1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think (Raif Badawi)

What do we want?freeraif_9_july_2015 


Who do we want it for?


When do we want it?



The ongoing protest at Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa has changed from weekly to monthly for the summer.   Last Thursday, July 9, a group from CFI Ottawa and Amnesty International stood across the street from the embassy, and repeated our demand for the release of the writer who was sentenced to earned him a sentence of 1000 lashes, 10 years in prison, and a fine of 1 million Saudi Riyal (the equivalent of $340 000 CDN), as punishment for his apostasy, based on his actions as co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, an internet discussion group encouraging online debate about religious and political issues.

Raif Badawi received the first 50 lashes of the 1000-lash punishment in January. Though scheduled to continue weekly for the next 19 weeks, each subsequent round of lashes has been postponed – sometimes the explanation of “medical grounds” has been provided, and sometimes there has been no reason given. In June, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Badawi’s sentence, and it was feared that the lashes might resume again after that, but the weekly floggings are still being postponed.150712-sherbrooke4

Saudi Arabia styles itself a civilized nation, and has claimed that its approach to human rights, as informed by Islamic sharia law, is superior to the secular version (i.e the one that supports freedom of speech and allows criticism of government and religion).   NGOs and governments around the world that have continued to demand Raif Badawi’s release would beg to differ. Sherbrooke, QC (where Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar lives with their 3 young children) has recently made Raif an honorary citizen. Protests continue with the hope that the Saudi government will decide to release Badawi – if not because they are convinced that it’s the right thing to do, at least because it will take the pressure off.

Anyone in the Ottawa area is invited to join us at the Saudi Embassy – the next protest is Thursday, August 6 at 4:00 pm.  You can also buy Raif’s book 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, to be released in mid August.

DiCarlo Vs Lennox

Some time ago, Conrad Black ruffled a few atheist feathers with an insulting little article in the National Post.  He made a big deal about interviewing John Lennox in his article and you can find parts of that interview by following the link of “Is Christianity in Decline” post by Veronica Abbass here on Canadian Atheist.  Wow. Fun.

What Black failed to mention in his article and on the Zoomer show is that Chistopher Di Carlo had debated Lennox at that time.  Di Carlo is a long time friend, advisor and supporter of Centre For Inquiry Canada – and, I think it is fair to say, one of Canada’s leading secular/atheist voices.

If you haven’t purchased Di Carlo’s book, How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions, CFIC tries to keep it in stock and I recommend it.

Here’s the debate.




The Myth Of Multiculturalism

Ian Bushfield, humanist and secularist, is between countries and between jobs, but it is obvious his thoughts are with Canada and the BC Humanist Association. In anticipation of returning to Vancouver at the end of July and reassuming his role as executive director of BC Humanists, Bushfield has critiqued Humanist Canada’s response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on Storify and on his own blog, Terahertz. His critique was well received by Humanist Canada:

Wow and thank you Ian.Our Board will indeed have a close review of your notes. With Your permission, I would like to share the entire discourse with our Humanist Canada community. Thanks again. Respectfully, Eric Thomas, President Humanist Canada

Next, Bushfield directed his attention to Canadian Atheist posts and discussed them on Twitter and on Storify. As you see from Bushfield’s first Twitter comment on July 9, his “goal” was to

Write blog on compatibility of secularism & multiculturalism. . . .

There are numerous definitions of myth, but for purposes of this post, myth is defined as stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Bushfield subscribes to the Canadian myth that multiculturalism works and is compatible with secularism.

In his July 9 Storify article, “Multiculturalism, Interculturalism and Secularism,” Bushfield focuses on T M (Terri) Murray’s article “Polite Self-Censorship No Environment for Free Speech,” which was recommended on Canadian Atheist on July 8.

In order to advance his thesis and give him a focus for his research, Bushfield misquotes Murray in the first paragraph of  “Multiculturalism, Interculturalism and Secularism”:

Yesterday I wanted to put together some thoughts on how multiculturalism, in framework of Canadian government policy, is entirely compatible with secularism and actually promotes a human dignity better than alternatives. This stemmed from the various strawmans of multiculturalism I see, eg this article that starts a paragraph with “Proponents of multiculturalism…” without naming one or what they actually say.

Murray’s exact words are,

Multiculturalism’s proponents have garnered popular support for the illiberal notion that all citizens in liberal democracies must demonstrate respect for religion or religious believers.

If Bushfield had quoted Murray exactly, he may have had a basis to criticize her article.

Bushfield goes on to perpetuate another Canadian myth:

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, one of the most popular Prime Ministers in Canadian history, is responsible for much of Canada’s policy on multiculturalism. Born in Quebec, he’s reportedly a Catholic, but a couple years ago I came across an obscure reference that he was briefly an early member of the Humanist Fellowship of Montreal (one of the groups that went on to form Humanist Canada). My point isn’t that Trudeau was a through-and-through atheist, but that there is a possible intellectual connection between multiculturalism and Humanism in Canada. But that’s for next time.

Bushfield must be reading articles about Pierre Trudeau written after Trudeau left office and especially those articles that compare Trudeau to Brian Mulroney. In any comparison between the two, Trudeau would win. However, it was Mulroney who “won the largest landslide majority government (by total number of seats) in Canadian history.”

Research makes it clear that Pierre Trudeau was not an atheist; in fact, as Michael Ruse points out,

There was surprise and in some quarters almost distress when it was revealed after his death that [Trudeau] was deeply committed to the [Catholic] faith.

However, Trudeau may have been a humanist; humanism and Catholicism are not incompatible, and he most certainly “is responsible for much of Canada’s policy on multiculturalism.”

Another one of Bushfield’s tweets indicates he is planning another Storify to attack critique David Rand’s guest post “Secularism Betrayed: A Summary” and praise a comment by Indi. However, as Bushfield says,

But that’s for next time.

In preparation for “next time,” I recommend Bushfield read Neil Bissoondath’s essay “No Place Like Home.”

Yet another survey shows majority support for defunding Ontario’s Catholic school system, but does it matter?

Poll numbers in Ontario are up! No, not for the Ontario Liberals – they’re in the basement and digging (say hi to Justin Trudeau while you’re down there!). I’m talking about public support for ending the publicly funded, separate Catholic school system.

I don’t imagine anyone who reads this blog supports the idea of maintaining a separate Catholic school system in Ontario. And you’ve certainly heard again… and again… and again… that the Ontario public generally wants to end public funding for it and merge it into the secular school system.

Surprise surprise, a new automated telephone survey by Forum Research released Wednesday once again finds that a majority of Ontarians want an end to separate, publicly funded Catholic schools.

In fact, here’s what the founder of Forum Research, Dr. Lorne Bozinoff, had to say about it:

We have tracked this issue for several years, and opposition to funding is always at about one half, while support is nearer one third. If it were ever put to a public referendum, Catholic school funding would lose, fair and square.

And the trends over time back him up.

[Chart showing support for defunding Ontario Catholic school board over time.]

Support for defunding Ontario Catholic school board over time

But what really are the chances of it happening any time soon?

I’ve written before about why our broken electoral system makes it hard for politicians to support secular endeavours, such as defunding Catholic schools. Still, it’s likely going to be more than 3 years before the next Ontario election, so it’s far too early to predict what might be the issues then. In the meantime, though, we’re stuck with Kathleen Wynne.

Full disclosure here: I was an enormously strong supporter of Wynne when she was first elected leader of the Ontario Liberals. I had no preference when I started watching the 2013 Ontario Liberal leadership convention, but her speech blew me away. I sat on the edge of my seat as she lost the first two ballots by increasing margins, then cheered as she came back and won the third ballot – and the leadership race – handily. First gay premier in Canada (and at the time a full half of premiers across Canada were women – this was before Pauline Marois, Kathy Dunderdale, and Alison Redford flamed out so spectacularly) with a majority mandate after the 2014 election. At the time there were signs of the abysmal ethical failure she would eventually become, but it was easy to find excuses – for example, the gas plant scandal was McGuinty’s fault, and she only inherited the mess.

We know now that it’s not worth wasting our time trying to reach out to Kathleen Wynne to do the right thing. She has made it clear that she is determined to ignore both the will of the population she is supposed to represent, and the condemnations from human rights groups – including even the United Nations – for the sake of pandering to the religious vote.

So to hell with the Ontario Liberals. Let’s look to the other parties.

There is some small hope there. If the other parties sense the popular pressure behind the issue, they might decide to champion the cause. If they do, that might force Wynne’s hand – after all, there is majority support for defunding, and that’s without any party waving a flag about the issue. And if Wynne is determined to dig in on the point, the other party or parties might just decide to make it an election issue for 2018.

So let’s look at our options.

Unsurprisingly, we can rule the Conservatives out. I know, shock of shocks, right? Not only does there seem to be little motivation for them to take up our flag in this cause – because Conservative supporters want to continue funding – this is a party that has actually managed to make Wynne look progressive on the issue. In fact, in 2008, then-leader (and now mayor of Toronto) John Tory wanted to extend funding… to all religions!

So to hell with the Ontario PCs. Who’s next?

Well the remaining two major parties are the Ontario Greens and the Ontario NDP. The Greens are notable for being the only major party to actually put the issue on their platform and come out in favour of defunding. Good for them!

Now the bad news. They support chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture, … and homeopathy. Now, in their defence, just a month or two ago they had their Annual General Meeting and Policy Conference, where they passed a resolution to ditch that shit. However, it remains in their policy book, and even if/when it gets removed, they haven’t exactly been beating the public drum about giving up on peddling woo in favour of science-based medicine.

But even if they’re no longer into pushing magical water memory, let’s face facts. They’re never going to get elected. They can’t even manage to win a single seat. Even party leader Mike Schreiner couldn’t manage better than third place in his riding in 2014. (Narrowly beating out James Gordon of all people.)

Which brings us to the NDP.

Right now thanks to the momentum from the startling win in Alberta, the NDP looks like it has the best chance of winning the next election, and its star is still rising. There’s still a lot of time to fuck things up before October 2018, but if we’re looking for the party that has the best chance of either pressuring Wynne’s Liberals into doing the right thing, or ultimately doing it themselves, the NDP has the numbers that suggest they should be our choice.

Even more intriguing, after Green supporters, NDP supporters are the second most supportive political bloc when it comes to defunding Catholic schools, with 56% supporting defunding and 37% opposing. In other words, this is something the NDP’s supporters want.

So we should throw our support behind the NDP right?


Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath has played every card in the deck to stymie the efforts to do what’s right. She has actually stepped in and violated the NDP policy against whipping the vote to specifically order her MPPs not to look into merging the school systems. Lolwut?

Believe it or not, there is still a very faint glimmer of hope. The reason Horwath is so freaked out about the separate schools merger issue is precisely because her own MPPs keep bringing it up. And of course, their supporters want it (not to mention the general public).

The roadblock here is Horwath, who is Catholic. If she weren’t the party leader, there would be a very real shot at not only getting this issue on the table, but of actually getting it resolved. Unfortunately, at her last leadership review in 2012 she got strong (76%) support. On the other hand, that was before she fucked up with the 2014 budget, and then flubbed the 2014 election. On the other-other hand, there’s no way the NDP would switch horses at this point, even when the current one is running in the wrong direction.

So there it is, sadly. Unless something really major comes up, there seems little hope for Ontario’s elected government to actually comply with the will of its population – never mind the condemnations from human rights groups and the plain and simple economic sense of merging. And it would have to be something really major, because neither scandal over Gay-Straight Alliances nor the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report have managed to have any effect. We don’t even really have a party we can push on the issue.

I’d be open to hear anyone’s thoughts on a plausible strategy for actually making this happen. But from where I’m sitting, this seems to be a dead issue for the time being at least.

Jimmy Carter Leaves the Southern Baptists for Equality

Jimmy Carter has been a proud member of the Southern Baptists for approximately 60 years. He is also a compassionate leader who, after completing his term as President of the United States, started The Carter Center in 1982. As Wikipedia points out the Carter Center “…promotes democracy, mediates and prevents conflicts, and monitors the electoral process in support of free and fair elections”. One of the greatest achievements of this non-profit institution is its elimination of more than 99 percent of Guinea worm, bringing down the number of cases in Africa and Asia from 3.5 million in 1986 to 148 in 2013. He has also worked extensively in diplomacy all over the world in North Korea (!), the Middle East, Africa, etc.

I often found myself using Jimmy Carter as an example of how a Christian should behave – doing well without foisting their religion on others or pushing a Christian agenda into science classrooms. It seems Jimmy Carter has finally applied his thoughtfulness to his faith and come to the conclusion that being a Southern Baptist runs counter to his concept of equality. As the Australian publication, The Age reports, Jimmy Carter feels that:

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.


I don’t expect Jimmy Carter to become an atheist, but I am glad he has begun to criticize the nasty parts of the Abrahamic religions. Good on Jimmy Carter!

To read more about the good work the Carter Center does, check out their web site.

Source: Losing my religion for equality

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