The Union of India vs. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Indians

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Written by Randeep Singh

The Supreme Court of India has upheld section 377 of the Penal Code of India, which characterized homosexual sex as “against the order of nature.” The decision reversed a 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court which had ruled that the law violated constitutional rights to equality and personal liberty.

To clarify, Section 377 was never abolished by the Delhi High Court: it has remained the law in India, including New Delhi. The Delhi High Court decision was only binding in that Union Territory and no where else in India. The law can only be abolished by Parliament, not by any court, including the Supreme Court of India.

As for the problems with the decision.

First, the Supreme Court’s otherwise correct statement that only Parliament can amend the law, overlooks the historical importance of the Supreme Court of India in upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms of Indians despite the state. The Supreme Court has interpreted rights and freedoms expansively to include the right to education, the right to work with dignity and on behalf of socially disadvantaged including the poor, women and backward castes. It has historically been the Supreme Court of India which has persuaded Parliament to enact socially inclusive laws, not vice-versa.

Second, the Supreme Court held that “a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or trans-genders.” How did the court come to this determination? How many Indians are in the closet? Is not one person enough to challenge a law as unconstitutional? Moreover, the Supreme Court of India has historically upheld the rights of a vulnerable social group from the excesses of more dominant social groups, as it has done in the case of backward classes, the poor and women. Why has it failed to do so now?

Third, the Supreme Court holds that Section 377 criminalizes certain acts and not sexual orientation. Under this logic, Indian homosexuals are not breaking the law so long as they do not engage in sexual intercourse. There is no separation between the act of sex and one’s sexual orientation. Legally prohibited from having sex, India’s homosexuals will have to either think twice before getting intimate with their partners or they will have to go further underground. It is a clear case of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

I’m reminded of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2005 when it refused the appeal of Afzal Guru (who was convicted of the December 2001 attack on the Indian Houses of Parliament). The court ruled that the “collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied” if Afzal received the death sentence. In this case too, the Indian Supreme Court has sought to appease the collective “moral” conscience of society, represented in this case by conservative religious bodies, supported in the recent past by senior leaders of the BJP like the late B.P. Singhal who argued homosexuality was against the ethos of Indian culture.

Section 377 remains law, but change will come eventually. Just before posting this piece, I read that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have criticized the ruling and that India’s Law Minister has stated the government has not abandoned efforts to make homosexuality legal. The law has changed for other socially disadvantaged groups in the past and the composition of the Supreme Court and Parliament is changing. Legal reasoning is dynamic and new precedents can be set. More than anything, the GLBT community in India, and its supporters locally, nationally and internationally will keep moving forward. The moment hasn’t come yet but the destination beckons.

Pakistan’s Gay Community Quietly Breaking Barriers

Written by Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai

Actor Assad Khan is part of a generation of young men breaking barriers for gays in conservative Pakistan, where homosexuality is punished by prison or worse.

Assad Khan knew he was different from a very young age. As a child at home he preferred playing with his two sisters rather than his two brothers. At school, too, he gravitated toward playing with girls. “In school I was more secure and happy playing with girls than with boys,” says the 23-year-old, boyishly handsome Khan. As a result of his behavior, he says, his family largely ignored him. “I got a terrible complex as my family favored, and gave more attention to, my brothers,” he recalls.

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As he grew up in Islamabad, reached puberty and realized he was gay, he suffered even more. “Being a gay in a society like Pakistan is not easy,” Khan says. “For a long time, I was frightened of who I was, so I hid my gay status…I acted 24 hours a day.”

Even so, he was constantly teased and harassed for his appearance and mannerisms, even ostracized. His parents and cousins made fun of him. His parents were ashamed to introduce him as part of the family. “At the mosque during Friday prayers I was teased and stared at,” he recalls. “At school and in college other students shunned me and my small circle of friends.”

Now a successful actor and fashion designer, Khan has lived and worked in the conservative and bomb-terrorized northwestern city of Peshawar for the past three years. “I felt that society was telling me I was not one of them, that I was not a proper person,” he says. “But soon I realized that it’s not my fault that God made me gay. So as a young man I came to accept who I was and to be proud of myself.”

He has flourished ever since he made that realization—succeeding against all the odds in homophobic Pakistan, where the powerful Muslim clergy preaches that homosexuality is prohibited under Islam, and where sodomy is illegal under the civil code and punishable by a long jail term (though the harsh sentence is rarely handed down). In the Taliban-controlled territory of the northwestern tribal agencies, the penalty is worse: death by firing squad or stoning. Even the man on the street seems to have no time for gays. A Pew Research Center survey of 39 countries published in early June found that only two percent of Pakistanis believed that “society should accept homosexuality,” second only to Nigeria, which registered a rock-bottom one percent acceptance rating of gays. (By way of comparison, 80 percent of Canadians said they accepted gays.)

While the Pakistani government doesn’t target LGBT citizens, neither does it have much tolerance for the gay community or its issues. Late last month and without comment, Islamabad shut down the country’s first and only gay website, queerpk.com, which was first launched last July. The website’s founder, who goes by the pseudonym Fakhir, says the ban is “unconstitutional and opposes freedom of speech.” But he does not want to pursue legal action as he doesn’t want a confrontation with the government, which could unmask those behind the website whose subtitle is “Know us, Don’t Hate Us.” Fakhir says the site is not “blasphemous or pornographic” but is aimed at educating gays on health issues such as preventing the spread of HIV, and on how to deal with social and family pressures and with depression.

Bucking discrimination, Khan, an ethnic Pashtun who goes by the nickname of Danny, studied fashion design at a college in Islamabad and quickly fell into the growing businesses of fashion, modeling and acting. His acting career got a big boost in 2009 when he was cast in a British film, called Kandahar Break: Fortress of War, which was being shot in Baluchistan, the wild-and-woolly home of his ultra-traditional Safi tribe in western Pakistan. He played a Taliban interpreter with gay tendencies who worked for a British explosive ordinance disposal team that Mullah Mohammad Omar’s regime had hired to clear mine fields in 1999.

In 2010, Khan moved to heavily Taliban-influenced Peshawar to further his acting and fashion careers, but chiefly to be closer to his partner. At first he was terrified, afraid of the Taliban and the frequent terror bombings. Every day he cautiously emerged from his hotel filled with trepidation. But he was soon pleasantly surprised by what he found: gays were not as unwelcome and under the gun as he had imagined. On the contrary, he quickly received a vibe that many young men in the ostensibly macho, largely Islamist city were gay or gay-friendly. “In Peshawar I feel like almost every second guy is gay by the way they look and talk,” he says. “On the streets and in the markets I think most people look at cute boys more than at girls.” But, he adds: “Unfortunately gays feel they have to hide their feelings and their true selves,”

Khan and other Pakistani gays say that being gay in Pakistan is not all that unusual despite the ostensibly strong prejudice against homosexuals. “I’ve found that male-to-male sex is more common than you’d imagine in our society,” says Shehzad, a smart, fashionable and educated 25-year-old gay man from Lahore. A June article in Mother Jones magazine confirmed Shehzad’s feeling, reporting that Pakistanis lead the world in Google searches for the terms “shemale sex,” “teen anal sex” and “man f—king man.”

Pakistani gays like Khan and Shehzad say the country is rife with hypocrisy. “I know that some Pakistani policy makers practice gay love in private, then go out and make laws against gays,” says Shehzad. Khan agrees: “I know that some Pakistani politicians of all parties, including those from religious parties, are interested in gay men,” he says. “Even some men who teased me for being gay suddenly come on to me when we are in a quiet spot.” “If you heard the names of the prominent members of Pakistani society who are gay, you wouldn’t believe your ears,” adds Chaudhry Javid, a 28-year-old gay man who works for a foreign aid agency and lives in a luxury apartment in Islamabad.

Still, Javid keeps his sexual orientation in the closet, hiding it from his family and friends, and claiming it is too early for him to reveal himself. “If we come out, our families will cut us out like a cancer,” he says. He adds that he’s ashamed that he can’t tell his parents that his best friend is also his sexual partner whom he loves. “I suffer when I lie to my parents describing him as just a good friend,” he says. Shehzad, too, says it’s too early for him to come out. “Society doesn’t accept us,” he says. “I don’t dare to go public.” Faisal Khan, a 28-year-old government bureaucrat in Peshawar, says he would get fired or worse if he came out. (He is not related to Assad Khan.) “I cannot expose myself,” he says. “People in the office would use it against me and I’d lose my job.” Faisal Khan says he doesn’t dare visit his family’s home village just south of Peshawar for fear the Taliban would find out about his gayness and capture him, causing a scandal for his family.  Nor would he dare to confess his sexual persuasion to the mullah at his mosque. “He would probably send me to the Taliban who would make a kebab of me,” he says.

Even so, Faisal Khan and other Pakistani gay men see hope in the future as they sense that public attitudes are slowly changing. For starters, people are beginning to tolerate unmarried young men and women congregating together in public. If the public is beginning to accept men and women dating, they reason, then eventually gay relationships will also be tolerated. Wearing a suit and red tie and sporting long black hair, Faisal Khan points to the numerous heterosexual couples sitting together in a modern University Town café in Peshawar, talking and laughing as they eat western food and listen to rock music. “Look, these boys and girls are here in public without any hesitation or fear of society or the Taliban,” he says. Javid says that a decade ago you would never see young men and women holding hands in public. Now it is almost common in the cities. Ironically, it’s not uncommon, and not viewed as homosexual behavior, for young men to hold hands in public as they walk—it’s a customary sign of friendship.

But there are still strict limits. In rural, traditional Pakistan there is a clear separation of the sexes as boys and girls are forbidden to meet in public. Yet in the tradition-bound confines of the countryside, it is easier for gay Pakistani couples to congregate in public than for mixed-sex couples. “It’s normal for a group of men to hang out together so no one can bother us,” says Javid. “But in some traditional areas, boys and girls going out together is still a sin against society and our religion.”  Javid adds that viewing homosexuality as a sin, as most Pakistanis do, is absurd since there is no victim. “Aren’t the rampant corruption in our society and the killing of innocents by the Taliban greater sins?” Javid asks.

For most gays in Pakistan, society’s views are not changing fast enough. So for now, they are forced to live largely an underground existence. They point to the many and lavish subterranean gay parties as the highlight of their social lives. “These weekly underground parties keep us happy,” says Shehzad. “Here we have a place to enjoy ourselves hidden from the Taliban, the government and the police.” Organizing these extravagant, gay parties in Islamabad and Peshawar has become a good business for Assad Khan. He says that many of the parties he organizes cost $5,000 or more to cover the expense of renting a large, posh house or reception hall, providing private security, live bands, food and drinks and paying off the cops. Partyers pay an admission charge, allowing Khan to make a profit. “Islamabad is a city famous for the biggest number of gay parties,” Assad Khan says. “The number of these parties, and the number of gays attending, is increasing, even in Peshawar.” He also helped organize a summer music festival in the mountain resort of Swat this past summer in the face of Taliban threats, and he plans to bring fashion shows to conservative Peshawar soon.

Although it may be premature, Khan is trying to organize a gay rights movement capable of standing up to the Taliban, the politicians and aggressive Pakistani cops. As a result of his efforts, he has received anonymous, threatening phone calls and has escaped an attempt to kidnap him at a wedding reception not long ago. But he remains unshaken. “We have to defeat the concept of fear and terror,” he says. “Everyone should have the right to live as they please. No one has the right to dictate to us.” He adds: “I want to be a leading voice for gay rights and protection.”

But he quickly emphasizes that his push for gay rights stops short of campaigning for the legalization of gay marriage. “We don’t want to push for gay marriage, only for our human rights,” he says. Most other gays steer clear of any gay rights movement, fearing retaliation. “The Taliban and other extremists will target any gay rights movement,” says Shehzad. “It’s too dangerous to get involved.”

Originally published in The Daily Beast, October 30, 2013: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/10/30/pakistan-s-gay-community-quietly-breaking-barriers.html

‘We Apologize for the Inconvenience, We’re Rebuilding Brazil’ by Marina Araujo

From:
pen.org/blog/

Resounding with chants of “the people are awake” and “come to the street,” Brazil witnessed the largest and most powerful public demonstrations since the struggle to end military dictatorship in the mid-80s. More than 200,000 people protested in capital cities across my country against social problems and deeply flawed institutions.

I was in Porto Alegre on June 17, where thousands marched toward the headquarters of Zero Hora, one of the most powerful newspapers in the country. Walking amid peaceful protestors near the front, I was suddenly hit with tear gas. No one knew why or how we were stopped. In the end we didn’t make it to Zero Hora; the riot police stopped us from getting to what, ironically, turned out to be a better protected site than the National Congress in Brasilia, where people climbed, danced, and chanted atop the modernist building. Police violence against this huge uprising of Brazilian people has been in the headlines of all newspapers, and has shaped political debates since June 13, when a protest in São Paulo left one hundred people injured and two hundred people arrested.

There are many causes for the protests. The most evident is the rise of bus fares in São Paulo. This particular fare hike followed one in Porto Alegre in early April, when a city government decision caused the first wave of major unrest. To everyone’s surprise, the protests in Porto Alegre led to the lowering of transportation fares back to their original cost. When São Paulo raised transportaton fares in early June, the first posters of “let’s repeat Porto Alegre” appeared in the streets, and spurred a national debate.

The demonstrations also call attention to the flawed decision-making process and high costs of building infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The negotiations surrounding building contracts for these events are rooted in Brazil’s tradition of benefiting businessmen, corporations, and corrupt politicians at the expense of the public.

Then there is the broad public discomfort with media outlets. There is a reason why protesters in Porto Alegre targeted the headquarters of Zero Hora. Since April, the most important media networks have portrayed protesters as vandals who want to disrupt public peace. Demonstrators have not forgotten that Brazil’s media was built up in the 60s and has deep roots and alliances with the oligarchies and politicians connected to the military coup.

In some ways, the protests are forcing media outlets to reshape themselves, to realign, and to choose their allies more carefully. Their own journalists are suffering from police violence.

June 13 was a critical moment in this shifting conversation. The police were told to repress all protesters. As a result, a journalist was arrested and detained for more than two hours for carrying a bottle of vinegar. It is no accident that we have come up with the term “Vinegar Revolt”—the widespread use of tear gas has made this common kitchen product the most reliable shield protesters can carry. The brutal tactics of the police that day created a wave of resentment in the population and changed the behavior of the police in later protests.

It took a brutal attack on a journalist for the media to begin changing its tune as well. Brazil’s most influential newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, published an editorial claiming that the protests were not justifiable or legitimate, that the rise in transportation fares was below inflation, that the protests were frustrating daily life in the city, and that the military police must put an end to it. When the protest started that same evening, a young female reporter of Folha was struck in the eye by a rubber bullet fired by riot police who aimed the gun at her face while she was covering the events. There were many similar cases that night, and the press woke up with a different perspective on the following day.

What is happening in Brazil right now is one of those historic moments in which a society bends to new social variables of differing importance. Today we have 40 million fewer people in poverty, a stronger middle-class, more universities, and a better quality of life. But we are still greatly dissatisfied with Brazil’s most persistent and formative social problem: the precariousness of our public institutions and the fragility of our condition as citizens in a country where the government persists in treating the public sphere as its own personal property—throughout history, Brazil’s indigenous elite have never stopped treating the country as a colony to be exploited.

On Monday, when we were stopped by the riot police and pushed back violently by loud rockets and tear gas, the anger and frustration at being denied basic civil rights was too great. When we were pushed back to side streets, we left the front lines to masked anarchists fighting back with sticks—they seemed heroic at the time. It wasn’t long before we heard that a bus was set on fire. Until then, the protest had been peaceful. We chanted “no violence” every five minutes, and policed each other so that not even a trashcan was overturned. Very few protesters were there to be violent. After that peaceful climate, however, the bus on fire seemed like a logical conclusion.

A kid next to me sprayed painted “democracy is a farce” on a wall. A girl then yelled at him for defacing public property. We all yelled back at her, because at that moment, democracy did feel like a farce, and the public sphere merely an illusion. Our acts, and the kid with the spray paint, were creating a new, real, public space. And this is achieved through reform of political institutions and a serious discussion of the role of the media; a way to effectively reflect upon, neutralize, and overcome the vicious ways of our colonial past.

One of the most famous signs of the protest read: “We apologize for the inconvenience, we’re rebuilding Brazil.” And that is what is happening here. Over two weeks, people in the streets lowered transportation fares that were considered unchangeable, transformed the behavior of the police, made politicians give their support for the protests, and shamed conservative journalists and intellectuals who undermined the protests and offended the people who were a part of them. I’d say we are on the right track.

Marina Araujo is a Brazilian historian and Fulbright scholar who researches American poetry during the 60s. She also writes about experimental poetry and counter-culture in Brazil, and is interested in politics and social change in contemporary literature and its connections with pop culture. A former teacher of cultural history and sociology in Brazil, she currently teaches at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in pursuit of her PhD

PUBLISHED ON JUNE 19, 2013 at PEN America.

– See more at: pen.org/blog/we-apologize-inconvenience-we%E2%80%99re-rebuilding-brazil#sthash.KTGMLX1M.dpuf

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The Story of Kainat Soomro

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In 2007, Kainat Soomroo says she was walking home from school in her hometown of Mehar, Sindh. She went into a store to buy a toy for her niece. While looking around in the store, someone covered her mouth with a handkerchief. She fainted.

Kainat claims she was kidnapped and raped by four men over the next three days. After the third day, she escaped back to her family. Her father tried in vain to report the matter to the police. She was declared an outcaste by the local jirga (council). Her family was told to redeem its honour by killing her.

Instead, her parents defied the jirga and fled with Kainat and the rest of the family to Karachi . There they enlisted the help of a lawyer and of the NGO-group War Against Rape (W.A.R) who helped them bring the four men to trial.

The men were acquitted however as there was no evidence corroborating Kainat’s oral testimony. A month later, Kainat’s brother was murdered by unknown assailants. One of the accused rapists, Ahsan Thebo, claims also that Kainat married him during her captivity, though some suspect this was a tactic to avoid criminal responsibility since marital rape is not a crime in Pakistan.

Kainat and her family now live in poverty in Karachi and have suffered repeated threats on their lives including Thebo’s threat to take Kainat back or kill her. Yet Kainat remains undeterred:  “I want justice, I will not stop until I get justice.”

Her case is currently under appeal.

Written by Randeep Purewall.

http://www.war.org.pk/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/pressroom/press-release-outlawed-in-pakistan/

Pakistani women Rehana Kausar and Sobia Kamar marry in Britain’s first Muslim lesbian partnership

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Posted by Randeep Purewall. Referred to by Tooba Masood.

Two former students from Pakistan are believed to have become the first Muslim lesbian couple to marry in a civil ceremony in Britain.

Rehana Kausar, 34, and Sobia Kamar, 29, took their vows at a registry office in Leeds earlier this month before immediately applying for political asylum, it was claimed.

Relatives of the couple said the women, who studied in Birmingham, had received death threats both in the UK and from opponents in their native Pakistan, where homosexual relations are illegal.

During the ceremony the couple reportedly told the registrar that they had met three years ago while studying business and health care management at Birmingham, having travelled to the country on student visas, and had been living together in South Yorkshire for about a year.

Ms Kausar, originally from Lahore, also holds a master’s degree in economics from Punjab University.

“This country allows us rights and it’s a very personal decision that we have taken. It’s no one’s business as to what we do with our personal lives,” she was quoted as telling the Birmingham-based Sunday Mercury newspaper.

“The problem with Pakistan is that everyone believes he is in charge of other people lives and can best decide about the morals of others but that’s not the right approach. We are in this state because of our clergy, who have hijacked our society, which was once tolerant and respected individuals’ freedoms.”

Homosexual sex is illegal under Pakistani law. There are also no laws prohibiting discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

In recent years in Britain, some Muslim gay and lesbian couples have opted for a nikah, an Islamic matrimonial contract, which is officially the reserve of heterosexuals. These services, conducted in Arabic with additional duas – prayers – are not recognised in the UK unless accompanied by a civil ceremony. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in the Islamic faith and the notion of same-sex marriage is abhorrent to many Muslims.

A relative of one of the women told the Sunday Mercury: “The couple did not have an Islamic marriage ceremony, known as a nikah, as they could not find an imam to conduct what would have been a controversial ceremony. They have been very brave throughout as our religion does not condone homosexuality. The couple have had their lives threatened both here and in Pakistan and there is no way they could ever return there.”

Ruth Hunt, deputy chief executive for Stonewall, said: “There is a very cautious step towards social visibility for some gay men in Pakistan but lesbians are completely invisible. Pakistan is not necessarily a safe place for couples to be open about their love.”

The Home Office said it was unable to confirm any details about their political asylum request.

Written by Charlotte Philby, The Independent (May 26, 2013). For original story, click here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/pakistani-women-rehana-kausar-and-sobia-kamar-marry-in-britains-first-muslim-lesbian-partnership-8632935.html

“Cinema for Change” – Addressing Violence Against Women

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The South Asian Film Education Society (S.A.F.E.S.) hosted its first “Cinema for Change” film festival from April 19 to April 21, 2013. The theme: “Addressing Violence Against Women.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Guest Filmmaker, Samar Minallah, appeared at the opening night by Skype from Pakistan. Her documentary, “Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water,” looked at “swara,” the practice of using unmarried girls as compensation to settle disputes between families.  The practice of “swara” in the film of the same name, typically takes place as follows. One man kills another man and the family of the man who has been killed wants compensation from the murderer. The compensation takes the form of a girl, transferred from the family of the murderer to the family who would otherwise seek revenge. The girl is then expected to live in the “other” family as a daughter-in-law.

The practice of “swara” is well-known in North-West Pakistan and in other tribal communities and stopping it, Minallah admits, can be dangerous. The murderer (whose family pays the girl as compensation) is “let off the hook;” stopping that compensation would mean that the murderer must otherwise pay for his crime which, Minallah notes he will typically go to any lengths to avoid. Although Minallah acknowledges the challenges in fighting “swara,” she has helped bring awareness of the issue to the public and to policymakers through short public service-announcements. She also works to sensitive the police to the problem after the practice was made illegal through legislation passed in 2004. A growing number cases of “swara” moreover are being reported and addressed through public interest-litigation (200 cases were reported in 2011).

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

The second day saw the screening of “Common Gender” (2012), a Bangladeshi activist-documentary on the life of the hijra (intersexual) community of Dhaka and the violence underlying the social process of gendering. The two other films were “Afghanistan Unveiled” (2007) and “Provoked” (2006).

The film “Provoked,” is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a Punjabi woman in the United Kingdom who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband in 1989. Her conviction was set aside in 1992, partly through the help of the women’s advocacy and outreach group, Southhall Black Sisters. The judge noted that because of years of  abuse, Kiranjit suffered severe depression and battered women syndrome; her mental responsibility for the act was thus “diminished.” She had also been “provoked,” but was unable to retaliate right away because of her mental state. Her case (R v. Ahluwalia) changed English law, leading to the setting aside of convictions for battered women in 1992 and thereafter.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In “Saving Face,” we hear the stories of two survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan, Zakia and Rukshana. While highlighting the brutality of the attacks and their affect on the women, we see how the problem is being fought through cooperation between reconstructive surgeons, policymakers, lawyers, the media and NGO’s is key in bringing perpetrators to justice and helping women rebuild their lives.

In “Bol” (2012) Meghna Halder presents a short-film in three parts through masks, puppetry and shadows. Whereas the “The Cyclist” looks at the facelessness of the Indian Muslim woman who died in a bomb blast in Bangalore, “The Rape” looks at how two women went missing in Kashmir and were presumed to have been raped and disposed of by the Indian Army. In “The Mask,” Meghna presents the story of a man who wakes one day to find his face has been stolen. All three films were layered with meanings, teasing one’s interpretations.

While the issue of violence against women is ongoing and oftentimes distressing, I admire the filmmakers’ use of film as a medium for raising social awareness of the problem. In Minallah, we saw an example of the activist film-maker who has continued to make films despite risk to herself. In three films, we saw how individual and community activism can bring about social change such as the passage of law against “swara” and acid-attacks in Pakistan or the precedent-setting case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia in the United Kingdom. While the struggle continues, the SAFES has hopefully played its own part in presenting “cinema for change.”

For a list of all films shown and descriptions, go to: http://southasianfilm.blogspot.ca/

PEN American Center: ‘The Hijacking of Human Rights’ by Chris Hedges

The appointment of Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official and longtime government apparatchik, as executive director of PEN American Center is part of a campaign to turn U.S. human rights organizations into propagandists for pre-emptive war and apologists for empire. Nossel’s appointment led me to resign from PEN as well as withdraw from speaking at the PEN World Voices Festival in May. But Nossel is only symptomatic of the widespread hijacking of human rights organizations to demonize those—especially Muslims—branded by the state as the enemy, in order to cloak pre-emptive war and empire with a fictional virtue and to effectively divert attention from our own mounting human rights abuses, including torture, warrantless wiretapping and monitoring, the denial of due process and extrajudicial assassinations.

Nossel, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs under Hillary Clinton in a State Department that was little more than a subsidiary of the Pentagon, is part of the new wave of “humanitarian interventionists,” such as Samantha PowerMichael Ignatieff and Susan Rice, who naively see in the U.S. military a vehicle to create a better world. They know little of the reality of war or the actual inner workings of empire. They harbor a childish belief in the innate goodness and ultimate beneficence of American power. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, the horrendous suffering and violent terror inflicted in the name of their utopian goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, barely register on their moral calculus. This makes them at once oblivious and dangerous. “Innocence is a kind of insanity,” Graham Greene wrote in his novel “The Quiet American,” and those who destroy to build are “impregnably armored by … good intentions and … ignorance.”

There are no good wars. There are no just wars. As Erasmus wrote, “there is nothing more wicked, more disastrous, more widely destructive, more deeply tenacious, more loathsome” than war. “Whoever heard of a hundred thousand animals rushing together to butcher each other, as men do everywhere?” Erasmus asked. But war, he knew, was very useful to the power elite. War permitted the powerful, in the name of national security and by fostering a culture of fear, to effortlessly strip the citizen of his or her rights. A declaration of war ensures that “all the affairs of the State are at the mercy of the appetites of a few,” Erasmus wrote.

There are cases, and Bosnia in the 1990s was one, when force should be employed to halt an active campaign of genocide. This is the lesson of the Holocaust: When you have the capacity to stop genocide and you do not, you are culpable. For this reason, we are culpable in the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. But the “humanitarian interventionists” have twisted this moral imperative to intercede against genocide to justify the calls for pre-emptive war and imperial expansion. Saddam Hussein did carry out campaigns of genocide against the Kurds and the Shiites, but the dirty fact is that while these campaigns were under way we provided support to Baghdad or looked the other way. It was only when Washington wanted war, and the bodies of tens of thousands of Kurds and Shiites had long decomposed in mass graves, that we suddenly began to speak in the exalted language of human rights.

These “humanitarian interventionists” studiously ignore our own acts of genocide, first unleashed against Native Americans and then exported to the Philippines and, later, nations such as Vietnam. They do not acknowledge, even in light of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our own capacity for evil. They do not discuss in their books and articles the genocides we backed in Guatemala and East Timor or the crime of pre-emptive war. They minimize the horror and suffering we have delivered to Iraqis and Afghans and exaggerate or fabricate the benefits. The long string of atrocities carried out in our name mocks the idea of the United States as a force for good with a right to impose its values on others. The ugly truth shatters their deification of U.S. power.

Nossel, in the contentious year she headed Amnesty International USA before leaving in January, oversaw a public campaign by the organization to support NATO’s war in Afghanistan. She was running Amnesty International USA when the organization posted billboards at bus stops that read, “Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan—NATO: Keep the Progress Going.” Madeleine Albright, along with senior State Department officials and politicians, were invited to speak at Amnesty International’s women’s forum during Nossel’s tenure. Nossel has urged Democrats to stay the course in Iraq, warning that a failure in Iraq could unleash “a kind of post-Vietnam, post-Mogadishu hangover” that would lamentably “herald an era of deep reservations among the U.S. public regarding the use of force.” She worked as a State Department official to discredit the Goldstone Report, which charged Israel with war crimes against the Palestinians. As a representative on the U.N. Human Rights Council she said that “the top of our list is our defense of Israel, and Israel’s right to fair treatment at the Human Rights Council.” Not a word about the Palestinians. She has advocated for expanded armed intervention in countries such as Syria and Libya. She has called for a military strike against Iran if it does not halt its nuclear enrichment program. In an article in The Washington Quarterly titled “Battle Hymn of the Democrats,” she wrote: “Democrats must be seen to be every bit as tough-minded as their opponents. Democratic reinvention as a ‘peace party’ is a political dead end.” “In a milieu of war or near-war, the public will look for leadership that is bold and strident—more forceful, resolute, and pugnacious than would otherwise be tolerated,” she went on. In a 2004 Foreign Affairs article, “Smart Power: Reclaiming Liberal Internationalism,” she wrote: “We need to deploy our power in ways that make us stronger, not weaker,” not a stunning thought but one that should be an anathema to human rights campaigners. She added, “U.S. interests are furthered by enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals,” which, of course, is what she promptly did at Amnesty International. Her “smart power” theory calls on the U.S. to exert its will around the globe by employing a variety of means and tactics, using the United Nations and human rights groups, for example, to promote the nation’s agenda as well as the more naked and raw coercion of military force. This is not a new or original idea, but when held up to George W. Bush’s idiocy I guess it looked thoughtful. The plight of our own dissidents—including Bradley Manning—is of no concern to Nossel and apparently of no concern now to PEN.

Coleen Rowley and Ann Wright first brought Nossel’s past and hawkish ideology to light when she became the executive director of Amnesty International USA a year ago. Rowley and Wright have written correctly that “humanitarian interventionists,” in or out of government, see no distinction between human rights work and the furtherance of U.S. imperial power. Nossel, they noted, “sees no conflict between her current role and having been a member of the executive staff whilst her President and Secretary of State bosses were carrying out war crimes such as drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan and shielding torturers and their enablers in the Bush administration from prosecution.” (For more on this see Rowley’s article “Selling War as ‘Smart Power.’ ”)

Is this the résumé of a human rights advocate in the United States? Are human rights organizations supposed to further the agenda of the state rather than defend its victims? Are the ideas of “humanitarian interventionists” compatible with human rights? Are writers and artists no longer concerned with the plight of all dissidents, freedom of expression and the excesses of state power? Are we nothing more than puppets of the elite? Aren’t we supposed to be in perpetual, voluntary alienation from all forms of power? Isn’t power, from a human rights perspective, the problem?

The current business of human rights means human rights for some and not for others. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Peace Alliance, and Citizens for Global Solutions are all guilty of buying into the false creed that U.S. military force can be deployed to promote human rights. None of these groups stood up to oppose the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, as if pre-emptive war is not one of the grossest violations of human rights.

The creed of “humanitarian intervention” means, for many, shedding tears over the “right” victims. Its supporters lobby for the victims in Darfur and ignore the victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza. They denounce the savagery of the Taliban but ignore the savagery we employ in our offshore penal colonies or our drone-infested war zones. They decry the enslavement of girls in brothels in India or Thailand but not the slavery of workers in our produce fields or our prisons. They demand justice for persecuted dissidents in the Arab world but say nothing about Bradley Manning.

The playwright and fierce anti-war critic Arthur Miller, the first American president of PEN International, fearlessly stood up to McCarthyism and was blacklisted. He denounced the Vietnam War. He decried the invasion of Iraq. PEN, when it embodied Miller’s resistance and decency, stood for something real and important. As the U.S. bombed Iraq into submission and then invaded, Miller, who called the war a form of “mass murder,” said indignantly: “It’s a joke that the U.S. government wheels out the Geneva Convention when they themselves have turned away or flouted so many international treaties.”

The posing of government shills such as Nossel as human rights campaigners and the marginalization of voices such as Miller’s are part of the sickness of our age. If PEN recaptures the moral thunder of the late Arthur Miller, if it remembers that human rights mean defending all who are vulnerable, persecuted and unjustly despised, I will be happy to rejoin.

All systems of power are the problem. And it is the role of the artist, the writer and the intellectual to defy every center of power on behalf of those whom power would silence and crush. This means, in biblical terms, embracing the stranger. It means being a constant opponent rather than an ally of government. It means being the perpetual outcast. Those who truly fight for human rights understand this.

“Whether the mask is labeled Fascism, Democracy, or Dictatorship of the Proletariat, our great adversary remains the Apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military … ,” Simone Weil wrote. “No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this Apparatus, and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.”

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. More:
http://www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges#bio

From Truthdig
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_hijacking_of_human_rights_20130407/

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‘Dancing the World into Being: A Conversation with Idle No More’s Leanne Simpson’ by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein speaks with writer, spoken-word artist, and indigenous academic Leanne Betasamosake Simpson about “extractivism,” why it’s important to talk about memories of the land, and what’s next for Idle No More.

Leanne Simpson collecting wild rice.

In December 2012, the Indigenous protests known as Idle No More exploded onto the Canadian political scene, with huge round dances taking place in shopping malls, busy intersections, and public spaces across North America, as well as solidarity actions as far away as New Zealand and Gaza. Though sparked by a series of legislative attacks on indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, the movement quickly became about much more: Canada’s ongoing colonial policies, a transformative vision of decolonization, and the possibilities for a genuine alliance between natives and non-natives, one capable of re-imagining nationhood.

Boy with Crayon photo by ND Strupler
Indigenous Women Take the Lead in Idle No More

Motivated by ancient traditions of female leadership as well as their need for improved legal rights, First Nations women are stepping to the forefront of the Idle No More movement.

Throughout all this, Idle No More had no official leaders or spokespeople. But it did lift up the voices of a few artists and academics whose words and images spoke to the movement’s deep aspirations. One of those voices belonged to Leanne Simpson, a multi-talented Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer of poetry, essays, spoken-word pieces, short stories, academic papers, and anthologies. Simpson’s books, including Lighting the Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Protection and Resurgence of Indigenous Nations and Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence, have influenced a new generation of native activists.

At the height of the protests, her essay, Aambe! Maajaadaa! (What #IdleNoMore Means to Me) spread like wildfire on social media and became one of the movement’s central texts. In it she writes: “I support #idlenomore because I believe that we have to stand up anytime our nation’s land base is threatened—whether it is legislation, deforestation, mining prospecting, condo development, pipelines, tar sands or golf courses. I stand up anytime our nation’s land base in threatened because everything we have of meaning comes from the land—our political systems, our intellectual systems, our health care, food security, language and our spiritual sustenance and our moral fortitude.”

On February 15, 2013, I sat down with Leanne Simpson in Toronto to talk about decolonization, ecocide, climate change, and how to turn an uprising into a “punctuated transformation.”

On extractivism

Naomi Klein: Let’s start with what has brought so much indigenous resistance to a head in recent months. With the tar sands expansion, and all the pipelines, and the Harper government’s race to dig up huge tracts of the north, does it feel like we’re in some kind of final colonial pillage? Or is this more of a continuation of what Canada has always been about?

Leanne Simpson: Over the past 400 years, there has never been a time when indigenous peoples were not resisting colonialism. Idle No More is the latest—visible to the mainstream—resistance and it is part of an ongoing historical and contemporary push to protect our lands, our cultures, our nationhoods, and our languages. To me, it feels like there has been an intensification of colonial pillage, or that’s what the Harper government is preparing for—the hyper-extraction of natural resources on indigenous lands. But really, every single Canadian government has placed that kind of thinking at its core when it comes to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples have lived through environmental collapse on local and regional levels since the beginning of colonialism—the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the extermination of the buffalo in Cree and Blackfoot territories and the extinction of salmon in Lake Ontario—these were unnecessary and devastating. At the same time, I know there are a lot of people within the indigenous community that are giving the economy, this system, 10 more years, 20 more years, that are saying “Yeah, we’re going to see the collapse of this in our lifetimes.”

Extracting is stealing. It is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts on the other living things in that environment.

Our elders have been warning us about this for generations now—they saw the unsustainability of settler society immediately. Societies based on conquest cannot be sustained, so yes, I do think we’re getting closer to that breaking point for sure. We’re running out of time. We’re losing the opportunity to turn this thing around. We don’t have time for this massive slow transformation into something that’s sustainable and alternative. I do feel like I’m getting pushed up against the wall. Maybe my ancestors felt that 200 years ago or 400 years ago. But I don’t think it matters. I think that the impetus to act and to change and to transform, for me, exists whether or not this is the end of the world. If a river is threatened, it’s the end of the world for those fish. It’s been the end of the world for somebody all along. And I think the sadness and the trauma of that is reason enough for me to act.

Naomi: Let’s talk about extraction because it strikes me that if there is one word that encapsulates the dominant economic vision, that is it. The Harper government sees its role as facilitating the extraction of natural wealth from the ground and into the market. They are not interested in added value. They’ve decimated the manufacturing sector because of the high dollar. They don’t care, because they look north and they see lots more pristine territory that they can rip up.

And of course that’s why they’re so frantic about both the environmental movement and First Nations rights because those are the barriers to their economic vision. But extraction isn’t just about mining and drilling, it’s a mindset—it’s an approach to nature, to ideas, to people. What does it mean to you?

Leanne: Extraction and assimilation go together. Colonialism and capitalism are based on extracting and assimilating. My land is seen as a resource. My relatives in the plant and animal worlds are seen as resources. My culture and knowledge is a resource. My body is a resource and my children are a resource because they are the potential to grow, maintain, and uphold the extraction-assimilation system. The act of extraction removes all of the relationships that give whatever is being extracted meaning. Extracting is taking. Actually, extracting is stealing—it is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts that extraction has on the other living things in that environment. That’s always been a part of colonialism and conquest. Colonialism has always extracted the indigenous—extraction of indigenous knowledge, indigenous women, indigenous peoples.

Naomi: Children from parents.

Leanne: Children from parents. Children from families. Children from the land. Children from our political system and our system of governance. Children—our most precious gift. In this kind of thinking, every part of our culture that is seemingly useful to the extractivist mindset gets extracted. The canoe, the kayak, any technology that we had that was useful was extracted and assimilated into the culture of the settlers without regard for the people and the knowledge that created it.

The alternative to extractivism is deep reciprocity. It’s respect, it’s relationship, it’s responsibility, and it’s local.

When there was a push to bring traditional knowledge into environmental thinking after Our Common Future, [a report issued by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development] in the late 1980s, it was a very extractivist approach: “Let’s take whatever teachings you might have that would help us right out of your context, right away from your knowledge holders, right out of your language, and integrate them into this assimilatory mindset.” It’s the idea that traditional knowledge and indigenous peoples have some sort of secret of how to live on the land in an non-exploitive way that broader society needs to appropriate. But the extractivist mindset isn’t about having a conversation and having a dialogue and bringing in indigenous knowledge on the terms of indigenous peoples. It is very much about extracting whatever ideas scientists or environmentalists thought were good and assimilating it.

Naomi: Like I’ll just take the idea of “the seventh generation” and…

Leanne: …put it onto toilet paper and sell it to people. There’s an intellectual extraction, a cognitive extraction, as well as a physical one. The machine around promoting extractivism is huge in terms of TV, movies, and popular culture.

Naomi: If extractivism is a mindset, a way of looking at the world, what is the alternative?

Leanne: Responsibility. Because I think when people extract things, they’re taking and they’re running and they’re using it for just their own good. What’s missing is the responsibility. If you’re not developing relationships with the people, you’re not giving back, you’re not sticking around to see the impact of the extraction. You’re moving to someplace else.

The alternative is deep reciprocity. It’s respect, it’s relationship, it’s responsibility, and it’s local. If you’re forced to stay in your 50-mile radius, then you very much are going to experience the impacts of extractivist behavior. The only way you can shield yourself from that is when you get your food from around the world or from someplace else. So the more distance and the more globalization then the more shielded I am from the negative impacts of extractivist behavior.

On Idle No More

Naomi: With Idle No More, there was this moment in December and January where there was the beginning of an attempt to articulate an alternative agenda for the country that was  rooted in a different relationship with nature. And I think of lot of people were drawn to it because it did seem to provide that possibility of a vision for the land that is not just digging holes and polluting rivers and laying pipelines.

But I think that may have been lost a little when we starting hearing some chiefs casting it all as a fight over resources sharing: “OK, Harper wants to extract $650 billion worth of resources, and how are we going to have a fair share of that?” That’s a fair question given the enormous poverty and the fact that these resources are on indigenous lands. But it’s not questioning the underlying imperative of tearing up the land for wealth.

Leanne: No, it’s not, and that is exactly what our traditional leaders, elders, and many grassroots people are saying as well. Part of the issue is about leadership. Indian Act chiefs and councils—while there are some very good people involved doing some good work—they are ultimately accountable to the Canadian government and not to our people. The Indian Act system is an imposed system—it is not our political system based on our values or ways of governing.

Putting people in the position of having to chose between feeding their kids and destroying their land is simply wrong.

Indigenous communities, particularly in places where there is significant pressure to develop natural resources, face tremendous imposed economic poverty. Billions of dollars of natural resources have been extracted from their territories, without their permission and without compensation. That’s the reality. We have not had the right to say no to development, because ultimately those communities are not seen as people, they are seen as resources.

Rather than interacting with indigenous peoples through our treaties, successive federal governments chose to control us through the Indian Act, precisely so they can continue to build the Canadian economy on the exploitation of natural resources without regard for indigenous peoples or the environment. This is deliberate. This is also where the real fight will be, because these are the most pristine indigenous homelands. There are communities standing up and saying no to the idea of tearing up the land for wealth. What I think these communities want is our solidarity and a large network of mobilized people willing to stand with them when they say no.

These same communities are also continually shamed in the mainstream media and by state governments and by Canadian society for being poor. Shaming the victim is part of that extractivist thinking. We need to understand why these communities are economically poor in the first place—and they are poor so that Canadians can enjoy the standard of living they do. I say “economically poor” because while these communities have less material wealth, they are rich in other ways—they have their homelands, their languages, their cultures, and relationships with each other that make their communities strong and resilient.

I always get asked, “Why do your communities partner with these multinationals to exploit their land?” It is because it is presented as the only way out of crushing economic poverty. Industry and government are very invested in the “jobs versus the environment” discussion. These communities are under tremendous pressure from provincial governments, federal governments, and industry to partner in the destruction of natural resources. Industry and government have no problem with presenting large-scale environmental destruction by corporations as the only way out of poverty because it is in their best interest to do so.

We have not had the right to say no to development, because  indigenous communities are not seen as people. They are seen as resources.

There is a huge need to clearly articulate alternative visions of how to build healthy, sustainable, local indigenous economies that benefit indigenous communities and respect our fundamental philosophies and values. The hyper-exploitation of natural resources is not the only approach. The first step to that is to stop seeing indigenous peoples and our homelands as free resources to be used at will however colonial society sees fit.

If Canada is not interested in dismantling the system that forces poverty onto indigenous peoples, then I’m not sure Canadians, who directly benefit from indigenous poverty, get to judge the decisions indigenous peoples make, particularly when very few alternatives are present. Indigenous peoples do not have control over our homelands. We do not have the ability to say no to development on our homelands. At the same time, I think that partnering with large resource extraction industries for the destruction of our homelands does not bring about the kinds of changes and solutions our people are looking for, and putting people in the position of having to chose between feeding their kids and destroying their land is simply wrong.

Ultimately we’re not talking about a getting a bigger piece of the pie—as Winona LaDuke says—we’re talking about a different pie. People within the Idle No More movement who are talking about indigenous nationhood are talking about a massive transformation, a massive decolonization. A resurgence of indigenous political thought that is very, very much land-based and very, very much tied to that intimate and close relationship to the land, which to me means a revitalization of sustainable local indigenous economies that benefit local people. So I think there’s a pretty broad agreement around that, but there are a lot of different views around strategy because we have tremendous poverty in our communities.

On promoting life

Naomi: One of the reasons I wanted to speak with you is that in your writing and speaking, I feel like you are articulating a clear alternative. In a speech you gave recently at the University of Victoria, you said: “Our systems are designed to promote more life” and you talked about achieving this through “resisting, renewing, and regeneration”—all themes in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back.

I want to explore the idea of life-promoting systems with you because it seems to me that they are the antithesis of the extractivist mindset, which is ultimately about exhausting and extinguishing life without renewing or replenishing.

Leanne: I first started to think about that probably 20 years ago, and it was through some of Winona LaDuke’s work and through working with elders out on the land that I started to really think about this. Winona took a concept that’s very fundamental to Anishinaabeg society, called mino bimaadiziwin. It often gets translated as “the good life,” but the deeper kind of cultural, conceptual meaning is something that she really brought into my mind, and she translated it as “continuous rebirth.” So, the purpose of life then is this continuous rebirth, it’s to promote more life. In Anishinaabeg society, our economic systems, our education systems, our systems of governance, and our political systems were designed with that basic tenet at their core.

I think that sort of fundamental teaching gives direction to individuals on how to interact with each other and family, how to interact with your children, how to interact with the land. And then as communities of people form, it gives direction on how those communities and how those nations should also interact. In terms of the economy, it meant a very, very localized economy where there was a tremendous amount of accountability and reciprocity. And so those kinds of things start with individuals and families and communities and then they sort of spiral outwards into how communities and how nations interact with each other.

It was the quality of their relationships—not how much they had, not how much they consumed—that was the basis of my ancestors’ happiness.

I also think it’s about the fertility of ideas and it’s the fertility of alternatives. One of the things birds do in our creation stories is they plant seeds and they bring forth new ideas and they grow those ideas. Seeds are the encapsulation of wisdom and potential and the birds carry those seeds around the earth and grew this earth. And I think we all have that responsibility to find those seeds, to plant those seeds, to give birth to these new ideas. Because people think up an idea but then don’t articulate it, or don’t tell anybody about it, and don’t build a community around it, and don’t do it.

So in Anishinaabeg philosophy, if you have a dream, if you have a vision, you share that with your community, and then you have a responsibility for bringing that dream forth, or that vision forth into a reality. That’s the process of regeneration. That’s the process of bringing forth more life—getting the seed and planting and nurturing it. It can be a physical seed, it can be a child, or it can be an idea. But if you’re not continually engaged in that process then it doesn’t happen.

Naomi: What has the principle of regeneration meant in your own life?

Leanne: In my own life, I try to foster that with my own children and in my own family, because I have a lot of control over what happens in my own family and I don’t have a lot of control over what happens in the broader nation and broader society. But, enabling them, giving them opportunities to develop a meaningful relationship with our land, with the water, with the plants and animals. Giving them opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with elders and with people in our community so that they’re growing up in a very, very strong community with a number of different adults that they can go to when they have problems.

One of the stories I tell in my book is of working with an elder who’s passed on now, Robin Greene from Shoal Lake in Winnipeg, in an environmental education program with First Nations youth. And we were talking about sustainable development, and I was explaining that term from the Western perspective to the students. And I asked him if there was a similar concept in Anishinaabeg philosophy that would be the same as sustainable development. And he thought for a very long time. And he said no. And I was sort of shocked at the “no” because I was expecting there to be something similar. And he said the concept is backwards. You don’t develop as much as Mother Earth can handle. For us it’s the opposite. You think about how much you can give up to promote more life. Every decision that you make is based on: Do you really need to be doing that?

The purpose of life is this continuous rebirth, it’s to promote more life.

If I look at how my ancestors even 200 years ago, they didn’t spend a lot of time banking capital, they didn’t rely on material wealth for their well-being and economic stability. They put energy into meaningful and authentic relationships. So their food security and economic security was based on how good and how resilient their relationships were—their relationships with clans that lived nearby, with communities that lived nearby, so that in hard times they would rely on people, not the money they saved in the bank. I think that extended to how they found meaning in life. It was the quality of those relationships—not how much they had, not how much they consumed—that was the basis of their happiness. So I think that that’s very oppositional to colonial society and settler society and how we’re taught to live in that.

Naomi: One system takes things out of their relationships; the other continuously builds relationships.

Leanne: Right. Again, going back to my ancestors, they weren’t consumers. They were producers and they made everything. Everybody had to know how to make everything. Even if I look at my mom’s generation, which is not 200 years ago, she knew how to make and create the basic necessities that we needed. So even that generation, my grandmother’s generation, they knew how to make clothes, they knew how to make shelter, they knew how to make the same food that they would grow in their own gardens or harvest from the land in the summer through the winter to a much greater degree than my generation does. When you have really localized food systems and localized political systems, people have to be engaged in a higher level—not just consuming it, but producing it and making it. Then that self-sufficiency builds itself into the system.

My ancestors tended to look very far into the future in terms of planning, look at that seven generations forward. So I think they foresaw that there were going to be some big problems. I think through those original treaties and our diplomatic traditions, that’s really what they were trying to reconcile. They were trying to protect large tracts of land where indigenous peoples could continue their way of life and continue our own economies and continue our own political systems, I think with the hope that the settler society would sort of modify their way into something that was more parallel or more congruent to indigenous societies.

On loving the wounded

Naomi: You often start your public presentations by describing what your territory used to look like. And it strikes me that what you are saying is very different from traditional green environmental discourse, which usually focuses on imminent ecological collapse, the collapse that will happen if we don’t do X and Y. But you are basically saying that the collapse has already happened.

Simpson speaking at an Idle No More protest in Peterborough, Ontario.

Leanne: I’m not sure focusing on imminent ecological collapse is motivating Canadians to change if you look at the spectrum of climate change denial across society. It is spawning a lot of apocalypse movies, but I think it is so overwhelming and traumatic to think about, that perhaps people shut down to cope. That’s why clearly articulated visions of alternatives are so important.

In my own work, I started to talk about what the land used to look like because very few people remember. Very early on, where I’m from, on the north shore of Lake Ontario, you saw the collapse of the salmon population in Lake Ontario by 1840. They used to migrate all the way up to Stony Lake—it was a huge deal for our nation. And then the eel population crashing with the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trent-Severn Waterway. So I think again, in a really local way, indigenous peoples have seen and lived through this environmental disaster where entire parts of their world collapsed really early on.

But it cycles, and the collapses are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s getting to the point where I describe what my land used to look like because no one knows. No one remembers what southern Ontario looked like 200 years ago, which to me is really scary. How do we envision our way out of this when we don’t even remember what this natural environment is supposed to look like?

Naomi: I’ve spent the past two years living in British Columbia, where my family is, and I’ve been pretty involved in the fights against the tar sands pipelines. And of course the situation is so different there. There is still so much pristine wilderness, and people feel connected and protective of it. And I think for everyone, the fights against the pipelines have really been about falling more deeply in love with the land. It’s not an “anti” movement—it’s not about “I hate you.” It’s about “We love this place too much to let you desecrate it.” So it has a different feeling than any movement I’ve been a part of before. And of course the anti-pipeline movement on the West Coast is indigenous-led, and it’s also forged amazing coalitions of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. I wonder how much those fights have contributed to the emergence of Idle No More—the fact of having these incredible coalitions and First Nations saying no to Harper, working together…

Leanne: But also because the Yinka Dene Alliance based their resistance on indigenous law. I remember feeling really proud when Yinka Dene Alliance did the train ride to the east. I was actually in Alberta at the time but we need to build on that because if you look in the financial sections of the papers for the last few years, there are these little indications that the pipelines are coming here too. And it’s becoming more so, with this refinery in Fredericton. So there needs to be a similar movement around pipelines as we’ve seen in British Columbia. But central Canada is behind.

No one remembers what southern Ontario looked like 200 years ago, which to me is really scary.

Naomi: I think a lot of it has to do with the state the land is in. Because in B.C., that was the outrage over the Northern Gateway routing—“You want to build a pipeline through that part of B.C.? Are you nuts?” It was almost a gift to movement-building because they weren’t talking about building it through urban areas, they were talking about building it through some of the most pristine wilderness in the province. But we have such a harder job here, because there needs to be a process not just of protecting the land, but as you were saying, of finding the land in order to protect it. Whereas in B.C., it’s just so damn pretty.

Leanne: I think for me, it’s always been a struggle because I’ve always wanted to live in B.C. or the north, because the land is pristine. It’s easier emotionally for me. But I’ve chosen to live in my territory and I’ve chosen to be a witness of this. And I think that’s where, in the politics of indigenous women, and traditional indigenous politics, it is a politics based on love. That was the difference with Idle No More because there were so many women that were standing up. Because of colonialism, we were excluded for a long time from that Indian Act chief and council governing system. Women initially were not allowed to run for office, and it’s still a bastion of patriarchy. But that in some ways is a gift because all of our organizing around governance and politics and this continuous rebirth has been outside of that system and been based on that politics of love.

So when I think of the land as my mother or if I think of it as a familial relationship, I don’t hate my mother because she’s sick, or because she’s been abused. I don’t stop visiting her because she’s been in an abusive relationship and she has scars and bruises. If anything, you need to intensify that relationship because it’s a relationship of nurturing and caring. And so I think in my own territory I try to have that intimate relationship, that relationship of love—even though I can see the damage—to try to see that there is still beauty there. There’s still a lot of beauty in Lake Ontario. It’s one of those threatened lakes and it’s dying and no one wants to eat the fish. But there is a lot of beauty still in that lake. There is a lot of love still in that lake. And I think that Mother Earth as my first mother. Mothers have a tremendous amount of resilience. They have a tremendous amount of healing power. But I think this idea that you abandon it when something has been damaged is something we can’t afford to do in Southern Ontario.

Naomi: Exactly. But it’s such a different political project, right? Because the first stage is establishing that there’s something left to love. My husband talks about how growing up beside a lake you can’t swim in shapes your relationship with nature. You think nature is somewhere else. I think a lot of people don’t believe this part of the world is worth saving because they think it’s already destroyed, so you may as well abuse it some more. There aren’t enough people who are articulating what it means to build an authentic relationship with non-pristine nature. And it’s a different kind of environmental voice that can speak to the wounded, as opposed to just the perfect and pretty.

Leanne: If you can’t swim in it, canoe across it. Find a way to connect to it. When the lake is too ruined to swim or to eat from it, then that’s where the healing ceremonies come in, because you can still do ceremonies with it. In Peterborough, I wrote a spoken word piece around salmon in which I imagined myself as being the first salmon back into Lake Ontario and coming back to our territory. The lift-locks were gone. And I learned the route that the salmon would have gone in our language. And so that was one of the ways I was trying to connect my community back to that story and back to that river system, through this performance. People did get more interested in the salmon. The kids did get more interested because they were part of the dance work.

On climate change and transformation

Naomi: In the book I’m currently writing I’m trying to understand why we are failing so spectacularly to deal with the climate crisis. And there are lots of reasons—ideological, material, and so on. But there are also powerful psychological and cultural reasons where we—and I’m talking in the “settler” we, I suppose—have been colonized by the logic of capitalism, and that has left us uniquely ill-equipped to deal with this particular crisis.

Leanne: In order to make these changes, in order to make this punctuated transformation, it means lower standards of living, for that 1 percent and for the middle class. At the end of the day, that’s what it means. And I think in the absence of having a meaningful life outside of capital and outside of material wealth, that’s really scary.

If we are not, as peoples of the earth, willing to counter colonialism, we have no hope of surviving climate change.

Naomi: Essentially, it’s saying: your life is going to end because consumerism is how we construct our identities in this culture. The role of consumption has changed in our lives just in the past 30 years. It’s so much more entwined in the creation of self. So when someone says, “To fight climate change you have to shop less,” it is heard as, “You have to be less.” The reaction is often one of pure panic.

On the other hand, if you have a rich community life, if your relationships feed you, if you have a meaningful relationship with the natural world, then I think contraction isn’t as terrifying. But if your life is almost exclusively consumption, which I think is what it is for a great many people in this culture, then we need to understand the depth of the threat this crisis represents. That’s why the transformation that we have to make is so profound—we have to relearn how to derive happiness and satisfaction from other things than shopping, or we’re all screwed.

Leanne: I see the transformation as: Your life isn’t going to be worse, it’s not going to be over. Your life is going to be better. The transition is going to be hard, but from my perspective, from our perspective, having a rich community life and deriving happiness out of authentic relationships with the land and people around you is wonderful. I think where Idle No More did pick up on it is with the round dances and with the expression of the joy. “Let’s make this fun.” It was women that brought that joy.

Naomi: Another barrier to really facing up to the climate crisis has to do with another one of your strong themes, which is the importance of having a relationship to the land. Because climate change is playing out on the land, and in order to see those early signs, you have to be in some kind of communication with it. Because the changes are subtle—until they’re not.

Leanne: I always take my kids to the sugar bush in March and we make maple syrup with them. And what’s happened over the last 20 years is every year our season is shorter. Last year was a near disaster because we had that week of summer weather in the middle of March. You need a very specific temperature range for making maple sugar. So it sort of dawned on me last year: I’m spending all of this time with my kids in the sugar bush and in 20 years, when it’s their term to run it, they’re going to have to move. Who knows? It’s not going to be in my territory anymore. That’s something that my generation, my family, is going to witness the death of. And that is tremendously sad and painful for us.

Individual choices aren’t going to get us out of this mess. We need a systemic change.

It’s things like the sugar bush that are the stories, the teachings, that’s really our system of governance, where children learn about that. It’s another piece of the puzzle that we’re trying to put back together that’s about to go missing. It’s happening at an incredibly fast rate, it’s changing. Indigenous peoples have always been able to adapt, and we’ve had a resilience. But the speed of this—our stories and our culture and our oral tradition doesn’t keep up, can’t keep up.

Naomi: One of the things that’s so difficult, when one immerses oneself in the climate science and comes to grips with just how little time we have left to turn things around, is that we know that real hard political work takes time. You can’t rush it. And a sense of urgency can even be dangerous, it can be used to say, “We don’t have time to deal with those complicated issues like colonialism and racism and inequality.” There is a history in the environmental movement of doing that, of using urgency to belittle all issues besides human survival. But on the other hand, we really are in this moment where small steps won’t do. We need a leap.

Leanne: This is one of the ways the environmental movement has to change. Colonial thought brought us climate change. We need a new approach because the environmental movement has been fighting climate change for more than two decades and we’re not seeing the change we need. I think groups like Defenders of the Land and the Indigenous Environmental Network hold a lot of answers for the mainstream environmental movement because they are talking about large-scale transformation. If we are not, as peoples of the earth, willing to counter colonialism, we have no hope of surviving climate change. Individual choices aren’t going to get us out of this mess. We need a systemic change. Manulani Aluli Meyer was just in Peterborough—she’s a Hawaiian scholar and activist—and she was talking about punctuated transformation. A punctuated transformation [means] we don’t have time to do the whole steps and time shift, it’s got to be much quicker than that.

That’s the hopefulness and inspiration for me that’s coming out of Idle No More. It was small groups of women around a kitchen table that got together and said, “We’re not going to sit here and plan this and analyze this, we’re going to do something.” And then three more women, and then two more women, and a whole bunch of people and then men got together and did it, and it wasn’t like there was a whole lot of planning and strategy and analyzing. It was people standing up and saying “Enough is enough, and I’m going to use my voice and I’m going to speak out and I’m going to see what happens.” And I think because it was still emergent and there were no single leaders and there was no institution or organization it became this very powerful thing.

On next steps

Naomi: What do you think the next phase will be?

Leanne: I think within the movement, we’re in the next phase. There’s a lot of teaching that’s happening right now in our community and with public teach-ins, there’s a lot of that internal work, a lot of educating and planning happening right now. There is a lot of internal nation-building work. It’s difficult to say where the movement will go because it is so beautifully diverse. I see perhaps a second phase that is going to be on the land. It’s going to be local and it’s going to be people standing up and opposing these large-scale industrial development projects that threaten our existence as indigenous peoples—in the Ring of Fire [region in Northern Ontario], tar sands, fracking, mining, deforestation… But where they might have done that through policy or through the Environmental Assessment Act or through legal means in the past, now it may be through direct action. Time will tell.

Naomi: I want to come back to what you said earlier about knowledge extraction. How do we balance the dangers of cultural appropriation with the fact that the dominant culture really does need to learn these lessons about reciprocity and interdependence? Some people say it’s a question of everybody finding their own inner indigenousness. Is that it, or is there a way of recognizing indigenous knowledge and leadership that avoids the hit-and-run approach?

Leanne: I think Idle No More is an example because I think there is an opportunity for the environmental movement, for social-justice groups, and for mainstream Canadians to stand with us. There was a segment of Canadian society, once they had the information, that was willing to stand with us. And that was helpful and inspiring to me as well. So I think it’s a shift in mindset from seeing indigenous people as a resource to extract to seeing us as intelligent, articulate, relevant, living, breathing peoples and nations. I think that requires individuals and communities and people to develop fair and meaningful and authentic relationships with us.

We have a lot of ideas about how to live gently within our territory in a way where we have separate jurisdictions and separate nations but over a shared territory. I think there’s a responsibility on the part of mainstream community and society to figure out a way of living more sustainably and extracting themselves from extractivist thinking. And taking on their own work and own responsibility to figure out how to live responsibly and be accountable to the next seven generations of people. To me, that’s a shift that Canadian society needs to take on, that’s their responsibility. Our responsibility is to continue to recover that knowledge, recover those practices, recover the stories and philosophies, and rebuild our nations from the inside out. If each group was doing their work in a responsible way then I think we wouldn’t be stuck in these boxes.

There are lots of opportunities for Canadians, especially in urban areas, to develop relationships with indigenous people. Now more than ever, there are opportunities for Canadians to learn. Just in the last 10 years, there’s been an explosion of indigenous writing. That’s why me coming into the city today is important, because these are the kinds of conversations where you see ways out of the box, where you get those little glimmers, those threads that you follow and you nurture, and the more you nurture them, the bigger they grow.

Idle No More is a shift in mindset to seeing us as intelligent, articulate, relevant, living, breathing peoples and nations.

Naomi: Can you tell me a little bit about the name of your book, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, and what it means in this moment?

Leanne: I’ve heard Elder Edna Manitowabi tell one of our creation stories about a muskrat and a turtle for years now. In this story, there’s been some sort of environmental crisis. Because within Anishinaabeg cosmology, this isn’t the First World, maybe this is the Fourth World that we’re on. And whenever there’s an imbalance and the imbalance isn’t addressed, then over time there’s a crisis. This time, there was a big flood that covered the entire world. Nanabush, one of our sacred beings, ends up trapped on a log with many of the other animals. They are floating in this vast sea of water with no land in sight. To me, that feels like where we are right now. I’m on a very crowded log, the world my ancestors knew and lived in is gone, and me and my community need to come up with a solution even though we are all feeling overwhelmed and irritated. It’s an intense situation and no one knows what to do, no one knows how to make a new world.

Idle No More group
Why Canada’s Indigenous Uprising Is About All of Us
When a new law paved the way for tar sands pipelines and other fossil fuel development on native lands, four women swore to be “idle no more.” The idea took off.

So the animals end up taking turns diving down and searching for a pawful of dirt or earth to use to start to make a new world. The strong animals go first, and when they come up with nothing, the smaller animals take a turn. Finally, muskrat is successful and brings her pawfull of dirt up to the surface. Turtle volunteers to have the earth placed on her back. Nanibush prays and breaths life into that earth. All of the animals sing and dance on the turtle’s back in a circle, and as they do this, the turtle’s back grows. It grows and grows until it becomes the world we know. This is why Anishinaabeg call North AmericaMikinakong—the place of the turtle.

When Edna tells this story, she says that we’re all that muskrat, and that we all have that responsibility to get off the log and dive down no matter how hard it is and search around for that dirt. And that to me was profound and transformative, because we can’t wait for somebody else to come up with the idea. The whole point, the way we’re going to make this better, is by everybody engaging in their own being, in their own gifts, and embody this movement, embody this transformation.

And so that was a transformative story for me in my life and seemed to me very relevant in terms of climate change, in terms of indigenous resurgence, in terms of rebuilding the Anishinaabeg Nation. And so when people started round dancing all over the turtle’s back in December and January, it made me insanely happy. Watching the transformative nature of those acts, made me realize that it’s the embodiment, we have to embody the transformation.

Naomi: What did it feel like to you when it was happening?

Leanne: Love. On an emotional, a physical level, on a spiritual level. Yeah, it was love. It was an intimate, deep love. Like the love that I have for my children or the love that I have for the land. It was that kind of authentic, not romantic kind of fleeting love. It was a grounded love.

Naomi: And it can even be felt in a shopping mall.

Leanne: Even in a shopping mall. And how shocking is that?


Naomi Klein wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Naomi is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, fellow at The Nation Institute and author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She lives in British Columbia.

From Yes! Magazine

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‘Freedom from religion: An essential right for all’ by Joyce Arthur

Uddari fully supports our right to live free of all religions.

The integrity of the Conservative government’s newly minted Office of Religious Freedom is already in grave doubt after 10 days of pointed criticism. It’s a noble-sounding endeavour, but it suffers from too many unanswered questions, glaring incongruities and serious omissions.

Given that it’s the right-wing Conservative government behind the initiative, it carries a high risk of being Christian-centric, with a primary focus on the persecution of Christian minorities. Another purpose may be to help ensure the government’s future electoral chances by pandering to its Christian constituency, as well as a handful of other religious groups that were invited for consultation. Further, the new agency could divert attention and resources from other human rights issues. Why does the cause of religious freedom deserve its own office in a world filled with deep poverty, violence, discrimination against women, environmental degradation, and a host of other ills and human rights violations? John Moore points out: “It’s all the more cynical when you consider that this government regards our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms as liberal puffery.”

Confidence is not increased by the appointment of the Office’s new ambassador, Dr. Andrew Bennett. Harper has hailed Bennett as a scholar even though he has virtually no published writings and his academic experience consists largely of being a part-time dean and teacher at a tiny evangelical school in Ottawa. A devout Catholic, Bennett subscribes to his college’s Statement of Faith, which requires strict doctrinal adherence to a fundamentalist version of Christianity and the literal truth of the Bible, including the virgin birth and resurrection of the dead. I do not discount the possibility that Dr. Bennett is a great ecumenical guy who truly respects and values religious diversity, but let’s not forget that devout Christians are taught that they are right, everyone else is wrong, and it’s their god-ordained duty to convert all heathens and infidels before the imminent return of Jesus.

The very existence of an Office for Religious Freedom raises serious questions about the separation of church and state, and whether it’s possible for a government office to be impartial. And when faced with the Hydra monster of religion, how can the Office possibly pick and choose its casework fairly, while satisfying its constituents at the same time? With a tiny budget and small staff, it’s hard to believe that the new Office will have even a snowball’s chance in hell at making a dent in the rampant religious persecution around the world.

The Office’s website waxes on about countries and regions where “rights to freedom of religion or belief are being threatened,” and how the Office will protect and advocate on behalf of “religious minorities under threat.” But who is doing all this threatening? It’s almost as if the Conservative government wants us to assume that tinpot dictators and evil atheist conspirators are behind attacks on religious believers. In fact, the culprits are largely theocratic governments or other faith groups: “Jon Stewart poses the problem with an economy of words: ‘Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.'”(from Dawg’s Blawg)

How will the Office of Religious Freedom negotiate the highly volatile terrain of religious strife and intolerance between competing groups, without seeming to favour one faith group over another, and without risking an angry backlash or even violence from the side doing the persecuting? Moreover, the understanding of religious freedom takes many different forms, especially in a culture with a religious majority. The protection of one group of adherents might lead to discrimination against another vulnerable group. Catholic schools in Ontario recently claimed that anti-bullying legislation violates their religious beliefs because it requires them to allow gay-alliance clubs in school, even though about 21 per cent of LGBTQ students are bullied compared to about 8 per cent of non-LGBTQ students.

What other religious “freedoms” might the new Office be urged to protect? The “right” to harass women outside abortion clinics? The “conscience” of hospitals that let women die if they need life-saving abortions? How about the “right” to teach creationism and attack evolution in public school science classrooms? Maybe the funding of a Christian anti-gay group in Uganda with its “kill the gays” law? Or the “right” of orthodox Jews to send women to the back of the bus?

Finally, let’s not leave out the “right” of religious beliefs and holy books to be immune from criticism, as enforced through blasphemy laws in many countries — which brings us to a final and major criticism of the Office of Religious Freedom. In most theocracies, religious minorities at least have some rights, but the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFI) that, “In many parts of the world the very existence of atheism is outlawed, in some cases punishable by death.”

Yet John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs and a key player in the formation of the new Office, ignorantly stated last September:

“We don’t see agnosticism or atheism as being in need of defence in the same way persecuted religious minorities are. We speak of the right to worship and practice in peace, not the right to stay away from places of worship.”

report on global discrimination against non-believers was submitted to the US Department of State last year by several atheist and humanist groups. The report documents numerous prosecutions against non-believers in 47 countries, largely through blasphemy or apostasy laws. The following breakdown of countries is my own, derived from the report, and it illustrates what I see as the key problem:

–  21 countries give specific recognition and protection to Christianity, including 13 in Western Europe plus Poland, and 8 in Africa or Latin America.

–  20 countries are officially Islamic or have a largely Islamic population.

–  Four have other religious majorities (Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish), and one has a roughly equal mix of Christians and Muslims (Eritrea).

–  Only one secular country with broad religious diversity is cited (Russia).

Prosecutions of non-believers for their lack of faith or for criticizing religion occur almost exclusively in countries that favour one religion over another, or religion over non-belief. This points to the best way to protect religious freedom for all — secular societies with laws that protect not only freedom of religion, but freedom from religion. The latter is just as much a universal right, because whether one has religious beliefs or not, we all need to be free from having the belief systems of others imposed upon us. In reality, most religious persecution is a product of one religion being intolerant of another religion, with both being equally intolerant of those with no religion. Unfortunately, the new Office of Religious Freedom seems to have no inkling of this, which does not bode well for its future success.

It wasn’t until the press conference launch of the new Office on February 19 that the government suddenly declared that non-believers would be included too, after being challenged on the issue. “All people of faith and, again, those who choose not to have faith, need to be protected, their rights need to be respected,” said Dr. Bennett.

As an atheist, I don’t feel reassured by this last-minute hasty add-on, given the Conservative government’s prior total ignorance of the often-horrific persecution of non-believers around the world. However, the Centre for Inquiry Canada has more optimism. The group (full disclosure: I’m a member) issued a joint statement with Humanist Canada applauding the efforts to include all religious perspectives, and offering to help the new Office with information and ongoing consultation on the challenges and persecution faced by non-believers across the world.

I talked to Michael Payton, CFI’s Executive Director, who sees the potential for good in the Office’s creation. He emphasized that there are many examples of extreme human rights violations because of religious beliefs. “If resources were there that could help stop that, I think overall the world would be a better place. And if there’s an opportunity to protect non-believers too, we want to take it up.” He acknowledged the potential for the Office to be abused, saying: “We’ll be monitoring the Office very closely to make sure they stay true to their commitment, protecting freedom from religion equally as they would for freedom of religion.” However, Payton was concerned about the total lack of consultation with atheist/humanist groups before the official launch. “We’ve been left out of this process. We were quite insulted that we weren’t invited.” He also decried the language on the Office’s website, which still focuses solely on the right of religious minorities to practice their faith: “The language is wrong, it doesn’t apply to us. Even to use that language is a back-handed type of discrimination,” but adding that “this takes a backseat to people being executed for apostasy.”

Time will tell whether the Office of Religious Freedom will fulfill its potential to protect both religious and non-religious minorities. But I wouldn’t advise you to hold your breath — or pray.

Joyce Arthur works as a technical writer and pro-choice activist, and is the founder and Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, a national pro-choice group in Canada.

From Rabble.ca
http://rabble.ca/columnists/2013/03/freedom-religion-essential-right-all#.UTDYBACjgXM.facebook

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“As long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow…” by Aaron Paquette

Uddari joyfully supports
Idle No More
‘We are all Treaty’.

aslongas

“As long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow…”

The poetry of this phrase of Treaty always struck me as uncommonly beautiful.

As does the truth of this statement:

We Are All Treaty.

For those who don’t know, Treaties were made between Canadian First Nations groups and The Crown, which is to say, the authority from which each successive Canadian Government derives their authority to rule.

They were intended as a peaceful resolution to a problematic conundrum: how to form a country in a land peopled by Aboriginal groups who could not be defeated on the field of battle?

For the Indigenous population, it was an opportunity to return to a more stable way of life, unmolested by the European invaders who they once protected as friends but now fought with for the right to live.

As we saw with the Residential School horror, that peace was not to last.

For the past century and more, Indigenous groups have witnessed the encroaching of their lands, the theft of their resources, and the reneging by the government of monies agreed on in return for peaceful use of the land.

There used to be a fund set aside. Corporations could extract resources from Treaty lands. They would keep 60% of the value and the landlords, the First Nations, would get 40%.

(almost done the history, bear with me!)

Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald, wanted to build a railroad…but how to pay for it?

You guessed it. That fund was dissolved. And lo! the railway was born!

And the taxpayer was given the responsibility of taking care of the corporation’s debt to the Treaties. And even then, it was a pittance compared to what was actually due.

If we add up the money that is owed, there is a Trillion Dollar Debt to the children of Canada’s treaties, many of whom have no clean drinking water, no warm shelter for the cold winter months, and no access to decent education and healthcare (all part of the original Treaty Agreements, by the way).

And in the meantime, the government has been trying to rid itself of the “Native Problem” through attempted Genocide, assimilation, and reduction of funds to “starve them out”.

No one in the general public really complains because at the same time, there has been a public continuation of some popular memes, propaganda if you will:

The natives are lazy.
The leaders are corrupt.
The problem with the natives is the natives themselves.
Everyone suffers, why should they be special?
It’s in the past, forget about it.

As long as people believe these obvious untruths, the government has free reign to continue their work of dehumanizing their enemy and chipping away at the treaty lands for corporate use.

Why is this important?

Because those lands have been instrumental in keeping Canada a natural paradise. This is why we are all Treaty. We all share that responsibility.

This isn’t just a Native thing, this is an Everyone thing. We are all in this together.

The beauty of our unspoiled places, that they have been kept pristine and clean for this long is a miracle.

And we want to keep it that way.

All our children deserve it.

The Treaties make this possible, and its what the government wants to be rid of so that those lands can be developed.

And the waters are now unprotected.

It’s easy to do the math.

All you have to do is see who profits.

I’m not anti-corporation at all. But I am all for a responsible stewardship of the land we all share. The water we all drink, and the air we all breathe.

As long as the grass shall grow and the rivers flow…

First Nations in Canada have been good allies for the rest of Canada.

In every instance they have come to the table in peace. In every instance they have operated in good faith.

There is a misconception that they are always asking for more. They are only asking for the Government of Canada to live up it’s share of these Peace Treaties.

There is a misconception that all the Chiefs are corrupt and the meagre sums provided have been mishandled. The office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has to approve every cent of expenditures. Myth destroyed.

Canada’s Indigenous people have been very patient. They have been purposely kept in a state of poverty and emotional wreckage in order to control them.

But the new generation is rising. They have been freed from the cycle of abuse and they are educated. They are supported by the wisdom of their Elders. And they are tired of this long, long, fruitless fight. They want peace and fairness.

And so should you.

You should be proud that you live in this time when the broken pieces of the past are being gathered, put back together.

You live in a time when an abused people are reclaiming their dignity and strength. And they don’t carry blame, they don’t carry guilt, they carry an olive branch.

And the settler’s legal books, which they have read and mastered.

Canada is sadly a deeply racist society and that is now being uncovered.

Be happy and overjoyed! The light will cast out the darkness.

You are witnessing a Civil Rights Movement that is lighting the world up with inspiration.

And you are invited to join it. You are invited to be part of what will be the remaking of Canada’s present and providing a better future not only for one of the largest landmasses in the world, but for the world itself. This is only the beginning and it’s time is due.

The time is now.

And you are here.

It can’t happen without you.

You’re here for a purpose. To be a part of something wonderful.

You can feel it.

And you can feel the fear of the establishment. They don’t want change. But change is coming. Peacefully.

It’s time to put this broken world back together again.

hiy hiy

If you missed my piece on Residential School, here it is:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151324672623754&set=a.407683733753.184728.34759153753&type=1&relevant_count=1

And for more on Treaties:
http://www.toboldrollo.com/2013/01/01/i-am-canadian-because-of-treaties-with-indigenous-nations/

People say, “Put the past behind you.”

I say, put it in front of you. A vast wide vista of your life, the lives of your parents, and that whole amazing assortment of those who came before. Learn from them. Learn perseverance, learn love, learn compassion. Learn perspective.

And learn their stories.

Behind you is the future. And you walk blindly into it because no one can see it, we can only catch glimpses.

Allow those who came before you to be your guide. And they will guide you. Their time is done and they can see where you are going, they’ve been down similar paths.

Gain wisdom from your ancestors and prepare yourself to pass wisdom on to those who come after.

The past is gone, and it’s a feast for the curious, a balm for the lonely, and a hope for those who despair. All who came before you are cheering you on.

“You can do it!”

They should know. They left you with the best parts of them.

So don’t live in the past, but never forget it. Bring the lessons with you into the exciting and unknown road ahead.

hiy hiy

From Aaron Paquette
https://www.facebook.com/AaronPaquetteArt
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Idle No More Rally at Vancouver City Hall, 12PM, Friday January 11, 2013
https://www.facebook.com/events/400873509990958/

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‘Debunking Blatchford and other anti-Native ideologues on Idle No More’ by Harsha Walia

Uddari fully supports Idle No More.
Long Live Chief Theresa Spence,
Emil Bell and Raymond Robinson
!

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Christie Blatchford seems to have a penchant for horse manure. In her vitriolic piece about Attawapiskat Cree Chief Theresa Spence, who is entering the twenty-first day of hunger strike on Monday, Blatchford writes, “all around her, the inevitable cycle of hideous puffery and horse manure that usually accompanies native protests swirls.” In 2006, she wrote an equally disgraceful and racist puff piece equating Muslims with terrorism, deriding men in beards and women in burkas, declaring that the Islamic Foundation of Toronto “had a sea of horse manure emanating from the building.”

In her most recent piece, Blatchford has the audacity to refer to Chief Spence’s action as “one of intimidation, if not terrorism.” I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, “We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” Blatchford provokes further, “there is I think a genuine question as to whether there’s enough of Aboriginal Culture that has survived.” Wrong, Blatchford. Indigenous peoples, cultures and nations have survived and thrived despite genocide — despite a long, shameful and racist history of residential schools, forced sterilization, small pox and germ warfare, the breaking of treaties, legislative control including through the Gradual Civilization Act and the Indian Act, forced dispossession from lands and relocation to reservations, outlawing of ceremonies such as the potlatch and traditional activities such as fishing and hunting, and much more.

I will agree with Blatchford on one thing though, hunger strikes do indeed “have a way of reducing complex issues to the most simple elements.” An act of ultimate self-sacrifice, famed hunger-strikers such as Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Bobby Sands, Khader Adnan, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and Irom Chanu Sharmila persisted in their demand for the most basic of elements: land, life, abundance, freedom and dignity.

There is no end to the stupidity of Christie Blatchford

 Blatchford’s recent piece is unsurprising given her history of sensationalist writing. Two years ago she released the oxymoronically-titled book Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy and How the Law Failed All of Us, arguing that the Ontario government and Ontario Provincial Police failed to protect the helpless and fearful settler Caledonians, who were victims of the lawless Native thugs of Six Nations (she doesn’t know to use Haudenosaunee people of the Grand River).

Conveniently, Blatchford glosses over the regular anti-Native violence and white supremacist organizing in Caledonia to reproduce racist tropes about the civilized settler in need of protection from the savage Native. Her book is devoid of any context of the over 150-year land dispute that has seen the current Six Nations land base represent less than 5 per cent of what is outlined in the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784 and she makes no mention of the over 29 land claims filed by Six Nations as the underlying reason for the land reclamation.

Last year Blatchford wrote about Attawapiskat, claiming “some First Nations haven’t a clue how to govern themselves.” More recently, she wrote about Wally Oppal’s Missing Women’s Inquiry report, audaciously stating this tragedy is not due to institutional and societal racism and sexism against Indigenous women. No, for Christie Blatchford the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women is due to the “broken state of Aboriginal culture… which is pathologically ill.” And just this week, Blatchford slams Aboriginal-specific fishing policies such as food, social and ceremonial fisheries for creating unfairness for non-native fisheries.

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All three paternalistic diatribes paint settler society as victims, homogenize Indigenous communities as the Other who are culturally inferior and inherently backwards (a racist civilizing discourse that justifies imperialism locally and globally), and lay blame and shame on Indigenous communities instead of on colonial policies, institutions and relations.

There is much to criticize about what is happening in Attawapiskat, what transpired at the Missing Women’s Inquiry, and the conduct of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but “lax” treatment of Indigenous communities is most certainly not one of them. Much the opposite — Attawapiskat was immediately blamed for its housing crisis and had to fight the imposition of Third Party Management at the Federal Court, the Missing Women’s Inquiry shut out Indigenous and Downtown Eastside women’s groups, and Indigenous communities such as the Sto:lo have been facing hundreds of criminal charges for exercising their inherent Aboriginal fishing rights.

Attitudes reproducing colonialism

 So why bother rebutting a known racist who has a soapbox under the guise of journalism? Blatchford’s writings reflect an undertone that is omnipresent in all right-wing and anti-Native ideologies masquerading in comments such as “Natives don’t pay taxes and receive all kinds of special treatment,” “Natives should stop complaining and get a job,” “Natives are responsible for their own social condition on and off reserve,” and so on.

Such comments are embedded in and reflect deeply colonial attitudes in three main ways: they invisibilize the reality of genocide that has created the deliberate conditions of marginalization and impoverishment for Indigenous people, they propagate the idea that Indigenous communities need to assimilate into the dominant settler and consumerist way of life, and finally, such comments evade a discussion on how the theft and appropriation of Indigenous lands and resources subsidize the Canadian economy rather than the other way around.

Settler-colonialism has forcibly displaced Indigenous peoples from their territories, seeks to destroy autonomy and self-determination within Indigenous governance, and has attempted to assimilate Indigenous cultures and traditions. Settler-colonialism has been normalized to such an extent that, instead of revealing itself, it presents its victims and survivors as the source of their own problems.

Legislation entrenching colonialism

 Chief Theresa Spence’s courageous hunger strike and others hunger-striking alongside her including Emil Bell and Raymond Robinson, as well as opposition to Bill C-45 and the other pieces of legislation, is about the impact of federal policy within an ongoing legacy of colonial relations. According to Mi’kmaq lawyer and scholar Pamela Palmater, “The creation of Canada was only possible through the negotiation of treaties between the Crown and Indigenous nations… The failure of Canada to share the lands and resources as promised in the treaties has placed First Nations at the bottom of all socio-economic indicators — health, lifespan, education levels and employment opportunities. While Indigenous lands and resources are used to subsidize the wealth and prosperity of Canada as a state and the high-quality programs and services enjoyed by Canadians, First Nations have been subjected to purposeful, chronic underfunding of all their basic human services like water, sanitation, housing, and education.”

Over the last four decades, and with greater urgency since the global financial crisis, there has been an emphasis by the Canadian government on converting reserve lands into fee simple lands (i.e private property), which would expedite extinguishment of Aboriginal title and the surrender of Indigenous lands. Russell Diabo, editor of First Nations Strategic Bulletin, extensively outlines how recent legislation is part of this trend of assimilation and termination. According to Diabo, “Termination in this context means the ending of First Nations pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into Land Claims and Self-Government Final Agreements that convert First Nations into municipalities, their reserves into fee simple lands and extinguishment of their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.”

Fee simple property on reserve lands must be understood within capitalism and colonialism, which have been mutually-reinforcing processes to justify the illegal theft and expropriation of Indigenous lands. Championed by the likes of Tom Flanagan, former advisor to Stephen Harper and campaign manager for Alberta’s Wildrose Party, the privatization of reserve lands (what capitalists refer to as “dead capital”) and converting collectively-held land title into the legal regime of individual property rights is necessary in order to sell reserve lands to multinational corporations. This is part of a worldwide trend to impose market-driven and resource-extractive development on to Indigenous, peasant and rural communities through investment agreements and structural adjustment policies. Neoliberal economist and World Bank darling Hernando De Soto, for example, has been pushing fee-simple property ownership throughout the global South. Expressing opposition to such ideologies, Harley Chingee, a member of the First Nations Lands Advisory Board, is quoted as stating, “The change would undermine signed Treaties across Canada; undermine our political autonomy; restrict our creativity and innovation; and place us in a dangerous position where any short-term financial difficulty may result in the wholesale liquidation of our reserve lands, or the creation of a patchwork quilt of reserve lands like Oka.”

Idle No More and decolonization

 We know that Blatchford and other right-wing commentators and politicians are on the wrong side of history, where and how the rest of us will stand is the crucial question. The grassroots Idle No More movement — through rallies, blockades, social media, round-dances, and ceremonies — has inspired Indigenous communities as well as non-Indigenous allies across these lands. Jessica Danforth, multiracial Indigenous feminist, tells me that “Idle No More was started by Indigenous women who have never been idle. Idle no more isn’t just about Bill C-45; it’s also about supporting our youth, defending land, honouring the past and future seven generations and so much more.” Bonnie Clairmont, Bear Clan of the HoChunk nation (south of the colonial border) similarly says, “I’m reminded of how Indian women are strong because we protect our treaty rights, grandmother earth, resources, our children and our people.” Given that colonial violence has intentionally targeted Indigenous women, it is no coincidence that Indigenous women leading this movement is in and of itself an explicitly anti-colonial response.

Decolonization of settler-colonialism on these lands requires a commitment to fighting colonization, and a resurgence and recentering of Indigenous worldviews of another way of living and protecting the land. The obligation for decolonization rests on all of us. Indigenous Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson urges non-Natives to seriously take on the struggle against colonialism. “We don’t have to uphold this system any longer. We can collectively make different choices,” she writes. Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox similarly writes, “What it [Idle No More] highlights is that Harper’s extreme legislation is only possible because successive generations of settler Canadians have normalized looking to government rather than themselves to resolve “the Indian problem.” She further argues that “co-existence through co-resistance is the responsibility of settlers… Relationship creates accountability and responsibility for sustained supportive action.”

We must embody and enact decolonization in order to claim it. Decolonization is as much a process as a goal; the journey of how we get there, together, is as critical as the destination we reach.

As Native Youth Movement member Joaquin Cienfuegos notes: “We have to learn how to be human again, this battle is one where we not only decolonize ourselves and our minds, but decolonize our condition.”

Decolonization’s most transformative potential rests in freeing us all from a colonial and hierarchical relationship of domination, from a dehumanizing social organization that robs us from one another, and from a materialist political economy that destroys the land and our collective future.

Ultimately, decolonization grounds us in gratitude and humility through the realization that we are but one part of the land and its creation, that culture is not synonymous with capital or consumption, and that we can constitute our kinships and relations based on shared values of respect and responsibility to Indigenous communities, one another, and the land.

Harsha Walia (@HarshaWalia) is a South Asian writer and activist based on Vancouver, unceded Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil Waututh territories. She is involved in anti-racist, migrant justice, feminist, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements and has been active in Indigenous solidarity for over a decade. 

From Rabble.ca
http://rabble.ca/news/2012/12/debunking-blatchford-and-other-anti-native-ideologues-idle-no-more
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uddari@live.ca
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Uddari-Weblog/333586816691660
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Candle light vigil for Damni/Nirbhaya – Surrey Jan 2/13

Salute to Nirbhaya: The Fearless!

Delhi Gangrape Incident

A candlelight vigil
is being held
to support the ongoing protest in India
against the brutal Delhi Gangrape
that took place
on 16 December 2012 in a bus in Delhi.

Join the vigil
Wednesday, January 2
5:00 pm
Holland Park
13428 Old Yale Road, Surrey

Several associations are expected to join.

Organizers
Sukhjit Dhillon, Kamlesh Ahir, Surjeet Kalsey, Hans, Jarnail Artist, Ajmer Rode

Related content on Uddari
Delhi Bus Gang-rape and Popular Protests
Outrage Spreads in India over Gang Rape

uddari@live.ca
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Outrage Spreads in India over Gang Rape

Uddari supports the protests and calls for action against this terrible re-occurring crime against women and children. Laws must be changed without validating Death Penalty.

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India Bus Gang Rape: Outrage Spreads Over Public Sexual Assault
By NIRMALA GEORGE

NEW DELHI — The hours-long gang-rape and near-fatal beating of a 23-year-old student on a bus in New Delhi triggered outrage and anger across the country Wednesday as Indians demanded action from authorities who have long ignored persistent violence and harassment against women.

In the streets and in Parliament, calls rose for stringent and swift punishment against those attacking women, including a proposal to make rapists eligible for the death penalty. As the calls for action grew louder, two more gang-rapes were reported, including one in which the 10-year-old victim was killed.

“I feel it is sick what is happening across the country. . It is totally sick, and it needs to stop,” said Smitha, a 32-year-old protester who goes by only one name.

Thousands of demonstrators clogged the streets in front of New Delhi’s police headquarters, protested near Parliament and rallied outside a major university. Angry university students set up roadblocks across the city, causing massive traffic jams.

Hundreds rallied outside the home of the city’s top elected official before police dispersed them with water cannons, a move that earned further condemnation from opposition leaders, who accused the government of being insensitive.

“We want to jolt people awake from the cozy comfort of their cars. We want people to feel the pain of what women go through every day,” said Aditi Roy, a Delhi University student.

As protests raged in cities across India, at least two girls were gang-raped, with one of them killed.

Police on Wednesday fished out the body of a 10-year old girl from a canal in Bihar state’s Saharsa district. Police superintendent Ajit Kumar Satyarthi said the girl had been gang-raped and killed and her body dumped in the canal. Police were investigating and a breakthrough was expected soon, Satyarthi said.

Elsewhere, a 14 -year old schoolgirl was in critical condition in Banka district of Bihar after she was raped by four men, said Jyoti Kumar, the district education officer.

The men have been identified, but police were yet to make any arrests, Kumar said.

Meanwhile, the 23-year-old victim of the first rape lay in critical condition in the hospital with severe internal injuries, doctors said.

Police said six men raped the woman and savagely beat her and her companion with iron rods on a bus driving around the city – passing through several police checkpoints – before stripping them and dumping them on the side of the road Sunday night.

Delhi police chief Neeraj Kumar said four men have been arrested and a search was underway for the other two.

Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress Party, visited the victim, promised swift action against the perpetrators and called for police to be trained to deal with crimes against women.

“It is a matter of shame that these incidents recur with painful regularity and that our daughters, sisters and mothers are unsafe in our capital city,” she wrote in a letter to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

In New Delhi and across India, the outpouring of anger is unusual in a country where attacks against women are rarely prosecuted. The Times of India newspaper dedicated four pages to the rape Wednesday, demanding an example be made of the rapists, while television stations debated the nation’s treatment of its women.

Opposition lawmakers shouted slogans and protested outside Parliament and called for making rape a capital crime. Cutting across party affiliations, lawmakers demanded the government announce a plan to safeguard women in the city.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told Parliament he had ordered increased police patrols on the streets, especially at night.

Shinde said the government has introduced bills to increase the punishment for rapes and other crimes against women, but they are bogged down in Parliament.

Analysts and protesters said the upsurge of anger was chiefly due to increasing incidents of crime against women and the seeming inability of authorities to protect them.

“We have been screaming ourselves hoarse demanding greater security for women and girls. But the government, the police, and others responsible for public security have ignored the daily violence that women face,” said Sehba Farooqui, a women’s rights activist.

Farooqui said women’s groups were demanding fast-track courts to deal with rape and other crimes against women.

In India’s painfully slow justice system, cases can languish for 10 to 15 years before reaching court.

“We have thousands of rape cases pending in different courts of the country. As a result, there is no fear of law,” says Ranjana Kumari, a sociologist and head of the New Delhi-based Center for Social Research.

“We want this case to be dealt with within 30 days and not the go the usual way when justice is denied to rape victims because of inordinate delays and the rapists go scot-free,” Farooqui said.

Analysts say crimes against women are on the rise as more young women leave their homes to join the work force in India’s booming economy, even as deep-rooted social attitudes that women are inferior remain unchanged. Many families look down on women, viewing the girl child as a burden that forces them to pay a huge dowry to marry her off.

Kumari says a change can come about only when women are seen as equal to men.

Rapes in India remain drastically underreported. In many cases, families do not report rapes due to the stigma that follows the victim and her family. In other instances, families may decide not to report a rape out of frustration with the long delays in court and harassment at the hands of the police. Police, themselves are reluctant to register cases of rape and domestic violence in order to keep down crime figures or to elicit a bribe from the victim.

In a sign of the protesters’ fury, Khushi Pattanaik, a student, said death was too easy a punishment for the rapists, they should instead be castrated and forced to suffer as their victim did.

“It should be made public so that you see it, you feel it and you also live with it . the kind of shame and guilt,” she said.

From Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/19/india-bus-gang-rape_n_2329002.html

uddari@live.ca
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UN Recognizes Palestine!!

Hours ago, the UN voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as the world’s 194th state!!! It’s a huge victory for the Palestinian people, for peace, for our community, and people across the world are joining with massive crowds in Palestine to celebrate.

The Palestinian people’s journey to freedom is far from over. But this is a powerful step, and our community played a key role in it. Responding to the vote, Palestine’s Ambassador to Europe said:

“Avaaz and its members across the world have played a crucial role in persuading governments to support the Palestinian people’s bid for a state and for freedom and peace. They have stood with us throughout and their solidarity and support will be remembered and cherished across Palestine.” – Leila Shahid, General Palestinian Delegate to Europe

The US and Israeli governments; beholden to extreme lobby groups (yes, sadly even Obama has given in), threw everything they had at crushing this vote, using financial threats and even threatening to overthrow the Palestinian President if he went ahead. Europe was the key swing vote, and under intense US pressure, leaders were, just two weeks ago, leaning towards not supporting the Palestinian state. Knowing the stakes, our community responded with the speed and democratic force that we needed to win:
Nearly 1.8 million of us signed the petition calling for statehood.

Thousands of us donated to fund public opinion polls across Europe — showing that a whopping 79% of Europeans supported a Palestinian state. Our polls were plastered all over the media, and repeatedly cited in Parliamentary debates in the UK, Spain and France!

We sent tens of thousands of emails, Facebook messages and Tweets to leaders across Europe and made thousands of calls to foreign ministries and heads of state.

We unfurled a giant 4-storey banner outside the EU Commission in Brussels (right) while leaders were meeting inside. Then, we staged another stunt in Madrid. Previously, we had sailed a flotilla of ships past the UN calling for a vote. Our actions made headlines all over Europe.

Avaaz staff and members met with dozens and dozens of government ministers, top advisors, senior journalists, parliamentarians and thought leaders in each of the key countries, in many cases teaming up to win over leaders one by one through advocacy, pressure, parliamentary resolutions and public statements, always drawing on the surge in people power behind this cause.

We reached out to key thought leaders like Stéphane Hessel, a 94-year old survivor of Nazi concentration camps, and Ron Pundak, an Israeli who played a key role in Oslo peace process, to speak out in favour of statehood.

One by one, key European states broke with the US to answer the call of justice and their peoples. In the final vote tally we got just now, only 9 countries out of 193 have voted against! France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and most of Europe has voted for Palestine.

The US and Israel argued first that statehood was dangerous for peace, and then, when they’d lost, that it didn’t matter and the vote was just symbolic. But if it were just symbolic they wouldn’t have done everything to try and stop it. And after years of bad-faith negotiations and Israeli comfort with the status quo as they steadily colonize more Palestinian land, this move shows the US and Israel that if they do not engage in good faith, the Palestinians and the world are prepared to move forward without them. It’s a more balanced basis for real peace talks. And that’s the best alternative to the kind of violence we saw Israel’s government and Hamas offer in Gaza this month.

For decades the Palestinian people have suffered under a stifling Israeli military dictatorship, repressive controls on their travel and work, continual denial of their rights and the constant threat of insecurity and violence. 65 years ago yesterday, the UN recognized the state of Israel, beginning a path to the establishment of a safe home for the Jewish people. Now the Palestinians take a step down the same path, and gain a dignity in the eyes of the international community that they have been denied for a generation. And from that dignity, we can build the foundations of peace.

With hope and joy,

Ricken, Alice, Ari, Wissam, Allison, Sam, Julien, Pascal, Wen, Pedro, Saravanan, Emma, Ben, Dalia, Alexey, Paul, Marie, Aldine, Luca, Jamie, Morgan and the whole Avaaz team.

PS Here are some sources -The Associated Press covers today’s victory, the Guardiancovers our polling two weeks ago, Avaaz’s Daily Briefing provides a map of the vote result, and Haaretz describes Israel’s response.

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Community Supper: Solidarity with Immigrants and Refugees – Vancouver Nov 26/12

Monday November 26, 2012
Doors at 6:00 pm
Grandview Calvary Baptist Church
1803 East 1st Ave (just east of Commercial Drive)
Dinner and Childcare provided.
By donation (no one turned away)

FB RSVP:
https://www.facebook.com/events/375379869211981/

As we all know, the conditions for migrants is rapidly deteriorating, with a number of policies by Minister of Deportation Jason Kenney including mandatory detention, fatal cuts to refugee health care, a moratorium on parent and grandparent sponsorships, the unilateral cancellation of 300,000 immigration applications, making it legal for migrant workers to be paid 15 percent less than the prevailing wage, and
more.

On Monday November 26th, those affected by these policies – such as the Figueroa family who are facing deportation to El Salvador after having resided in Canada for fifteen years and Hamoudi a Palestinian refugee from Gaza – will share their experiences.

This will be followed by several break out discussions including effective responses to these changes and
strengthening alliances across movements, such as the environmental justice and migrant justice movements.

More details can be found here
http://noii-van.resist.ca/?p=5326

Information from
Harsha Walia
https://twitter.com/HarshaWalia
https://www.facebook.com/NoOneIsIllegalNetwork

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uddari@live.ca
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