Saturday, November 17, 2007

When is it appropriate to intervene? How much faith do you, personally, put in "cultural relativism"?

A 19 year old Saudi girl was sentenced to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes.

Her only crime? Meeting with an unrelated man (and getting gang raped by 7 others).

The court claims that they upped her sentence because she spoke to the media. However, the fact remains that a sentence was imposed upon the victim of a heinous crime simply because she had the guts to speak to the media about her presumably harrowing ordeal.

We've discussed cultural relativism, but how much is too much? Can we admonish a country for punishing a victim?

First Amendment Right for South African scholar fighting denied visa?

After being denied a visa to attend an academic conference, a prominent South African scholar named Adam Habid pressed the US embassy to provide him with a reason as to why he could not obtain a visa. The embassy would only point to the statute of US Immigration and Nationality Act which grants the right for the US to deny entry to anyone who has engaged in terrorist acts or is signaled to engage in them.

Adam Habid says he is not a terrorist. Instead, he is a critic of the current administration and he believes, backed by the ACLU that is in charge of his case, that this is the reason he is being denied a visa. Since 9/11, writers, artists and others have found it much harder to get in the US. Like Habib, many of this people have in common being vocal critics of US foreign policy. Habib is arguing that his first amendment right is being violated because he has the right to speak out against the US government and the people at the conference he is trying to attend have the right to hear what he has to say.

Habid’s case raises many questions about free speech and due process. A spokesman for the US government states that “The US would never sacrifice civil liberties, but life is the liberty on which all others depend.” Does national security override free speech? Are Habid’s rights being violated? Does he have the right to speak and be heard in the United States? Is it ok for an American to criticize US foreign policy without being labeled a terrorist or does this only apply to foreigners?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Don't Discrimiante Against Them, Just Disinherit Them

The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, disowns his adopted daughter because she is gay. He was quoted saying, "My adopted daughter now has a wife. I'm quite disappointed". Furthermore, he is planning to file a civil case to disown his daughter, so she cannot claim any inheritance from his family.

Generally, the Cambodian society is tolerant of homosexuality. Even so, in 2004, “then-King Norodom Sihanouk announced his support for gay rights, including the right to marry."

In spite of his actions towards his daughter, the Prime Minister in his speech to a graduating class pleaded to parents and society not to discriminate against homosexuals.

How can he disown his daughter because of her sexual orientation and then tell others not to discriminate against homosexuals? What do you think about his actions? What is your view towards homosexuals?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

'I was forced to kill my baby'

Africa is a continent known for its rich culture and tradition. Millions of people around the world are fascinated with the traditional practices and cultural beliefs African societies possess. However, such practices and beliefs contain elements that simultaneously shock Western communities. An example of this is evident in the terrible use of human body parts for black magic. These body parts are used by magic men, otherwise known as sangomas or muti-men in South Africa, as ingredients in concoctions and traditional medicine’s. The body parts of children are primarily demanded by sangomas as they are believed to be the most potent. Children are therefore brutally murdered and mutilated. Their body parts are either sold to these magic men, or stored.

In South Africa, a young mother named Helen Madide was forced by her husband, a muti-man himself, to kill their child. Her husband believed that his ancestors demanded that both the child and the mother die. According to these ancestors, once the two were dead, he would become rich. The man forced the woman and the child down a path where he then told the mother to hold the baby while he cut its throat. After the baby was dead he began to remove its various limbs and sexual organs. Helen survived the ordeal, however, she is plagued by the fact that she participated in hers child’s brutal death.

Jeffery Mkhonto is a survivor of an attack by gang members who removed his sexual organs. Jeffery was coerced into going to a neighbour’s house to get some food. His neighbour, along with a few other men instead removed his genitals with the intention to sell them later on.

In many cases, the body parts of these children are removed while the child is still alive. This is done as magic/muti men believe that the screams of the child enhance the strength of the magic.
This is a practice that receives little attention from the international community. Investigators believe that it is something that occurs far more frequently than we think. A prominent South African human rights activist states that “… children [go] missing every week from our townships… The assumption is that those missing children are being put into prostitution and also that they are being used for muti murder."
As believers in the ideal that all deserve the protection of their human rights, and that one is entitled to live life free from, what is our responsibility to these victims? The rights of these children are being sickeningly abused. Consider the possibility that these events may very well exist in this society. Consider the notion that everyone is at risk. In this regard, this is something that may happen to you, as well as it may happen to anyone around you. Therefore, we are all affected. What chances does the youth of South Africa, and the youth of the world for that matter, have in building a bright future for themselves?

Rendition Considered "Outsourcing"

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was detained at Kennedy Airport in 2002 and questioned for ten months in Syria under suspicion of Al Qaeda ties. Last Friday, in a lawsuit appeal, a New York federal appeals court justice characterized Arar’s rendition as “outsourcing.” Arar maintained that he was tortured in Syria and forced to issue a false confession before he was finally released in 2003. Canadian authorities apologized to Arar and paid millions of dollars in damages to him for falsely informing the U.S. that he was a suspected terrorist. However, Arar’s original lawsuit against U.S. authorities was thrown out of court because the court would not decide a case involving national security.

The case is controversial for a multitude of reasons. First, it raises the question of the human rights issues associated with the questioning techniques utilized by U.S. authorities on Mr. Arar in Syria. Also, how does the fact that Arar was not a U.S. citizen, but a Canadian citizen, factor into the case? A Justice Department lawyer stated that the Constitution is not applicable in Arar’s case because his torture took place in a foreign country and because he was not a U.S. citizen. What role does state sovereignty play when a country violates the human rights of a citizen of another nation? The appeals court is still in the process of deciding Arar’s lawsuit appeal, a decision that will have ramifications on a universal scale.

Westboro Baptist Church to protest in our backyard

Well folks. There here, or at least they will be on Thursday, November 15. Here in our backyard. Yes, the hate-spewing, God-fearing opportunists are going to picket at a local decorated war hero's funeral.
From the Lebanon Daily News:
Members of the radical Kansas-based organization will protest at the funeral of Nelson Long Jr., which is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Thursday at Grose Funeral Home in Myerstown, according to a news release from the group.
The funeral home is located at 358 W. Washington Ave.
Long, who graduated from Elco High School in 1990, was killed early Thursday morning when his sport utility vehicle failed to negotiate a curve in the road and struck two trees along Route 501 just south of Rosebud Road. He was 36.
A sergeant first class in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Long was awarded a Bronze Star for valor for pulling two wounded soldiers out of a vehicle that was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in October 2006.
The Westboro Baptist Church believes God’s wrath is killing U.S. service members because of America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Its members travel around the country protesting at funerals of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying signs that say things like “Thank God for IEDs” and “God Hates Fags.”
Long’s mother, Shirley Long, said yesterday she is not happy that the organization plans to protest.
“It’s sad enough as his mother. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to get through Thursday?’ Now, this,” she said yesterday.
Although she acknowledges the group’s members have a right to protest, Long said, she’s hoping that somehow they’ll be held back or just won’t show up.
“I’m just so distraught,” she said. “To lose my son at that age, and he had only been back for a month, and I didn’t get to spend quality time with him, then to have somebody make a circus out of his memorial service. Maybe God will intervene.”
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps, said in a phone interview yesterday there wouldn’t be more than eight protesters at Long’s funeral, because church members are scattered around the country protesting at other funerals.
Phelps-Roper said it doesn’t matter that Long was not killed in action.
“He is the face of the doomed American military,” she said. “God is executing his judgment on the nation, and he’s focusing in on the military, so we’re focusing in on the military.”
Phelps-Roper said the organization doesn’t just protest service members killed in Iraq. This week, its members are also protesting funerals of soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Italy and others killed in Afghanistan.
Kathy Grose, owner of Grose Funeral Home, said she has notified the Myerstown police department and the National Guard about the planned protest.
“I’m taking all the precautions I can,” Grose said. “There’s not a whole lot we can do.”
Members of the Patriot Guard — a group of motorcyclists that attends funerals of service members to shield the mourning family and friends from interruptions created by protesters — will attend Thursday’s funeral, state captain Bud Roberts said.
Cpl. George Peach of the Jonestown barracks said the state police are aware of the situation.
“The state police have assigned a number of troopers to be in attendance, if necessary,” Peach said. “If there is a protest, if this group does indeed show up, there will be a state-police presence there.”
Another reason the group decided to protest Long’s funeral, Phelps-Roper said, is its proximity to last month’s court case in Baltimore that made national headlines. Jurors in a case in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore found that Westboro members intentionally harmed the grieving family of a Marine killed in Iraq by holding a demonstration at his funeral in March 2006 and by a subsequent Internet posting about his family background.
The fallen Marine’s family was awarded nearly $10.9 million in damages.
“You guys need to understand that it changes nothing,” Phelps-Roper said, adding that the organization plans to appeal the ruling. “Soldiers are still dying, and America is still doomed.”
In addition to slogans used in the past, Phelps-Roper said group members will also carry signs Thursday that read “Thank God for $10.9 million.”
Meanwhile, Shirley Long said she was aware of the Baltimore ruling but added that she doesn’t believe in filing a lawsuit. She said she did not know whether or not her son’s wife, Daphne, would consider it.
Regardless, Long said, her faith is helping her get through these trying times.
“We’re a very Christian family,” she said. “I believe that my only son is in heaven with God’s only son. That can give me some peace, because he knew the Lord.”
This will be the third time Westboro Baptist Church members have visited Lebanon County. They protested following the 2003 screening of a documentary film about a gay Cornwall teenager who killed himself in 1997, and returned in 2004 when they protested in front of Cedar Crest High School because students had formed a gay-straight alliance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is torture effective?

(If the link doesn't take you directly to the video click on "Alleged Victim Sues U.S.")

"They that would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither." - Benjamin Franklin

Several posts this semester have commented on the controversy surrounding the U.S. using torture. The video from CNN tells the story of a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was deported from the U.S. on suspicion of attending an al-Qaeda traning camp in Afghanistan and sent to Syria. He was held there for over 10 months and tortured until he finally "confessed" to being affiliated with the terrorist organization. Upon his confession he was released from Syria and sent back to Canada.

Proponents of torture argue that it is a necessary evil in the struggle for national security. But exactly how is someone confessing to something they didn't do just to make the torture end making us any safer? Is this man's experience a price we're willing to pay for what supposedly will bring us increased security?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Is support of democracy worth losing Pakistan as an ally?

Benazir Bhutto is the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and became the first woman leader of an Islamic country in 1988. Despite the fact that she left Pakistan after being dismissed from office early in 1996, Bhutto has recently been discussing setting up a “power-sharing arrangement” with Pakistan’s current president under martial law, General Pervez Musharraf.

Unfortunately, today Pakistani police, in an attempt to prevent a protest rally lead by Bhutto, issued a seven-day detention order. Government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan has expressed that there is sufficient evidence that Bhutto is indeed a target should she go through with the protest. Similarly to how the police prevented a previous protest planned by Benazir Bhutto, the government will confine her to her home, most likely using barricades.

Bhutto stands for democracy in a country that is now deprived of democracy. She is fighting for a cause that will benefit the people and allow them to have a voice where right now they certainly do not. The United States is put in a difficult position because Pakistan is an important ally of ours and General Musharraf has been somewhat helpful in the war against terrorism and the fight against Al Queda. Pakistan is likewise in a very strategic location surrounded by Afghanistan, Iran and India. It will be hard for the United States to continue to support a non-democratic Pakistan, but if we don’t, we could lose an ally in a very important area.

Should the US support Benazir Bhutto and her fight for Democracy and risk losing Pakistan as an ally?