Tuesday, 24 September 2019

No Greater Love: How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda: Book Review

Tharcisse Seminega, No Greater Love: How My Family Survived the Genocide in Rwanda, GM&A Publishing, Davenport, Iowa, 2019.
Tharcisse Seminega is an ethnic Tutsi who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide, along with his wife and all five of his children. He is also a Jehovah’s Witness. This book is his memoir of growing up in Rwanda and surviving the genocide. The book also contains shorter memoirs by his wife and some of his children, some short pieces by some of his rescuers, a selection of documentary evidence, and a timeline of the genocide.
Born in 1940, Seminega was raised a Roman Catholic, and was training for the priesthood when he became disillusioned with the Church. He began to notice that some of his schoolmates had been sexually molested by priests (p.37). He also explains how the Church and clergy supported the early colonial division of Rwanda’s population into Hutu and Tutsi, changing a status division into an ethno-racial one (pp. 7-10). Moreover, the Church changed allegiances as it were, shortly before independence in 1959. For many years it had permitted only Tutsi to become priests and nuns, but younger European Catholic priests began to champion the Hutu cause (p.16). From supporting the Tutsi elite, it began to support the then-underdog Hutu, using racial language to accentuate the difference. Church authorities also collaborated with the Hutu-dominated government of Juvénal Habyarimana (p.48).
Seminega became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1983, joining this new Christian group which had first entered Rwanda in 1976, and which did not distinguish among its Hutu and Tutsi adherents. His wife, a former Roman Catholic nun, was afraid to convert because Witnesses were already being persecuted in Rwanda (p. xxiii), for example, because they refused to wear badges glorifying President Habyarimana (p.63).

At the same time, Seminega continued his education, eventually obtaining a doctorate in France in 1988. He returned to Rwanda to teach at the National University in Butare, as he had agreed to teach in Rwanda for at least five years in return for financial support for his studies that he had received from the government. He was well-known in Butare, and the genocidal authorities were actively looking for him. His wife was a member of the extended family of the last Tutsi King of Rwanda, Mutara III, further endangering their family.

The family survived the genocide in several hiding places, either together or separately. For a month they hid in a goat-pen. Their protector, Vincent, was a Hutu who was not a Witness but had studied the Bible with Witnesses. At one point two female Hutu Witnesses dressed the youngest son as a girl, taught him to modify his boyish walk, and took him through the marketplace from one hiding place to another in broad daylight (p. 117).

More than a story of survival, Seminega’s tale is one of heroic rescuers who risked their and their families’ lives to save his family. Many, but not all, of these rescuers were fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses, ethnic Hutu who could easily and safely have turned their backs on the Seminega family.
Readers will be familiar with the Judeao-Christian principles, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Seminega himself refers to Matthew 7:12, “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you must also likewise do to them.” (p. 196). According to Seminega, though, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ guiding principle is to regard their neighbors as more than themselves. “Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another more than they loved themselves, putting others’ interests ahead of their own…and…being ready to sacrifice their lives, as Jesus had done, for one another” (p. 42; emphasis in original).

In 1994 there were about 2,500 Witnesses in Rwanda, of whom approximately 400 were killed. Those murdered included Tutsi Witnesses; Hutu Witnesses who tried to rescue Tutsi; and Hutu Witnesses who refused to participate in the genocide. Their teaching taught them not only to put others before themselves, but also not to differentiate among believers on ethno-racial grounds. 
Following Christ’s precept, “You do not belong in the world,” Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to take part in political or military activities. Ambassadors of Christ may not take up weapons against any human being (p.56). Thus, Hutu Witnesses were impervious to calls for patriotic Hutu to take part in mass killings. But this does not mean that they sat back idly when others suffered because of politics or war; to do nothing was also against their Christian principles.

Thus, the heroes who helped the Seminega family were already conditioned to rescue others before the genocide occurred. Indeed, some Hutu Witnesses had already prepared for the genocide; one rescuer had built a tunnel to an underground room so that he would be able to hide victims when the time came. As the rescuers’ own testimonies in the book show, they put their faith in Jehovah while taking enormous risks to their own safety.

Undoubtedly, the close-knit relationships among Jehovah’s Witnesses contributed to the motivations of rescuers. All Christians are taught to love their neighbors as themselves, but few do so. In Rwanda, many Hutu Christian priests, nuns and pastors actively participated in the genocide, their ethnic hatreds easily overcoming Christians’ supposed universal love (pp. 134-142). Indeed, the only Rwandan Christian group none of whose members participated in the genocide was the Jehovah’s Witnesses (p. 142).

Not all the people who helped the Seminegas were Witnesses. Seminega’s former gardener, himself a Hutu militiaman, nevertheless protected one of Seminega’s daughters. He put his hand before her to protect her from another member of the militia, and sustained a cut himself in the process (p. 191). This was a clear, spontaneous act of altruism that could have cost him his life. Some Hutu militiamen “helped” in exchange for bribes of various sorts, or looked the other way when they saw the Seminegas escaping. Such spontaneous acts suggest that many individual Hutu were uncomfortable with the genocide, but they did not possess either the moral framework or the supportive group that enabled so many Jehovah’s Witnesses to risk—and to sacrifice--their lives.   

As of the time of writing of the book, Seminega lived with his wife and four of his children in Canada, where they had obtained landed immigrant status in 2003.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

For Reparations to African-Americans

For Reparations to African-Americans

In a May 2016 poll, 58 percent of African-Americans said they believed that the United States should pay financial reparations to African-Americans who are descendants of slaves. Only 15 per cent of whites agreed.

I am the author of Reparations to Africa (2008) http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14448.html and a co-editor of The Age of Apology (2008). http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14377.html  I also wrote an article entitled “Official Apologies”.  https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/tjreview/vol1/iss1/9 I support reparations to African-Americans.

You might ask why my opinion matters, since I am a white Canadian.  But as the poll data show, this debate is largely between white people and black people. So perhaps the scholarly opinion of one white person might have some influence.

In 2005 the United Nations issued a document entitledBasic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.”https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/RemedyAndReparation.aspx.  

Financial compensation is one aspect of reparations mentioned in this document, but it is not the only one.  Apology is important. So is commemoration and tributes to victims, and an accurate account of the violations.

Ta-Nehisi Coates
The reparations activist Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a harrowing account of all the injustices to African-Americans. These did not occur only during the period of enslavement. They also occurred during the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era, and down to the present.

Coates wants the facts to be accurately reported. He wants all Americans to acknowledge the injustices of enslavement, terrorism, plunder, and piracy committed against African-Americans.  https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

Accurate acknowledgment would be a first step in reparations. Apology is a second step.

So many governments, institutions, and private businesses in the United States are implicated in slavery and post-1865 injustices that it would be impossible for them all to apologize at once.  But a good start would be an apology for slavery by the President, joined by the Governors of every state that ever permitted enslavement.

The text of the apology would have to be carefully negotiated with leaders of the African-American community. The apology would also have to be carefully surrounded by ritual, so that its sincerity and seriousness would be apparent. 

This could be followed by literally thousands of apologies by lower-level municipal governments, religious institutions, and businesses. Every single institution would have to investigate its history and acknowledge and apologize for every single act of enslavement and discrimination against African-Americans.
white American whipping African-America, 19th century

The next step would be to memorialize all these injustices. It is not enough to tear down monuments to leaders of the Confederate Army, for example. Memorials should be put up at public expense to African-Americans who fought against enslavement and later injustices.

Memorials should also be erected at sites of plantations, sites of protest, and sites of known murders of African-Americans, from those who were lynched in decades past to those were unjustly killed by police. These memorials would say that black lives matter.

Finally, there is the question of financial reparations and whether descendants of enslaved people should receive them. How, if at all, can all the descendants of enslaved African-Americans be identified? Even if they can be identified, should they receive individual financial reparations?

Perhaps yes, to compensate for the huge gap in (mostly inherited) wealth between white and black Americans. Perhaps African-Americans should be given a financial “boost” to help them on the road to moderate middle-class security. But many white and other Americans might view this as unfair to other people who don’t enjoy such prosperity.

Alternately, perhaps the federal and state governments should pay group reparations to African-Americans. Whites might be more willing to accept collective reparations of this kind.

One possibility is to invest in education, from shoring up predominantly African-American elementary schools to special scholarships for African-Americans to attend university. One might argue that affirmative action programs have already accomplished this, but they have been weakened over the decades and in any case, only apply at the university level. 

Another option is housing investment in predominantly African-America residential areas, especially where public housing projects are located. African Americans have suffered from low quality public housing and from discrimination when they tried to buy their own properties. 

Yet another option is investment in African-Americans’ health care needs, although one could argue that the whole country deserves this kind of investment. Nevertheless, if African-Americans suffer from some health problems at higher rates than white Americans, then reparations could include enhanced health care.

Many Americans may oppose reparations to African-Americans on the grounds that neither they nor their ancestors had anything to do with the many ways African-Americans were and are oppressed. This is true. We are not all guilty of the actions of a few. 

But as citizens—whether of the US or, in my case, Canada, we are responsible to make amends to fellow citizens who have been harmed by the past or present policies of our governments.  Acknowledgement is a first step forward. Apologies, memorials, and financial reparations continue the process.

Reparations are a way of “making whole,” by partially remedying the inherited inequalities that still plague African-Americans. They are a way of saying that African-Americans are, at long last, equal citizens.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Japanese-American vs. African-American Reparations

Why It’s Harder for African Americans than Japanese Americans to Obtain Reparations

In June 2019 the US Congress held a debate about reparations to African Americans. https://thegrio.com/2019/06/19/lawmakers-debate-reparations-for-slavery-we-elected-an-african-american-president/   One of the questions in this debate  is why Japanese-Americans received reparations for their internment by the US federal government during World War II, https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation yet African-Americans have yet to receive reparations for their ancestors’ enslavement, or for other crimes committed against them.

I published an article comparing reparations to Japanese-Americans and African-Americans in the scholarly journal, Social Forces, in 2004, after an African-American colleague, Professor Rodney Coates, asked me this question. https://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1353/sof.2005.0012
The answer lies in social movement theory, as I explain below.

My explanation is not a moral judgement on whether African-Americans should receive reparations. I believe that they should. My explanation is a scholarly interpretation of the differences between the two movements, and why it will be more difficult for African-Americans to receive reparations.

It is much easier to obtain reparations when the following characterizes the injustice:

The number of victims is relatively small.
The victims are easily identifiable.
Many of the direct victims are still alive.
The injustice took place during a relatively short time period.
The perpetrator is known.
The injustice is easily identifiable.
The injustice offends values of equality, personal safety, and/or the right to own property.
There is a symbolic victim around whom advocates for reparations can rally.
The amount of reparations paid or demanded is not so large that the public will find it unreasonable.

The number of Japanese-American victims was relatively small, about 120,000. They were also easily identifiable as people of ethnic Japanese descent in the US, whether citizens or not. The injustice took place between 1942, when the Japanese were first interned, and 1945, when the war ended.

The perpetrator, the US government, was easily identifiable. The internment of Japanese-Americans violated the values of ethnic equality and ownership of property, since their property was confiscated. The Japanese Americans were not tortured or murdered, however.

Daniel Inouye’s Conscience | The New Yorker
Daniel Inouye
Quite a few former detainees were still alive in 1988 when reparations were offered. Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga became symbolic victims. They were both WWII veterans, and Senator Inouye had lost an arm in battle. Finally, the amount paid was relatively low, $20,000 for each of 80,000 living survivors, for a total of about $1.6 billion.

 Compared to Japanese-Americans, enslaved African-Americans and their descendants endured much more severe injustices. Enslavement violated all norms of personal safely; owners were permitted to beat and torture enslaved people, and in some cases even to murder them. The violations offend all our contemporary norms of racial equality. Not only were enslaved African-Americans not permitted to own property, they were themselves legally property of others.

After the abolition of slavery, many injustices were perpetrated during the Jim Crow period and beyond, up to the present. These included continued violations of bodily integrity, such as lynchings and police shootings. Segregation and discrimination violated the principle of equality.  Even when, in the present, African-Americans earn the same incomes as their white contemporaries, they own much less wealth.  

It is easy to identify the perpetrators of these injustices, but there are so many that it might be difficult to persuade any one perpetrator to pay reparations. At minimum, perpetrators include the US federal government and the governments of every state that ever permitted enslavement of African-Americans. More broadly, it includes municipal governments, private businesses, educational institutions, and churches.   

The difficulty in organizing for reparations to African-Americans lies in the other characteristics of successful social movements for reparations. It is difficult (although not impossible) to identify which people of African descent in the US today are the descendants of enslaved people. If all descendants are considered worthy of reparations, regardless of the number of generations since their ancestors were enslaved, then the number might be in the tens of millions.  

None of the direct victims, moreover, is still alive. And there is no single individual who can be considered symbolic of the reparations movement, since all the immediate victims are long dead. Perhaps though, one could be chosen, such as Michelle Obama, both of whose grandfathers were themselves grandsons of enslaved people. https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=michelle+obama+becoming

Some people who advocate for reparations also ask for such a large amount that the public would probably find it unreasonable. For example, in his 2004 debate with me, https://doi.org/10.1353/sof.2005.0008 Rodney Coates asked for $12-15 trillion, which is 60 to 75 per cent of the US Gross Domestic product of $20.5 trillion in 2018. https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp

Georgetown University
This doesn’t mean that it is impossible for the movement for reparations to African-Americans to succeed. A social movement for businesses, universities and churches to acknowledge their roles in slavery and the Jim Crow era has already started, and some institutions have agreed. Georgetown University, for example, offered reparations in the form of preferential admissions to the 4,000 descendants of the 272 slaves it sold in 1838. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/17/us/georgetown-university-search-for-slave-descendants.html

Rosewood Massacre

There have also been reparations for some injustices during the Jim Crow period. In 1923 about 120 African-Americans were burned out of their homes in Rosewood, Florida, and several were murdered. In 2002, victims and victims’ descendants were awarded $2 million in compensation. https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/rosewood-massacre

Thus, attaining reparations to African-Americans is not an impossible dream.  But it is, and will continue to be, much harder than it was for Japanese-Americans.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Yes, it’s Genocide: The Supplementary Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Canada is currently embroiled in a debate about whether the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls should have used the word “genocide” to describe our federal, provincial and municipal governments’ past and current treatment of Indigenous peoples. Perhaps this word is too strong and inaccurate.

Sadly and horrifically, some missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

Many horrible events are not genocide. Warfare is not genocide. Apartheid in South Africa was not genocide. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was not genocide.  Torture is not genocide.

In international law, genocide refers to “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” This is the definition in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

One crucial word in this definition is intent.  Did or do Canadian authorities, in the past or the present, intend to destroy the “racial” or ethnic group of Indigenous Canadians, in whole or in part? 

But this is not only the question behind the Inquiry’s decision to describe official Canadian treatment of Indigenous peoples as genocide. The central question it asked was, if you consider all the policies of our governments regarding Indigenous peoples since the time of first European settlement, can  you argue that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous women and girls (and of Indigenous men and boys) is genocide?

The Supplementary Report, “A Legal Analysis of Genocide,” explain the Inquiry’s decision to describe Canada’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples as genocide. It does not rely simply on the text of the 1948 Convention against Genocide. Rather, it carefully reviews legal and social scientific analyses of genocide over the last three decades. It especially refers to decisions by the international tribunals established by the United Nations to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The Report explains that before the 1948 law was adopted, there was discussion at the UN on whether to prohibit cultural genocide. Canada along with other countries that had Indigenous populations actively pushed not to define cultural genocide as a crime, and it succeeded.  So right from the start, 71 years ago, Canada knew it was vulnerable to charges of genocide.

At that time, no Indigenous peoples were represented at the UN, so there was no one to present an Indigenous perspective on genocide. Nor was there a gendered perspective on the crime. That came much later, with decisions on the gendered aspects of genocide at the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals.

The Report also notes that as opposed to international law, Canadian law pertaining to genocide (the 2000 Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act) refers to acts of omission as well as commission. So if Canada neglects its Indigenous peoples as they are subjected to genocidal acts, that can be considered part of genocide.

The Report explains that genocide is not always a single event, such as the prototypical Nazi genocide against the Jews and Roma of Europe, or the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. Colonial genocide is a composite act. It is composed of the cumulative effect of many discrete actions, such as dispossession from land, neglect of starving indigenous populations, and kidnapping of children.

In adopting this view, the Report argues that analysis of the treatment of Indigenous people must consider the long-term effects of structural violence. It’s not enough to “add up” some discrete events and then try to figure out if the total is genocide. 

The Report also maintains that genocide does not refer only to the deliberate murder of some or all members of a particular social group. It also refers to the destruction of a group as a social unit. If members of the group are so dispersed from each other, or if their culture, languages, or traditions are so undermined that they can’t act together as a cohesive social unit, then that is genocide. This argument derives from the 1948 Convention, which refers to destruction of groups as groups.

Finally, and extremely importantly, the Report analyses the requirement of intent. It argues that when dealing with states rather than individuals as possible perpetrators of genocide, state policy indicates intent. It is not necessary to go into the “minds” of individuals holding power to see if they intend to destroy Indigenous peoples as a social group.

All these arguments make a compelling case that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples has been and still is genocide.

Monday, 3 June 2019

becoming by Michelle Obama: Book Note

Becoming by Michelle Obama: Book Note

The other day I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. It’s in three parts, recounting her childhood and student years; her marriage to Barack Obama and early years of motherhood; and her years in the White House as First Lady.

Michelle Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Her mother stayed home when she and her brother were small, supported by her father, a city employee who kept on working for years even after he contracted multiple sclerosis. She notes how segregated her neighborhood became during her childhood. In first grade she was in a racially mixed class; by sixth grade, as a result of white flight, her class was almost entirely African American.

Michelle grew up with a large extended family, many of whose members were seriously affected by racism. Several of her uncles were skilled tradesmen who could not find permanent well-paying jobs because the white-controlled unions excluded African Americans. Both her grandfathers were in turn the grandchildren of enslaved people. One grandfather mistrusted white people so much that he would not even go to the dentist.

Ms. Obama attended Harvard Law, and started out life as a corporate lawyer. I had thought that she left the practice of law to subordinate herself to her husband’s political ambitions, but I was wrong.  She dropped out of corporate law to work for NGOs, taking a 50% cut in salary. At one point she got a job at the exclusive University of Chicago. There she startled her boss when she told him that although she grew up on Chicago’s South Side, right where the University is situated, she had never considered applying there, as it was so cut off from its own neighborhood.

Instead Michelle followed her older brother to Princeton, where she spent much of her time hanging out at what was then known as the “Third World Center,” a meeting place for African-American students where she felt more at home than among the white elite students. Once she shared a dorm room with two white girls, but one suddenly disappeared. Years later she learned that her roommate’s mother had vigorously lobbied Princeton to move her daughter away from an African-American roommate.

Throughout the book, Michelle stressed her role as a mother and a woman. In part, this was to play down her identity as a lawyer and a thinker: she had to be careful not to incur the kind of wrath Hillary Clinton endured 20 years earlier when she tried to help her husband design a national health care policy. But she is also strongly committed to the welfare of children. While First Lady she developed some ostensibly non-political programs. One, called “Let’s Move” encouraged children to exercise more. Another, called “Join Forces” aimed to help military veterans and their families. She also campaigned to improve American children’s diets, working especially to improve the quality of school lunches. This last campaign bordered on the political, as improvements in school lunches could cut corporate fast-food profits.

Ms. Obama also had to be very careful about what she said about US politics.  She mentioned Donald Trump in the book only twice. Once was to say that she would never forgive him for endangering her children’s lives when he claimed that Barack Obama was not a US citizen, thus encouraging right-wing extremists. The other was at the end of the book, when Donald Trump was inaugurated. She stopped smiling at the inauguration ceremony, when she noticed the sea of white faces in front of her, as compared to the two inauguration ceremonies for her husband.

I was struck reading the memoir by how sexualized Michelle was. The front picture on her book shows her with one shoulder uncovered. It’s a lovely picture, with her beautiful smile, but why the bare shoulder?  Perhaps for the same reason that while First Lady she had to devote an enormous amount of time, energy and money to her looks, with a personal hairdresser, makeup artist and stylist. It’s possible no other First Lady had to spend so much on these relatively trivial aspects. There was even a debate among her advisers when she decided to get bangs in her hair. But of course if you are a woman, looks are never quite as trivial as when you are a man. And as an African American, Ms. Obama had to be far more careful than any First Lady of European descent about her looks, so that she did not trip any stereotypes about African American women.

This is a frank, warm memoir, about being a woman and being an African American. Worth reading.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Behind the Quebec Hijab Debate

Behind the Quebec Hijab Debate

Note: I published this blog as an op-ed piece in The Hamilton Spectator, May 22, 2019, p. A10. https://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/9363341-behind-quebec-s-hijab-debate-three-types-of-rights-clashes-are-involved/ For my earlier blogs on Quebec, providing some historical background, see https://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com/2013/09/ (A New Quebec Value: Discrimination against Religious Minorities) and https://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com/2014/04/ (Back to Normal in Quebec?)

The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) government has introduced Bill 21, a law that would supposedly entrench religious neutrality in Quebec. It would do so by prohibiting providers of government services such as judges, police and teachers from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs (headscarves for female Muslims), turbans (for male Sikhs), and kippas (skullcaps for male Jews).

Quebec Muslim women demonstrating against Bill 21 
Bill 21 also prohibits providing or seeking a government service with one’s face covered. This principle is relatively uncontroversial in Quebec, though some worry that it might discriminate against the very few Muslim women who cover their faces.

The principle behind Bill 21 is laicity, or secularism. Quebeckers are currently debating the human rights implications of Bill 21, just as they debated earlier versions proposed by the Parti Quebecois government in 2013 and the Liberal government in 2015.

Three types of rights clashes are involved.

The first debate is about whether public servants, while at work, should be permitted to exhibit their religious beliefs through their dress.

The CAQ considered wearing religious dress to be a violation of state religious neutrality. It is a form of passive or silent proselytism, trying to convert others to your own religion. Prohibition of government servants’ wearing of religious symbols is necessary to preserve the secular character of Quebec society. The prohibition is a relatively minor violation of freedom of religion, if indeed it is a violation at all.

Yet the 1975 Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms includes the right to openly profess religious beliefs without fear of reprisal. International law protects this right too, as does a 1985 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. From this point of view, while the state has to demonstrate its religious neutrality, its individual employees do not have the same obligation.

The second debate is about women’s rights. Bill 21 states that the Québec nation, “attaches importance to the equality of women and men.” This equality takes precedence over religious customs that imply discrimination against women.

Some Quebec feminists, including some of Muslim background, maintain that men have always used religion to oppress women. Even if Muslim women wear the hijab voluntarily, they have been taught since birth to believe that the genders are unequal.

Some of the older women who support Bill 21 remember when the Catholic Church dominated Quebec. During the 1960s Quiet Revolution, Quebeckers freed themselves from the Church’s control over marriage, divorce, contraception and abortion. For these older women, Bill 21 will similarly help Muslim women free themselves from religious control.

Those who oppose Bill 21 argue that it is discriminatory to refuse the opportunity of state employment to women who chose to wear religious symbols. The ban on religious garb will undermine some minority women’s right to employment, as in the case of Muslim women teachers.

Opponents also maintain that women who enjoy equality should be permitted to make independent individual decisions about whether to wear the hijab. If women are being forced into wearing religious garb, then the people forcing them should be punished, not the women themselves.

The third debate is about collective versus individual rights. Bill 21 states that “laicity should balance between the collective rights of the Québec nation and human rights and freedoms.” According to Bill 21, these include the collective right to maintain Québec’s religious cultural heritage, even if the state is formally secular. Thus for example, religious place names can still exist.

 People favouring the new law believe in the right of the community to a certain level of social integration or cohesion. It is important for all to live together in harmony, emphasizing sameness rather than difference. People who speak French at home are more likely to believe this than people who speak other languages.

Many critics of this view assume that anyone who defends it is afraid of residents of Quebec not descended from the original French Catholic settlers. The law appears to be directed primarily against Montreal and Quebec City and to reflect a fear of strangers in Quebec’s more homogeneous regions. Critics argue that it is not necessary for recent immigrant groups—or for long-standing Quebeckers like Jews—to remove their religious symbols in order to be part of Quebec society.

If Bill 21 is passed, it’s likely that many Quebec Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs will migrate to other parts of Canada so that they can freely manifest their religions at work. The rest of Canada will gain from this migration, and Quebec will lose.


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Jehovah's Witnesses: Neglected Victims of Persecution

On March 18, 2019 Sergei Skrynnikov, a Russian and allegedly a Jehovah’s Witness, was charged with “participating in an extremist organization,” an offence under Russian law that could earn him up to six years in prison.  https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/190318a.html .  Jehovah’s Witnesses have been fleeing Russia and seeking asylum in Germany and Finland to escape such harsh sentences. https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/190127c.html  On February 6, 2019 a Russian court sentenced a Danish citizen who was legally resident in Russia to six year in prison for such extremist offense as organizing other Witnesses to shovel snow from their church’s property. https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/06/russia-jehovahs-witness-convicted

In China, state authorities harass Jehovah’s Witnesses and raid their meetings. Authorities also deport foreign Witness missionaries from countries such as South Korea. https://bitterwinter.org/jehovahs-witnesses-hunted-down-and-deported/ .

South Korea has only recently dropped a 2003 law prohibiting conscientious objection to fighting in its armed forces, a law that confined young Witness men—as well as others—to jail. https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/02/09/south-koreas-conscientious-objectors-escape-military-conscription

All these states violate international laws that protect religious freedom, including the freedoms of unpopular minorities. Article 18, 1 of the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects everyone’s freedom to “have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” and “to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

A Long History of Persecution

Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first groups the Nazis persecuted. There were about 25,000 to 30,000 Witnesses in Germany in 1933. About half of those who did not flee were convicted of various crimes and between 2,000 and 2,500 were sent to concentration camps, where about 1,000 died. About 250 were also executed. Some years ago I met a Jehovah’s Witness in Hamilton, Ontario, where I live, who told me the Nazis had beheaded his grandfatherGermany’s Jehovah’s Witnesses were not merely passive religious group that refused to adopt the Nazi ideology: they also actively tried to expose Nazi atrocities.

In the 1960s and 70s in the East Africa country of Malawi, entire villages of Jehovah’s Witnesses were burned, and many villagers were raped, tortured, or murdered as they tried to flee. Their crime was refusal to participate in rituals of loyalty to the newly-independent Malawian state and its President, Hastings Banda. The government of Malawi denied me a visa in the early 1980s when I told two officials at its High Commission in Ottawa that I wanted to know what had happened to these Witnesses.

Many Witnesses in Rwanda, both Tutsi and Hutu, lost their lives during the 1994 genocide, many trying to hide people at risk of being murdered.  Even now, Rwandan authorities expel some Witness children from school and have fired some Witness teachers because they refuse to sing the national anthem or participate in religious training. https://www.jw.org/en/news/legal/by-region/rwanda/jehovah-witness-facts/

Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada

Here in Canada, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not always enjoyed their rights to freedom of religion and expression.

During WWII Witness children were banned from schools in several Canadians locations in Canada because they would not salute the flag, sing the national anthem or repeat the pledge of allegiance. A Witness father sued the Hamilton Board of Education on behalf of his two sons, who had been expelled from school in 1940. In 1945, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying the Board was required to excuse students from participating in religious exercises to which their parents objected. https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/1945/1945canlii117/1945canlii117.html

In the 1940s and 50s Premier Maurice Duplessis of Quebec persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses, mainly because their public missionary activities offended the province’s Roman Catholics. When almost a thousand young Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested and fined $40.00 each (a large sum at the time) a Witness restaurant owner named Frank Roncarelli paid their fines so that they could return to the streets and continue trying to make converts. In response, Duplessis stripped Roncarelli of his liquor license, ending his business. Roncarelli sued Duplessis and the case eventually went to Canada’s Supreme Court, which in 1959 ruled in favour of Roncarelli (the two judges from Quebec dissenting).  https://www.lawnow.org/whatever-happened-to-roncarelli-v-duplessis/

Even now, Jehovah’s Witnesses run the risk that they will be attacked while conducting their missionary work, a central obligation of their faith. Many people object to Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to their door trying to convert them.  Some go so far as to attack them, set their dogs on them, or even pull guns on them.

Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t perfect. Among other things, church elders have been accused of covering up child abuse. https://www.ucobserver.org/justice/2018/01/jw/ But no other religious group is perfect either, especially when it comes to child abuse. 

There is no reason to persecute—or tolerate persecution of—Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are equal citizens, protected by national and international laws regarding freedom of religion.  

Thursday, 21 February 2019

How to Sell Basic Income: Guest Blog by Marc Zwelling

How to sell basic income: guest blog by Marc Zwelling
Note: I am very interested in the debate about basic income in Ontario. Our former Liberal government started an experiment paying people a basic income in three cities, including Hamilton, where I live, but the current Conservative government has cancelled the experiment. For a video and article about how people are being affected by the cancellation, go to https://globalnews.ca/news/4791459/photo-exhibit-ontario-basic-income-pilot/
 Unfortunately, I do not know enough about what people think about basic income to write a blog about it.  My friend Marc Zwelling does, though.  Marc  is president of Vector Research + Development Inc. /The Vector Poll™, a Canadian market and opinion research service. He is the author of Public Opinion and Polling For Dummies, published by Wiley. Marc has also taught strategy, planning and innovation at York University’s executive development  program. The blog below was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on January 31, 2019: the Spectator shares copyright with its op-ed authors, so Marc has permission to publish the article on my blog as well.
Marc Zwelling

How to Sell Basic Income
Utopians often imagined a world without jobs. Some hoped automation would bring a leisure society. Some were afraid machines would do all our work and leave us impoverished.
Canadians are suspicious of technological progress. In a 1983 Decima Research poll 72% agreed automation will lead to “high unemployment.” In a 2016 Angus Reid Institute poll, 63% agreed “new technology is likely to eliminate more jobs than it creates.”
Abacus Data asked about the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on “future economic prospects” in a 2017 poll. While 50% said the impact will be more helpful, 50% said more harmful.
Anxiety over the future of work isn’t new. In the early 19th century, the rioting Luddites in Nottingham, England destroyed the textile machines that were replacing them.
After manufacturers installed the first assembly-line robots, in a 1979 book, The Collapse of Work, British union leader Clive Jenkins forecast “tidal waves of technological unemployment."
Today’s employment forecasters expect more technology will mean fewer jobs. A typical outlook, by the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre in 2016, predicts “automation, combined with other trends in employment” will eliminate 1½ to 7½ million jobs in Canada in the coming 10 to 15 years — up to one in every five jobs.
The job-killing potential of new technology has revived interest in having governments guarantee everyone a basic income. The right-wing Fraser Institute commented in 2015 that the idea was receiving “renewed attention” and had support “across the ideological spectrum.
Polls show that Canadians want only the needy to have a basic income, not everyone. In five surveys between 1975 and 1995 conducted by Lethbridge University sociologist Reginald Bibby, from 84% to 91% agreed “people who are poor have a right to an income adequate to live on.”
In seven polls conducted by Environics between 1980 and 1991, from 66% to 77% favoured “the government providing a guaranteed annual income for all people who have incomes falling below an established poverty line. 
In 2017, however, when Ipsos asked if the government should pay “all residents” a “basic income in the form of free and unconditional money in addition to any income received from elsewhere,” only 44% agreed. Another 31% disagreed while 24% were unsure.
In the Angus Reid Institute survey in 2018, 59% said giving everyone “a minimum sum of money every month to live on” is a good idea, but only 21% said it’s a “very good idea.”
The guaranteed income is the Godot of Canadian politics. Like the characters in Samuel Beckett's play, people wait for the universal basic income. Some expect it’s imminent. Writing for iPolitics in 2017, journalist Susan Delacourt said a guaranteed basic income “could well become the sleeper issue in Canadian politics in 2017.”
But there’s no pressure on politicians to enact a basic income because Canadians are deeply ambivalent about it. One barrier is the public’s impression that it would cost too much.
In the 2016 Angus Reid Institute survey, 34% were willing to pay “more in taxes” to support “some kind of guaranteed income.” But 59% felt it would be “too expensive for Canada’s government to afford.”
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says a universal basic income “raising everyone’s income above the poverty line” would cost $30 billion a year. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated in 2018 it would cost $76 billion but save the government $33 billion, so the net yearly outlay would be $43 billion.
To put that in perspective, the government’s projected budget deficit in 2018-19 for all its programs is $18.1 billion
The biggest obstacle to a basic income program, however, isn’t the cost. It’s the public’s concern about the work ethic.The Fraser Institute says basic-income experiments prove that giving people money discourages them from working and “could foster long term dependency on government transfers with widespread effects on the economy.” The public generally concurs.
In the 2016 Angus Reid Institute poll 63% agreed that guaranteed income programs “discourage people from working.” And 52% agreed “if you don’t work you don’t deserve an income.” In the 2017 Ispos survey, 60% agreed a basic income “will make people reliant on the state for income” while 54% said it would “discourage people from being in or seeking paid employment.”
If a basic income is a disincentive to work, what’s wrong with that? With the prospect of technology-driven massive job losses, dissuading people from working would be a good policy.
Stagnant pay and unemployment are the result of too many people chasing too few jobs. Paying people not to work would shrink the labour supply and lift wages. It might force employers to automate more jobs, which would rev up innovation and boost productivity (higher productivity, economists say, leads to higher profits and wages).
Advanced economies already pay some people for not working. Millions of retirees in their 60s and 70s live on their employer-based pensions though many are physically able to work.
To convince a skeptical public, advocates need to reconceive the universal basic income to match public opinion. Canadians want a guaranteed income that’s earned or deserved. A basic income Canadians would support would be a reward for initiative and effort, like a commission, a tip or a bonus.