Archive for category civil rights
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. 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:
Please read the rest of this post over at FreeThought Blogs.
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.
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.
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’ 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.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
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?
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
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.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
I haven’t commented much on Syria, despite the fact that its revolt is just as bloody and horrific as the one in Libya. President Assad, the ruler of Syria has been waging a constant campaign of terror and violence against his citizens for opposing his regime. One of the more heinous acts I’ve seen come out of this conflict is the savage beating of a political cartoonist:
One of the best-known cartoonists in the Arab world has been beaten up by Syrian security forces, activists say. Ali Ferzat, whose work is critical of the government, was forced from his car in Damascus and badly beaten. The attack comes after 11 civilians and eight soldiers were reportedly killed in different incidents across Syria. The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed as security forces crack down on anti-government protests that began in mid-March.
The offending cartoon is as follows:
It depicts Moammar Gathafi (which is apparently how it’s spelled in English, according to his son’s passport) fleeing in a getaway car, with president Assad and some tiny guy with an ass for a face trying to hitch a ride. It was cartoons like this that apparently justified his being dragged out of his car and beaten nearly to death. Wikipedia tells me that Assad was educated in opthamology in Damascus and London. I guess he didn’t bother to study classical literature or political science or history or pretty much anything in the humanities. If he had, it would be clear to him that ideas cannot be beaten to death. They can only be countered by other ideas. Beating a person for having and/or expressing an idea does nothing to tamp those ideas down – in the best case scenario it simply prevents that one individual from expressing it.
Maybe Ali Ferzat’s cartoon, drawn as a response to his attackers, will express this idea in a way that even Assad can understand it:
Ali Ferzat – bad mother fucker.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
A few weeks ago I opined on the riots in London, and contrasted the police reaction there to the one here in Vancouver following our own riots. That story is continuing:
Prime Minister David Cameron has defended courts for handing out “tough” sentences for those involved in the riots across England. The barrister told the BBC “ringleaders should receive very long sentences” but warned “there was an issue of proportionality” over the way people already before the courts had been treated. The PM said it was good that the courts were sending a “tough message”. Speaking in Warrington, he said: “It’s up to the courts to make decisions about sentencing, but they’ve decided to send a tough message and it’s very good that the courts feel able to do that.”
Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu is defending the pace of criminal investigations into Vancouver rioters, saying investigators are moving slowly because authorities want to make sure they can secure convictions. ”Even though we acknowledge the frustration of those who wish these suspects were already in jail, and we hear and share your frustration, there are many reasons why we must proceed at this pace,” Chu told reporters Wednesday at a news conference. His comments came as critics point to swift sentencing seen in Britain in the wake of a sweeping series of riots in recent weeks.
First of all, it’s important to state unequivocally that the Vancouver riots are not comparable to the London riots. The issues that underlie the widespread reckless smash and grab in the UK are not represented in the 5-hour orgy of violence that happened here following the Stanley Cup final. Looking for a common thread between what sparked the two separate occasions is probably a waste of time. My intention here is to contrast the response by law enforcement in the two situations that, from a surface perspective, appear similar (people rioting).
I was critical of David Cameron’s response to the riots – right-wing chest thumping might be psychologically satisfying, but it is not the kind of evidence-based response we need to see that justice is done and further riots do not happen. While I am still critical of his approach, he is not really the focus of this story. It is now the judicial system that is engaging in a dick-measuring contest to show how “tough” they can be. As I’ve opined before, being “tough” on crime doesn’t do anything but appease the masses thirsty for blood. It’s a short-sighted response that finds its origin in our lizard brains – they hurt us so let’s hurt them back. While understandable, it leads us to react disproportionately and emotionally, when reason and logic are at their most crucial:
BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the sentences being handed out across the country for offences of dishonesty such as theft, burglary and receiving stolen goods, suggested there were disparities between courts. What the public was seeing may just be a “distorted version of the normal system”, our correspondent said. In another case, David Beswick, 31 from Salford was sentenced to 18 months in prison for handling stolen goods. Max Hill QC, vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association said it was not the job of judges “to deliver a political message on behalf of the government” when passing sentence but part of their role was to identify “serious aggravating features that elevate the crime beyond the ordinary”.
When the lawyers, intimately involved in the criminal justice system, are criticizing your policy, it might be a rebuke you want to take seriously. I said as much this morning.
In matters of criminal justice, it is far too easy to get swept up in the bloodlust of the crowd. Britain is certainly modeling such a reaction for the whole world to see. Vancouver’s response has been far more measured. They are concerned with making cases based on solid evidence, rather than appealing to cries for swift punishment. Why Jim Chu is choosing this route, and whether he will survive the next election cycle for his job, are open questions. I am happy and proud to live in a society where deliberate care is taken to avoid locking up the wrong people, or letting the right people get away on technicalities due to improper evidence.
Now if only we’d apply that same work ethic to charging the financiers that did far more damage to the economy than all the looters in the world could hope to accomplish. Then we’d really be getting something done.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
I think that a lot can be said for a person by the company that she or he keeps. Part of my attempt at consistent self-criticism involves me trying to size up how I am doing generally as a person. I take great comfort in the fact that I can count people I admire, respect, and wish to emulate among my close friends. It means, at least in my eyes, that there is something about me that they also admire and respect. Maybe they’re all just really nice and take pity on me
In the same vein, when your friends and supporters are people with whom you fundamentally disagree, you’ve got to take a long hard look at yourself:
Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul, whose long-shot campaign has been gaining media attention in recent days, apparently has the support of an unusual constituency — the white supremacist movement. Stormfront.org, a white supremacy web site, as well as others, such as WhiteWorldNews.com, have actively supported Paul’s bid for the presidency, including directing donors to his campaign. Stormfront has also endorsed Paul for president.
“Once in a great while a presidential candidate is presented to us. A candidate who not only speaks to us, but for us…I am supporting Ron Paul in his run for the presidency,” the Stormfront endorsement says. The endorsement praises Paul’s plans to reduce taxes, close the borders and eliminate trade deals, such as NAFTA. “Whatever organization you belong to, remember first and foremost that you are a white nationalist,” the endorsement continues. “Put your differences with one and other aside and work together. Work together to strive to get someone in the Oval Office who agrees with much of what we want for our future. Look at the man. Look at the issues. Look at our future. Vote for Ron Paul 2008.”
Ron Paul’s supporters have a deserved reputation for being the most vehement scourers of the internet, and for being nearly indistinguishable in their defense of their champion. I therefore want to take great pains here to say that this is not evidence that Ron Paul is a white supremacist. I am not trying to imply a sort of guilt by association – the endorsement from Stormfront seems to be largely based on Ron Paul’s isolationist beliefs rather than any racist statements he’s made in the past. Which isn’t to say that Ron Paul’s positions on race aren’t suspect:
What bothers me the most about Ron Paul’s defense of liberty regarding the Civil Rights Act is that he glazes over the significance of the social and political culture at the time. However, I don’t think he’s a stupid man by any means. He is well educated and fully aware of the history of racial discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement. He is fully aware that allowing business owners to do whatever they wanted in their businesses during this period in history meant some business owners would deny service to individuals because of the color of their skin. He is fully aware that some business owners would take significant measures to remove black people from their businesses.
When pictures pass around the press of children having acid poured in their pool water, it is not just those black children who are being harmed. All black Americans were at the helm of potentially injurious acts of discrimination. This photo illustrates that real, violent threat.
This is my problem with Ron Paul specifically and libertarianism in general – while many of the ideas proposed have some merit, the absolute application of the principles they’re based on are wildly impractical. The Civil Rights Act absolutely infringed upon the liberty of some people. Anyone who denies this fact is either woefully ignorant or bizarrely entrenched in their own ideology. However, the Civil Rights Act, for all its infringement, was a step forward in recognizing the equality of all people. The free market approach to civil rights was not working – black people were on the receiving end of massive discrimination with no recourse or relief from a state that is ostensibly invested in defending the rights of its citizens. Libertarian policies of government non-intervention were failing, and a more direct approach was needed.
Which is not to say that Ron Paul is a Libertarian:
There are a lot of libertarians who still buy into the Ron Paul myth, I’m sad to say. Ron is no libertarian. He’s a paleoconservative and his voting record backs that up. In addition he has all the crazy shit he gets from the Birch Society and continues to spew out. But what I find surprising is how gullible some libertarians are regarding Ron’s excuses for all this. Take the newsletter that Ron edited and sold, during his stint out of office, between his LP presidential bid and his next Congressional race. Ron was listed as co-editor of the newsletter. There was a staff of four people, including his wife and daughter. So it was hardly a huge enterprise. It published some pretty bigoted remarks about blacks and gays and had the usual crazy Ron Paul shit about conspiracies.
I have talked about this kind of thing before, but when your support comes from people who hold positions you abhor, then you really need to take a hard look at why. I was quite taken with Ron Paul when I first learned of him. Ramping down foreign wars, eliminating the monstrously-wasteful war on drugs, support for individual rights – lots of great ideas. However, it’s mixed in with a lot of crazy stuff, including more than a little racism. It’s not at all a surprise to me that Stormfront sees him as their best hope of political legitimacy. That fact alone should give Paul supporters pause.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
A few months back I wrote a post about Andres Serrano’s artistic installation “Piss Christ”. In it, I made an allusion, likening Philistine knee-jerk religious reactionaries to a horde of barbarians swarming around the gates of civilized society:
The fact is that rationality has surpassed our need for imagined explanations and intuitions to govern our society. We can govern ourselves based on secular reason – furthermore, those regions that do this more are doing much better than their less-reasoned brethren. Those who would react to an idea by trying to destroy it, and those that think it, must not be the ones to rule us. They should be thought of, in our walled palace of reasoned thought, as barbarians banging at the gates.
Not a flattering image, to be sure, but it was not intended to be. I have nothing but the deepest contempt for those who believe the way to settle philosophical disagreements is through violence or the threat thereof.
I was disheartened, therefore, to see this story in the news:
A Manila art exhibit blasted as offensive to Catholic Filipinos has been shuttered, following complaints from President Benigno Aquino III and death threats to artists and cultural officials. The Kulo group exhibit at the state-funded Cultural Center of the Philippines opened in Manila in June. However, the show began receiving complaints after recent coverage by media outlets in the predominantly Catholic nation. Originally slated to close Aug. 21, Kulo was shut down Tuesday. Specifically, complaints focus on work by contemporary artist Mideo Cruz that mixes Catholic icons with pop culture and sexual imagery and paraphernalia.
We’ve heard about the presence of the Catholic church in the Philippines before, as they have been the chief force retarding that country making any progress toward comprehensive sex education. It’s nice to know that when they’re not dooming a generation to unwanted pregnancies and STIs, they’re still finding the time to act as art critics. Once again, though, I think they’ve completely missed the point of the exhibit:
The exhibition, entitled Poleteismo or Polytheism, includes a statue of Jesus with the ears of Mickey Mouse, and a wall collage featuring images from Christ and the Virgin Mary to the Statue of Liberty and US President Barack Obama. Mr Cruz says it is intended to be about the worship of icons. ”This speaks about objects that we worship, how we create these gods and idols, and how we in turn are created by our gods and idols,” said the Filipino artist, referring to the 300 years of Spanish rule that brought Catholicism to the Philippines and the current influences from the US.
Or maybe they aren’t. I remember one of the first problems I had with the RCC as an organization was its insistence on idolatry (yes – I used to be a bit of a zealot). You can’t walk into a church or basilica anywhere in the world without being overwhelmed with religious iconography, which is in direct contravention of the second commandment. Of course accusing the Catholic church of being hypocritical is like accusing a windstorm of being destructive: you’re absolutely right but it’s not going to listen to you. This exhibition calling Roman Catholicism a foreign idolatrous ideology might have just rubbed the Church the wrong way, and so they fixed on (what else?) sex to get everyone up in arms.
You know what they should have been up in arms about?
A day earlier former first lady Imelda Marcos joined the growing protest over the exhibition. She said Mideo Cruz’s exhibition at Manila’s cultural centre had “desecrated” something sacred. Mrs Marcos is one of the country’s main patrons of the art and founded the cultural centre in the 1970s when her husband Ferdinand was president. She saw the exhibition for herself and said she was “shocked” by it. ”There were so many symbols of the male organ there – something sacred to be desecrated. It is sad, and it should not happen here in the cultural centre,” said the 82-year-old.
The BBC uses the word “president” a bit too liberally. Ferdinand Marcos was a brutal dictator whose bloody reign was marked with corruption, violation of human rights, and assassination of political rivals. It was only 25 years ago that a huge populist uprising eventually forced him into exile, taking with him large sums of money that he and his wife embezzled from the country they had ruled mercilessly. It is thanks to his corrupt and cartoonishly-evil rule that the Philippines is in the kind of shitty shape it’s in now. And his wife has taken it upon herself to express her “shock” at how something beautiful has been desecrated. The irony of hearing this from the lips of someone who so thoroughly desecrated the principles of democratic government made my eyes swim a little.
I am not offended by this exhibit. I was slightly offended, for example, by some of the more lurid exhibits at the slavery museum in Amsterdam. I am very offended by the depiction of black men as sexual subhuman animals in pornography. Every fibre of my being – everything I have ever believed in, the very bedrock upon which I build my life, is offended by the bullshit that is the closing of an art exhibit because you don’t like the art. However, it doesn’t matter at all what offends me – I don’t have a right not to be offended. But then again, I am a rational human being, not a goddamn barbarian.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
One of the things that blows me away about history and human nature is that there’s really only a handful of stories that get told again and again. While we appear to be facing new challenges all the time, there is so much that even a basic grasp of history and psychology can teach us about just how not-new our problems are.
Pete Townsend certainly seemed to understand this:
This song could have been written yesterday, as far as Egypt and the Middle East are concerned, particularly the seemingly-prescient line “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Egyptian forces swinging electrified batons and shouting the battle cry “God is great” swiftly chased off dozens of activists Monday who had refused to end four weeks of renewed protests at Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Hundreds of riot police backed by armoured vehicles and soldiers moved in to tear down a camp of dozens of tents after a group of activists — some of them relatives of people killed in the national uprising that toppled ex-president Hosni Mubarak in February — refused commands over loudspeakers to go home. Some in the crowd, whose demonstration aimed to pressure the country’s military rulers, hurled stones at the police.
Just a side note: anyone who isn’t immediately terrified by the prospect of a police officer shouting praises to his god before charging into a crowd of people with the intention of hurting them… there’s something wrong with your head. Of course, many of you who have been reading this blog for a while will remember how much emphasis I put on what is being called the Jasmine Revolution. Anti-government protests started in Tunisia, and rapidly spread throughout the Arabian peninsula. I was admonishing you to pay attention to what was going on, because it will have profound implications on the future of the planet.
While I have stopped talking about the developments there (short attention span? more sexy news items?), my opinion of them hasn’t changed and I have been watching as closely as I can. I hope you have been too, because it hasn’t become less important. The story above, of police tamping down on protesters, should resonate with those of you who’ve been paying attention for two chief reasons. First, because it happened in Tahrir Square, which is the site of the original anti-Mubarak protest that captured the world’s attention back in February. While I don’t really believe in totemistic attachments to geographical locations (I don’t think that places have souls), but the symbolism of police beating protesters in that particular place is powerful.
The second reason has to do with who is behind the attacks. The police now work for the military council that forms the government. If you remember, during the original riots the military refused to take a side in the conflict and protected the protesters from pro-Mubarak gangs. The people of Egypt praised and thanked the military for upholding their sworn duty to the people of Egypt. Things appear to have changed now:
“They beat people with sticks and electrified batons. I don’t see why they had to use excessive force like this,” she said. State radio reported later that 270 people were arrested, describing them as thugs and criminals.
Also interesting is the fact that protesters are now being described on state radio as “thugs and criminals” – precisely the same language that Mubarak’s government-controlled state radio used to describe protesters in February. It attempted to delegitimize the protests by claiming that they were simply a handful of malcontents who were only there to cause trouble. Of course that wasn’t the case at all – they had real concerns about government conduct and human rights abuses. The same is the case now:
Many activists are skeptical that a military council headed by Mubarak’s longtime defence minister can deliver on promises of democratic reforms before returning the country to civilian rule. They also accuse it of dragging its feet with prosecutions of regime figures and say it has so far failed to weed out Mubarak loyalists from the judiciary, police and civil service.
What I find fascinating is the level of hypocrisy and myopia we see in human beings when they (we) gain power. Now that the military is running the show, they are adopting the exact same pattern of behaviour as those they helped to oust. They are using force to quell political protest – in direct violation of the stance they took less than a year ago. They are lying about the motivation of dissenters – which they must know doesn’t work because they were there on the streets the first time it failed. And perhaps most chilling of all, they are doing it with the name of their god on their lips – not a good sign in what is trying to become a secular democratic state.
There are two potential explanations I can conjure for this phenomenon. The first is cynical – the military had been looking for an opportunity to supplant Mubarak’s rule but for some reason couldn’t until there was public hatred for him. Now that he (Mubarak) is out, the army can take over permanently, and was just using its temporary political powers as a ruse for long-term despotism. The second is perhaps a bit more optimistic – that human beings in power will inevitably become corrupted by that same power. When someone sees themselves as representing the ideals of a nation, then any personal opposition to them is tantamount to treason. In such a scenario how could you see legitimate criticism as anything other than sedition?
While that doesn’t sound terribly optimistic, it does tell us what we have to do as a society to ensure that our political organizations are stable and sustainable – we cannot allow power to become consolidated in the hands of a few individuals. Power must rest with the people, and the governmental organizations must be responsive to the people’s needs. Without that kind of underlying philosophy, even those that we once thought of as heroes will quickly turn villain.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
There was once a time when I could have been accurately described as ‘pro-police’. I recognized that in order for a society to progress, we needed to have some way of enforcing law. A society without laws quickly degenerates into violence, and it was thanks to the tireless efforts of police officers and other members of the justice system that we were such a peaceful place to live. I would openly and unashamedly take the police’s side when debates came up in our high school (we had a pair of police officers on constant patrol on our campus). However, as I’ve become a bit more aware of the world and the nuances of the argument, my knee-jerk support for the police has diminished quite dramatically. While I have not yet gone quite to the extent of labeling police indiscriminately as a gang of threatening thugs, events like the travesty that was the G20 summit are moving me in that direction.
I still believe in the principle of rule of law, and I doubt that will ever change. However, I no longer see police as being reliable arbitrators of law. Again and again, we see examples not only of police abusing their power to circumvent justice for themselves, but of such abuse actually undermining justice for others:
The Richmond trial of five men accused of running a multi-million dollar ecstasy lab has been thrown out of court because of what a provincial court judge says were repeated Charter of Rights violations. In January 2007, Mounties uncovered nearly 100 kilograms of ecstasy and nine pill presses in two Richmond homes following a year-long investigation. Tin Lik Ho, Qing Hou, Shao Wei Huang, Yi Feng Kevin Li and Kai Lai Kyle Zhou were all charged with producing ecstasy and possessing ecstasy for the purpose of trafficking. But in a 30-page provincial court judgment, Judge Paul Meyers issued a scathing indictment of the RCMP’s handling of the case. ”The police officers who were in charge of this investigation, from start to finish, violated so many Charter rights of the accused persons, that one might have thought that the investigation took place before the Charter of Rights had been enacted,” Meyers wrote.
Asking a conservative what this story represents will yield a very different response than if you ask someone who actually understands what she/he is talking about. A conservative commentator will point out that this is a prime example of the “hug a thug” mentality that liberals have – prioritizing the rights of criminals over the rights of decent, hard-working Canadians. This judge is clearly a liberal activist that doesn’t care about seeing criminals punished for their crimes, or of drugs spreading through communities where they destroy the lives of the young and innocent.
Someone with a slightly more realistic understanding of the legal process will recognize that this is the sign of a healthy legal system (the abuses of the police notwithstanding). Undoubtedly, these men are dead to rights – the drugs were found in their homes along with the method of manufacture. This was not the case of a handful of pills trying to make a quick score, or some guys who just really really like to get high – these guys were mid-level traffickers of a restricted substance. They absolutely belong in jail. However, in their handling of the case, the RCMP decided that their apparent guilt justified shredding the charter. While judges regularly look the other way for slight abrogations of legal rights in clear cases of guilt, Judge Meyers’s report details the extent to which these particular officers decided that they were above the law.
The reason why this ruling is good is because there are countries in the world in which those accused of crimes are treated as already-guilty. We don’t like those countries – they tend to use that justice system to lock up political dissidents. Neither the presumption of innocence nor the presumption of guilt will result in a perfect system; however, one will ensure that fewer innocent people are imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. We can always produce evidence of guilt – evidence of innocence is almost impossible by definition.
What’s more interesting than the finding that drug prohibition causes gang-on-gang violence is our inability – or is it unwillingness? – to learn from repeated demonstrations of this connection. For some reason, we seem to think that what’s happening in northern Mexico – where drug-trafficking gangs are at war with each other and with the Mexican army – is somehow different from what’s happening in Winnipeg, where drug-trafficking gangs are at war with each other and with the Winnipeg Police Service. There is a difference in scale, to be sure, but not in kind. Drug prohibition enriches organized crime, and police crackdowns on drug suppliers provoke gang-on-gang violence over market share.
We know from abundant evidence in other counties that the kind of drug enforcement strategy we use in Canada is not particularly effective at actually reducing crime. This analysis from The Mark suggests that, to the contrary, it actually increases the rate of violent crime as market forces inexorably drive up demand whenever supply is interrupted. If we were trying to reduce crime, we’d change our strategy – we’d do what it took to actually protect the populace against its dangerous elements. However, it is clear that we are not interested in reducing crime, which raises the question of what it is we are trying to do.
It is when we betray the liberal principles of crime prevention and harm reduction that we begin to see the corporatization of law enforcement. For-profit law enforcement strategies only serve those who make profit from crime. If our interest is in doing whatever it takes to ‘punish’ criminals by locking them up, we’ll see more examples like the Richmond case where the rights of the people become a secondary interest to serving and upholding law enforcement’s sworn duty to protect and serve the people.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!