Friday, May 23, 2008

Multiculturalism in Quebec

Ever since Herouxville came out with their Guide to Immigrants, people started to realize that Quebecers weren't handling their immigrants very well. There's been a problem with immigration in Quebec ever since the British decided that they could stamp out the French by making their language illegal.

So the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was given the task of figuring out what reasonable accommodations should be made.

The conclusion was pretty simple. Public buildings should not showcase religious symbols. Public servants should not wear religious items. People, meanwhile, such as students, should be permitted to wear the religious items of their choice.

They walk a pretty fine line though, as far as accommodation is concerned. According to the article, one can not expect that separate swimming classes would be held for boys and girls simply because a religion forbids boys and girls to be in bathing suits within sight of each other.

It's a pretty decent report, though I obviously haven't read the whole thing. They are working to keep church and state separate - a good idea known to anyone who has read history. When church and state collude, we get the corruption of both for the sake of power. The dogmatic views of religion do not get along with the concepts of freedom and democracy.

My only problem comes down to this. Does this forbid Christians from wearing their crosses while on duty - say as police officers or at city hall? If the Christians who make up the largest chunk of religious people in this country are being told that they should forsake their religious symbols while serving their country (in whatever capacity) what are we going to do about the Sikhs who are allowed to wear turbans while on duty with the RCMP?

How is that fair?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of a nation that leaves religion as a personal matter. People must be allowed to believe whatever they want about gods, pre-marital sex, pork, shellfish, beef, voodoo, the I Ching and hookers. The government should protect your right to believe but not enforce any one belief (or non-belief) over any other. That's a free society.

I just think it's stupid to make the majority abide by this rule while letting a minority get away with breaking it. Even the appearance of unfairness is enough to make an idea like this fail, never mind an actual concrete example of unfairness.

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It's Called a "Treaty"

I'm getting tired of all the native-bashing all over the media and the Internet. This is merely the latest.

Yes, the natives are blocking development. They're blocking progress. They're blocking economic growth. What are they thinking, anyway, those crazy natives?

They're probably thinking that they have a treaty which entitles them to that land. Are they right? This ought to be a fairly simple question. Do we have a copy of treaty, either in the National Archives or in the hands of the tribe in question? What does the treaty say?

But no, let's not discuss the treaty. Instead let's refer to the protest as an "occupation" of the development site. Occupation? Are you insane? Do you know what irony is? I begin to understand the right-wing preoccupation with Muslim immigration altering our culture. Of course a tiny amount of Muslim immigration can wipe out our culture! After all, it worked perfectly when we did it to the natives!

But seriously, how can someone be so unaware of history and irony that they could refer to the native population as occupying our land? Do you have any idea how ignorant that sounds?

If you want to solve the problem of native relations, we have to admit that, as a country, we've done some really stupid, unproductive things in order to force native people to integrate in to Canada against their will. We've been trying to take more and more of the land we promised them and we've been trying to shrink their band lists to help that along. Once we stop trying to do this, maybe then we can find a reasonable path forward, a path that treats our fellow human beings with respect and allows at least a margin of dignity.

Until then, let's knock off this nonsense about using the Canadian Forces to put down riots. Sit down with these people and figure out whether or not they have the right to the land. If you're being honest, it can't take a bunch of cartographers more than a week to figure it out.

From that starting point of respect and honesty, we can start working on solving the systemic problems in the native community and in government relations with native people.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Frasier Institute on Muslim Integration

I have to thank all those conservative bloggers I read for directing my attention to what must be the craziest Frasier Institute Study I've ever read.

"It would be prudent, from a security point of view, for Canada to review its immigration policy in relation to the admission of immigrants from Muslim countries that are known to produce terrorists," the book says.

I wonder what countries he means? Saudi Arabia, from which came the most 9/11 hijackers? Or Pakistan, where Al Qaeda Number One is hiding with his kidney dialysis machines? Both are allies in the war on terror, though, so they're probably okay.

Maybe someone should let the Frasier Institute know that Canada has never actually been attacked by any Islamic terrorists. They probably already know that. Otherwise they wouldn't have mentioned our immigration policy as a "threat to North American security."

That sounds suspiciously reminiscent of "North American Energy Security". Canada has energy security, so what are we really talking about?

"We should be more careful about accepting people who are not going to be happy living in a secular society, with a separation of church and state," Bissett said.

Really? And what do you plan to do about the people already here who don't like living in a secular society? You know, the ones who cite bible passages to try to illegalize abortion and gay marriage? The ones who think Parliament should open with religious incantations?

Fortunately, I feel pretty safe from them because we have a Charter of Rights in this country that guarantees that I have the right to not-believe their nonsense, not-pray their prayers and not-go to their churches. Consequently I also feel safe from Muslim immigrants. Much ado about nothing.

Immigrants need to be happy in a society "where men and women are treated equally, and gay marriage is permitted," he said.

Men and women are treated equally, huh? I suppose that's a good theory, unless you look at salaries, or promotions, or Parliament, or the Cabinet, or ... And gay marriage? A prerequisite for immigration is approval of gay marriage? That puts a sizable chunk of Canada as ineligible for citizenship.

The only thing that immigrants need to respect is that we have a Charter of Rights which tells us that everyone has the right to their beliefs and that no one may infringe on the rights and beliefs of others.

Personally I see the anti-Muslim bias the way I see the anti-Chinese bias - it's simply fear of new people showing up in our country who speak with new accents and have different religious rituals. Given a generation of watching our television and being immersed in our schools, their children will find them quirky. A generation after that the grandchildren will be culturally indistinguishable from that nation to which we have all contributed.

Much ado nothing and the Frasier Institute is merely pandering to its right wing audience.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good News on Abortion

Take it for what you will, a drop in the abortion rate is good news for pretty much everybody.

The key here is that they're looking at abortion rate, not just abortions which might decline simply because we have an aging population. What "rate" means is that there are fewer abortions per the number of women of child-bearing age.

Excellent new, really. It means, one way or another, that sex education is slowly but surely doing its job. Women and men, and even boys and girls, are being more responsible with their bodies.

Are there too many unwanted pregnancies still? Yes, of course there are. A lot of them could be prevented in the first place with better and more thorough education, but at least this tells us that we are going in the right direction.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Apologetics and Morality

Due to the arrival of a new atheist in the world, the whole Lord's Prayer nonsense slipped me by. For those not living in Ontario (that's in Canada), the Premier of the province launched a discussion in to removing the Lord's Prayer from the opening exercises of Parliament.

A number of people jumped on this as "political correctness" and "radical atheism". Personally, I was surprised they were still doing this in Parliament. We stopped doing it in our schools sometime in the early 90s - partly out of a sense of religious equality and partly because it was an empty gesture recited by almost no one.

My objection to the Lord's Prayer in a Parliament is that it contains a pledge that the "will" of God will be done on Earth. A quick read through of almost any part of the bible will reveal that the Christian God has some very dangerous "wills" that have no business driving government policy.

I got in to an argument with a gentleman who goes by the name of "Flaggman" here.

There are any number of examples of capricious behaviours but the one I picked, the most morally disgusting story I could think of, was that of Abraham and Isaac. You can read the discussion thread yourselves. Try to ignore the invocation of Hitler and Stalin. I almost managed to do so.

What's interesting is not so much the specific arguments but the way that the devout believer with whom I was arguing went about arguing. (There's no question of what's going on in Genesis 22. Abraham is rewarded by God for his willingness to mindlessly set his innocent son on fire.) The interesting part is the amount of rationalization that was involved in trying to make this story somehow a moral lesson.

First, it was rationalized as a lesson against human sacrifice.

There being no biblical support for this, I was then accused of having a shallow understanding of religion.

Then the story of Isaac was supposed to mean that we have to "spiritually" commit our children to God.

When no evidence could be found of this story being anything less than a literal tale of Abraham's life with a literal willingness to slay a child, it was my fault for not understanding the implied symbolism of any literature at all.

I'm not rehashing this for the purpose of mockery, but to point something out. When religious people go to these lengths to rationalize a totally immoral lesson in to a moral one, they are really just hammering home one of the finer points that I've tried to make since I became an atheist:
You don't need a deity or a religion to be moral. You already know right from wrong.

Of course it's wrong to set a living child on fire. The fact that there's a biblical story that rewards a man for being willing to do so forces the believers to try to reconcile this with their own independant, non-religious, moral centres.

The question is this: if the bible and the deities and religions that go with it are all that give you morality, how did you know that setting your son on fire was wrong?

It's because you have a moral centre.

Now get rid of that crutch you're using, get your eyes on the horizon and start walking properly for the first time in your life.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

That's Not Appeasement

U.S. President George W. Bush recently used the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) as a platform to give a speech denouncing his political opponents' intentions to have a dialogue with Iran in order to attempt to peacefully resolve various issues.

Bush referred to this as "appeasement" and made the embarrassingly inappropriate comment that this appeasement was just like the appeasement of Hitler in 1938.

This talking point has been repeated ad nauseam by right wing commentators - ignorant right wing commentators.

Chris Matthews finally called one of them on it.

He repeatedly asked Kevin James - who could only repeat the word "appease" and its variations in response - exactly what Chamberlain had done in 1938 that constituted appeasement. James could not answer. Presumably James did not know.

The appeasement of Hitler was not the part where Chamberlain talked to him. The appeasement was the part where he let Hitler have parts of Czechoslovakia without a fight.

There is nothing "appeasing" about talking to your enemies and trying to find a resolution.

I'm surprised by two things
1) It was Chris Matthews who burned Kevin James on this
2) In the youtube clip above, Matthews actually admits partial responsibility for the War in Iraq, saying that that the media failed to ask the tough questions and caved to pressure to "be patriotic".


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