Monday, January 26, 2015
King Abdullah dead: The late Saudi monarch's 'jailed' princesses
As world leaders including Prince Charles and US President Barack Obama converged on Saudi Arabia to mark the passing of its monarch, the late Saudi King Abdullah was lionised by politicians around the world. En route to the World Economic Forum in Davos, US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed Abdullah as "a man of wisdom and vision" and a "revered leader". Similar statements were made by other western leaders.
Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, even hailed the monarch as "a strong advocate for women".
That last eulogy ought to furrow brows. After all, when it comes to gender rights, Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy is one of the most heavily criticised regimes in the world. Its draconian religious laws place limitations on everything from the clothes women can wear to the means by which they travel outside their homes. Controversially, women are still banned from driving in the country.
Ms Lagarde did qualify her comment, saying Abdullah was a reformer "in a very discreet way", credited with initiating a number of measures aimed at giving women a bigger stake in the country's economic and political life. But the change is very gradual, stymied by traditionalists who still hold sway in the country's courts. Abdullah's reforms, writes one commentator, have "all the substance of a Potemkin village, a flimsy structure to impress foreign opinion".
Closer to home, moreover, there are a few women related to the late monarch who may object to the praise being heaped upon him. Abdullah, like other Saudi royals, had numerous wives - at least seven, and perhaps as many as 30. He had at least 15 daughters. Four of them, according to news reports, live under house arrest.
Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron arrive in Saudi Arabia to offer their condolences.
Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron arrive in Saudi Arabia to offer their condolences. Photo: Reuters
The plight of the princesses Jawaher, Sahar, Hala and Maha attracted attention last spring, when details emerged of their supposedly dire condition in captivity in Saudi royal compounds in the city of Jeddah. Their mother, Alanoud al-Fayez, has lived in Britain for the past decade and a half. She was divorced by her husband multiple times, the final instance being in 1985.
Ms Fayez claims her daughters' supposed incarceration, which has gone on for some 13 years, was both a mark of Abdullah's vindictive streak and intolerance of his daughters' modern, independent upbringing. She says the four have been locked away for more than a decade, subject to abuse and deprivation.
Last year, various news stations managed to reach Sahar, 42, and Jawaher, 38, who live in a separate compound from Maha, 41, and Hala, 39. In an interview with Russia's RT television channel last May, the pair described how they were running out of food and water.
The British TV network Channel 4 ran a video, which included footage allegedly taken by one of the daughters, that depicted the depths of their neglect at the hands of Saudi authorities.
In another interview with an Arabic-language channel, the princesses described how they were being punished for championing women's rights and resisting the kingdom's strict rules mandating male guardianship over women.
Speaking to the New York Post last April, their mother claimed her daughters' continued detention was "about psychological warfare and breaking them down", and that her children "are wasting away".
There are some doubts about the extent to which the women are living in genuine captivity. When confronted with the daughters' claims, Saudi authorities have been tight-lipped, insisting that the situation "is a private matter". The women have not been formally charged with any crime.
Last June, in an email exchange with a Middle East affairs news site, Princess Sahar explained why she and her sister had been ostracised by the rest of the royal family: "We, along with our mother, have always been vocal all our lives about poverty, women's rights and other causes that are dear to our hearts. We often discussed them with our father. It did not sit well with him and his sons Mutaib and Abdulaziz and their entourage. We have been the targets ever since.
"We have been treated abysmally all our lives, but it got worse during the past 15 years. When Hala began to work as an intern at a hospital in Riyadh, she discovered political prisoners thrown in psychiatric wards, drugged and shamed to discredit them. She complained to her superiors and got reprimanded. She began to receive threatening messages if she didn't back off. The situation deteriorated, and we discovered that she was also being drugged. She was kidnapped from the house, left in the desert, then thrown in Olaysha Women's Jail, Riyadh. She soon became yet another victim of the system, as were the so-called 'patients' she was trying to help. Maha, Jawaher and I have all been drugged at some point . . . We have been told to lose all hope of ever having a normal life."
Since the series of media stories last year, reports on the condition of the princesses have dried up. On social media, their mother continues to call for their release, using the hashtag #Freethe4. She holds regular protests in London urging action.
In Defense of Blackface
Racism, envy, and the complicated politics of minstrelsy
If this Halloween is like every Halloween of the last two or so decades, at least one white college student or minor celebrity will arrive at a party wearing dark-brown face paint as part of a costume imitating a famous black person, photos of the incident will emerge on the Internet, and condemnations will rain down from authority figures.
In recent years, Facebook surveillors discovered and publicized photos of six University of Southern Mississippi students who colored their white skin to depict the Huxtable family from The Cosby Show, two Northwestern University students who painted themselves coal-black and dressed as Bob Marley and Serena Williams, Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes and his wife dressed and darkened as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and a blonde Dallas Cowboys cheerleader appearing at a costume event as the rapper Lil' Wayne, complete with gold teeth, long black braids, tattoos, and chocolate-brown makeup covering her body.
As with all blackface performers since the civil rights era, charges against the latest range from insensitivity to outright racism. But virtually all critics of blackface agree that, as the Northwestern University president put it, the practice "demeans a segment of our community."
Some recent instances of blackface were obviously and viciously hostile toward African Americans. A photo of a 2001 Halloween party at the University of Mississippi showed a white student dressed as a policeman holding a gun to the head of another, who was wearing blackface and a straw hat while kneeling and picking cotton. A year later, two fraternity brothers at Oklahoma State were photographed wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and holding a noose over the head of another sporting black face paint and a striped prisoner's uniform.
But while blackface is nearly always assumed to be anti-black, the most common charge against contemporary blackface performers is that they are ignorant of its meaning and history—that they don't "know" that it's necessarily bigoted—which suggests that their intentions were not in fact hostile.
In fact, blackface performances are not always unambiguously antagonistic toward African Americans. Several scholars of the phenomenon have argued that blackface has usually been, to some degree, an expression of envy and an unconscious rebellion against what it means to be "white." There is substantial evidence that this was especially true in the first half of the 19th century, when white men first painted their faces with burnt cork and imitated slaves on stage in what were called "minstrel" shows.
Some early blackface minstrel performance was clearly little more than anti-black parody, but many historians see the songs and dances of T.D. Rice, Dan Emmett, Dan Rice (Abraham Lincoln's favorite), and other originators of the genre as expressions of desire for the freedoms they saw in the culture of slaves. "Just as the minstrel stage held out the possibility that whites could be 'black' for awhile but nonetheless white," David Roediger, the leading historian of "whiteness," has written, "it offered the possibilities that, via blackface, preindustrial joys could survive amidst industrial discipline." Similarly, the Smith College scholar W.T. Lhamon argues that slave culture represented liberation to blackface performers and fans, who "unmistakably expressed fondness for black wit and gestures." In early blackface minstrel shows, whites identified with blacks as representations of all the freedoms and pleasures that employers, moral reformers, and churches "were working to suppress."
The latest addition to this revision of our understanding of blackface is Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen's book Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy From Slavery to Hip-Hop. The authors focus on the many, largely unknown, African Americans who performed in blackface from before the Civil War to the middle of the 20th century, but they also rescue white blackface performance from the simplistic moralizing that normally greets it. "If you dismiss [minstrelsy] as simply 'demeaning,'" they write, "you miss half the picture."
Taylor and Austen's book is an encyclopedic record of not only the black performers who coaled their faces but also of the minstrelsy's many contributions to what is now considered respectable popular culture: "If we were to throw out every song originally composed for the minstrel stage, every joke first uttered by painted minstrel lips, every performer who blackened up, every dance step developed for the olio (variety) portion of a minstrel show, our entertainment coffers might seem bare." They show that much of American music, dance, and comedy originated in an art form that was "wildly popular with black audiences" but is now reflexively dismissed as mere racism. For whites, they argue, minstrelsy offered the opportunity to indulge in a "carefree life liberated from oppression, responsibilities, and burdens"; and for blacks it represented freedom as well. "Despite the appearance of minstrelsy as a servile tradition, there were elements of liberation in it from its very beginning, and these were instrumental to its popularity."
The enormous popularity of blackface in the 19th century cannot be explained without understanding that it coincided with a period in American culture in which Puritan values merged with Victorian ideas about work, leisure, sex, and emotional expression. Nineteenth-century children's books, school primers, newspaper editorials, poems, pamphlets, sermons, and political speeches told Americans that work in itself was a virtue, regardless of what one gained from it materially. European visitors frequently commented on what they called the American "disease of work." Typical was a popular textbook of the time, which instructed children that "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do."
There was no such idea of work as godly in Africa, nor among American slaves. According to the African-American social scientist W.E.B. DuBois, the slave "was not as easily reduced to be the mechanical draft-horse which the northern European laborer became. He was not easily brought to recognize any ethical sanctions in work as such but tended to work as the results pleased him and refused to work or sought to refuse when he did not find the spiritual returns adequate; thus he was easily accused of laziness and driven as a slave when in truth he brought to modern manual labor a renewed valuation of life."
Slave beliefs and practices also offered an alternative to the famously repressive attitudes about sex among Puritans and Victorians. As opposed to white Americans' rigid adherence to lifelong monogamous marriage, most slaves had a far more flexible and forgiving attitude toward sexual and romantic relationships. Slave women who had sex outside marriage were not condemned as whores or "fallen" women, children born out of wedlock were not branded as "bastards," and divorce was not considered a sin.
It should therefore be no surprise that, though they certainly never expressed a wish to be enslaved, the white men who invented blackface performance often sang of a wish to be like slaves. Their songs celebrated the free, joyous, and sensual movements of slave dances—which were condemned by Victorian moralists as barbarous—and the slaves' relaxed attitudes toward love and work.
The two best-known songs of early blackface minstrelsy, Dan Emmett's "Dixie" and T.D. Rice's "Jump Jim Crow," are commonly regarded as anthems of Southern racism. But in their original versions, they were actually laments for being born white. In "Jump Jim Crow," the singer sympathizes, in slave dialect, with those "who happen to be white." It is "dar misfortune, and dey'd spend ebery dollar, if dey only could be gentlemen of color. It almost break my heart to see dem envy me." Emmett's "Dixie" was originally written as the longing of an ex-slave—whom some scholars have suggested represents Emmett himself—for his former life. Though normally regarded as post-Civil War propaganda for the "Lost Cause," "Dixie" was actually written before the war and with intentions that did not serve the interests of those who eventually adopted it. After the war, Confederate veterans' groups declared it the "official song of the Confederacy" and changed the lyrics to "more appropriate words" that made the singer a white soldier pining for his life atop the Old South hierarchy. When Emmett learned of the Confederate appropriation of "Dixie" he declared, "if I had known to what use they were going to put my song, I will be damned if I'd have written it."
Since then, the idea of "blackness"—not necessarily the actual beliefs and practices of real black people—has remained the primary representation of opposition to Puritan and Victorian values. The repressive norms that drove millions of white Americans during the 19th century to seek at least temporary refuge in the fantasy of being black remain powerful today. Belief in the virtue of work has helped drive the annual number of work hours in the U.S. far beyond that of most other industrialized nations. And observers from Europe are regularly stunned by the size and importance of American sexual scandals that wouldn't make the news there.
We will likely never know what motivates contemporary blackface performers. But those who reject the beliefs planted in our culture by Puritans and Victorians might consider the possibility that, like the originators of the practice, they are joining a 200-year, unconscious struggle for freedom.
Where’s the “je suis Page 3″ movement?
Well, there you have it, an answer to the question: ‘How long will it take for Britain’s political and media classes to go from saying “Je suis Charlie” to being their old censorious selves, celebrating the crushing of words and images they don’t like?’ The answer is 13 days. Not even two weeks. They couldn’t keep up the pretence of being in favour of press freedom for one measly fortnight. For yesterday, just shy of the second-week anniversary of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, the right bunch of Charlies who make up Britain’s illiberal liberal set were hollering ‘Victory!’ following reports that Page 3, the Sun’s daily serving of a scantily-clad woman, has apparently been put to bed. ‘Charlie Hebdo is dead!’, shouted those French lunatics two weeks ago; ‘Page 3 is dead!’, yelp Britain’s chattering classes today.
No, there’s no comparison between two men using Kalashnikovs to murder 10 people who worked on an allegedly offensive magazine and gender-studies graduates using prudish petitions to pressure the Sun to ditch its pics of half-naked women. Murder is a heinous crime; Mary Whitehouse-style campaigning is not. But you know what can be compared? The desire of Islamists to squish images that upset their religious sensibilities and the urge of feminists and others to halt the publication of imagery they claim has a ‘negative impact’ on their ‘self-esteem’. In both cases, the esteem of small groups of people — Koran-devouring Islamist sects, bel hooks-reading feminist cliques — is elevated over the right of everyone else to publish and read what they want.
Remarkably — or not, given Britain’s opinion-forming set is famous for its double standards — the same people who stood up for Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish offensive cartoons were yesterday at the forefront of celebrating the longstanding, slow-motion and now reportedly successful questioning of the Sun’s right to publish allegedly offensive photographs. So just five days ago, the grand dame of Guardianistas, Polly Toynbee, was laying into the pope over his suggestion that Charlie Hebdo, and others, should stop offending religious people. It’s the job of raucous press outlets to ‘stick two fingers up to propriety’, she said: ‘It is a belch in the face of established taste and dignity.’ But then yesterday, in an about-face so colossal it threatens to skew the Earth’s orbit of the Sun, Toynbee was saying ‘Victory!’ about the Sun’s ‘retreat’ on Page 3. She celebrated campaigners’ smashing of images of women as ‘dumb bare bodies’. What happened to sticking two fingers up at propriety? No, no, not at Polly’s proprieties! Where Pope Francis wants to punish those who make a tit of Jesus, Pope Polly wants to punish those who show tits. Different focuses, same shit.
Or consider deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman. Two weeks ago she wrung her hands over the possible post-Charlie Hebdo ‘chilling [of] free speech’. She hailed the ‘right to satirise, to lampoon and to criticise’. ‘No democracy can function without freedom of the press’, she said. Fast forward 13 days and she’s loudly cheering campaigners for helping elbow aside Page 3. Photos of women in their underwear is ‘not the representation of women… that I want to see’, she said. Who does she think she is? God? Muhammad? Photos of half-naked women is not what she wants to see and therefore it’s good they’ve been expunged? Her tyrannical instincts are the match of any pope’s or imam’s.
The flimsiness of the ‘Je suis Charlie’ outburst could also be glimpsed in the Independent’s joyous dancing on the grave of Page 3. This paper that just a few days back was upholding the right of cartoonists to stir and shock now features columnists crowing over the demise of ‘toxic and demeaning’ Page 3 and demanding that the Sun go even further and ditch the pics of women in bras, too. Or as a writer for the New Statesman said: ‘Now that Page 3 is gone, we just have to get rid of pages 1, 2 and 4-39.’ What intolerance! As surely as Islamists want to crush blasphemy, so they want to crush the Sun. I know, not with guns, but certainly with pressure and harassment and shame. And as Ray Bradbury said, ‘There’s more than one way to burn a book’.
The whooping over the reported end of Page 3 shows what a blip ‘Je suis Charlie’ was. There has been no shift in the mentality of the British elites. Rather, their post-bloodshed nods to the importance of free speech were total lip service, all thesaurus-fuelled gesture and no substance. So now, not a fortnight later, we’re back to business as usual. Back to the post-Leveson norm of elitist assaults on the wicked tabloids; back to living in a nation straitjacketed by hate-speech laws and the worst libel statutes on Earth; back to the era of the Twittermob getting coppers to knock on the doors of people who tell off-colour jokes; back to politicians believing with implacable arrogance that they can say what is and isn’t acceptable in the press, as if the entire demos just died and MPs accidentally became the sole determiners of truth and discussion. ‘Je suis l’état.’
Some will say, ‘Well, Page 3 was silly and outdated, so who cares?’. I agree it was silly and outdated, and it would probably have been retired by the Sun long ago if it hadn’t been for Clare Short, No More Page 3 and others unwittingly keeping it alive by turning it into a massive moral battleground. But caricatures of Muhammad are also silly, usually, and I defend the right of newspapers to publish those. The problem is not the disappearance of Page 3, but the arguments that were used to help it disappear. The anti-Page 3 campaign represents a 21st-century revival of something that is truly outdated: the pseudo-scientific, super-censorious idea that culture warps people’s putty-like minds and makes them do terrible things. With searing contempt for your average Sun reader — whisper it: white, working class, probably didn’t go to Oxford — anti-Page 3 campaigners say Page 3 ‘conditions’ the ‘behaviours’ of men, ‘encouraging negative attitudes… and at worst, acts of violence’. Monkey see, monkey do. Page 3’s demise is regrettable because it represents a victory — a long, slow victory, admittedly — for a deeply misanthropic, authoritarian outlook: media-effects theory, the notion that the public, or at least Them, lack free will and good sense and thus We must control the media and culture in order to stop Them from becoming twisted. Like every censor in history, Page 3 bashers were driven by a deep distrust of the plebs and a corresponding urge to hide certain images and words from us.
Page 3 made it through the Eighties, the high point of PC. It survived the Nineties, a decade of top-down tut-tutting over ‘lad culture’. It got through the Noughties relatively unscathed, despite that being a decade of Twitterfury over everything. But it couldn’t keep it up — no pun intended — in the 2010s, after Leveson, with the ideal of press freedom shoved in the bin, at a time when the right to be offensive has rarely been so weak, now battered by everyone from coppers to students. You might not miss those daily boobs, but you should mourn the passing of an era in which showing boobs, and in the process belching in the face of propriety, was at least a possibility.
Christian Lawyers and Doctors Need Not Apply
It has become a scary time to be a Christian professional in Canada
In 2014, lawyers and doctors were targeted by their own professional associations for direct attack because of their religious beliefs.
For Christian lawyers, the first salvo was fired at Trinity Western University’s law school. TWU, which exists to “develop godly Christian leaders” in a variety of marketplaces, requires its students and staff to sign a Community Covenant. This pledge, based on religious beliefs, to abstain from certain activities and behaviours during their time at TWU, includes the use of alcohol on campus, viewing pornography, and “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
For some, TWU’s biblically based principle of marriage is abhorrent. As a result, a concerted effort to block TWU’s law school was engaged by lawyers’ professional associations deciding to disapprove of its graduates. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, the (Ontario) Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society of British Columbia each decided to refuse admission to TWU graduates to the practice of law because of TWU’s adherence to the biblical view of marriage. To do so, these law societies chose to disregard the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2001 decision, which ruled that a professional body could not refuse to accredit students from a TWU program because of TWU’s Community Covenant. This implies Christian lawyers are no longer welcome in the law profession. TWU is just the first step.
I did not attend TWU, but I share its biblical view of marriage. I have appeared before the Superior Court of Ontario, the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, the Tax Court of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada for a variety of clients. Do my religious beliefs, particularly about marriage, somehow disqualify me from ably practicing law? That is the inevitable conclusion and consequence if we endorse barring TWU law graduates from practicing law.
With the TWU battle raging, another overt campaign to drive out or silence Christians in the legal community was commenced. The Legal Leaders for Diversity (LLD) and is made up of the heads of the legal departments from more than 70 major corporations. The campaign involves its own form of community covenant by these 70+ corporations (including BMO, Ford, The Globe and Mail and the Edmonton Oilers) to restrict hiring of law firms for their legal work to those who have a commitment to “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” The LLD’s definition of these words requires approval of same-sex marriage and excludes Christians or others who might have a different opinion.
The LLD publicly opposed TWU’s proposed law school on the basis that TWU’s Community Covenant is not “inclusive.”
This direct attack on Christian lawyers is meant to create a chilling effect in the legal profession. Lawyers who work for law firms seeking to do business with these corporations will hesitate, and perhaps even be barred from voicing their religious and moral beliefs, or for acting for religious clients in human rights cases dealing with these issues. It’s a scary time to be a Christian lawyer in Canada.
For Christian physicians, the most recent attack was triggered by a series of media stories about doctors in an Ottawa clinic who do not prescribe contraceptives because of their religious beliefs.
In the wake of this coverage, the College of Physicians and Surgeon’s of Ontario (CPSO) decided to revise its policy which sets out physicians’ obligations and expectations vis-à-vis the Ontario Human Rights Code. Despite several submissions from various lawyers and organizations—including myself on behalf of two groups of Christian physicians—that set out the legal basis for which the CPSO was required to protect the religious and conscience rights of physicians, the CPSO has released a draft policy which specifically requires physicians to provide referrals for procedures, treatments, or pharmaceuticals they object to on religious or moral grounds.
For some, such referrals are as morally problematic as doing the procedure itself. If a physician has the moral or religious conviction that abortion or euthanasia is the taking of an innocent human life, then the physician who formally refers a patient to the abortionist or euthanist has contributed to the taking of that life and, therefore, the doing of harm.
If the CPSO policy is finalized as currently worded, Christian physicians are no longer welcome in the medical profession unless they are willing to compromise their religious and moral beliefs. Dr. Marc Gabel, who chairs the group which produced the draft policy, has publicly stated that physicians who refuse to refer for procedures or pharmaceuticals they object to should leave family medicine. It’s a scary time to be a Christian doctor in Canada.
Where do we go from here? As a litigator, my immediate reaction is to take these battles to court. While the law societies and the CPSO may disregard Supreme Court jurisprudence, I hope that the courts will follow it. All Canadians, lawyers and doctors included, have constitutional rights to freedom of conscience and religion.
Beyond this faith in our legal system, my instinct to fight these battles in court is founded in an awareness that for some time, many in the Christian community have been passive and unwilling to stand up for our constitutional rights. That passivity has contributed to the current state of affairs. TWU has not been passive. Physicians have also fought back. It’s time that Christians stand with other Canadians in securing our constitutional rights.
By defending ourselves when attacked, we accomplish three goals. Taking these issues to court and fighting these battles will ensure protection of our rights. Sending the message that we will no longer be bullied or intimidated will reduce the attacks. And we will be better positioned to fulfill our spiritual obligation to remain faithful to God’s Word.
You may not be a lawyer or a physician, but if you are a person of faith or conscience, then you have a stake in this fight. It’s a scary time to be a Christian professional in Canada, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.