Apology

I know this is now long overdue, but I have a confession to make: There was a time–about a decade ago–when I was at my most gullible. Ten years ago, I became a member of a group in Vancouver, which is ostensibly anti-war, known as Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO for short). I joined this particular group because I thought doing so would allow me to make a difference. I got out of that a few years ago (when I was roughly 33 years old), after realizing I was wrong about what is now a major point of contention between myself and MAWO: That is, religion. In particular, Islam.

MAWO’s take on religion is that it’s merely a smokescreen, obscuring what they consider to be the real issues, all of them surrounding war and occupation. While it’s true that the only time the mainstream media says anything critical about religion is when it discusses Islam (while giving Christianity a pass for just about everything–or trying to, anyhow), I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of MAWO’s members–including those in positions of leadership within that group–as Sam Harris once put it, have no clue what it’s like to truly believe in God–of any type or stripe. For instance, when the Danish newspaper Jyllens-Posten published some cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, MAWO staged a rally, in conjunction with local representatives of the Muslim community, to decry the cartoons (this was before I joined, by the way), claiming the cartoons helped spread Islamophobia, and thus supported war and occupation in what they deemed oppressed nations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. No mention was made of the more violent reactions on the part of Islamists to the cartoons, or of Islamic religious leaders in Denmark including pictures that weren’t a part of the collection published by Jyllens-Posten; the point was to decry the cartoons as part of an alleged attempt to separate ordinary people in developed nations from their counterparts in the Muslim communities in those nations and in the Middle East and Afghanistan (which is, for those who don’t know, in Central Asia). Afterwards, when Somalia substituted its Union of Islamic Courts government with a transitional government, and the United Nations talked about stepping into Sudan, MAWO formed a group dealing with issues regarding possible interventions in African nations (which I was–albeit a small–part of), to protest any interventions in any African nations from developed nations; MAWO and this group (whose name escapes me) even went so far as to accuse Doctors Without Borders of paving the way towards war and occupation in Sudan. In short, MAWO ignores, either by negligence, design, or a combination, the heinous crimes and threats that Islamists make in the name of Islam, while giving Islam and its most hardcore adherents a pass for everything–hell, in the world according to MAWO, 9-11 was the fault of imperialism, and had nothing to do with Islamism or Islam. Also, they tout George Galloway as something akin to a hero, as he echoes what they believe. On top of all of this, they, as well as companion groups Iranian Community Against War (ICAW) and Indigenous Rights and Action Project (IRAP) liken the actions of groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamist groups to struggles of students and working people in developed nations, and those of Indigenous people in the Americas. And I fell for all of this, and more, hook, line, and sinker. Given their history, I think I know their take on the situation regarding Charlie Hebdo, though I don’t know if they’ve ever talked about it.

Now, I know better. I realize, in participating in MAWO’s mental masturbation, both in public and private, I’ve actually done more harm than good–especially in convincing people to ignore the heinous acts committed in the name of Islam–and I can only hope that whatever work I do to promote secular humanism, and any and all other work I do to truly make the world a better place, will make even a tiny dent in the damage I’ve done during my time with MAWO and its companion groups.

Please understand I have nothing against people who happen to have been raised to believe in Islam, and still identify as Muslim, especially out of fear of what will happen to them if they leave the faith. I do have a problem with promoting the idea that Islam is special and should thus be above criticism, satire, parody, and ridicule; Islamists and the most hardcore Muslims will just, like all religious people of all degrees of devotion, have to grow up and realize the world doesn’t revolve around them, and try to tolerate us infidels doing things they don’t like, as long as we don’t break any laws of the lands we happen to live in, or harm or inconvenience anyone else. I don’t condone inflicting any harm on, or actually discriminating against, people just because of things such as religious beliefs, but no one should receive special consideration and preferential treatment–and that includes Muslims. And I realize that entities such as ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups do what they do out of a sense of, not injustice or inequality, but entitlement.

To all victims of Islam and the heinous acts carried out in its name–Muslim, ex-Muslim, and beyond–I offer my sincerest apologies for my thoughtlessness from a decade ago, and the last few years–simply because I didn’t follow my Grade Nine history teacher’s admonishment to do my bloody homework.

Two Years On: Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, Steubenville, Nude Photos, Cyberbullying (Some Off-the-Cuff Reflections)

Two years ago today, Port Coquitlam teenager Amanda Todd committed suicide, as a result of enduring online exploitation by an adult male and years of bullying and cyberbullying by her peers, which came in the wake of the adult male who exploited Todd posting photos of her exposed breasts online without her consent. Todd didn’t do what many of people her age, male and female, weren’t doing, but she just happened to be unlucky enough to trust the wrong person. And now she’s dead.

Since the world heard about Amanda Todd’s death, Nova Scotia teenager Retaeh Parsons was gang raped by four boys at the house of a friend of a friend, in November 2011, and someone video-recorded the crime and forwarded the video, via social media and possibly a cell phone as well–and the police did nothing about it when it was reported to them, though the rape, recording, and forwarding are crimes (Parsons was 15 years old at the time). Like Todd, Parsons was bullied and cyberbullied, and, like Todd, she eventually attempted suicide, and died on April 7, 2013. And it was only after Parsons’ death that the authorities decided to draft, and attempt to pass, laws against what was done to Parsons.

Then, in August 2012, there are reports about a female high-school student in Steubenville, Ohio, being taken from house to house and gang raped in each house by players on her high school’s football team, while she was incapacitated by alcohol. These incidents, too, were caught on video cameras and forwarded via cell phones and social media. When the perpetrators were finally caught and arraigned, the media acted as if they were the victims, lamenting about how their futures were ruined. (Apparently the future of the real victim didn’t matter.) The young men who raped the young woman, and some others, were sentenced and imprisoned.

Now, in 2014, we hear about nude photos of female celebrities being leaked on the Internet; apparently some gormless worms hacked into these women’s iCloud accounts, downloaded the photos, and put them on the World Wide Webiverse. These women were chastised, commentators stating they shouldn’t have even taken the photos in the first place, never mind stored them on the Cloud. 24 Hours writer Liz Braun beautifully responded with: ‘Did you know, Internet creeps, that this is the exact same logic criminals use to justify breaking into your house and stealing your belongings?’ (It’s nice to know that if I ever come home and find my basement apartment broken into and my laptop gone, it’s my fault, and not that of the asshole(s) who broke into my home and stole my computer. Thanks, Internet creeps. But, hey, at least now you know your logic can and will be used against you.)  Jennifer Lawrence, one of the women whose account was hacked and whose photos were leaked online, told Vanity Fair in her most recent interview in the magazine that what happened to her and the other celebrities whose photos were stolen and leaked is a sex crime, stating, “I did not say you could look at my naked body.”  And, in this morning’s–this morning’s–edition of Metro, I read about Anisa Salmi of Richmond, BC, whose petty ex-boyfriend posted nude photos of her, and made defamatory remarks about her, on U.S. gossip web site The Dirty; she had to pay $2, 000.00 to an online reputation-management company, called The Dirty Defenders, to get the photos removed. Added bonus: When she reported the incident to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Mounties told her they couldn’t do anything about it unless there were elements of criminal harassment involved, and, because Salmi willingly gave the photos to her ex, it was kind of her fault they were on the Internet.

Seriously? We’re two decades into the twenty-first century, the third millennium, and we still feel the need to act like Puritans?

Apparently, a lot of people can’t stomach the idea of women assuming, and exercising, autonomy over their bodies and sexuality, so they feel the need to punish any woman or girl who dares to experiment with sex or sexuality. And many still feel female rape victims ‘asked for it,’ somehow, either by the way they act or dress, or their sexual history, or some other rationalization(s). Many people still subscribe to the ‘madonna/whore’ dichotomy; if you’re female, you fall into either one or the other of these categories–there ain’t no in-betweens.

So much for nuance.

I know the death of someone–especially someone who never reached adulthood–is one hell of an occasion to mark, but I felt the need to reflect on where society at large is going in terms of allowing humanity to truly express itself in all ways, including the sexual arena. As for Amanda Todd, I believe her story is at the intersection of bullying and rape culture; the comments many people (including, shamefully, my own mother) made about her story are part of how rape culture survives: the attitude that ‘the woman deserved it because she is a slut.’ When I mull over Todd’s tragic story, I keep thinking it could have been my mother’s story, it could have been my story, and it can still be my nieces’ story, including that of my youngest niece, who happens to be my mother’s granddaughter (my other nieces are the daughters of my half-sisters).  And so can the stories of Rehtaeh Parsons, Anisa Salmi, and the female celebrity victims of the hack-and-post incidents of recent weeks.

I hope what happened to Amanda Todd, and the other women I mentioned in this post, never happens to anyone else, regardless of whether they’re close to me or complete strangers to me. But, in order for my wish to come true, the society I live in, and others, have to let the legacy of the Puritans go. For good.

Seal Hunting and More Illogical Celebrity Commentary

I know it’s been three days since I first got wind of this kerfuffle, but I had to say something about it, and now was the chance I had to. Of course, I realize this post just sends more attention the way of yet another celebrity who tends not to think before she speaks or acts, but this latest example of celebrity stupidity can actually encourage the public at large to continue a dangerous pattern of selfish thought patterns and behaviour, so I have to say something.

Full disclosure: I’m a vegan, but I’ve stopped supporting People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) quite a few years ago, because I don’t approve of their methods, and what I recently learned of their hypocrisy. That said, I’m not going to let Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s comments about seal hunts go unanswered.

First off, the seal hunt: Before I started writing this post, I did what Ms. Tagaq should have fucking well done before the Polaris awards on September 22–that is, some research. I’m not going to go into PETA’s position on Indigenous seal hunts, but, when I typed ‘Indigenous seal hunts vs. commercial seal hunts’ into Google (another reason Tagaq has no excuses here), the first result was a web page from the site for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who–unlike Tagaq, who apparently buys the bull being spouted by commercial seal-hunting interests–actually distinguishes between aboriginal subsistence seal hunting and commercial seal hunting, and has nothing against aboriginal subsistence seal hunting, while opposing ‘a government hiding a cruel and wasteful, large-scale industrial slaughter behind aboriginal subsistence hunting, deliberately blurring the distinction between the two. ‘ Like Tagaq did at her Polaris awards acceptance speech, in her bid to make eating and wearing seal trendy. Because that’s why seals exist–to be killed to create trendy status items for homo sapiens sapiens.

Something you would have learned, Miss Tagaq, if you had, as my Grade Nine history teacher once admonished my class, done your bloody homework: Aboriginal seal hunts target mainly adult seals, occur during the summer months, and kill fewer than 1,000 seals per hunt, whereas commercial seal hunts take place earlier in the year and kill thousands of seals, most of whom are less than three months old (I got this information from IFAW’s web site ‘Aboriginal seal hunts’ page, by the way). Also, the European Union seal-products ban makes an exception for Indigenous hunters. Just so you know.

As if that wasn’t enough, Tagaq dared to respond to her critics with this Twitter message: ‘I had a scrolling screen of 1200 missing and murdered indigenous women at the Polaris gala but people are losing their minds over seals.’ You may also be surprised, Miss Tagaq, that a lot of people in this world do not prioritize some issues over other issues. Also, this instance of attempting to use one issue to silence critics of your comments about another issue is an example of how your logic can, and often will, be used against you. Let me give it a whirl: I don’t know why you bothered with the scrolling screen of missing and murdered Indigenous women when the anniversary of the suicide of Amanda Todd, the Port Coquitlam teenager who committed suicide because she was bullied and cyberbullied, is coming up; and let’s not forget Retaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teenager who committed suicide after she was raped and images of her rape were circulated, and she was bullied and cyberbullied as a result. See how that works? Personally, I believe getting to the bottom of the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is just as important as ending bullying and cyberbullying. I also happen to think that ending any and all commercial hunts–of any nonhuman animal–and developing economies in more positive ways is important. Notice I said commercial in the previous sentence. The point being, Ms. Tagaq, most people are not single-issue people.

I’ve also girded my loins and had a look at Tagaq’s Twitter feed, and thus know Tagaq retweeted a couple of tweets from an individual which stated people protesting animal slaughter should protest factory farming, and that seals are free-range, and thus live good lives before being ‘humanely killed,’ and she would eat seal meat instead of meat from a factory farm. Like being free-range makes commercial killing better? And also, the mostly infant seals killed in commercial hunts are not humanely killed–they are clubbed to death. Plus, ‘humanely killed,’ unless you’re talking about euthanasia, is an oxymoron. And I know that the majority of people, like myself, who protest commercial hunts are also against factory farming–those who know about factory farming, anyway. Apparently, like Tagaq, this individual has not done her homework. Way to go, Tanya Tagaq–seek support from at least one person who is just as ill-informed as you are. That’s what’s called an echo chamber.

I’d like to conclude that the only reason I responded to this particular celebrity nitwit–out of the thousands I normally leave twisting in the wind, because they don’t need any more attention–is because I feel the ideas she is spreading about the killing of innocent animals–and apparently without doing any research on the issue–are dangerous. Honest subsistence hunting is, as far as I’m concerned, necessary for certain segments of the population, so far be it from me to stop them. Commercial culling–the kind of hunting, killing, etc. done for human entitlement and the almighty buck–needs to end. And public figures like Tanya Tagaq need to inform themselves about issues before speaking about them.

On Shopping and Activism

On the bus home one sunny day, I saw an advertisement announcing the stores Winners and HomeSense would donate money to the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s campaign to end violence against women. On the Foundation’s web site, http://www.canadianwomen.org, on the page ‘Our Supporters,’ it touts Winners/HomeSense as one of its ‘Platinum Partners,’ and states that, among other acts of support, the stores host an event called Shop for Hope, which confirmed, for me, that my concerns about shopping as a form of activism are legit.

I know Winners and HomeSense aren’t the only businesses to donate money to organizations (such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation) who aim to do good in the community–and to get some extra advertising (for themselves) while they’re at it. My concern isn’t with them, or with the Canadian Women’s Foundation; I’m concerned about the idea of shopping as activism, and the promotion and encouragement thereof.

I can hear you from here: “We vote with our dollars.” Perhaps that’s true. However, promoting shopping as a form of activism can lull those who engage in it into a false sense of satisfaction: ‘I shopped at a certain store, and donated to a good cause. I did my good deed for the day.’ There’s no way of knowing if shopper-activists will take their good-deed drives beyond the shopping, or if they’ll care enough to–after all, issues won’t be resolved just by spending money on them, or, as in most cases, the symptoms. By promoting the idea that shopping is a form of activism, there’s the danger that that’s all people will do, and that they do it just to make themselves feel better about their lives.

A greater danger in the idea of shopping as a form of activism is that it has the potential to encourage and perpetuate shopaholism. Now, I know shopaholics will shop even without the idea of shopping as activism, but the ‘activism’ part will give shopaholics just one more rationalization for their compulsive spending. Lesley-Anne Scorgie, in an excerpt from her book Well-Heeled: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich, and the book and movie Confessions of a Shopaholic describe the consequences of shopaholism, for shopaholics themselves, the people around them, and the economy; in fact, in Well-Heeled, Scorgie states shopaholism helped bring about the 2008-2009 economic collapse, particularly in the form of unpaid consumer debt. So, is it really a good idea to carry on encouraging people to buy things they don’t need to support good causes?

And is it even necessary? Why not just give money directly to the organizations, and cut out the stores/middlemen? People will still shop at the stores of their choice, and donate to the organizations of their choice, stores and other businesses will still donate to the organizations of their choice, organizations will still get money to their work. So there’s no need for ‘shop for the cause’ events, or to encourage and perpetuate consumer culture and debt just to donate to organizations dedicated to one cause or another. In fact, now that I think about it, the concept of ‘shopping for the cause’ seems to benefit chiefly the stores and businesses who promote it, in terms of publicity, and perhaps revenue, as well.

Family Values

Today sees Vancouver’s 36th annual Pride Parade, and I’m about to write about family values.
Full disclosure:  My parents divorced when I was young, and I was raised by a single mother.  To be honest, I’m not sure what my views on the subject of family values would be if my circumstances were different from what they were, but, as it stands, my actual circumstances colour my views on the subject, which are as follows:

-Attraction can’t really be controlled; sexual orientation and identity can’t be controlled.  People should not have to live a lie just to be considered socially acceptable.
-One size does not fit all in terms of family composition; there is not one type of family which is better, or worse, than others.  As with everything else in life, people need to do what works for them, as individuals and as collectives.  P.S.: Even nuclear families can be bad, even abusive and toxic.
-Certain segments of the population should not be denied rights just because other segments don’t approve of the way they live; eg. the LGBTQ community shouldn’t be denied the right to marry, and/or raise children, just because social conservatives of all types and stripes don’t approve of how they live.
-Gender, and gender roles, are social constructs among the human species.  Humans invented the concept of gender, and that of gender roles. Nature has nothing to do with it.
-Comprehensive sex education and access to contraception and abortion are necessary for a stable society, as ways to curtail overpopulation and putting a strain on resources, which are finite.  Ignorance–oops, I meant abstinence-only education, especially on its own, has been proven to not only not work, but to be counterproductive.

The thing is, with everything else that effects society at large, staunch social conservatives of all types and stripes have hijacked the terms ‘family’ and ‘family values,’ to promote their shared agenda of turning the societies they live in into dictatorships in which they run the show, and the rest of us just fall in line and blindly follow the leader.  The social-conservative version of ‘family values’ promotes rigid gender, race, and class roles, and race and class, if not gender, divides–in short, a re-adoption of Victorian attitudes about gender, race, class, and everything else that forms society, under the guise of protecting and preserving the ‘traditional family.’  In this manner, ‘family values’ is a euphemism for kyriarchy (where all forms of oppression intersect), or what scholar bell hooks calls white supremacist capitalist patriarchy–in short, another tool of social control.
More full disclosure:  Both of my parents were born into nuclear families, in the 1950s.  My paternal grandparents were Quebec-born Roman Catholics, and stayed together until my grandmother’s untimely death, after which my grandfather never remarried.  My maternal grandparents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and raised my mother and uncles as such.  Neither of my parents finished high school; my father was a trucker for most of his life, and died in debt and without leaving a will, while my mother moved from one low-paying job to another, mostly in customer service.  I am now an antitheist, who finished high school, and I have a university education, and all the while managed to stay on the right side of the law–though I was borderline anorexic and bulimic in my early adolescence.  It just goes to show there are no guarantees in life, for anyone; not even the type of family one was born into provides certainty about anything, including one’s future.
It is rather maddening, isn’t it, that it’s 2014, and we’re still arguing about issues such as gender, sexual orientation and identity, and family composition?

Imagine No Religion 4: Day Three/Fin

Here it is, the last day of Imagine No Religion 4; the conference is over for another year. And the worst thing to happen to me today was losing the lens cap to my camera. Oh, well–shit happens.  I’m sure I can live without it.

Another fun-filled, enlightening day, another day of taking careful notes from all of the speakers–one of whom I completely forgot to photograph, before or during his talk, but there’s no point in crying over spilled almond milk. One of the presenters, near the end of her presentation, showed a photograph of Earth, shot from behind Saturn–she had to zoom in to show us this little blue dot that is our planet; I honestly thought I was going to cry at the sight of it, and the thought that we live on a planet no bigger than the point of a ballpoint pen relative to the universe as a whole–and to Saturn, whose image took up most of the left part of the photograph. And I got my books signed by their respective authors, one of whom seemed to really appreciate meeting me as well as my buying his book.

I did miss some opportunities this year–chiefly the chance to interact with one of the speakers–but this year was an improvement over last year in terms of me rustling up the nerve to talk to people I want to talk to. Overall, though, I’m glad I came to this year’s conference, and have every intention of going to next year’s conference if there is one. Hopefully by then, I’ll have a thing or two to say to people I want to talk to, and I won’t let as many opportunities pass me by out of sheer nervousness.

Imagine No Religion: Day Two

After an earlier-than-expected start to the day (for reasons I won’t go into), I had a very long, informative day at the conference. I even sat next to two of the speakers for most of the day! I spoke to them only a couple of times so far, but even from that, I can safely say they’re very nice. Also, I bought a book, and have plans to purchase another, and to get the authors to sign them. Not to mention I got some excellent photos–even if they do need touching up so they look professional; unfortunately, I had to run out of one of this afternoon’s talks to get fresh batteries for my camera, because I didn’t think to purchase a package before this weekend. Stupid, I know. (Christopher diCarlo, if you ever read this, I’m so sorry.)

We had an hour and a half free before the banquet and movie scheduled for this evening, followed by a question-and-answer period–which I just returned from, by the way. I would definitely see the movie, The Unbelievers, again, but I haven’t decided if I’m going to buy it from iTunes or wait until it comes to Netflix; at least I’ll have a couple of weeks to make that decision.