Saturday, March 21, 2015

Let's Demand Integrity from Our Politicians


It is high time to demand integrity from our politicians. Integrity can be defined as "the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness." The Bible affirms the importance of integrity in many passages. In fact, it demands integrity.

Unfortunately, this character trait often seems to be lacking in politicians. While I I do not mean to suggest that all politicians are challenged in this way, some are, and they are the ones who give all politicians a bad name. 

Admittedly, only a few politicians seem to totally lacking in integrity. One such politician is the
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who recently revealed his lack of integrity to the whole world. And, as he is discovering, there is an enormous price to pay.

Barely three days after Netanyahu had told Israeli voters that there would not be a Palestinian state if he were to be reelected as prime minister, and only two days after the Israeli election, he reversed his pre-election promise..

"I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel," Netanyahu had told an Israeli news website only a day before the election.

But Netanyahu made a 180 degree turn when he said on an American network, "I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution," while insisting, "I haven't changed my policy."

Some voices in Israel and elsewhere later tried to soften these remarks by suggesting that Netanyahu only rejected a Palestinian state at present but not forever. However, I do not find their evidence convincing when they charge that left-wing papers in Israel had lied about these remarks, and the world press picked up the lie and broadcast it.



Netanyahu being interviewed on American television

Netanyahu's vow was instrumental in helping the embattled prime minister surge ahead of his opponents to an unexpected victory in the election, His statement on election day itself, when he raised the fear of Israeli Arab voters flocking to the polls, also contributed to his victory. 

After the election, the Obama administration issued a statement that it would "reevaluate its policy on how to best achieve a two-state solution." The US has now threatened to no longer defend Israel from motions directed against that country at the United Nations.Many other nations are also reevaluating their attitude to Israel in the light of Netanyahu's flip-flop. 

Many in the international community openly wonder which policy represents the real Netanyahu: the Netanyahu who famously endorsed a two-state solution at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, or the man who veered far to the right in order to win reelection in 2015?

Is Netanyahu representative of many politicians who speak out of both sides of their mouths, by saying one during an election campaign and trumpeting a very different message afterwards?

Politicians are proverbially assumed to be liars. In poll after poll all over the world, they come near the bottom of the list in terms of trustworthiness. This negative trait is especially prevalent during elections, but is not unknown at other times.

The main issue, as I have already suggested, is integrity. Politicians often seem to be ethically challenged. Not only are they assumed to be liars but they are also infamous for financial irregularities and other examples of malfeasance. The latter are crimes for which they can possibly be indicted, but rarely are politicians sent to jail or even fined for lying.



Integrity and some of its synonyms

While perjury -- lying while under oath -- is a crime, election promises that are made but not kept is not. If such promises were crimes, our prisons would be packed with politicians. Examples of lying politicians abound from many countries.

When I lived in the Philippine, during one election the Communist party of the Philippines (Maoist) threatened to kill any politicians on our island who did not keep their election promises. That is one way to deal with lying politicians, but I do not recommend it.

The example of Netanyahu ought to suffice to prove my point regarding politicians who during election campaigns speak out of both sides of their mouths. Few, however, do that as brazenly as him.

Permit  me to  point to another instance of lying that is perhaps not as easily identified as such. Is fear-mongering a form of lying? It is, especially if politicians know that the fears are not legitimate, and if those fears are used to generate votes during elections.

Again, Netanyahu is a master in the art of fear-mongering. He did this during the latest election campaign when he warned on election day that Israeli Arabs were flocking to the polls. In the past he had similarly used the threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons. to win the support of Israelis.

Netanyahu did that most notably in a landmark speech to the United Nations in 2012. He brandished a cartoon drawing of a bomb and claimed that Iran was moving ahead with plans that would allow it to potentially build a nuclear bomb within a year or so.



Netanyahu addressing the UN about Iran and its bomb threat

The following month, Mossad, the Israeli spy agency revealed in a leaked secret cable that his claim was false, it said,"Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons."

Not only was Netanyahu lying, but he used fear-mongering to manipulate not only Israelis but the whole world. This man has revealed himself as duplicitous and lacking in integrity. Lest Americans feel smug about this, former President Richard Nixon earned the nickname "Tricky Dick" for his behavior. Netanyahu has plenty of company from other politicians worldwide who are also ethically challenged.

Netanyahu has probably learned by now that he may have won the election through his duplicitous remarks, but that his victory came at an enormous cost not only for himself but for many others as well.

For one thing, Netanyahu totally alienated the Israeli Arabs, who constitute 20% of the population. They have always been suspicious of his commitment to the two-state solution but they now despair entirely of achieving a Palestinian state through negotiations. The only route open to statehood by the Palestinians seems to be by means of a unilateral declaration. Netanyahu also earned their ire by branding them the way he did it, which borders on racism.

Netanyahu won by diverting votes from other right-wing partied to his Likud, but these other parties are by now suspicious of him and his duplicity. They may yet form part of his coalition, but they will not entirely trust a man who has a long history of flip-flopping.



Netanyahu celebrating victory with supporters

Netanyahu damaged his reputation as well among the other political parties in the Knesset, as well as with many Jews both at home and in the Diaspora. He has thus added yet another nail to his political coffin. Their distrust of him has been confirmed again.

The relationship with the US has also been seriously damaged. There was already bad blood between Obama and Netanyahu, but this has escalated to the point that Israel can no longer count automatically on American support at the UN. This is serious, since Israel depends on US support.

In other world capitals many leaders now feel that Netanyahu's credibility is shot and that they will no longer work with him, even though they voiced the traditional platitudes after his election victory.

The greatest cost, unfortunately, will be borne by Israelis and Palestinians, They will suffer the most for Netanyahu's scandalous attempt to save his own political skin.

There is a warning here for all politicians who make a similar attempt to save their own skins in elections. People should no longer tolerate the lack of integrity. If politicians do display such duplicity, they should be replaced. While they may win in the short term, as Netanyahu did, in the long run they and their country will have much to lose.

Prime Minister Harper, you have been warned! Do not attempt any further fear-mongering. You may yet win the election, but it will come at the expense of your integrity.
       

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is the Islamic State really Islamic?




This post was delayed for several days. One reason is my research into the motivation for the recent destruction of Iraq's artifacts. This process led me to modify my ideas and I now offer them, albeit somewhat tentatively, since they are not yet part of mainstream thought at least in North America where the Islamic State, Islam, and terrorism are all equated by most people. I seriously question this equation and I hope to share my thoughts more extensively on this in a further posting.

The Islamic State (IS) continues to destroy Iraq's ancient artifacts. For a while now IS has been methodically demolishing the ancient cultural heritage of Iraq.(see video). If it has its way, it would destroy that heritage elsewhere.as well. What motivated IS to do this? And this raises another pertinent question: by destroying these artifacts is it really Islamic?

IS is not alone in engaging in such a cultural rampage. The Taliban did the same in Afghanistan when they destroyed the enormous Bamiyan Statues of Buddha. There are more examples of this from history, including those involving other religions. But the question is, are they all identical?

Christians did something similar when they destroyed the Library of Alexandria in the fourth century, and later engaged in an orgy of iconoclasm in the eighth and ninth centuries. Iconoclasm is the destruction of religious icons and other images from religious or political motives, but the religious element seems to have predominated.

This early example of Christian iconoclasm was motivated by their interpretation of the second commandment which forbids the making and worshiping of "graven images," but there were also political factors that led to the elimination of images. The advance of Islam, with its own prohibition of images, also contributed to this development.


During the Reformation, John Calvin, among others, encouraged the removal of religious images from churches because of the same commandment, although this removal was generally orderly. There were also iconoclastic riots, inspired by the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli, which were more destructive.

Islamic iconoclasm (or more properly, aniconism) is motivated by the prohibition of creating images of sentient living beings, especially those of Allah, the prophet Muhammad and his associates. Some Muslims add that the prohibition extends to the depiction of all humans and animals.

In Saudi Arabia, the destruction of early Islamic heritage sites, including mosques, cemeteries, and tombs, and other religious structures, were the result of a policy to erase any elements that might give rise to practices contrary to the strict Wahhabi creed that is still prevalent in parts of that country.

Yet even these examples (with the possible exception of the destruction of the Library in Alexandria which was local and religiously-motivated) should not be compared with wholesale destruction that IS is perpetrating in the parts of Iraq that it controls, although the Saudi example does anticipate it. But there commercial factors played a leading role, since new hotels and other buildings needed to be built for the many Muslims pilgrims who came every year for the Hajj.

The motivation for IS to destroy these artifacts is not chiefly financial, even though it lost a lot of oil revenue in the current fighting in Iraq. The Taliban and al-Qaeda have resorted to this practice as well as a major source of income. The sale of artifacts can be used to raise funds for the fighting which has suffered some setbacks lately. But money does not explain the destruction of religious shrines, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.


A photo posted by ISIS that shows the destruction of what appears to be a Sufi shrine

Some have speculated that IS wants to provoke the US into a holy war, but that is extremely unlikely, since the West only offered money to help preserve the statues of Buddha and no further aid.

The primary motivation should be sought in the ideology that drives IS. It is largely political, part of a publicity campaign to grab the religious and political leadership mantle in the Middle East.

Although IS self-identifies itself as Islamic, it is not, as I shall argue more extensively in a future posting. Thus it should not be branded with the label Islamic when it is not recognized as such by many Muslims.

IS indeed presents an Islamic face, but its true roots are found in the alliance between self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime. It is this alliance that has shaped IS into the monster that the world sees today -- one that destroys ancient artifacts, and even more seriously, executes its enemies in a cold-blooded way that is contrary to Islam. (Watch the video that illustrates this.)

Although Baghadadi clearly presents himself as a Muslim, which is only natural as Caliph, the operational experience of the former Ba'athist senior officers is equally evident in the way the fighting has proceeded thus far. According to one expert, the Ba'athist elements are key and without them IS would not have been able to hold Mosul.

This is a marriage of convenience in which an ostensible religious force is united with a secular or ideological one to such an extent that the result is something which is neither, but instead a new force that shares some of the traits of both, but in which the true Islamic spirit has been lost.


Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Muslim leaders, whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, have almost unanimously condemned and denounced IS not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.The wholesale slaughter of prisoners by IS, although not unknown in the history of Islam, is not true to the Islamic faith, in spite of the protests of many people who know next to nothing about Islam.

The ideology of IS has a religious veneer, but the driving force is secular. The destruction of Iraqi artifacts was motivated not only by a need for funding but especially by the desire to appear Islamic and thus win a following both in the Middle East and overseas. 

Although the destruction by IS bears similarities to what other groups had done in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, IS did it with a ruthlessness that has become its hallmark, just as the cold-blooded killing of prisoners is. This violence should not be associated automatically with Islam, especially if so many Muslims deny this.

As I shall explain further in another posting, It is not fair to Muslims to equate Islam and terrorism if they themselves deny that equation. Would Christians want their faith to be equated with every form of brutality that takes place in so-called Christian countries?

For example, should Christians be blamed for the Holocaust in Nazi Germany?  No doubt there were German Christians who were involved in the Holocaust as guards or whatever, but this does not mean that their faith should be blamed for this crime against humanity. There were many German Christians who protested. Some, like Bonhoeffer, paid the ultimate price for their protests.

If many Muslims want nothing to do with IS and reject its ideology completely, then that should warn non-Muslims not to equate Islam and terrorism, and certainly not IS and Muslims who are living in the Western world, as if these men and women are all potential IS-inspired terrorists.


The remains of the last synagogue in Iraq, in Al Qosh with the tomb of the prophet Nahum

Bill C-51 in Canada makes such an assumption. The government has stoked the fear of Islam so much that many Canadians seem willing to sacrifice some of the freedoms for the protection supposedly offered by this bill. Many Canadians, myself included, are protesting it. However, this is a necessary digression from my examination of the motivation of IS.

IS seems to be using the destruction of ancient artifacts in Iraq to establish its credentials as the leader of the Islamic world, both spiritually and politically. Under the guise of religion. it destroys the heritage of Iraq for political reasons.

In many other examples of iconoclasm, the motivation was largely an attempt to protect the purity of the faith. The fear of idolatry was foremost in many of them. But is this also true of IS? Many Muslims would respond in the negative, since for them IS does not truly represent Islam.

Many Westerners reject this denial, but much of this rejection is often based on a lack of knowledge of Islam. Even some experts on Islam support those who claim that IS is an extreme form of Islam, even though many Muslims do not.

It is unreasonable for the West to plead that Muslims condemn the jihadists, and then to reject their insistence that IS is not really Islamic but, in fact, anti-Islamic. To label IS as an extreme form of Islam only helps to feed the Islamophobia that is so prevalent in many Western countries today.

It has taken me a while to digest and then accept the argument of many Muslims. I hope to present this more fully later. As mentioned in my introduction, this has delayed the publication of this post.
        

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Murder in Moscow




A leading Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov. was cruelly murdered in Moscow. He was shot four times as he was crossing a bridge only steps from the Kremlin, which is probably the most secure place in Russia. He was likely under surveillance before a march planned for Sunday. This suggests the killers were professionals, and were not afraid of detection. Nemtsov is survived by his wife and four children.

The murder of such a prominent political figure has not happened in the decades since the breakup of the Soviet Union, although lesser figures have been killed in the violent atmosphere that is endemic in Russia and has been fostered by President Vladimir Putin. Some think this would not be the last killing of an opposition leader in Russia.

Nemtsov, a star politician in the 1990s who was once seen as a potential successor to Boris Yeltsin, had been marginalized in recent years. He had been preparing for an anti-Kremlin march scheduled for Sunday. Hours before he was killed, he did a radio interview urging people to attend the march, and connecting the country’s economic woes to Putin’s policy in Ukraine. 

"The most important reason for the crisis is aggression, which led to sanctions and, in turn, isolation," Nemtsov said. He understood that he, along with everyone else involved in anti-Putin politics, was being pushed to the fringes. "Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents."

Previous to Nemtsov's murder. the last assassination in Moscow was that of Stanislav Markelov, a human-rights lawyer, who, along with the journalist Anastasia Baburova, was killed outside a subway stop in 2009. A few years earlier, in 2006, the renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in her apartment building.




Thus far, there has been no public explanation of why Nemtsov died, but many theories abound. The most likely reason for his violent death is because he was one of Putin's most vocal critics.

Nemtsov has accused Putin of waging a war against Ukraine. He apparently had proof of Russian involvement and was going to publish it. This evidence will now be published posthumously. His opposition to Russia's annexation of the Crimea last year also emphatically made him one of the major enemies of the Kremlin.

Nemtsov has also accused Putin of rampant corruption, claiming that he enjoys a life of immense luxury with personal palaces, yachts and aircraft at his disposal. The Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed these accusations, but other sources claim that Putin is worth as much as 70 billion dollars. Even this amount does not include all the assets he could claim at the end of his presidency through favors he has done for family, friends and associates.

Perhaps the most outlandish theory is that the killing was meant to frame Putin."There is no doubt that Boris Nemtsov’s murder was organised by the agencies outside Russia who are trying to organize a Russian Maidan," according to Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin analyst. "The enemies of Putin have killed one of Putin’s strongest critics in order to push the blame on to Putin."
Laying the blame on outside forces is typical of the Putin regime, who have blamed the West for the insurgency in Ukraine, and thus conveniently detract from any connection with Russia.




Other theories include forces that were trying to destabilize the political situation in Russia or Islamic extremists who did this in revenge for Nemtsov's stance on the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris.

Anatoly Chubais, a businessman, former liberal politician and associate of Nemtsov, said the country was entering a dangerous period: "A demand for hatred and aggression has been created. Several days ago, people were marching with banners saying let’s destroy the fifth column. Today, Nemtsov is killed. Let’s stop and think about what might happen tomorrow. Everyone must stop. All of us. Authorities, opposition, liberals, communists, nationalists … Everyone needs to stop and have a think."

In 2012, Putin warned publicly that his opponents were prepared to murder one of their own so they could blame him for the death. "They are looking for a so-called sacrificial victim among some prominent figures." He added, "They will knock him off, I beg your pardon, and then blame the authorities for that.”

Those close to Nemtsov believe the 55-year-old former deputy prime minister may have been killed by shady nationalist forces reacting to a long propaganda campaign on state-controlled television calling the political opposition traitors.
For a while, a giant poster hung on the side of Moscow’s main bookstore with the face of Nemtsov, among others. "The fifth column: there are strangers among us," it read. The most apocalyptic and vile of Russia’s television hosts, Dmitri Kiselyov took pleasure in naming and insulting members of the so-called "fifth column." He noted, "Putin legalized that term in the political language of Russia." That act of legalization, according to Kiselyov, means that any number of people or factions could have murdered Nemtsov. 



Nemtsov at a rally with a sign saying "Towards a Russia and Ukraine without Putin."


Ten days before his death, Nemtsov admitted that he was afraid Putin could have him killed, but "not that much." He thought that his prominence in the country would protect him. Apparently, it did not.

A few hours after Nemtsov’s death,  another associate, Vladimir Ryzhkov, blamed "the atmosphere of hate that was artificially created" by the state and its supporters, "Anti-liberal propaganda has fostered the sense of mutual hatred in society. What we have is a situation that could detonate at any moment."

"This killing demonstrates to what extent hatred has been legitimized or even sanctioned in Russia. Society was irritated for a long time, but when the hatred comes from TV screens, it makes a big difference," Ryzhkov added.

"Regardless of who killed Nemtsov, it's perfectly clear why this murder was committed. It was done simply to demonstrate the 'structure of the situation,'" claims Alexander Morozov, a political scientist. He explains, "The structure of the situation demands that there must be killings, and the more killings, the better."

Some are already asking, if Nemtsov’s death will presage a wave of political purges? In the current climate, almost anything seems possible. Either the authorities would kill someone who poses little real political danger, or they have given rise to a venomous hatred that they can no longer control.



The banner reads, "Heroes never die. Those bullets are for everyone of us."


Nemtsov's murder will not silence the opposition. On the contrary, it may have breathed new life into it. In death this charismatic, Orthodox politician may yet achieve more than he did in a life that was prematurely terminated by four bullets on a Moscow street. 

Immense, angry crowds turned out in Moscow Sunday to march through the city in honor of slain Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was supposed to appear at Sunday's rally protesting Russia’s role in the fighting in Ukraine, but he it was converted into a memorial march. More than 50,000 people marched along the banks of Moskva River under gray skies to the site of his death. Other rallies in honor of Nemtsov took place in at least 15 other Russian cities.

Although I did not personally know Nemtsov, I frequently saw his face on Russian TV, as I did that of some other people whom I have cited, including Chubais and Kiselyov. I am saddened that this prominent opposition figure was so cruelly gunned down near the Kremlin by persons unknown. 

It is not my job to assign blame, but I suspect those ultimately responsible for this murder may never be identified. That is the sad state of Putin's Russia, where justice is rare and determined by the rich and powerful. I rejoice that there is a greater Judge, who will dispense justice fairly.
      

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sex education in schools is necessary




The province of Ontario recently introduced a new sex education curriculum. This has not been updated since 1998. The new curriculum is actually only one component of the health and physical education curriculum (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health1to8.pdf).

An interim version of the new curriculum was introduced in 2010, but was quickly withdrawn after numerous protests, particularly by religious groups. This time the provincial government is going to go ahead in spite of any objections. No changes are allowed.

In the new curriculum, which is largely unchanged from the earlier version, Ontario students will learn the proper names for body parts in Grade 1, which in some provinces takes place even earlier. And they will begin discussing the changes associated with puberty in Grade 4, as is the case in many other provinces.

Students in Ontario will learn about sexually-transmitted infections in Grades 7-8, which is taught earlier than in most other provinces; while sexual orientation, identity, and gender stereotypes will be introduced in Grade 9, although some of this is later than in other provinces.

Quebec is the only Canadian province without a mandatory sex education program, although teachers are urged to integrate the topic into other courses, according to the guidelines of the Quebec Ministry of Education, which is similar to the regulations that exist in other provinces.



Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals presents the revised Health and Physical Education curriculum

Religious groups, predictably, are opposed to parts, such as masturbation and gender identity, of the new Ontario curriculum. But most people are prepared to accept it, with some notable exceptions such as Campaign Life, which objected strongly to the 2010 document because it views sex as a purely recreational activity whose purpose is pleasure, apart from love or marriage, which are not mentioned at all in the new curriculum.

Consent has become an important, but touchy, issue for this curriculum. An emphatic "yes" has now replaced the old mantra of "no means no." But in order for consent to work, everyone has to know what they are doing., and that requires sex education.

Now, in the digital age, sexting also needs to be discussed with students. That requires not only sex education but also education about the laws relating to the dissemination of child pornography. 

Sex education can be a deterrent to pornography. According to the British TV program The Sex Education Show (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-sex-education-show/episode-guide), which was intended for teens and discussed sex very frankly, British teens watch an average of 90 minutes of porn a week. Even that percentage may have been understated. 



This is an example of the frankness of the British program


Today even very young children have access to images that are a billion times more explicit than what was available a few generations ago. I remember when the only "girlie" magazines available had the genitals of women airbrushed out.

Many in my generation received little or no sex education at school. We were supposed to learn that from our parents, but before they could or dared to get around to it, we had already picked up a lot of (mis)information from our peers. The generations that followed have fared better, but even they did not get all the information (or the porn) that is available today on the Internet

Parents ought to teach sex education to their children, but they are sometimes incapable or unwilling to discuss these issues. In many countries of the world, sex is an embarrassing topic for a lot of parents. When I lived in Russia, there was a joke that in the Soviet Union there was no sex.

So who should do it? The schools. Parents should be involved as well, but they can impart values, such as love and marriage, that may be lacking in the new sex education curriculum, or reinforce those that are there. Schools cannot be limited only to facts. Values need to be integrated, and indeed are as a reading of the new curriculum will show. But they may need to be supplemented or corrected.

If parents are concerned about or offended by certain parts of the new curriculum, they have the option of opting out on behalf of their children. Although the curriculum itself is mandatory, not all parts require the attendance of all students. And, as in other parts of the curriculum, teachers will have to provide materials to meet the goals set by the curriculum. Parents can possibly help there.




While I do not agree with everything in the new curriculum, it has brought the subject of sex education into the digital age and it allows teachers, with the cooperation of parents, to deal with many matters in an open and frank way. 

That is why I support sex education being taught already in elementary schools. By the time students get to high school it is too late for many, since they are often already sexually active.

I am not an elementary school teacher. My teaching experience is limited to the university. But I have been a parent (and still am), and I now have grandchildren who need sex education. Even though the latter live in other countries, I hope that they will get the education they deserve. 

The frankness and openness about sex education that is revealed in the new Ontario curriculum and the British program are encouraging. I wish that such tools had been available when I went to school. 

But that was another age entirely, My grandchildren all have their own smart phones and tablets. They have tools and technology that were unavailable to earlier generations. But these tools carry with them enormous responsibilities for parents and schools. 




As a Christian, I am deeply concerned about what is happening in society. Like many people, I can sometimes feel a bit apprehensive about current developments, but technology can also be used for good, as indeed can nearly everything in creation. Few things are inherently evil. Pornography has perverted something that is good.

Sex can indeed be a great blessing. We must not let pornographers steal this rich gift and use it for their own profit. Sex, as the British program reminds us, is not only for reproduction but also for recreation. Thus it can and should be fun for everyone. 

Not everyone will agree with me on the role of schools, just as not everyone will agree with the new Ontario sex education curriculum, but everyone must agree that sex education is necessary. Let's discuss our disagreements openly and honestly.
        

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Bill C-51 Should Be Defeated




Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.-- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Here is the low down on Bill-51, a dangerous bill that ought to be defeated, but instead will be passed, and also the politics behind it. I am against it, and invite everyone to protest it before it become a criminal act to do so. Soon we can all be labelled terrorists if we disagree with government policies.

Q What is Bill C-51?
A.Bill C-51, also known as the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, is described officially as:"An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts."

Bill C-51 is intended to create more security for Canadians by, among other things, granting almost unlimited powers to CSIS, the Canadian spy agency. It explicitly gives CSIS the right to contravene both the law and the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has also been called "secret police" act.

Whether this bill will achieve the objective of providing greater security, and at what cost are issues that need to be discussed, but will  largely be disregarded, especially in an election year.




Q Why is this bill being introduced now?
A After the attacks in Quebec and Ottawa, where two soldiers were killed, in the latter case by a supposed terrorist who also entered the Parliament building, the government argued that the security of Canadians is being threatened.

We are at war and face a massive terrorist threat, according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is playing the fear card in the lead up to this year's election. Unfortunately, many voters are susceptible to this fear mongering as polls have shown.

The problem is that we are not at war, except in Iraq, where our current commitment to fighting ISIS is leading to mission gallop and the introduction of ground troops by Canada. But even that will not threaten Canadians at home.

Acts of terrorism can be a threat, but existing anti-terror laws already suffice. Bill C-51 is therefore unnecessary. Expanded powers for CSIS will only further erode the rights of Canadians under the Charter, making it very dangerous.





Q How will this bill further erode Charter rights?
A Bill C-51 will make it an offence to advocate or promote "the commission of terrorism offences in general." The Criminal Code definition of "terrorism" (Section 83.1) refers to acts that are already illegal, but are committed for "a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause."

The bill attacks the civil rights of all Canadians, and places the protections guaranteed by the Charter under the shadow of wider powers to interfere with lawful and legitimate conduct. It expands the definition of threats to national security and add to the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

This bill would allow a judge to impose up to a year of house arrest on someone who has neither been convicted nor charged with any crime. The judge could also require that the target wear an electronic bracelet. The only requirement in the bill is that police produce satisfactory evidence this person “may” commit a terrorist offence.

In Canada, it’s already a crime to plan or support terrorist activity. And the police already possess legal methods to disrupt planned terror attacks. But the new law will extend the powers of CSIS further than that.

In addition to these broad new powers, what does “terrorism in general” mean? It can mean anything the government wants it to mean. Under the new law people, can be detained for suspicion, even if they have not committed a crime. 

Will it criminalize speech by making it illegal to promote "terrorism."? According to Harper, promoting terrorism will become a criminal offence for anyone, regardless of age.

Look at France, where an eight-year-old schoolboy was arrested because he told his teacher that the terrorists were right. Will the same thing happen in Canada? 




Q.What should be done with Bill C-5?
A This bill should be rejected. But since the Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons and the Liberals have already agreed to support it, it will easily pass.  

The only hope for those who are opposed to Bill C-5 is to amend it. Here are some amendments that have been suggested,, and that I have modifies and supplement:

--Include strong safeguards for Canadians, including a dedicated, high-level Parliamentary committee to oversee our spy agencies. The committee that is tasked with providing oversight over CSIS has not only experienced delays in getting any necessary information but has also been lied to by CSIS. This is not a good omen for the future.

--Strip out the attacks on civil liberties, including the sweeping expansion of spy powers, criminalization of speech, and preventative arrest for those who have committed no crime. Who gets to decide when a supposed crime has been committed?  And how can we trust these people to make such decisions without proper oversight?

--Clarify the vague parts of the bill, to be certain it will only be used to target people who pose a violent threat to the lives and physical security of people. Again, without proper oversight, who can protect those who have been arbitrarily arrested, or maybe picked on because of their ethnicity or other identifying characterization? 

--Add a sunset clause that would cause the laws it proposes to expire automatically unless they were resubmitted and passed again. Otherwise, Canada would have legislation similar to the infamous War Measures Act that was first enacted in 1914 and not repealed until 1988. This act suspended the civil rights and personal freedoms of both Canadians and non-Canadians, and was used during WWI and WWII, as well as the 1970 October Crisis. Never again!


Stephen Harper introduces the ant-terrorism bill

Conclusion

Bill C-51 is a dangerous bill that needs to be defeated, but will probably pass with only a few minor amendments.  However, amendments are not enough. This bill should either be withdrawn or defeated. Since neither are likely, all Canadians must seek to defeat the current government and thus assure that this bill is removed by the next government.

Harper has admitted that the proposed measures would probably not have prevented the killings of the two soldiers in October. If that is the case, why is he pressing for this bill if not to use it as wedge issue in the upcoming election? The Conservatives may win through the fear that it capitalizes on, while the opposition parties do not want to seem weak and unwilling to fight terrorism. Only the NDP will probably introduce any amendments.

The Conservatives will use Bill C-51 in order to win re-election. This may yet become the main plank of their election platform. And Harper will continue to play the "terrorist" card in order to frighten people, but Canadians must be determined to say, "Enough is enough!" and kick him and his party out of office.
         

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Is Death a Right?



"Death: a basic right" was the headline in The Toronto Star after the Supreme Court of Canada made its historic and far-reaching decision to allow assisted suicide. The articles claims that "desperately suffering patients have a constitutional right to doctor assisted suicide."

Contrary to media reports, the court did not strike down the law against physician-assisted suicide. There is no such law. It simply rendered the criminal prohibition invalid. The existing criminal prohibition said that everyone who aids or abets a person to commit suicide is guilty of an indictable offence. 

The court has given Parliament exactly one year to find a way to exempt doctors at the very least from this prohibition. Aside from the question of why doctors should be exempted, the court did not declare assisted death to be a right. 

On the contrary,the court carefully hedged any new law. The ruling limits physician-assisted suicides to "a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition"

The court also ruled that in such cases of assisted suicide not to allow doctors to help these people to die would deprive them of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person as spelled out in Sec. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.




The court did not create a new constitutional right to death, in spite of what The Star asserts. Nor should it. Parliament alone makes laws; the courts merely interpret them. Moreover, life is a right, but not death.

No doubt, some form of assisted suicide will take place after Parliament passes a new law permitting doctors to assist under the conditions set down by the Supreme Court. Parliament has to do something, even if the government would prefer not to discuss this contentious topic, especially in an election year.

The government does have the option of using the notwithstanding clause in the Charter, but that is unlikely. This clause allows Parliament to override sections of the Charter. For this reason, it is highly controversial and dangerous.

Contrary to the laws in some other countries, the court does not permit euthanasia, although the distinction between euthanasia and assisted suicide is not always clear. Euthanasia is generally voluntary, but sometimes not. The latter is the fear of some who are opposed to assisted suicide.

In the US, euthanasia -- where a physician or another third party administers a lethal medication -- is illegal in every state, while assisted suicide -- where the physician or third party gives the patient the means to end his/her own life -- is permitted in four states. The map should be revised to reflect this.

These states require that the patient be of sound mind when requesting assisted suicide, as confirmed by a doctor and other witnesses, and that the patient be diagnosed with a terminal illness.




Those who argue most vehemently for assisted suicide view the world from the perspective of the autonomous individual. The word autonomy first arose in the writings of Immanuel Kant.

Kant’s notion of autonomy of the will involves not only a capacity for choice that is independent of motivation but it also has a law-giving capacity that is independent of external influences; instead, it is guided by its own internal principle.

According to some philosophers, autonomy is normative, not merely descriptive. Autonomous individuals have the capacity to make their own laws. This includes the right to decide on their own deaths.

The same principle lies behind the right of women to have abortions, although a similar claim could be made on behalf of the unborn child. Abortion is a complex issue, as are euthanasia and suicide.

The claim of autonomy can be viewed as a valid reason for accepting voluntary euthanasia. The basic argument is end-of-life decisions made by competent, autonomous persons should be respected, although some have cast doubt on whether a decision to die can be an autonomous decision at all, given the likely presence of psychological factors such as fear, hopelessness, and despair. 

Even when reasons of mercy are not in play, as in cases of suicide, at least the agent must be sufficiently competent and rational. This is what the court argues when it attaches conditions to its decision.

Some philosophers have argued that autonomy-based defenses of voluntary euthanasia and suicide involve a contradiction insofar as they invoke the value of autonomy to justify an act that destroys autonomy. The claim of the autonomous individual to commit suicide is, therefore, equally complex.

Many people of faith, and even many of no faith at all, dispute the claim of normativity by the autonomous individual. Human rights cannot be based merely on a capacity for autonomy, pace some post-Kantian philosophers.




One alternative to the doctor-assisted suicide that the Supreme Court proposes to is provide better home and palliative care for those who are suffering a lot of pain or are debilitated because of old age or some other infirmity. Such care would go a long way to refute the claim of those whose who want the right to die because of their suffering and that assisted suicide is thus the preferred solution.

Health Canada describes palliative care as "an approach to care for people who are living with a life-threatening illness, no matter how old they are. The focus of care is on achieving comfort and ensuring respect for the person nearing death and maximizing quality of life for the patient, family and loved ones."

It continues: 

Palliative care addresses different aspects of end-of-life care by:
  • managing pain and other symptoms
  • providing social, psychological, cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical support
  • supporting caregivers
  • providing support for bereavement
If I may give the example of my own mother, who suffered greatly during the lastr years of her life. She wanted to die, but she might not have satisfied the conditions set by the court, especially if they are interpreted most strictly. I prayed with her that God would take her home, but I am not convinced that she would have asked for assisted suicide.

Only in the last week of her life did she receive the care and pain relief that she deserved. She should never have been allowed to suffer for such a long time and so severely. That is totally unacceptable. A possible addiction to morphine should not have been the issue.




Late last year, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family launched a national Campaign for Palliative and Home Care, and against Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. The campaign's theme is "Life-Giving Love." They did this with the blessing of the Catholic Bishops of Canada who have repeatedly called for positive steps to secure compassionate palliative care options for all Canadians.

Similarly, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has long supported the need for improved palliative care resources and availability in Canada. The EFC is convinced that we must not abandon those in need, and we must not deliberately bring about their death, even for seemingly compassionate reasons.

Other faiths have made similar pleas for more and better home and palliative care. Everyone wants to be merciful, but is assisted suicide the best or only solution?

We live in a pluralistic society and some form of assisted suicide is inevitable in the near future. However, there must be very strict guidelines provided in the enabling legislation to prevent misuse.

The debate on assisted suicide is not over because of the decision of the Supreme Court. On the contrary, it has been resurrected. It promises to become very heated and divisive. In an election year, politicians will want to avoid it, Thus do not expect any new legislation until after the election.

I hope that the discussion may remain civil and, very importantly, respectful not only of those doing the debating but especially of those who are the focus of the debate: the people who are suffering the most.

Everyone wants to be merciful and provide relief to them. The question is how to do so. Is assisted suicide the solution or are there alternatives? I suggest there are. And I insist that that death is not a right.



       

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Response to my letter to Stephen Harper on climate change

In a blog in December I sent a letter to Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada. In my post I indicated at the time that I would also publish his response.

In January I received a letter from his office that it had been forwarded to the Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq. I received her reply yesterday. 

I am including my original letter and the response of the minister.

Read my letter and then the response. Except for the first paragraph, nowhere else in the response is there any indication that she is answering my letter. It is just boilerplate paragraphs pasted together praising the accomplishments of the Conservative government on climate change.

I have also included photos of the addressee, Stephen Harper, and the minister who responded.


First my letter addressed to the Prime Minister:




Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada



The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
Canada
K1A 0A2

December 2014

Dear Prime Minister:

Like many other Canadians, I am very concerned about climate change. We are therefore upset by your government's perceived inability and unwillingness to take the actions that are necessary to stop it. Climate change is one of the greatest problems of our age, since it threatens the earth that we share with people from many other nations.

The world's top diplomat, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, has publicly chastised Canada for our inaction on climate change and insisted that Canada should stop stalling and provide much needed leadership con this issue, "It's only natural that Canada as one of the G7 countries should take a leadership role," he said in an interview on The National. He noted that Canada and Australia placed last among the developed nations when it comes to dealing with climate change.

Ban Ki Moon did not mince words in his criticism of Canada. As a Canadian, it pains me very much to hear such negative comments made about my country from this otherwise mild-mannered diplomat. I hope that you do not simply dismiss his words, but take them seriously.

While Ban Ki  Moon praised Canada for pledging $300 million dollars to the UN's Green Climate Fund, which is intended to help developing countries fight climate change, he added that Canada as a rich nation could do much more both to help other nations as well as here at home. I have calculated that Canada's contribution amounts to only a little more than 3% of the $9.3 billion that has been donated to this fund thus far. That is shameful.

Your government can no longer use the excuse that the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters have refused to take any action, since China and the United States, recently signed a deal that will see the US alone cut its emissions by 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Your government has thus far matched US emission targets, but targets are not enough. But will you be able to meet other targets? As Environment Canada's own reports show your government has fallen short of the target it agreed to five years ago, after the climate meeting in Copenhagen. These new targets will be even more difficult to meet.

By promoting the Alberta oil sands and the pipelines needed to bring that oil to market you are ignoring the efforts of other provinces who are trying to introduce alternative sources of energy, especially renewable ones. Some provincial ministers went to Lima to discuss what they are doing in the absence of  concrete federal measures. I need not remind you that you are the Prime Minister of Canada, not just Alberta or the oil sector.

Please excuse the forthright nature of my comments, but my concern about climate change is longstanding. I have written about it in my blog many times. My first post on this topic was in 2011 (http://hellemanworld.blogspot.ca/2011/11/global-warming-is-real.html) and many more posts appeared afterward.

By the time you get this letter, UNFCCC COP20 in Lima, Peru, will be over. But this conference is largely a preparation for the the major climate change conference to be held  in Paris in 2015. I urge you to provide the leadership that Ban Ki Moon is calling for. Many Canadians support this call.

The drop in oil prices is a good time for your government to change its policies on climate change. If oil prices remain low for a long time, the oil sands will no longer be viable economically and then the pipelines do not need to be built. Many Canadians will thank you for changing the policies.

The costs of extracting and refining the oil sands are extremely high, but they extend beyond the financial. The environmental costs are horrendous, as has been documented repeatedly. These costs will ultimately be borne by taxpayers, not the oil sector.

If you asked for my opinion, I would suggest that the oil in Alberta be left in the ground until better methods of extracting it that are less harmful to the  environment can be found. As Stephen Lewis has observed already, no politician will dare make such a proposal, but that does not mean that it should not be done, I am no a politician, hence my boldness. I hope that you will be equally bold.

All of Canada's natural resources belong to the people of Canada. As such, they must be used wisely. We must treasure them so that not only we but also our children and grandchildren can benefit from them. Oil cannot be replaced. It can only be used once. Now is the opportune time to look for alternatives.

Your refusal to regulate oil and gas emissions because of the recent drop in oil prices, as you stated in the House of Commons the other day, contradicts your earlier promise to do so. Canadians are already bearing the cost due to climate change in terms of violent weather. More costs will become due in the future. Thus the time for action is now.

I appeal to you not only as a Canadian but also as a fellow Christian to change the policies of your government before it is too late and the damage done through climate change becomes irreversible. Stop denying the reality of climate change. I recently heard on the radio of a scientist who denied climate change until very recently, but now he has changed his mind. Perhaps you will change your mind as well. Although I am not holding my breath, this is still my prayer.

Therefore, I implore you, Mr. Prime Minister, to heed the many voices that are calling for change. Do not think only of immediate political gains but about your legacy when you leave office. Remember, a day of accounting is coming -- one will be measured not by the number of seats the Conservative party garners in the next federal election but by the judgment of future generations, including your own children and grandchildren for what your government has done to the environment.

Ultimately all of us will have to stand before the Creator and provide an account of what we have done to the creation. I hope that you can do so without a feeling of shame and remorse. Are you willing to sacrifice the future of our country for the sake of politics? Not only the fate of Canada but also that of the entire globe hangs in the balance.
   
Sincerely,

(signed)
        

Next I have included the response from the Minister of the Environment:



Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment



Minister of the Environment/Ministre de I'Environnement 
Ottawa, Canada K1 A OH3

FEB 0 9 2015 

Adrian A. Helleman, Ph.D. 
adrian.helleman@gmail.com 

Dear Dr. Helleman: 

The Office of the Prime Minister has forwarded to me your email message of December 15, 2014, concerning climate change. I regret the delay in responding. 

While the United States and China account for 39 percent of global emissions, Canada accounts for less than 2 percent. Our government is encouraged that the United States and China-the world's two largest emitters-have made new commitments to address climate change. We will continue to work constructively with all of our international partners to establish a fair, effective international agreement that includes meaningful and transparent commitments from all major emitters. 

Our government takes the challenges of climate change seriously. That is why we are pursuing a comprehensive climate change agenda, both internationally and domestically. 

Internationally, Canada continues to work with its global partners to address climate change. Canada is playing an active and constructive role in the ongoing discussions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including at the most recent climate change conference in Lima, Peru. For Canada, an effective new international agreement must include a commitment to action by all the world's major emitters of greenhouse gases. 

Canada's international efforts include providing support to other nations. Building on the $1.2 billion we have already delivered in fast-start financing, our government recently announced a $300-million funding pledge to the Green Climate Fund. This fund supports projects and programs to address climate change in developing countries. 

Canada is proud to be a founding partner and a major financial contributor to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition in order to align global efforts to tackle short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon and methane. Canada is also Canada advancing work to address these pollutants under its chairmanship of the Arctic Council. This work is especially important for Canada as short-lived climate pollutants significantly impact the North. 

Domestically, our government is implementing a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to reduce emissions. We have already taken action on two of this country's largest sources of emissions-the transportation and the electricity generation sectors. 

The transportation sector has been a key area of focus as it generates nearly one-quarter of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. With these regulations, 2025 model year passenger vehicles and light trucks will emit about half as many greenhouse gas emissions as 2008 models, and greenhouse gas emissions from 2018 model year heavy-duty vehicles will be reduced by up to 23 percent. 

Our government has also introduced stringent coal-fired electricity standards, making Canada the first major coal user to ban construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units. These regulations require the phase out of existing coal-fired electricity generation units without carbon capture. In the first 21 years, these regulations are expected to result in a cumulative reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing roughly 2.6 million personal vehicles from the road per year. This action further cements Canada's place as a global clean energy leader, with more than three-quarters of the electricity supply emitting no greenhouse gases. 

Building on our announcement at the New York Climate Summit regarding Canada's intent to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, on December 5, 2014, our government announced the next steps for the development of these regulations. Hydrofluorocarbons are the fastest growing greenhouse gases in the world and can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

Our government's regulatory approach is complemented by investments of more than $10 billion that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the longer term. These measures include support for green infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy technologies, and the production of cleaner energy and fossil fuels . Our government has also taken action to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies such as tax preferences for oil sands producers and eliminating certain tax preferences for mining sectors, including coal. 

Canada's approach is generating results. Our economy has grown substantially while greenhouse gas emissions have decreased. Canada's per capita emissions are now at their lowest level since tracking began in 1990.

Our government is working to ensure that we achieve results for Canadians and the environment. This approach will result in real emission reductions, while maintaining Canada's economic competitiveness and supporting job creation opportunities for Canadians. For more information on federal actions to address climate change, please visit www.climatechange.gc.ca.

Sincerely, 

(signed)

The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, P.C., M.P. 
Minister of the Environment



If you think her response addresses my concerns adequately, please let me know. I am very disappointed in the minister and the government she represents. The policy of the Canadian government on climate change is not only inadequate but also inappropriate and dangerous to Canada and the rest of the world.