active combatant is supposed to be within the “rules of war.” In other words: Khadr’s trial was a clusterfuck, and nobody involved at any point stopped and said “are we the baddies?”

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This is what transmisogyny looks like

When a Twitter user at the handle afroSHIRL requested a voluntary sterilization, she was told she shouldn’t get the procedure because she wasn’t married and her future husband might want kids. She rightly pointed out that this implicitly meant to the doctor that her body belongs to a man she hasn’t even met yet. The trope itself is the meeting point of two virulently misogynistic ideas: The first that a woman’s worth is defined by her appeal to men; and the second that procreation is her duty. 

Most self-identified feminists will recognise why these premises are troubling. What I hope is that we’ll start to recognise them when they’re being wielded against trans women, too:

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Hypocrisy, it’s what’s for dinner

Canada Day came and passed on this blag with nary a word, and even last year I wasn’t particularly serious about the celebration. Then, for July 4th, Marcus wrote a post about the many hypocrisies on which the American empire is founded. He notes in passing that all nations likely trade heavily in this hypocrisy, and Canada is no different.

I’ll start with this observation: Canada is consistently perceived as a trustworthy and welcoming country, ranking 1st in the entire world for four times in the past six years by survey discussed in this article. This is important context, the feature I frequently call “Teflon coating” when I’m writing about Canadian politics.

Canada could arguably be considered a part of the American hegemony in some ways, as opposed to an empire ourselves, given our assistance in some of America’s more egregious war operations. Marcus cites:

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You’re supposed to bridge Hume’s gap, not dive into it

Hume’s gap, Hume’s law, Hume’s guillotine, the “is-ought” problem, the naturalistic fallacy–they’re all phrases for the same observation: That a moral prescription (an “ought” statement) cannot be derived from an empirical observation (an “is” statement) by itself. The gap that you ought to bridge, if you want other people to clearly see your reasoning and thus evaluate your claim more accurately, can be done with the use of an “if” statement, which will delineate a specific goal or intention and which provides the avenue for empirical investigation. Which, astute readers will note, I just did with that exact sentence: “You ought to bridge the is-ought divide if you want your moral reasoning to be understood clearly because the ‘if’ will provide a logical avenue of investigation.” We could do a poll and ask which argument is more convincing: “trees produce oxygen, I need oxygen to breathe, and if I want to breathe, I ought not to cut them all down” or “trees occur spontaneously in nature, nature is good, therefore trees are good” and thus shed some light on whether my premise is accurate.

Of course, even that formulation assumes “I want my moral reasoning to be understood clearly” and so it carries a few weaknesses: If I am a charlatan, my actual moral reasoning is likely related to my immediate material gain, but being a charlatan I’d want to convince you my moral reasoning is something else, in which case my argument falls apart–the charlatan doesn’t want their moral reasoning to be clear, so they have no incentive to bridge the is-ought divide and instead pretend you can make it from one side to the other with a judicious application of creative thinking.

And so we jump feet first into moral skepticism, the intellectual quagmire in which I have been stuck waist-deep for a few years. My arms are outstretched, if any theorists from other moral schools care to grasp them in a bid to free me from my prison. I invite you to heave-ho and extract me from this intellectual quicksand in the comments, though I suspect my colleague Marcus will likely try sabotage your efforts.

All of which was a rather long-winded introduction to one of the more stark demonstrations of the is-ought divide I’ve seen in trans-antagonistic arguments: Society hates trans people, transition “cures” gender dysphoria but marks us as “trans,” therefore we should (somehow) get rid of gender dysphoria without transitioning. I’m not the first trans feminist to see this proposed to them, either–here’s Zinnia Jones: (emphasis original)

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I still need Pride in 2017… but this year it’s complicated

Last year I continued my annual “Why I Need Pride” essay series on FreethoughtBlogs–it was one of the works I submitted as a writing sample when I first applied to FTB, an ongoing project that started in 2012. A lot has changed since last year and my approach of Edmonton’s Pride festival has changed accordingly.

My opinions have shifted quite drastically in that time, a process which excites me greatly, but a process which also forces me to confront my relationship to the things around me. Since last year, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with representative democracy as a system of government. I ended up immersed in Robert Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchy, in which I walked away conceding his points about the tension between the moral autonomy of the individual and the authority of the state. The stock-fare response to the question, “is there any rational justification for the authority of the state?” is “the consent of the governed”–and yet, not a single neoliberal democracy has enjoyed even a basic majority consensus from its voters in decades, in some cases even centuries; to say nothing of how the minority by definition does not consent to the decisions of the majority. It seems to me that the governed have only “consented” if you’re willing to stretch the definition of consent on a rack for a few hours. (If you need convincing on this point, I might consider doing that in another post, just not here).

From there the actions of law enforcement in our various democracies starts to be painted in a much less favourable light. I went down the rabbithole that was the prosecution of Canada’s anarchist organizers during the G20 protests–a mass arrest in which some ~1,100 Canadians were indiscriminately rounded up in Toronto at the 2010 G20 Summit. Following this, organizers from various networks found themselves in court over conspiracy to commit mischief charges because some of the protesters damaged property. The Crown’s argument was that the organizers ought to have plausibly known that some of the people were going to damage property because they had expressed frustration during (what were supposed to be private) meetings, and so they were party to the crime. This “evidence” was acquired through surveillance and police infiltration of activist groups.

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Dear Donna Trimble: “Catholic educator” is an oxymoron

Is it time for Catholic propagandists to be ejected from our allegedly public school system? I think so, but Donna Trimble thinks Catholic doctrine is “under attack” because the Alberta Teachers’ Association voted to back employees who teach actual facts in their curriculum.

Yes, we needed a union vote to guarantee that, apparently.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) has voted that Catholic educators should have the autonomy to choose lessons that are in contradiction to the Catholic doctrine upon which their schools exist.

Translation: Teachers, even if employed by the Catholic school board, can teach facts without penalty.

The primary curriculum supplement for which this vote was likely conceived, was mentioned in a recent Edmonton Sun article: “In particular, there have been concerns about teachers being discouraged from using the Professionals Respecting and supporting Individual Sexual Minorities (PRISM) toolkit that has been developed for teachers to talk about sexual and gender diversity in the classroom.”

The PRISM toolkit describes the binary understanding of male and female, as “overly simplistic and often wrong,” “misleading” and “exclusionary and harmful” (page 21), while imposing only one perspective of gender as fluid and subjective. This premise is profoundly discriminatory towards Catholicism and many other faith traditions who deem the binary understanding as sacred.

I’m not sure I see the problem here. There are plenty of “perspectives” from the Bible that we discriminate against. We don’t sell our daughters into slavery (I hope). We do not keep slaves at all, nor do we generally consider it acceptable to beat someone within an inch of their life. Why is it that your scientifically illiterate binary is suddenly untouchable?

It is up to Catholic educators, parents and the separate school boards to discern how they will confront this latest attack on their schools. The rights of parents to choose an authentic Catholic education for their children, grounded in Catholic values and permeated by their faith, must be protected.

I’ve got an idea. Maybe you can… teach it in your church?

Just a thought.

But there is a deep lack of logic in the vote itself that cannot be permitted to stand.

THIS IS GONNA BE IRONIC

This vote claims to offer up “rights” to educators that are supposedly losing autonomy, when in fact the ATA used the tyranny of the majority of their membership in an attempt to strip separate schools of their Catholic identity.

The ATA itself states in their Going to School in Alberta document, that “69 per cent (of their teacher membership) are in the public system, 22 per cent in the separate system and one per cent in the francophone system.” The vote that took place did not account for the fact that 70 per cent of the ATA membership do not teach in Catholic schools and have no vested interest in Catholic education. That is tyranny of the majority.

We ask, if the ATA decided to disrespect francophone schools and call a vote that allowed teachers in the one per cent of francophone schools to “have the autonomy” to teach in English instead of French, and 99 per cent of ATA members, with no vested interest in francophone education, voted in favour, would that stand?

Are the francophone schools trying to alter the curriculum or merely teach it in French?

With the ongoing attack on Catholic schools by the ATA, we ask, is it time for Catholic schools to find a legal framework for deregistering with the Alberta Teachers’ Association?

Yes. De-unionize. Squeeze talent out of your administration. Fuck off and wither in the dustbin of history. You can’t go fast enough.

When there is an apparent attempt to undermine the very foundation of the faith tradition that Catholic education is built upon, how can parents be assured that their children will be provided with an authentic Catholic education in each and every classroom?

You have this building, see, tax-exempt and everything, for this exact purpose. It’s not a school. Maybe you should use that.

I know you struggle with this whole “wahhhhh I have to share public space with people different from me waaahhhhh” thing but come on.

-Shiv

Vague rhetoric and female “spaces”

Siobhan — then you agree that cis women have a right to their own spaces, that trans women have privileges from having been brought up as boys, and that cis women have a right to talk about how their female bodies shape their experiences of oppression?

This is an extremely common tactic I see deployed in criticisms of my work. I don’t know if the people using it realize just how loaded some of those word choices are, and I wanted to pause a moment to unpack that.

For starters, a lot depends on what exactly we mean by the word “spaces.” Are we talking about a Sunday scrap-booking club or a crisis shelter? The differences between the two touch many areas–legal, practical, ethical, just to name a few. A private interest group needs absolutely no justification for setting its boundaries. In addition, no self-respecting trans person wants to curry favour with people who treat them like they’re untouchables. But when trans women (and it’s usually trans women who are the subjects of exclusion) talk about accessing “female” spaces, we’re not typically signing up to be the subjects of mockery at a poncy tea party. We’re usually talking about accessing the same life-or-death safeguards as cis women, those precarious flotation devices tossed overboard in a desperate bid to keep the drowning above water.

The problem is when a service that typically falls under “public accommodations” is treated as if it were legally and morally equivalent to a private interest group. The standard sleight-of-hand for the trans-exclusionary type is to drop a byline about “supporting trans resources” but unsurprisingly, not a single “womyn-born-womyn” radfem cent ever actually goes to trans-specific startups for that exact purpose. If a particular jurisdiction has few or no resources to help trans women in crisis, I feel fully justified in interrogating the motives of trans-exclusion from the existing services. It is, after all, directly and immediately contributing to the catastrophic civil and health outcomes of trans people.

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Transmisogyny is still misogyny

I think most feminists would do a double-take if they had received the endorsement of evangelicals, but not Meghan Murphy. Undeterred by the fact that the Conservatives have selected her to share the limelight alongside evangelical pastor Paul Dirks, Murphy has the privilege of taking her transmisogyny to a national stage as a “witness” for the Senate’s third reading of Bill C-16.

The sad part is that there are legitimate critiques of Bill C-16. Advocates pointed out (and I’ll admit I was a bit late to the party on this one) that trans women are already disproportionately targeted by police and are therefore more likely to be represented in prison–the same prisons that would house hate crime offenders for longer periods of time thanks to Bill C-16’s hate crime provisions. But that’s not the argument Conservatives or Murphy are making.

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