Friday, March 24, 2006

Beware the Extremists

The rightwing religious extremists that drive the Republican Party down south and are increasingly drawn to the Conservative Party of Canada have more in common with the extremists from my religion (Islam) than they would care to admit. Both selectively use verses of their holy books to promulgate their point of view, while ignoring other verses that contradict their politican stance. To them, religion is a tool used to control the general populace, to mould them to their view of what is ideal. Cerberus once had a post about verses of the Bible the rightwingers ignore. Recently, two stories have emerged that deal with such religious extremism from Muslims and Christians.

In Afghanistan, a Christian man is on trial for being a Christian convert from Muslim (a rare case). I wrote a letter to the Toronto Sun, which they published (the second letter entitled 'The Koran Speaks'). I selected three verses from the Koran that dealt with freedom of religion. Soon, I had an email from one of these Muslim extremists that read the letter and chanced on my blog.

'Mezba, when God said to Muhammad that "There is no compulsion in religion" He was talking about a certain the tribe that Muhammad was dealing with at that time, not the general population. So it only applies to that tribe."

A most ridiculous (and false) explanation if I ever read one - but then, reason is not a strong importance when dealing with such people.

South Dakota has recently banned abortion. It's almost a blanket ban. There is no reason for this except the beliefs of a few rightwing people. There are no medical, legal or scientific reasons why South Dakota banned abortion. In other words, the religious beliefs of a few are now the law. What about my belief that abortion within the first trimester is OK? What about the beliefs of others who are atheists and have no problem with abortion at any time? What about Christians who believe, like me, that abortion is OK within the first trimester? Where is their freedom of religion?

The main difference between East and West is that the West is educated and democratic. When religious extremists sprout nonsense the educated population can sense it. When their leaders believe such nonsense they are removed by the people. In the East, people are ignorant, believe what the clerics say, and the dictators are appointing these clerics. So today, when I see in the West that education is being tampered with (evolution not being taught, scientific progress and data (global warming) being ignored) and democracy curtailed (security certificates) - it scares me.

It scares me that such extremist people are now engulfing the Canadian Conservative movement (and a few Liberals). One fundamental aspect of religious freedom is freedom to practise as much (or as less) religion as I want, my way. It is a private deal.

h/t: Abu Sinan


Monday, March 20, 2006

What Compensation To Pay To Our Shooting Victim?

I had been waiting for the news clutter to clear for a bit before posting on the shooting of an Afghanistani taxi driver by Canadian soldiers. Initially, when I read of the shooting, my first thought was that it was the car driver's fault. Canadian soldiers are well trained, they do not start shooting just like that, and the 'locals' should know better. However, after reading a bit more on the shooting incidents in Afghanistan, I have been forced to change my mind on a few issues.

First, I read that upwards of 90 per cent of the Afghan population is illiterate. As such, they would not read newspapers where the Canadians have taken out advertisements on how to deal with military vehicles. There are many dialects of the local languages, and the Canadians speak English. Would they be able to adequately convey, in time to a speeding vehicle, on how to stop at a safe distance?

Second, soldiers make mistakes. It must be remembered that Canadian soldiers were fired at by American soldiers in Afghanistan last year. Presumably our soldiers were well aware of the rules of engagement and the need to maintain a safe distance from a NATO military vehicle. As an aside I find it surprising that the Americans would fire at another NATO vehicle.

Third, now there is the talk of compensation. The family of the Afghan man shot has asked to be transferred to Canada. He is reputedly the bread-winner for 15 family members. Knowing the setup of a traditional poor rural South Asian family, that may well be true. The talk of compensation and smoothing of ruffled feathers is important - for there have been at least 11 incidents involving Canadian convoys and patrols where shots were fired when the public came too close, although this was the first to result in a fatality. There could be more fatalities in the future.

I believe the immediate compensation should be as follows - we should find out how much this man earned per month, and pay that amount (minimum) to the family every month. Afghanistan follows 'Sharia' law, which specifies 'blood money' in case of accidental death. We should pay the family that blood money as well. Should we let them come to Canada? That is a decision for the Immigration Minister to decide. It is easy at this moment to criticize the family for being greedy (which I initially thought of doing), but none of us have lost our fathers to a foreign soldier's gun.

Finally, we should do a thorough investigation of this incident, and punish the soldier (court martial, demotion) if he is indeed found guilty of acting in a hasty manner (which I doubt - I still trust Canadian soldiers and their training). Nevertheless, an innocent civilian has been shot dead. Further review of this incident should take place to minimize such tragedies in the future. I was happy to see most of our media, while supporting our troops and their mission, not shying away from exploring the personal anguish of the unfortunate Afghan family.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Conservative Child Care Non-Plan

Cerberus today posted his thoughts on the upcoming battle to be fought over childcare. His post was in reply to a Tory blog-campaign to promote their childcare plan, and Cerberus asks all Liberals to join the war.

Given that the Conservatives' child care 'plan' targets new immigrants and rural Tories (both are groups where the women traditionally stay at home after giving birth to look after the kids), I thought I would post my thoughts too on this issue.

First, it's not just recent Asian, Muslim or rural Tories where the women stay at home. I know many progressive, European families where the women too have decided to stay at home, or let the grandparents care for the children while the mother goes back to work. The Tory childcare 'plan' would benefit them.

However, lost in all this talk about $1200, is the fact that Tory child care plan is not really a child care plan. It is a baby bonus. However, it does not provide a single child care space. Mr Harper's suggestion that giving tax incentives to companies who provide child care spaces has been tried out by Mike Harris before - not a single child care space was created in Ontario under that plan.

So the Liberals should ensure the battle they are fighting over child care is that its a battle between the Liberal's plan for creating child care spaces, and a Tory baby bonus. Let the Tories debate the pros and cons of the need for a baby bonus. Liberals should drill it into the debate that while they are offering a child care plan, the Tories are not.

My personal thought on this is that if you choose to have a child - you should pay for it. The state should not be subsidizing child care spaces directly. However, should you, as a mother, choose to get an education, or work and have to pay child care, or get a relative to look after your child, you should get some tax breaks. Similarly, there should be no baby bonuses, rather the mother's maternity leave should be extended to be two years. However, none of the parties' platforms reflect my views. Given that my choice is supporting a Tory baby bonus (of which there is really no need at this time, and which does not help the poor and is peanuts for the rich) or a Liberal childcare plan that will create child care spaces, I would have to support the Liberals.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Do Tories Care About Canadians Abroad?

The Liberals had a Cabinet-level post of Parliamentary Secretary with special responsibility for Canadians abroad, which Mr. Harper abolished last month. Despite a bad record of helping Canadians in trouble abroad, the Liberals had someone to take responsibility for this essential duty. The Conservatives perhaps decided Canadians who managed to get themselves in a fix while outside the country was not a Cabinet priority.

As a Canadian who travels often, this is one area in which I wish we copied the Americans. The U.S. has a special Washington-based agency within the State Department, named the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management and devoted to serving out-of-country Americans. There is a strict diplomatic protocol in which officials must be on site within 24 hours, and ready to report to Congress within 72 hours, of any crisis involving an American. It seems to me that whatever little mechanism we had in Canada has now been abolished by the Tories.

It's not easy at times to help your citizens in trouble. Australia could not prevent the execution of Nguyen Tuong Van in Singapore, nor prevent Schapelle Corby from being jailed for 20 years in Indonesia.

When William Sampson was imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, Monte Solberg, then the Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic demanded that Canada protest Mr. Sampson's treatment by cancelling a visit to Ottawa by Crown Prince Abdullah in June to open an embassy. He also demanded the recall of Canada's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Yet it was the Liberals that took this step when Iran killed one of our journalists. It was the Liberals that took the drastic step of issuing a travel advisory on travelling to the United States when the Americans were stopping and finger-printing Arab-Canadians based on their place of birth.

The Mexican situation, while a tragic event for the families involved, was tailor made for Harper to shine. No Canadian is imprisoned there - it's a crime investigation where a Canadian died. Nothing extraordinary. Yet we find a huge mismanagement in Canada's response to the situation. The RCMP waited a week to send its Mexico City liaison officer to the Playa del Carmen murder site, despite statements from Mexican authorities that Canadians were the prime homicide suspects. Last week, the Mounties sent two non-Spanish speaking officers to Mexico, with "observer" status only. For 12 years we have been hearing the Conservatives complaining about the Canadian government being a wimp. The Conservatives have no one to blame this time, they are now in charge.

First though, they have to figure out who amongst themselves is in charge for managing such scenarios.

Stand Up For Canada? Stand Up For Canadians? You'd better be in Canada, then.

News Link: The Star


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why I Have No Problem With These Ex-Tories

With the departure of heavy weights such as Frank McKenna and John Manley, Belinda Stronach and Scott Brison both feature prominently in the list of candidates to take over the leadership of the Liberal party. They have been both criticized in recent times as not being "real" Liberals. Their support of traditional Liberal values have been questioned and they have been compared to David Emerson.

In this regard, I have no problems with either of then running for the leadership of the Liberal Party. As for the turncoat comparison with David Emerson, it just doesn't stick. Brison was a Red Tory until his party was no more, after which he joined the Liberals. Let's face it, Paul Martin was center-right on many social issues (when he still had the majority and was expected to win 200 seats). As such, it wasn't too much of a radical difference for Scott Brison. During Paul Martin's tenure, Brison performed admirably in the House, dueling with the Tories during Question Period in defending Liberal initiatives.

As for Belinda Stronach, she ran for the leadership of the CPC. I have no doubt her prominence and becoming a star for that party was wholly due to her name and fortune. Had she not had the Stronach name or the wealth, she would have been a has-been in that party. However, while she lost the leadership race, she became a bonafide Tory and remained that way for more than year after the election.

However it was becoming increasingly clear she was at odds with the rest of the Tories over many issues. Her support for gay marriage, women's rights, abortion, separation of church and personal ideology from governing, environment, social issues, etc. were more aligned with the Liberal party. Had Stronach remained with the Tories, she could have ultimately had a shot at the leader's position minus the baggage she got when she crossed the floor. When she became a Liberal, she knew her support would prop up the Liberals for a few months at most (even that was suspect), but there were no guarantees they would remain in power. As such, her move was unselfish and completely due to ideological reasons.

The comparison with Emerson should now emerge clear. Emerson jumped solely due to the offer of a Cabinet position (for which Mr. Harper should face the Ethics Commission). He is an opportunist. The Ex-Tories now Liberals have crossed the floor due to clear ideological reasons and not self-gain. Thus, I have no problems in this regard to their leadership bids.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Harper Should Oppose Klein

Ralph Klein's Third Way was a golden opportunity for Stephen Harper to 'Stand Up For Canada' and state our Health Act is sacrosanct. Canada's Minister of State for Public Health, Carolyn Bennett, did 'scold' him, while Harper restated his view that any Canadian should be able to obtain health care within specific deadlines, regardless of ability to pay.

Such words sound soothing to the ears. In this era of soundbites, newspaper reporters seek out statements and the politicians oblige. However, actions speak louder than words and our reporters should now investigate, when Parliament starts, as to how committed Mr. Harper is in protecting the Canada Health Act. We have seen in recent weeks how the Tories are governing is contrary to how they campaigned. They rolled out their 'moderate' side for the news media, while in power they rolled out their 'hidden' side. Ethics went out of the window with Emerson and Fortier appointments, accountability and clean government was trampled upon by denying reporters the right to question Cabinet ministers and promoting a new air of secrecy in the government.

Similarly while Mr. Harper is now making soothing noises about the Canada Health Act, I don't want him to turn around in two years time and say 'Oops, my bad' as all doctors leave public practice for the more lucrative private sector. The Canada Health Act cannot be gutted at once, it can only be stripped away in layers, and that is what we Liberals have to watch out for.

Canada's problem is longer wait times due to a shortage of doctors. Klein's solution: let the wealthier pay to the head of the line. This does nothing for the poor or the average Joe (who cannot come up with $12G for a hip replacement out of the blue). What we need is more doctors. One way to do this is to recognize all foreign medical credentials of all immigrants. We can have a mentorship program where a new doctor immigrant will have to move to an area where there is a shortage of doctors (such as rural Ontario, Yukon and so on), will work with a locally accredited doctor for a couple of years. During this time the local doctor can certify the foreign doctor. Credentials should be evaluated in the immigrant's country of application by Canadian authorities, and the costs to do so downloaded to the immigrant. Obviously these evaluations will be stricter in countries of dubious university standards, and relaxed in countries where standards are comparable to our own.

Mr. Harper should just come out and say Klein's Third Way is complete rubbish. Any other compromise is destructive to our health care.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Parliament Needs Debate On Afghanistan Mission

Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay has rejected calls for a debate on the Afghanistan mission by the NDP, saying "the country must rally behind its troops without reservation". He also said the length of the mission will be decided by the generals, and our troops are there to help the war-torn country rebuild.

Liberals must not allow such US-style dismissal of military strategy by the Opposition to continue. Before the Conservatives can jump on the "support-our-troops" bandwagon, Liberals must remember it was us who decided to contribute in greater numbers to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Currently, the rules of engagement are being changed, and there are consequences for Canada. These consequences are to be debated in Parliament by the representatives of the people, our MPs. Peter MacKay is therefore wrong to dismiss calls for such a debate by the NDP.

I happen to know many friends who are in the Canadian Armed Forces, and can testify they are some of the most decent folk I know. I also happen to know that the Canadian military is well trained in hostile environments, and do NOT subscribe to the shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality. I also support their mission in Afghanistan, where they helped overthrow a brutal oppressive regime that exploited its citizens falsely under the name of Islam. Such a regime was a blight - a cancer - on the body of Islam and I was glad it was removed. I have full confidence in the capabilities of our men and women in uniform. However, there are ramifications of engaging the Taliban in greater offensive battles.

First, it leads to increased casualty rates of our troops. If our troops are going into pitched battles, they need to be properly armed, trained, insured, and protected. It is Parliament's job to ensure this happens, and debate failures that result in deaths of our soldiers.

Second, our mission makes Canada a target for terrorists. As a Canadian Muslim, there is nothing more frightful than the thought of a terrorist attack on our native soil. Parliament needs to debate if the government is doing enough to protect our citizens.

Finally, it extends the length of our mission. Parliament decided to place troops there till 2007. If the length of their stay is to be increased, and the nature of their mission changed, Parliament needs to debate those changes.

Such is the proper way to "support our troops". Leaving important decisions solely to generals is not the sign of a good government. Peter MacKay is thus wrong to dismiss calls for a debate on our Afghan mission.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Kirpan Ruling Makes Sense

The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that a blanket ban by any school on carrying a kirpan to classrooms is an infringement on the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Such a ruling has thrown the usual arguments about freedom of religion and multiculturalism on one hand, and public safety on the other.

I find that opponents of this ruling, touting the kirpan as a weapon and threat, forget one important thing. The Supreme Court did not prohibit schools from placing restrictions on the kirpan. A school can ask that the kirpan be blunt, limited in size, sheathed in sealed cases or clothing, and worn underneath clothing. Such restrictions are not banned by the Court, rather, the Court struck down the practice of issuing blanket bans on kirpans.

As a Muslim, I always support such rulings in favor of multiculturalism. It can be remembered, that few years ago, opponents opposed giving Sikh RCMP officers the right to wear turbans, all in the name of tradition and culture and public safety. I ask them, have we lost anything now that these officers wear turbans?

To use the kirpan as a weapon, a Sikh will have to bring it out from under his clothes, break the seal, take it out and then use it. There is plenty of time to run away before that happens. If he brings it to school unsealed and ready to attack, he will be breaking the conditions. Therefore the Supreme Court rulings make sense. Similar arguments can now be made by women who wear the jilbab, burkha, or other multicultural clothing, when it comes to rulings against their freedom to wear such clothes.


Mezba On Politics

I have been a progressive Canadian and a supporter of the Liberal party for sometime. I have also posted on Canadian politics in the past, on my personal blog, this is my attempt to add a Muslim voice to Liblogs, as Canada tackles various issues such as religious freedom, Afghanistan, international politics and privatized healthcare.