Wives, be subject(ed) to your husbands

I’m not married. I have no idea if I ever will get married. But if I do, it won’t be to anyone who’s read this book:

Malaysian officials have banned a controversial book that offers sex tips to Muslim women, reports say. The book, entitled Islamic Sex, is believed to have been read by a few hundred people. It was published by a group known as the Obedient Wives’ Club, which has been widely criticised for promoting polygamy and denigrating women.

The Obedient Wives’ Club told journalists last month that the book was intended as a spiritual guide to be read only by club members to help them comprehend sex. The club has previously said women should act like “first-class prostitutes” to prevent their husbands from having affairs or resorting to violence.


Funnily enough, there’s no advice to the husbands on how to make sex a life- and relationship-affirming experience for their wives. It’s almost as if the publishers of this book think that sex is a woman’s duty, and that the husband’s role is to simply enjoy it. Almost as if, despite constant propaganda from Muslim apologists (and other theists, to be sure), following the Qur’an doesn’t establish women and men as equals, but rather as a dominant and submissive relationship (but not the good kind). [Read more…]

Walking on the gayest eggshells possible

One concept that we don’t discuss much in the “Western” world (a label that I find completely inaccurate and useless) is that of colonialism. Since Canada’s political structure and demographics are made up overwhelmingly of the descendants of European immigrants, we have much less of a post-colonial headache than South American and African countries (and indeed, many Asian countries as well). The United States points repeatedly to its birth as rebellion from its colonial masters, allowing it to throw off the weight of post-colonial detritus. The European countries are the ones who did the colonizing, so their relationship with the subject is quite different. The result of this confluence of historical and political/economic factors is that the only people who really discuss colonialism are members of minority groups.

We’re going to need to understand the issue a lot better:

The UK is showing a “bullying mentality” by threatening to cut aid to countries where homosexuality is illegal, a Ugandan official says. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said at the weekend that those receiving British aid should respect gay rights. But Ugandan presidential adviser John Nagenda told the BBC Ugandans were “tired of these lectures” and should not be treated like “children”.

The issue at discussion here is the proposal to withdraw foreign aid from countries that refuse to recognize universal human rights for homosexual people. The move is lauded by gay rights groups who say that it is hypocritical of countries like the UK to talk about promoting human rights, but to provide aid to regimes that criminalize homosexuality. It is derided, on the other hand, by African leaders who see it as an attempt to force “Western” moral standards on the rest of the world. Uganda is one of the worst offenders, to be sure, but they’re not alone:

Ghana’s President John Atta Mills has rejected the UK’s threat to cut aid if he refuses to legalise homosexuality. Mr Atta Mills said the UK could not impose its values on Ghana and he would never legalise homosexuality. (snip)

Mr Atta Mills said Mr Cameron was entitled to his views, but he did not have the right to “direct to other sovereign nations as to what they should do”. He said Ghana’s “societal norms” were different from those in the UK. “I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana,” Mr Atta Mills said.

Because I think it’s important to understand the different perspectives at play here, and because I don’t think the answer to this problem is cut and dry, I will borrow a device from one of my fellow FTBorgs and present this discussion as a dialogue between Mary Washburn from Essex, England and Jason Ngeze from Kampala, Uganda. [Read more…]

Occupy the ‘Hood

This one is just going to be a stub. I would have liked it to be a full-length post, but a) I’m running out of time in the week, and b) there’s other stuff that I want to get said before Movie Friday. So I will instead just invite you to read about something I think is very cool and important:

Just one week into the Occupy Wall Street movement, some activists identified what they considered a major flaw in the organising process, saying that people of colour in the United States were left out of the initial mobilisation. From the start, the Occupy movement has prided itself on representing “99 per cent” of the population, meaning they have vastly different experiences from the highest earning one per cent, who have a much stronger ability to control and affect both the financial system and the government.

But some activists view the 99 per cent claim critically, saying that they were not included, and therefore the claim is problematic. As soon as Malik Rhaasan began to use Facebook and Twitter for his idea of “Occupy the Hood”, an Occupy sub-organisation that would aim to bring people of colour into the organising process, it began to catch on. Between the two outreach tools, the group has more than 7,000 followers from around the world, and at least five major US cities have organised their own chapters.

I mentioned some aspects of this phenomenon before, but the fact is that the problems plaguing the middle class in the United States have been the reality for black and brown Americans for many years. The police brutality leveled against peaceful protesters is also nothing new to black Americans – at least nobody has been shot for wallet possession yet.  [Read more…]

Fuck you, Oakland

I don’t usually shoot from the hip like this, but what happened in Oakland last night is disgusting:

Police in riot gear have used non-lethal weapons on a crowd of more than 1,000 people attempting to march on to Oakland’s city hall to condemn arrests made at an “Occupy Wall Street” camp. Police dispersed the crowd with what appeared to be stun grenades and set off tear gas to drive the demonstrators away from a plaza in Oakland’s business district that had been at the centre of Tuesday’s conflict. Ali Winston, a journalist at the scene, described to Al Jazeera the police’s tactics. “There have been two incidents of tear gas, flash-bang grenades and less-than-lethal projectiles beanbags being fired at the crowd,” he said. “In one instance, they used CS gas – which is a stronger version of tear gas that affects your respiratory system as well as your eyes, as well as burning your skin. So that’s happened twice since then.”

Thus adding to the list of cities that I will never visit unless circumstances force me to. Mayor Jean Quan – you’re scum and the world would be a better place if you had never been born. Police have sworn a duty to protect and serve the people, and attacking a peaceful protest, no matter how otherwise unruly, does neither of those things. Arresting people for “assembling without a permit” directly contravenes the First Amendment, and I hope that a lot of the officers involved serve prison terms. I hear they’re not too nice to pigs in the joint – maybe they’ll like you better if you tell them the story of the totally badass time you opened fire on a group of unarmed civilians.

Even if it wasn’t evil, responding to peaceful protest with violence is stupid. All it does is galvanize people against the police and grant the movement legitimacy. I’m amazed that we keep allowing stupid people who have learned nothing from history make our political decisions. So Jean Quan:

Fuck you.

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Absolute speech freedom? Absolutely!

Blogging requires a bit of a thick skin, or at least a certain amount of self-assuredness. The more people scrutinizing your ideas, the more likely you are to have people openly disagree with you. I recognize that I am breathing fairly rarefied air, here at Freethought Blogs – most of the people reading my posts already agree with most of my basic premises. There are perhaps a handful of topics that I introduce in a given month of blogging that are foreign to 90% of the readership here. I recognize that. I also recognize that by the virtue of not owning a uterus, I will escape a lot of the uglier side of attacks (since everyone knows racism is bad, but misogyny still seems to be okay).

This is why I’m always somewhat buoyed whenever I come across someone who can express my opinion for me: [Read more…]

Canada’s hate speech laws collide with reality

For those of you who are noticing an alarming trend in my writing, I will come clean: I really like Canada. So much so, that I can’t seem to shut up about it. I’d apologize, but a) I’m not sorry, and b) I know that this glut of Canadiana is a passing phase, and I’ll have a new pet topic in a few weeks for you to get sick of. Anyway, as I was saying, I really like my country. There is, however, one aspect of Canadian life that I wish was more, dare I say, American – our stupid approach to hate speech:

The country’s highest court heard arguments pitting freedom of expression against laws banning hate speech Wednesday, setting the stage for an eventual ruling on what is more in need of protection: groups targeted with hatred, or a citizen’s right to speak freely. It could take the Supreme Court months to decide on which side they fall in the case of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission versus William Whatcott. The commission is appealing a decision that overturned its original ruling against Whatcott, who published and distributed four anti-gay flyers in towns and cities in Saskatchewan in 2001 and 2002. They led four people to file complaints with the commission.

As someone who feels most at home talking about things that make polite society squirm – religion, racism, poverty, the idea that people can actually be wrong about things – I place a premium on free speech. Penn Jillette likes to talk about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (the right of every citizen to own bear’s arms), saying that it’s the one that protects all the others. This, quite frankly, is militaristic nonsense. A gun doesn’t protect your right against unreasonable search and seizure – you pull a gun on a cop and that search all of a sudden becomes pretty fucking reasonable, amirite? [Read more…]

Anti-abortion or anti-contraception: pick one

One of my favourite bits of trivia about Christianity specifically is that the teachings attributed to Jesus say far more against hypocrisy than they do about sex. This, of course, does not seem to faze his ‘followers’ whose anti-sex crusade seems to be taking notes directly from Orwell (who are we kidding? They’ve never read Orwell). While the weird pre-occupation of the religious with sex is well-understood, this does not seem to dissuade the throngs of pious outrage from trying to interfere every time someone drops trou.

While we here in the north agonize with our southern cousins over the disgraceful erosion of that most sacred American ideal – the separation of church from state – a little known fact is that Canada has its own religious right that is intentionally mimicking the tactics of the “Moral Majority”. A bit of background before I launch into this news tidbit. More than a decade following the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade that found anti-abortion laws unconstitutional in the USA, Canada’s Supreme Court made its own finding that no laws could be passed against abortion in Canada the current abortion laws were similarly illegal (thanks to ibis3 for the correction). While Roe v. Wade was couched in the right of privacy enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, Canada’s court was a bit more explicit. It was ruled that anti-abortion laws violated the security of the person, as laid out in our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of this legalese is unimportant, particularly to those that don’t live in the USA or Canada, but bear with me.

Abortion has been, since then, a relative non-issue in Canada. Nobody has really brought a substantive case against abortion rights, and we don’t have nutjobs running doctors out of town (at least not any that make the news – if I’m wrong someone please tell me). However, the religious right – emboldened by a recently-elected majority government – have decided that if it’s fixed, break it: [Read more…]

News blast: police edition

Once again, because of time constraints and my lack of willingness to let things simply slip through the cracks and into my delete bin, I am giving you abstracted versions of news items that I think should have been developed into full-length blog posts, but for the lack of time. Sometimes my trouble as a blogger is finding enough material to get me going – this week I have the opposite problem. Here’s some stories about police, law, and justice.

‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest draws police brutality

The peaceful Occupy Wall Street protest march turned violent as the NYPD corralled and pepper sprayed the participants. Mass arrests were made and loaded onto a NYC bus further locking traffic. The protest march took a route from Zuccotti Park to Union Square on East 14th Street. The protesters were marching back to Zuccotti Park when the NYPD turned violent. Hitting, arresting and forcing protesters into a small area. At that point a NYPD supervisor yelled shut up to one of the protesters and shot pepper spray into her eyes point blank range and hitting a half dozen protesters (including 3 police officers) when they had nowhere to go. The same supervising officer was seen (photographed) laughing after the arrests while looking at his text messages. The peaceful protest march started as 300 participants but rose to over 1,000 as the event stopped traffic in lower Manhattan. People spontaneously joined the march over a 2 hour period.

I usually like to source these kinds of things from major media outlets, but sadly the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor and Amanda Knox seem to be far more interesting to even outlets like the BBC. Maybe you hadn’t heard, but this vicious gang of thugs has destroyed billions (perhaps trillions) in wealth by manipulating markets and selling bad loans. Instead of being punished, incidentally, they were rewarded through concerted lobbying in the halls of power. If you’re pissed off, you can join a few hundred of your fellow citizens to demand that something be done about the surreal level of irresponsibility and fraud being perpetrated against the people of the world by a small group of elite jerkoffs. But don’t protest too hard, or you’ll get pepper-sprayed in the face.

Luckily the asshole who committed this assault is being named and shamed. Even if the police don’t prosecute him (and they won’t, because they circle the wagons around their own like the Catholic Church every time one of their officers breaks the law), he has been tried in the court of public opinion. Click on the link above to see some pretty graphic images of what happened that day.

Sixty percent of Toronto police arrests result in strip searches

More than 60 per cent of people arrested by Toronto police last year were forced to undergo a strip search, according to police statistics. But a police accountability group says routine searches are against the law and alleges Toronto police are using the practice to humiliate and intimidate people. Police figures show that 31,072 people were strip-searched in 2010, up from 29,789 the previous year. John Sewell of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC) said that means about 60 per cent of those arrested in Toronto were subjected to a strip search.

“Silly Crommunist”, you are probably saying while shaking your head and smiling indulgently “that’s an American story! Up here in our glorious north our police are respectful and kind! They’d never do that.” Yeah… seems not to be the case. Toronto cops, by their own statistics, have revealed themselves to be just as brutal, unforgiving and short-sighted as their American counterparts. Strip searches may be necessary in a small minority of cases, but unless Toronto criminals are in the habit of keeping dangerous goods taped flat to their bodies, a thorough search could be just as easily accomplished by a pat-down. This isn’t just my opinion, either – it happens to be the opinion of an Ontario superior court judge. If their goal is to humiliate and intimidate (which it seems to be), then I have no more sympathy for the Toronto police than I do for the fuckwads in New York.

Vancouver street cops still de facto mental health workers

Vancouver ‘street cops’ are still filling the gaps in B.C.’s flawed mental health system, despite recommendations in a powerful 2008 report on policing the city’s mentally ill, an updated report finds. The 2008 report, titled Lost in Transition: How a Lack of Capacity in the Mental Health System is Failing Vancouver’s Mentally Ill and Draining Police Resources, detailed flaws in B.C.’s mental health system and their effects on policing. The problems included the lack of available long-term care, lack of hospital space and difficulties in getting people assessed.

Because I opine on politics a lot, people have asked me what I would do if I had unlimited political power. Well, the first thing I would do is create some limits, because no one person should have that kind of power, but the second thing I would do is drastically increase the level and scope of mental health care we provide to our citizens. We spend an unbelievable amount of money on health care problems that should be handled through therapy rather than hospitalization. I’d certainly have the Vancouver police on my side, I’d bet. While they are not qualified as mental health workers, they are the ones who provide that service (at a level of pay far below what an actual mental health worker receives, and far below what such a person deserves). To get an idea of how serious the problems are here, take a gander at the blog written by one Vancouver beat patrol officer:

1515 hrs – Exit the courthouse in desperate need of coffee and breakfast. I’m supposed to be working one-man tonight, so I make plans with my old partner, Tyler, to visit Save-on-Meats for their all-day brekkie. But first we’ve got to deal with the shirt-less guy flipping out across the street. He’s flailing around, delivering spinning karate-kicks at phantom opponents and doing the kind of back-bends that would make even Bikram Coudhuryshudder. His behaviour, the track marks on his arms, and the needle and crack pipe in his pocket, give us a pretty good idea of what he’s been up to. We call for EHS, and 36 minutes later our friend is heading to St. Paul’s Hospital with the ambulance crew for some Narcan.

Not a glamorous lifestyle, to say the least.

So while I can sympathize with a police force that is overworked and whose positive contributions often go unrewarded, that is not enough to persuade me from my blanket condemnation of the insular, self-righteous environment that police forces in our country and others operate within. I treat police in the same way I do stray dogs – while they might look friendly, all it takes is one bad one for me to be in serious trouble.

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Movie Friday: If it please the court

I would never dream of cheating on my one true love, The West Wing. However, its slightly less hot (but still smokin’) cousin Boston Legal caught my eye one one of those lonely, Bartlettless nights and swept me up in its strong arms. I truly don’t understand what it is that makes it so unpopular to have politically-relevant shows that explore the arguments on both sides of issues. They seem to be incredibly popular when they manage to make it on the air, and yet so few of them ever do. While it’s nice to have 30 Rock stroking all the liberal talking points, I’d love to see a drama that explores them more honestly – even through comedy.

That being said, for all its truly funny moments, Boston Legal also hits us right in the heart at times, often through main character Alan Shore’s closing statements in cases. Today’s video comes from S01E17 – Death Be Not Proud:

Please excuse the cheesy song in the background. I cannot fathom why someone would want to ruin such a great speech with such a terrible soundtrack. Take it up with the uploader.

This video should stand as a tribute to the memory of Troy Davis – a man executed under similarly doubt-ridden circumstances, executed by a state that would rather see a man die for a perverted sense of ‘justice’ than to do a thorough job investigating his innocence.

The transcript of the video is available here, but this is the relevant bit:

Alan Shore: I am here. With all due respect, may it please the court, because I have a problem with the State executing a man with diminished capacity. Who may very well be innocent! I’m particularly troubled, 8 may it please the court, with all due respect, that you don’t have a problem with it. You may not want to regard my client’s innocence, but you cannot possibly disregard the fact that 117 wrongfully convicted people have been saved from execution in this country. 117! The system is hardly foolproof.

And Texas! This State is responsible for a full third of all executions in America. How can that be? The criminals are  just somehow worse here? Last year you accounted for fully half of the nation’s executions. Fifty percent from one State! You cannot disregard the possibility, the possibility, that something’s up in Texas.

Judge Lance Abrams: I would urge you to confine your remarks to your client, and not the good state of  Texas.

Alan Shore: Zeke Borns never had a chance. He was rounded up as a teenager, thrown in a cell while he was still doped up on drugs, brow-beaten and interrogated, until his IQ of eighty was overcome, he confessed to a crime he had no memory of, still has no memory of, for which there is no evidence, other than two witnesses who saw him pumping gas around the time of the murder. He was given a coked-up lawyer, who admittedly did nothing.

I’m now before nine presumably intelligent people in the justice business, who have the benefit of knowing all of this. Add to that, you know DNA places somebody else at the scene, and you’re indifferent! You don’t care! Whether you believe in my client’s innocence, and I’ll assume, with all due respect, may it please the court, that you don’t! You cannot be sure of his guilt! You simply cannot! And failing that, how can you kill him? How can you kill him?

How indeed?

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Hate speech: it’s got a funky beat, and I can bug out to it!


One of the frustrating things about delving into the world of anti-racism is that you will inevitably run into someone who makes a completely unbalanced equivocation between the racism that people of colour (PoCs) encounter and the discomfort associated with race relations from the point of view of a white person. “I live in an all-black neighbourhood – I can’t even ride the bus without feeling people stare at me!” And while trying to be careful not to minimize their discomfort, some poor sap has to explain that when you get off that bus outside your neighbourhood, it is in every conceivable way better for you to be  white person than the black people who make you feel like the ‘victim of reverse racism’.

Within the construct of North American racial relations, there are really very few examples of legitimate anti-white racism. If one comes from the perspective that racism is the product of prejudice and power – that is, that racism must have some real force behind it to be meaningful – then there are essentially none. I don’t personally subscribe to that definition, but it does have a lot of merit in specific contexts (I won’t go further than that for now. Maybe another time). Critics of anti-racism, therefore, conflate the approach with simply being “anti-white”, which is about as accurate as saying that feminism is anti-male (but of course there are many who think that as well).

Therefore I am, in a weird way, happy to present you with the following:

South Africa’s high court has ruled that the anti-apartheid song Shoot the Boer is hate speech and banned the ruling ANC from singing it. Afrikaans interest group Afriforum had complained about ANC youth league leader Julius Malema singing the song, which refers to white farmers. Mr Malema and other ANC leaders had argued that the song was a celebration of the fight against minority rule. They said the words were not meant to be taken literally.

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with my sometimes-fraught relationship with hate speech. While I am a proud progressive liberal, my stance on free speech is something of a digression from my fellows, who believe that speech inciting hatred can be and should be legally curtailed. My problem with hate speech controls comes from a variety of sources – first of all I am unconvinced that we can define and enforce a consistent standard of ‘hate’. Even if we could, there is incomplete evidence to suggest that hate speech restrictions reduce the amount of hatred in society, rather than simply shifting it underground (where it is arguably more dangerous).

That being said, I don’t think we should simply call all speech good simply because it exists. There is absolutely hate speech, and it is always deplorable. We should criticize ideas vigorously and unashamedly. We should treat the people who hold those ideas as our fellow human beings, with all the fundamental rights we would like for ourselves and those we love. As much as I am happy to criticize religious zealots, or racists, or climate change denialists, or any group that holds positions that I think are destructive, the moment that someone attempts to treat those people as anything other than humans deserving of respect I will take up a placard and demonstrate for their rights.

Not so for Mr. Malema. My attempts at prognostication are usually simple idle speculation, but having read a bit of his background, I think that when a man like Julius Malema gains real political power, it will be the dawn of a dangerous era for South Africa. While he may not harbour legitimate hatred of white people, he is not above fanning the flames of hatred in those that do, and who see their violent hatred reflected in his speech. While his calls to “shoot the Boer” are, to hear him say it, simply a nod toward the history of the ANC, they are also a very specific call for violence. At that point we have left the realm of political speech and entered into criminal territory.

The song can be heard here (although it won’t mean much to you if you don’t speak Afrikaans):

Whatever you think about the content, you’ve got to admit: it’s catchy.

Like any demagogue worth her/his salt, Malema has managed to frame this censure as an illegitimate organization trying to silence the voice of truth coming from the common man:

Mr Malema said he would push for reform to the court system, which he said had not changed since the apartheid era. “If not being transformed means it’s racist, then so be it,” said Mr Malema, youth leader of the African National Congress (ANC). “Once again we find ourselves subjected to white minority approval. Apartheid is being brought through the back door.” He said he wanted liberation songs to be protected by law. “These were the songs of resistance and they will never die,” he said.

I have no problem with preserving historical artifacts, even if they’re racist. I might go so far as to say we should be more protective of the distasteful parts of our history, since they are the ones we need to learn the most from. If the question was whether or not the song can be discussed and the court ruled that the song must be banned altogether, then Mr. Malema would have a valid point. However, what he is doing instead is using deep-seated racial tension to bolster support for his ridiculous and disastrous social and economic policies – a Southern Strategy for South Africa.

Removing for a moment the discussion of who can claim responsibility for the simmering racial resentment that seems to define the political reality for South Africa, it is trivially easy to highlight this as an example of legitimate anti-white racism. A political case is being built around the exclusion and, apparently, violent suppression of the white minority in South Africa. While there are a million issues to tease out from this story – how much of a minority white South Africans really are, for example – even an anti-racist like myself can point to this as a clear case of racist hate speech.

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