Saturday, January 01, 2011

Attack on religion in Quebec

It's never too early to close the minds of the young. That's the thinking of the provincial government here, which recently announced a ban on religion in subsidized daycare centres.

Subsidized daycare is a central part of social policy in Quebec--parents pay $7/day, and provincial government pays the rest, about $40/day. The government of Quebec is now increasing its vigilance on what dangerous ideas the toddlers might be exposed to.

Just before Christmas, Family Minister Yolande James announced regulations that would seek to ban religion instruction from daycare centres that take government money. The Quebec government is out to stamp out religious expressions -- prayers, bible stories, manger scenes and even explanations for religious dietary practices.

Strangely, you can have a manger scene -- you just can't tell the children who the figures are. The scene is cultural, but Jesus is religious. In a Jewish or Muslim daycare, presumably the children could keep dietary laws but not be told why. Children could decorate a Christmas tree (cultural) but not sing Silent Night (religious). It's easy to mock the silliness, but violations of religious liberty are no laughing matter. Quebec's antipathy to expressions of Jewish and Islamic faith, combined with a self-loathing of its Catholic heritage, makes for a toxic combination.

"In Quebec, secularism has become the new religion," said Daniel Amar, executive director of the Quebec Jewish Congress. That's almost right. It's secular fundamentalism that the Quebec government practises, touched by a totalitarian impulse that brooks no dissent, even from little children who might need help in colouring their religious pictures.

Our editorial board argued on Tuesday that Quebec's massive subsidies for approved daycare spaces has effectively crowded out non-subsidized daycare. The economic argument is clear -- subsidize one form of child care over all others, and soon there will effectively be just one form of child care. Daycare has been de facto nationalized in Quebec, and the national religion of intolerant secularism will now be imposed.

The cultural question is more troubling. So serious is Quebec's government about imposing its view on all children that, concurrent with the new regulations, it will triple the number of inspectors to enforce them. Quebec will soon have 58 inquisitors dropping in on daycares to ensure compliance. One can only imagine the scene when the inquisition arrives, sifting through the sandbox in search of clandestine religious items. And who will write the code for the bureaucrats, ensuring that miscreant daycare workers don't mention that la fete nationale was once upon a time Saint-Jean-Baptiste?

There is an economic cost to big government. There is also a cultural cost, if everywhere government goes alternative values and viewpoints must retreat. If government goes everywhere, then not even babies are entitled to hear views that dissent from government dogma. Quebec has long since abandoned the neutral state in favour of the aggressively secular state. Where the Quebec state goes, religion must retreat, and there's no limit on where the Quebec state will go.

The heart of every culture is its attitude to the big questions of human life and existence. That's why a sensible people leaves culture in the hands of the churches, the artists and the writers. Only a deeply insecure society entrusts culture to bureaucratic inquisitors. And only bureaucratic inquisitors see threats in the cradle.

Totalitarian states have always sought to control the kindergartens and the schools and the youth groups, all the better to ensure that the influence of parents on their own children is attenuated. There is the hard totalitarianism that comes by force of arms. Soft totalitarianism comes by way of subsidies, where first the family is embraced by the state, and only then is it suffocated.

The educational world in Quebec does not leave much room to breathe. The consensus position, as defined by the curriculum apparatchiks, must be taught without exception in all public schools, private schools and even at home. Until now, the preschoolers had escaped the stifling grasp of government. No longer.

As our editorial pointed out, the actual educational results of Quebec daycare are poor. Quebec's nationalized daycares don't teach little Quebecers very much. Now they will ensure that the youngsters know even less.


NYT Gets Vapors Over Justice Scalia and Tea Party Seminar

The New York Times is all verklemmt over Justice Scalia’s involvement in a tea party seminar:
When the Tea Party holds its first Conservative Constitutional Seminar next month, Justice Antonin Scalia is set to be the speaker. It was a bad idea for him to accept this invitation. He should send his regrets.

The Tea Party epitomizes the kind of organization no justice should speak to — left, right or center — in the kind of seminar that has been described in the press. It has a well-known and extreme point of view about the Constitution and about cases and issues that will be decided by the Supreme Court.

Now the NYT is terrified that somehow the tea party, so devoted to the Constitution, would influence a Supreme Court justice to be devoted … to … the Constitution. They leapfrog through reasons, trying them on, seeing which has the most affect.
Justice Scalia has been particularly assertive that the American public should trust his ability to handle ethical questions. Incidents like this seminar emphasize that it is in the interest of the Supreme Court to provide him and every justice with more specific guidance.....

By presiding over this seminar, Justice Scalia would provide strong reasons to doubt his impartiality when he ruled later on any topic discussed there. He can best convey his commitment to the importance of his independence, and the court’s, by deciding it would be best not to attend.

The NYT’s assertion that Justice Scalia’s involvement somehow violates the code of conduct for judges (which, to my understanding, doesn’t apply to Supreme Court Justices) is only applicable based on the presupposition that Scalia is influenceable. Considering his past opinions, I would say that the opposite is the most likely: the movement stands to be influenced by Scalia than Scalia by the movement. The NYT’s presupposition is also offensive in that a man of the Constitution and expert on the law such as Scalia would be influenced by a group for whom the NYT has such a low regard.

The NYT’s real worry is that Scalia’s involvement in speaking to a tea party group would lend the movement further credibility and undermine the NYT’s carefully crafted narrative that the movement is nothing but a lot of stupid, racist rednecks. They can’t come out and say that, but suddenly they’re concerned for the man whose decisions and remarks they’ve vilified almost as vigorously as the movement.

The editorial also hits on the lack of a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices who are exempt from such a code governing federal judges.
The court remains the only federal court not covered by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. The court and the country would be better off if the justices were responsible to the code. Even without a duty to the code, each justice has a duty to its principles. Each has a duty to promote the judiciary’s impartiality.

As for the code of conduct, I reached out to a legal heavyweight for perspective, my good friend and fellow blogger, the law professor and Constitutional scholar Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, who replied:
“Supreme Court Justices have no substitutes. If they recuse themselves, there’s nobody else to take their place; the composition of the Court just changes for that case. Rather than let parties try to manipulate ethics rules to disqualify justices they see as hostile, the justices are the judges of their own ethics.”

It makes perfect sense. Judges are either partial to the Constitution or they aren’t; they either believe that the document is perfect in its form and that rights like free speech don’t ebb in and out of style – or they believe that it’s an anachronistic document in a world that needs a malleable, living Constitution. Each justice enters the Supreme Court possessing a record of opinion by which he or she is measured, and that without threat of election or outside influence, they will apply the Constitution as they always have, thus it’s ridiculous to assert the opposite.

If the NYT was truly concerned about impartiality, they would have had a field day with this:

Instead the NYT essentially deflected and defended her. Sotomayor is listed by the American Bar Association as a member of the far left extremist group La Raza:
In addition to her work on the bench, Judge Sotomayor is an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law and a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School. She is a member of the American Bar Association, the New York Women’s Bar Association, the Puerto Rican Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Association of Judges of Hispanic Heritage, and the National Council of La Raza.

A member of a radical group that opposes the law Sotomayor vowed to uphold. The NYT is worried about Justice Scalia speaking to a group whose expressed purpose is to uphold the Constitution yet says nothing of the justice whose membership – not speaking to a group but membership – is in a group whose expressed purpose is to obliterate the Constitution by staging violent opposition to the laws therein. The discrepancy between these incomparable groups only magnifies the NYT’s bias.
There is nothing like the Tea Party on the left, but if there were and one of the more liberal justices accepted a similar invitation from it, that would be just as bad.

But yet it’s not.
By presiding over this seminar, Justice Scalia would provide strong reasons to doubt his impartiality when he ruled later on any topic discussed there. He can best convey his commitment to the importance of his independence, and the court’s, by deciding it would be best not to attend.

It’s not Justice Scalia’s impartiality I doubt, it’s the New York Times’s impartiality and genuineness that have proven by this instance to be nonexistent.


'Norwegians in UNIFIL causing negative view of Israel

Norway’s aspirations to be a “moral superpower” and play a key role in the Middle East peace process could be constrained by its tense relationship with Israel, anti-Semitism at home and its approach to Hamas, according to a WikiLeaks cable published by the Oslo-based Aftenposten paper.

The cable, written on February 13, 2009, by Kevin Johnson, the deputy chief of the US Embassy in Norway, summarizes Oslo’s aspirations to be a leader in the Middle East peace negotiations.

The cable could serve as an important source document for those seeking to understand the difficulty Israel has in getting its narrative across in Europe.

According to the analysis in this cable, the Oslo process seemed to herald a new peacemaker role for Norway, which it relished. But as the Oslo Accords crumbled, “ties between Norway and Israel weakened,” the cable read.

The Lebanon wars had a major impact, with approximately 20,000 Norwegians serving in UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon from 1978 to 1998. These soldiers came home with sympathetic reports about Palestinian refugees and negative impressions of Israelis. Israeli settlements and walls in the West Bank, and invasions of Lebanon and Gaza contributed to Norwegians’ increasingly negative view of Israel,” the US diplomat wrote.

“Norwegian society values dialogue above all,” the cable read. “Talk, even without any expectation of results, is seen as valuable. Anyone who draws a line and refuses to talk to an opposing party is seen as a radical unilateralist. Conversely, Norwegians are extremely opposed to the use of military force to achieve goals, no matter how laudable.”

Compounding this aversion to force, according to the cable, is the fact that “Norwegians do not generally see any threats” and do not see a danger from terrorism.

To illustrate this particular “societal attitude,” the cable points out that a man who shot up Oslo’s synagogue in 2006, planned to behead the Israeli ambassador and attack Israeli and US embassies was “convicted only of grave vandalism.” The cable said, however, that his “strict sentence showed some understanding of the severity of the charges.” The man convicted of the shooting, Arfan Qadeer Bhatti, was given an eight-year sentence in 2008.

Norway, according to the cable, has engaged with Hamas, and the organization’s vow to destroy Israel “was ignored or characterized as only rhetoric by the Norwegians.”

“Although the GON [Government of Norway] would deny it, there are clear signs that contacts with Hamas go beyond a tactical desire for dialogue to a level of sympathy for Hamas positions. The FM once told DCM [deputy chief of mission] for example that one could not expect Hamas to recognize Israel without knowing which borders Israel will have. While the FM expresses some sympathy for Hamas’ positions only in unguarded moments, other prominent Norwegians go further.”

The cable also gives backing to those who argue that Israel’s difficult position in much of Europe is fueled by the large Muslim minorities there.

“Norway’s growing minority population also plays a role in hardening public attitude toward Israel,” the cable read. “The primary minority groups in Norway (25% of Oslo’s population) are Moslem and stem from Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. They are interested in Middle East politics and not surprisingly very critical of Israel.”

Johnson wrote in the cable that with “traditional Norwegians” already independently quite critical of Israel, “it is likely that this viewpoint will be re-enforced by the growing minority groups in Norway.”

Aftenposten has reportedly gained access to the cache of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks started releasing late last month and that were given to a limited number of newspapers, including The Guardian in Britain, Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany.


Saying the Unsayable: Revisiting International Censorship

It is by now well known that, among its other achievements, China leads the world in the development of innovative and sophisticated methods to control its citizens’ access to information. Less well known, but equally pernicious, is China’s aggressive campaign to extend its censorship system outside its borders.

Consider the case of the Melbourne film festival last fall. A few days before the festival was set to open, Richard Moore, its executive director, received a call from the local Chinese consulate. The Chinese official urged the festival to withdraw a documentary about the life of Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled activist committed to the cause of China’s Uighur minority. In a stunning display of arrogance, the consulate official told Moore that the festival needed to “justify” the inclusion of the Kadeer film. This demand was followed by threatening e-mails, ugly phone messages, and a cascade of faxes. As part of the campaign, hackers broke into the festival’s online booking site and manipulated material in order to make it appear that the Kadeer session had been sold out. Moore himself received messages threatening his family. While the Kadeer film was ultimately shown, Moore acknowledged that in the future festival organizers would think carefully about how to showcase controversial works.

The Chinese offensive against the Melbourne film festival is not, unfortunately, an isolated case. There are campaigns by a variety of groups and individuals around the world—ranging from foreign governments and business moguls to local, sometimes well-meaning, activists—to discourage journalists, scholars, NGOs, and others from addressing politically sensitive subjects.

This creeping censorship is manifesting itself in venues as unlikely as the United Nations, the judicial systems of established democracies, and even the human rights commissions of states where free expression has long been held sacred. Often, the objective is to place restrictions on what people can say or publish about Islam. But the offensive is also being carried forward by Russian oligarchs, Chinese diplomats, and the sons of African strongmen. And while struggles over free expression in the past have been waged mostly in autocratic settings, the current controversies frequently revolve around efforts to restrict information and opinions in Europe, North America, and other bastions of civil liberty.

Some observers have attributed the upsurge in free-speech controversies to the 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. In fact, the cartoons simply added fuel to an already smoldering fire. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the driving force behind the recent anti-blasphemy resolutions at the United Nations, has been promoting similar measures since 1999. Even so, the ability of the campaign’s proponents to mobilize global support based on the actions of a newspaper in a small European country—actions that could have gone unnoticed in an earlier era—points up the unpredictable and not always positive effects of globalization.

This past March, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a now annual resolution that essentially calls for the universal embrace of anti-blasphemy laws prescribing penalties for those who criticize particular religions. Such laws exist in a number of countries, including some European democracies, but they are more widespread and far more likely to be enforced in Muslim societies. The resolution, sponsored principally by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, is the latest iteration of a document that has been circulating at the United Nations, with minor changes, for more than ten years. Although it refers to all religions, the only religion that is identified as a victim of discrimination and hatred is Islam. The text is suffused with the vocabulary of human rights and cross-cultural harmony. At the same time, it notes an “increasing trend in recent years of statements attacking religions, Islam and Muslims in particular, especially in human rights forums.” It deplores the use of the media to “incite acts of violence, xenophobia, or related intolerance or discrimination towards Islam or any religion.” And it calls on governments to take measures to prevent speech that, by its standards, incites hatred against Islam or Muslims....

Just as the Human Rights Council has been a battleground for opponents and defenders of free expression, a related controversy has been fought out in Canada’s human rights commissions.

In the two most prominent cases, local Muslim activists brought complaints against magazines that had published material deemed offensive to the country’s Islamic community. The first case involved the Western Standard, a now online-only news magazine published by an outspoken conservative, Ezra Levant, that had republished the Danish cartoons in February 2006, near the peak of the global uproar over the images. Levant also ran a sampling of anti-Semitic cartoons from the Arab media, with images of hook-nosed Jews committing atrocities against defenseless Arab victims. Canadian Muslim activists mounted a quick response, and Syed Soharwardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, filed a complaint with the human rights commission in Alberta, where the case was eventually heard in 2008.

The second case involved Maclean’s  magazine, a venerable mainstream publication that is often referred to as Canada’s version of Time. In October 2006, Maclean’s published an article by Mark Steyn, a prominent conservative writer, that was a distillation of his book America Alone. It argued that, due to low fertility rates, Europe would eventually be overrun by immigrants from the Muslim world, placing its liberal values in jeopardy. The article drew an angry response from a number of readers; Maclean’s ultimately published twenty-seven letters, many of them quite critical of Steyn’s views. The magazine’s editor, however, rejected a demand by the Canadian Islamic Congress for a rebuttal article. This triggered legal action that was eventually to be heard by the human rights commissions in Ontario and British Columbia, as well as the federal commission.

Ultimately, the Canadian cases were either dropped by the complainants or decided in the defendants’ favor. This outcome, however, is not entirely reassuring. In Canada, human rights commissions do not function like legal tribunals; the normal rules of evidence do not apply, and those who preside over the proceedings do not necessarily have legal training. In a sense, the process itself is punishment, since defendants can spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees and are held up to the opprobrium of those who believe them to be bigots, racists, or extremists....

U.S. law, which features important First Amendment protections, makes it difficult to sue authors for libel. To get around these protections, plaintiffs have been suing American writers in Britain, whose defamation standards essentially assume that any offending speech is false, and the author must prove the contrary to fend off the suit.

As a result, Britain has earned the dubious distinction of being the “libel capital of the world,” the destination of choice for Russian oligarchs, Saudi sheiks, and others interested in muzzling free expression. Already, authors and publishers who deal with controversial subjects are refusing to have their works published in Britain, a disturbing development given the country’s reputation as a leading source of scholarship on history and current affairs.

The former Soviet states, which are among the world’s most inhospitable to free expression, have become a breeding ground for libel tourists. Alisher Usmanov, a Kremlin-friendly, Uzbek-born metals magnate, used English law to silence Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who wrote in his memoirs about Usmanov’s alleged corrupt activity. Usmanov, whose net worth is estimated in the billions, hired Schillings, one of London’s most feared defamation firms, which convinced the Internet service provider that hosted Murray’s blog to shut it down....

London-based defense attorney Mark Stephens, who represents Ehrenfeld and other high-profile libel tourism defendants, points out that “the lawsuits—and threats of suits—are silencing important voices and protecting the powerful from public scrutiny.” He also notes that his ability to defend his clients is severely hampered by obstacles he confronts in many libel tourists’ authoritarian home countries. There’s little equal footing when defense attorneys are denied travel visas or find that their requests for essential evidence are impeded or ignored.

Journalists and book publishers are not the only potential victims of libel tourism. In recent years, a series of cases has been brought against NGOs that reported on the shady dealings of dictators or major corporations operating in authoritarian settings. Such well-known organizations as Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, and Index on Censorship have all been threatened.

Consider the case of Index on Censorship, a British NGO that publishes a highly respected journal on freedom of expression. In 2007, it spiked an article it had commissioned on libel tourism after the author shared information he had gathered with a subject of the story. This individual threatened to sue, and the organization decided to shelve the article, concluding that the potential legal costs were prohibitive...

At its core, this struggle is not about the “excesses” of free speech but the nature of modern authoritarianism, which has found ways to update traditional forms of repression and apply them in a variety of foreign and international arenas.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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