Monday, 12 April 2021

World Human Rights Today

 

World Human Rights Today

 Last week (April 9, 2021) a reporter in Pakistan named Hammad Sarfraz contacted me about an article he was writing about Amnesty International’s latest world report.  He sent me some questions via email, which I answered.  In the end, he did not use any quotes from me in his article, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2293985/amnesty-paints-a-grim-picture-of-the-world. So I have decided to post my answers, as below.

 What is your assessment of the current state of human rights around the world? 

 I am very worried about the current state of human rights, especially because of the rise of the authoritarian political right, indeed even of fascism. Donald Trump, his family and the Republican Party are still a real threat to American democracy. Their fascistic policies are based on racism against Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims, as well as on privileges for the extremely rich.

 Similarly, I am very worried about China’s move back from authoritarian dictatorship to full-blown totalitarianism, using modern means of information technology to try to control the entire Chinese population. And I worry about Putin’s dictatorship in Russia, Modi’s anti-Muslim Hindu nationalism, and leaders such as Bolsanaro in Brazil, Duterte in the Philippines, Orban in Hungary and Netanyahu in Israel.

 Aside from these threats to people’s civil, political and economic human rights, there are also the long-term threats of nuclear war and global climate change, violating the rights to peace and to a healthy environment, both emerging “collective” human rights.

  Were human rights ever universally guaranteed or were they only meant to be for the rich / developed countries?

 This question sets up a false opposition.  Human rights have never been universally guaranteed in practice; they are universal in principle. While it is true that some rich, developed countries were influential in formulating the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, so were several independent non-Western countries such as India and Iran.  The only groups that had no influence were colonized sub-Saharan Africa and indigenous peoples.  Since then, all members of the UN have had a say in formulating new documents such as the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child

 People who don’t live in developed, wealthy societies need human rights even more that people who do.  Ask yourself, which human rights could Pakistanis do without? The right not to be arbitrarily executed? The right to free speech? The right to adequate food and housing? 

 Perhaps some Pakistanis would prefer to get rid of freedom of religion, as it protects the rights of Christians in Pakistan.  But the principle of freedom of religion also applies to Muslims in China, India and Myanmar: should it be abolished because these are not wealthy western countries?  Should Muslims in the US have the right to freedom of religion, while Muslims in these three countries don’t?

  An increasing number of advocacy groups are cautioning us about the growing abuses and violations of basic rights.  Are we moving toward a post human rights world? 

 I doubt very much that we are moving to a post-human rights world.  People will always want the types of freedoms, protections and material security that the international human rights laws and norms provide in law and principle.  We will all have to fight vigorously, though, against the political authoritarianism and fascism that are currently emerging in various countries.

  What are the main challenges for global human rights norms ? 

 There are so many that I cannot even begin to enumerate them. The biggest challenge is always corrupt, self-interested elites that control states, wherever they are. The other challenge is unbridled capitalism which ignores the dangers of climate change, inequality, and continued discrimination. Racism, genocide, patriarchy and homophobia are always constant challenges.

 Countries that appear to be important in Washington’s grand scheme can get away with human rights violations. Saudi Arabia got away with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and India is currently getting away with its oppressive policies in Kashmir. These are two examples of how Washington conveniently turns a blind eye to violations — when needed. What are the consequences of Washington’s selective approach toward human rights?  

 This question should apply not only to Washington but to all great powers. In the Western world, aside from some small countries such as Norway, human rights are always a left-over after states take into consideration their strategic needs, political alliances, trade, and general economic interests. Other very powerful countries such as China and Russia don’t even bother with human rights. For example, China is busy exploiting Africa without any concern for human rights.

  What is your assessment of the pandemic’s impact on global human rights? 

 In Canada, where I live, the pandemic has exposed severe cracks in our system of state health care, as well as cracks in our welfare system. Elsewhere, presumably, it is much worse. Modi’s decision to simply close down India and force migrants workers to return home without adequate (if any) protections against the Covid virus has probably resulted in many tens of thousands of deaths that will never be reported.

  What would it take to reverse the deteriorating human rights situation in the world? 

 Continued, constant pressure by civil society groups upon the elites that control governments and the international economy.  This is why civil and political rights are so important, so that civil society and the general citizenry, can exercise their rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to vote and participate in government. When governments can throw civil society actors in jail with impunity, or torture or execute them, then there is very little possibility of change. Note that for all his racist, fascistic tendencies, Trump was unable to stifle freedom of speech and the press in the US; nor, despite stacking the Supreme Court and other levels of the judiciary with his own appointees, has he completely undermined the independence of the judiciary. 

 If I could pick only one human right, I would say freedom of speech. Some people might rather say, the right to food. But without freedom of speech, citizens cannot even be guaranteed the right to eat: witness countries such as North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela whose governments have committee state food crimes, destroying their own economics.

 

 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Indigenizing the University: Book Note

This week I read the proofs of a book edited by Frances Widdowson, entitled Indigenizing the University: Diverse Perspectives (Winnipeg: Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 2021 forthcoming). I read it at Dr. Widdowson’s request, with a view to possible providing an endorsement. Here is the endorsement:

“This book is a fine introduction to debates about the indigenization of universities. Although Widdowson herself opposes many aspects of indigenization, she lets her authors speak for themselves. The second section is particularly interesting, discussing whether indigenous science exists. Authors investigate physics, biology, psychology, economics, and political science.”

Frances Widdowson is  a professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University. As I noted in the endorsement, she is a very strong opponent of indigenizing Canadian universities, so some readers might think I should not have endorsed this book. However, I learned a lot from it. I had expected the various contributions to be polemical, but they were not. Whatever one might think of Widdowson’s views and the views of other contributors, they are backed up by an impressive amount of research. If I wanted to pursue this debate, I would find a huge bibliography in Widdowson’s and others’ articles. 

The first section of the book contains two useful historical chapters. Rodney A. Clifton, a professor emeritus at the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba, and Masha V. Krylova situate the history of indigenization of Canadian universities within the broader context of Canadianization of those same universities. The late Alan Cairns of the University of Waterloo contributed a chapter on the history of aboriginal research. He is particularly scathing about the 1990s’ Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. He asserts that it was driven by an ideological agenda that privileged the situation of Aboriginal (as they were then called) people living in bands on reserves, while ignoring people living in urban areas, those who were intermarried, and those who had Aboriginal ancestry but did not identify themselves as Aboriginal (p. 63). He also noted that some Aboriginal women testified in camera at the Commission because they were afraid of retaliation at home if they spoke about abuse on reserves (p.60).

Other chapters in this section address several other concerns. Widdowson argues that Indigenization might result in the lowering of academic standards. Tom Flanagan, a professor emeritus in the department of political science at the University of Calgary, provides an addendum to Widdowson’s chapter, considering the unintended detrimental consequences – in his view-- of affirmative action programs on the United States. David Newhouse of the department of indigenous studies at Trent University argues strongly for the right to speak what he calls indigenous truths.  Kerryn Pholi, a sometime Aboriginal civil servant is Australia, is a strong critic of what she called the “Aboriginal industry” in that country.

The second section of the book, “Indigenizing Academic Disciplines,” debates whether there is one universal science with universal standards, or whether there is such a thing as “Indigenous science” which should be considered by Canadian universities as on equal footing with what its advocates call “Western” science.

The late F. David Peat was a physicist in his early life. He argues that debates among physicists show that there are various “physics.” Similarly, he argues, Blackfoot and other Indigenous worldviews can be considered as independent concepts of physics. James Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason University, replies “teach it if you must, but don’t call it science.” He points out that Peat argues by analogy, that debates among physicists do not mean that there are different sciences of physics.

This exchange is followed by a debate between Root Gorelick, a professor in the department of biology at Carleton University, and Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher of science at City University of New York. Gorelick argued strongly for an Indigenous biology. He also advocates including spiritual and indeed poetic elements in that science. Gorelick is particularly concerned that traditional indigenous environmental knowledge be acknowledged as scientific. Pigliucci agrees that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) should be taken seriously by scientists. However, such knowledge must be verified by standard scientific methods. Also, aspects of TEK that derive from spiritual beliefs must be discarded. In and of itself, TEK is not science.  

Following these debates on physic and biology, Stephen B. Perrott,  professor of psychology at Mount Saint Vincent University, assesses whether the discipline of psychology should be indigenized. He accepts the need for more Indigenous psychologists and more sensitivity to Indigenous clients, but does not agree that the discipline itself should abandon its scientific roots.  Ambrose Leung of the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mont Royal University politely replies to a claim by Carol Anne Hilton, a First Nations business entrepreneur, that there should be an “indigenomics.” He shows how each of Hilton’s arguments about omissions of indigenous concerns (such as environmental impacts of development projects) is already addressed within the discipline of economics.

The final chapter in this section is by Widdowson herself, assessing indigenous content syllabus materials and political science. Among her many arguments against indigenization, she introduces the concept of “neotribal rentierism” (p. 277). Rentierism is the ability to extract benefits without actually making any productive contribution to the economy, as for example European landlords did when they extracted rents from peasants and serfs. Widdowson argues that Indigenous leaders are now extracting “rents” from the federal government.

I think that Widdowson may be right that some Indigenous leaders do engage in this type of behavior, but I believe her criticism is too strong. I agree with Indigenous advocates that colonialism has stripped them of much of their capacity to be economically self-sustaining, from land theft to denial of civil and political rights to under-education and abuse in residential schools. In any case, even if colonialism hadn’t occurred, the Canadian government is responsible to ensure the human rights of all its citizens. This includes economic human rights such as the rights to housing, education, and health care. Despite their assertions of Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous peoples are still citizens of the Canadian state, whether living on or off-reserves.

The debate in section 2 of  Indigenizing the University about Indigenous versus “Western” science is resonant of the debate on whether universal human rights are really universal or whether they are in fact “Western.” To a significant extent, both the human rights and the Indigenous science debates rest on the fallacy of origins. This fallacy is the belief that ideas are applicable only to the people or social categories who generated them.

In my own work, including In Defense of Universal Human Rights  (2018), I have argued that while the concept of human rights may have originated in the West, from its earliest legal origins at the United Nations in 1948 non-Western countries bought into the concept, which they elaborated over the next seven decades. Moreover, all people everywhere are entitled in principle to such human rights. Similarly, even if concepts of scientific rigour such as falsifiability and secularism originated in the European Enlightenment, they have now spread far beyond the Euro-American world. Scientists in China and India use the same standards as scientists in North America and Europe. Scientific findings apply to all people everywhere.

For example, I have yet to hear of any Indigenous people arguing that the various Covid-19 vaccines currently being imported into Canada are unusable by Indigenous people because they are “Western” in origin. Indeed, the fallacy of origins argument does not seem to be used for medical or technical developments, although tragically, some years ago in Ontario two sets of Indigenous parents tried to cure their young daughters of leukemia using “indigenous” treatments. After one of the children died, the other mother returned her daughter to “Western” medical treatment. https://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com/2014/11/aboriginal-cultural-rights-versus.html

One final note: Widdowson tried very hard to find indigenous contributors for this volume. At least one Indigenous person declined, not wanting to debate with her at all. This is a shame, as she included all the chapters without her own commentary. As a matter of principle, moreover, Widdowson  identified her contributors only by their professional designations, not by their identity, Indigenous or otherwise. Root Gorelick identified himself as non-Indigenous, while Kerryn Pholi identified herself as an Australian Aboriginal. Others did not self-identify, so one is left to judge their arguments purely by their scientific validity, not by their identity, which is what Widdowson apparently wanted.

Extra note (February 9, 2021): Just after I posted this blog, I heard reports of Canadian Indigenous people who were very hesitant to have Covid-19 vaccinations.  This hesitancy stems from a long history of justifiable mistrust of white people in authority, including those in the medical profession. But as far as I know, the mistrust is not because Covid-19 vaccinations are thought to be "Western" as opposed to Indigenous medicine. 

 

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Provisionally Yours and The Last Million: Book Notes

 Recently I read Provisionally Yours by Antanas Sileika (Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2019).  Provisionally Yours is a novel set in in Lithuania just after World War I.  Actually, it’s a bit of a stretch to say it is set in Lithuania, as the country as such was still in a very “provisional” state at the time. Previously part of the Russian Empire, it benefitted from the post-war sentiment to let different ethnic groups form new nations. This was part of a general trend toward the idea of “self-determination,” when the Czarist, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires had all been destroyed. 

.Sileika, a Canadian of Lithuanian descent, portrays a world of ethno-castes. By that I mean ethnic groups arranged in a caste-like hierarchy. Until very recently, the (Czarist) Russian Empire was Lithuania’s overlord, but landowners tended to be Polish. Peasants were Lithuanian, and Jews were urban businessmen and professionals. Now ethnic Lithuanians are in charge and are trying to establish an ethnically-homogenous Lithuanian state. The protagonist of the novel, Justas Adamonis, has just returned from service in the Russian army, and is now charged with setting up a counter-intelligence service in Lithuania.

I learned a lot from this novel about early 20th-century Lithuania. It also made me think about the problems of new states more generally. In an Afterword, Sileika informs the reader that he based the novel on real political events that occurred in Lithuania at the time. One of Adamonis’ assignments is to track down a ring of officials who are smuggling cocaine into the new Soviet Union. This reminds me of the problem of narco-states in the less developed world today. It also reminds me of the difficulties of establishing--and paying—an efficient administrative class in an ethnically-disparate society. At another point, an ethnically Russian general who led the Lithuanian army in its war of independence is assassinated. There are still many such cases, in which members of ethnic minorities who attempt to serve the new “nation”-state are marginalized or even assassinated by the ethnic group in power.  

Jews don’t figure in Provisionally Yours; they are just “there,” irrelevant to the formation of this new nation-state. Unfortunately, they are very much “there” in historian David Nasaw’s The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War (New York, Penguin Press, 2020).

One tends to think that the last million displaced persons would have been almost entirely Jewish, but such was far from the case. Most of the Jewish survivors were people who had fled from Poland to the Soviet Union during the war. After the war, Stalin permitted them to return to Poland, but they did so only to discover that there was still fierce anti-Semitism in that country. Indeed, some Jews were given letters giving them three days to get out, or else. The last pogrom occurred in the city of Kielce in 1946, after the war’s end. About 200-250,000 Polish Jews who had survived the war in the Soviet Union ended up in the American zone of occupation in Germany, awaiting permission to migrate elsewhere.

Other members of the last million were refugees from various countries taken over by the Soviet Union. Among these were “Balts,” people from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia who fled into Germany after the war and were able to make their way to the American zone of occupation. 

By this point, very few Jews were left in the Baltic states. Indeed, many Balts co-operated with the Nazis in murdering their Jewish co-nationals. Among the last million were known members of the Nazi Waffen-SS, identifiable by the blood-type tattoos under their left armpits.  Nevertheless, both Britain and the United States considered Baltic men, often tall, blond, and blue-eyed, to be superior immigrants. They were “clean” as opposed to the “dirty” Jewish survivors.

 At one point miners in the UK went on strike when they discovered that they were working with immigrants against whom they’d so recently fought. British authorities told the Baltic miners not to take their shirts off in the mines, so the British miners would not notice their SS tattoos.

The Lutheran and Catholic establishments in the US pressured their post-war government to admit Balts (Lutherans) and Poles and Ukrainians (Catholics) in equal numbers to Jewish immigrants, if not more. And President Truman pressured the British to open up then Palestine to Jewish immigration so that the US would not have to admit the Jews.  

If you are a reader who enjoys historical novels, I highly recommend Provisionally Yours, to give you a sense of a place about which, like me, you might not know anything at all.  And if you like reading history, Nasaw is a Pulitzer-Prize winner who knows how to tell a compelling, if discouraging, story.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Seven Fallen Feathers and Beautiful Scars: Two Books about Indigenous Canadians

 In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two books about Indigenous Canadians.

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga  (house of Anansi Press, 2017) investigates the deaths of seven Indigenous teenagers in Thunder Bay, Ontario since 2000. All were registered in a local high school established and managed by Indigenous individuals, especially for teenagers whose own reserves were too small and underfunded to support their own high school. The children, as young as 14, boarded with adults in the community and were obliged to obey a curfew, so that if they went missing, the community and the police could quickly mobilize to search for them. The community usually mobilized before the police did and searched much more thoroughly.

Sadly, many of these children, disoriented and feeling isolated from their families, spent their evenings drinking and using drugs.   

Three (I think) of these teenagers died by drowning near a popular drinking spot. In all cases the police concluded it was death by accident, assuming thee children had fallen into the river while drunk. Yet parents could not understand how children brought up near water would drown. And the brother of one drowning victim almost drowned himself, but recovered consciousness and swam to shore.

This makes me wonder if there is not a serial killer on the loose in Thunder Bay, preying on Indigenous teenagers.

Talaga’s accusations of police neglect of these deaths is not without substance. A review of the Thunder Bay Police Force conducted in 2018 found that “TBPS investigators failed on an unacceptably high number of occasions to treat or protect the deceased and his or her family equally and without discrimination because the deceased was Indigenous…Officers repeatedly relied on generalized notions about how Indigenous people likely came to their deaths and acted, or refrained from acting, based on those biases. …[S]ystemic racism exists in TBPS at an institutional level. http://oiprd.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/OIPRD-BrokenTrust-Final-Accessible-E.pdf

Aside from the problem of inadequate (at best) policing, the causes of these tragic deaths are largely systemic. They stem from both the legacy of colonialism, and neglect by the federal agencies that are supposedly charged with the welfare of Indigenous people living on reserves. Schools are underfunded compared to schools funded by the provinces. As a result, as Talaga explains, the children moving to Thunder Bay to complete high school often all ill-prepared.

Also, living conditions on Northern reserves are often abysmal. A disproportionately high percentage of Indigenous peoples suffer from malnutrition, partly because of the high costs of food in northern communities (despite government subsidies) and partly because they have lost their traditional hunting skills. Many reserves do not even have clean drinking water.  Government promises to rectify these problems often remain that; empty promises.

The second book I read was Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home by Tom Wilson (Doubleday Canada, 2017). Wilson is an internationally known, Hamilton-based musician and songwriter. Not being at all conversant with contemporary music, I knew nothing about him and did not even know that he had lived in the block behind me for many years until someone pointed him out to me at our local gym.


Born in 1959, Wilson was raised in poverty in working-class Hamilton by older parents, Bunny and George. George was blinded in World War II and ran a candy and cigarette stand in Hamilton’s main post office for many years. Tom’s parents were absurdly strict, forcing him, for example, to go to bed at 5:00 PM on summer nights when all the other neighbourhood children were out playing. He sometimes visited the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve near Montreal (the site of the 1990 Oka crisis
https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/oka-crisis ), but was told it was because one of his aunts had married a Mohawk man. Gifts such as beaded moccasins occasionally arrived for him when he was a child.

Remarkably, despite his dark coloring and taunts of “Indian, Indian” from his schoolmates; and despite once hearing his mother tell a doctor that she had never given birth, Wilson did not put two and two together until he was in his 50s.  Like many musicians, much of his life was dedicated to sex, drugs, and drinking. Having chatted with him at the gym and having read his book, I have some inkling of how much he suffered during those years. Fortunately, he had married and his love for his children gave him something to hold on to, even when his wife threw him out and he was sleeping in his car in the parking lot of the church just down the block from me.

Tom’s adoptive mother, of Irish and French-Canadian heritage herself, did not want him to know that he was Mohawk. When he occasionally asked about his origins, Bunny said she would take her secret with her to the grave, and she did. I won’t reveal precisely how Tom found out that he is actually Mohawk, but only after Bunny’s death did he discover his actual parentage and his Mohawk roots.

This is such a sad story. Why would a woman who raised a son as late as the 1960s and 70s fear to tell him he was “Indian”?  Did Bunny have racist views about Indigenous people, or did she think she was protecting Tom against racists by not revealing his roots to him. In any event, she denied him the pride that he now has in his Mohawk identity and in the many Mohawk men who worked as “skywalkers” (construction workers in high rise buildings) in New York and elsewhere.

Monday, 7 December 2020

Free Speech and Liberal Education: Book Review

 

Free Speech and Liberal Education, by Donald Alexander Downs: Book Review.

In 2011, a young Jewish student at York University in Toronto filed a complaint of anti-Semitism against her professor. She had heard him say in class that “Jews should be sterilized.”  This sounds horrendous, but it seems the student had been asleep for most of the class. The professor, himself Jewish, was discussing what might or might not be considered a legitimate point of view in a university classroom. What he had actually said was something like, “For example, the statement that ‘Jews should be sterilized’ is not a legitimate opinion.” Even after this was explained, however, the student continued to argue that it was anti-Semitic to even mention such a statement. As I wrote to the Canadian Jewish News at the time, this appeared to mean that professors should teach their students fairy tales, rather than teach them truthfully about history.[1]

This seems to be the problem with the new stress in many North American campuses on “trigger warnings.” These warnings are meant to protect students from encountering facts or analyses that might upset them. On the other hand, such analyses and facts might teach students quite a bit about the evils than men and women do.

Donald Alexander Downs, a legal philosopher retired from University of Wisconsin-Madison, addresses this problem and others in his Free Speech and Liberal Education: A. Plea for Intellectual Diversity and Tolerance ((Washington, D.C.:  Cato Institute, 2020) Downs is not an alarmist, and does not oppose all new “identity politics” trends on university campuses. He acknowledges, for example, the beneficial role that feminism has played in opening up new academic questions. (pp. 164-5) He presents examples of academic excesses but does not dwell on them.


Downs is not a free-speech absolutist: he refers frequently to US Supreme Court decisions on the limits of free speech. He also carefully differentiates between academic freedom and freedom of speech. The former is subject to standards of scholarly rigour. Professors should not be permitted to say whatever they want in a classroom: academic freedom has “competence-based limits” and requires “commitment to intellectual standards of proof, evidence and reason.” (pp.8, 58)

Freedom of speech, by contrast, is not subject to standards of scholarly rigour. Everyone on campus, whether faculty member, administrator, staff member or student, should enjoy the right to say whatever he or she wants outside of the strictures of academic discourse. Downs rightly condemns the Orwellian approach of Rhodes College, which in 2008 instructed students to report insensitive statements made by their fellow students in private conversation. (p.70) He is worried about the bureaucratic and administrative apparatuses that police freedom of speech, even going so far as to refer to the “surveillance university.” (p. 11) This surveillance extends well beyond American legal limits on freedom of speech, to include in some cases, as at the University of Oregon, policing of “insensitivity” and “lack of awareness.” (p. 87) Citing de Tocqueville, Downs calls these measures “soft despotism.” (p. 22) 

Downs opposes the “heckler’s veto,” now used against people considered right-wing or insensitive to identity politics, yet in earlier decades used against left-wing speakers. (p.72) Such a veto was attempted in Toronto in 2019, when feminist Meghan Murphy opposed certain transgender rights on the grounds that they might interfere with women’s rights.[2] Even Mayor John Tory opposed the principled stance of Vickery Bowles, Toronto’s chief librarian, who permitted Murphy to speak at the Palmerston Library.[3]

Downs agrees with the British sociologist, Frank Furedi, about the dangers of “therapy culture” on US campuses.[4] Young people, says Downs, are infantilized, protected from any ideas that might be perceived to upset—and therefore “harm”—them. Instead, Downs and Furedi believe, young people should be exposed to ideas with which they might at first disagree and trained to debate them. Young people should develop strength of mind to accompany their strength of body.

Downs also believes it is unfortunate that some universities now assume that “social justice” and “human rights” are opposing terms. “Progressive” universities pursuing a social justice mission focus on inequality. At the same time, they downplay the classic liberal values such as freedom of speech, and expand their bureaucratic and administrative governance over their individual members. (p.6)

Yet as Downs asserts, “Social justice without liberal rights is oxymoronic.”(p. 7) In this he is correct. Just as “social justice warriors” do, so also human rights advocates want everyone to be treated equally, whether with regard to civil and political rights such as the right to vote, or to economic, social and cultural rights such as to health care, education, or housing. In polities that restrict freedom speech and freedom of academic inquiry, social justice goals are unlikely to be realized. Take, for instance, the rights to adequate nutrition and to be free from starvation, protected by Article 11 of the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. When citizens are tortured or murdered as punishments for speaking out against their governments, they are unable to let their governments know when they are starving, as in China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-62) or in North Korea or Venezuela today.[5]

Despite the continuing need for freedom of speech on US campuses as elsewhere, Downs shows that recent surveys of student opinion reveal a disturbing trend to prioritize sensitivity over freedom of speech. (pp. 125-48) This does not mean that Downs opposes attempts to be sensitive to students’ emotional needs, for example by creating “safe spaces” on campus. Students have the right to form “self-referential groups,” he argues, especially when they feel besieged by the larger society. (p. 88) On US campuses today, such groups may well include Black and transgendered students.

At the end of his book, Downs presents some guidance to readers on how to overcome politicized bullying of faculty members and students. He grounds his advice in his own twenty-year experience as a member of the University of Wisconsin’s Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights. Most of his suggestions are moderate, and take carefully into account the legitimate grievances of marginalized students, without ceding grounds of academic freedom or freedom of speech. Unfortunately, however, he does not present details of the cases he helped resolve, presumably because of privacy reasons.

Down’s most important contention is as relevant to Canada as to the US, even though both Canada’s hate speech laws and its approaches to diversity differ from those in the US. The university, he argues, should be a shared intellectual polis, in which students should be just as much participants as their professors. (p. 111) In this shared polis, not only the rights of speakers but also the rights of listeners should be protected: students and others have the right to listen to unpopular ideas. (p. 245, n.11) Exercise of the right to freedom of speech promotes intellectual courage among students, an important part of what it means to be a citizen, a participant in public debate. Citizens should be capable not only of intellectual conviction, but of civic doubt and an appropriate degree of distrust of government. (pp.176-81)

A university is not only a training-ground for future employment: it is, or ought to be, a training ground for active life-long participation in the public realm. For this to occur, both academic freedom and freedom of speech are absolutely necessary.



[1] Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, “’Offended’ by reality”, Canadian Jewish News, November 24, 2011, p. 8.

[4] Frank Furedi, What’s Happened to the University?, New York: Routledge, 2016.

[5] Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, State Food Crimes, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.


Monday, 26 October 2020

Reparations to Africa

 

Reparations to Africa

The Black Lives Matter movement includes calls for reparations to African-Americans for enslavement. Many people ask whether reparations should also be paid to the continent of Africa for the slave trade. https://theconversation.com/why-reparations-to-african-americans-are-necessary-how-to-start-now-119581, https://qz.com/africa/1915182/what-reparations-are-owed-to-africa/

The last time there was much discussion of reparations to Africa was during the UN World Conference on Racism, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. https://www.un.org/WCAR/durban.pdf  Unfortunately, that conference was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks on the US only a few days after it ended.

Types of reparations

A United Nations document discusses the different aspect of reparations. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/remedyandreparation.aspx# One aspect is apology for harms committed in the past.

Several Western countries have expressed regret for their participation in the slave trade. For example, at the Durban Conference a Dutch government minister expressed “deep remorse” for the slave trade and enslavement. https://www.un.org/press/en/2001/rd942.doc.htm.  But these countries usually avoid direct apologies that might entail legal liability.

Another aspect of reparations is removal of offensive monuments. In Bristol, England in June 2020, activists tore down a monument to a “founder” of that city, Edward Colston. Colston had been a prominent slave-trader https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-52954994

Western museums that own precious African artifacts are facing calls to return them to Africa. Some activists would like the British Museum to return the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. suhttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/arts/design/benin-bronzes.html

Other museums present Africans and African societies in ways that that may be racist. Belgium’s Africa Museum has been accused of this. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/arts/design/africa-museum-belgium.html

Teaching the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade could be part of the reparative process. Both within Africa and in former slave-trading countries, people need to learn this history.

But the slave trade was not limited to the trans-Atlantic trade.  Arabs also took slaves from Africa. Historian Paul Lovejoy estimates that about 14 million people were taken from Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and about 10 million in the Arab trade. https://books.google.ca/books/about/Transformations_in_Slavery.html?id=iWUXNEM-62QC&redir_esc=y An accurate history would  have to include the Arab trade.

Nor could history teachers ignore slave-trading by Africans. The Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was shocked to learn that her great-grandfather was a slave trader, selling slaves to Cuba and Brazil after the trade was abolished by the US and Great Britain. When her great-grandfather died, six slaves were buried alive with him. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/my-great-grandfather-the-nigerian-slave-trader 

Financial Reparations

Often we think of reparations as financial. One problem is which former slave trading and slave-holding nations might owe financial reparations to Africa. Approximately a quarter million enslaved Africans disembarked in the US between 1626 and 1875. 5.1 million disembarked in Brazil between 1401 and 1875. https://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates Does Brazil, a middle-income country, owe financial reparations to Africa?  

Similarly, do Arab countries and African slave-traders owe reparations for their part in the slave trade? The distinguished philosopher Anthony Appiah is of mixed Ashanti (Ghanaian) and British ancestry. Both his British and Ashanti ancestors traded in slaves. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/PS8VM45VbjnCB7dVP5BN62/episode-transcript-episode-86-akan-drum#:~:text=Anthony%20Appiah%2C%20who%20teaches%20at,trade%2C%20or%20some% Do the Ashanti owe reparations to other ethnic groups within Ghana from whom they took slaves?

If only rich Western countries are responsible to pay financial reparations, to what entity should they pay them?  Perhaps each Western county should try to determine the countries where the bulk of its slaves originated (e.g. Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal or Angola). They could then compensate those countries.

Nevertheless, Westerners might ask why they should pay reparations to Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade ended in the mid-19th century. Some scholars and activists argue that Western countries should pay reparations because without the slave trade, Africa would be much more developed today. https://www.amazon.ca/Europe-Underdeveloped-Africa-Walter-Rodney/dp/0882580965.  On the other hand, Africa might simply have remained a continent of agriculturalists and nomadic herders, with some groups growing rich from internal slavery.

Most of sub-Saharan Africa was colonized in the late 19th century, but most African countries have been independent for between 45 and 60 years. Many of their governments have been extremely abusive. Many African political leaders have suppressed democracy, exploited their own citizens, and engaged in massive corruption.

Critics could argue that Africa’s continued underdevelopment is a consequence of these leaders’ actions.

Critics could also argue that Western countries have already compensated for the slave trade via foreign aid. Much foreign aid was misused or stolen by corrupt governments. Whether reparations or aid, the same problems of mismanagement, lack of transparency, and corruption emerge. There is no guarantee that financial reparations for the slave trade would reach the people most in need of it.

Distributive Justice

Rather than sorting out who is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment since the slave-trading days, perhaps we should focus on distributive justice rather than reparative. 

Distributive justice does not mean re-distribution, taking money from rich nations or individuals and distributing it to poor. It means that the goods everyone needs everywhere in the world—food, housing, health care, education, and social security—should be distributed to them in an equitable way.  These are international-recognized human rights, protected by the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx

As the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights argues, everyone is entitled to an international order in which all their human rights are protected. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ Whether or not a Western country engaged in the slave trade, it should to try to ensure that Africans enjoy their human rights. Whether or not an African is a descendant of a slave owner, she should try to help ensure her co-nationals’ human rights. And all African governments are responsible to protect the human rights of all their citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Maoist Censorship and Cowardly Capitulation: The Bruce Gilley Affair, Part II

 On June 10, 2020, I posted a blog concerning the successful attempt to censor an article by Dr. Bruce Gilley defending colonialism.  You can find that blog here.   http://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com/2020/06/uncomfortablequestions-bruce-gilley.html

 I disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley wrote in that article, but I defended his right to make his argument and have it published.

Recently, Dr. Gilley was appointed editor of a news series called “Problems of Anti-Colonialism’ for Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield.  The first book in this series was to be a biography Gilley himself wrote of Sir Alan Burns, a governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana).  The book was properly reviewed by two other scholars and recommended for publication.  Then over a thousand people signed a petition on Change.org against publication of the book. Despite a counter-petition initiated soon after and signed, as of today (October 20, 2020) by over 4400 people, Rowman and Littlefield “released” Gilley from his contract. 

Below is a letter I sent to Ms. Julie Kirsch, the Senior Vice-President and publisher of Rowman and Littlefield, via email on October 8, 2020. As of today, October 20, 2020, I have received no response.  I have added links that were not in the original email, but have not otherwise changed it. The content of the Wikipedia entry for Joshua Moufawad-Paul has changed since I first read it, and now contains a reference to my letter below.

*****************************************************************************

Ms. Julie Kirsch,

Senior Vice-President and Publisher,

Rowman and Littlefield

October 8, 2020

 

Dear Ms. Kirsch,

I am writing to express my extreme concern to you upon learning that Rowman and Littlefield has cancelled publication of Dr. Bruce Gilley's book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire, and has also cancelled his editorship of a new series to be called Problems of Anti-Colonialism. 

The reason for this cancellation appears to be a petition on Change.org. entitled “Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics,” (https://www.change.org/p/academics-against-bruce-gilley-s-colonial-apologetics) organized by one Joshua Moufawad-Paul, who is identified by Wikipedia as a professor of philosophy at York University in Canada, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Moufawad-Paulalthough I cannot find a listing for him on that department’s website. (https://phil.laps.yorku.ca/faculty-staff/contract-faculty/) He is also listed in his Wikipedia entry as a Maoist.  I hope that this is not accurate. A Maoist is someone who follows the teaching of Mao Tse-Tung.  Mao Tse-Tung was one of history's most egregious murderers, responsible, for example, for the deaths of 30 to 45 million people during China's so-called agricultural Great Leap Forward (1958-62).  Mao also favoured censorship: during the Great Leap Forward peasants and journalists, indeed even children, who protested Mao's policies were tortured to death or executed in various horrible manners. (https://www.amazon.com/State-Food-Crimes-Rhoda-Howard-Hassmann/dp/1107589967 , pp. 27-33).

If Mr. Moufawad-Paul is indeed a Maoist, then it would be consistent with his ideological beliefs to wish to censor Dr. Gilley's writings.  I do not know if he read Dr. Gilley's article, “The Case for Colonialism,” which stirred controversy in 2017. Nor do I know if he, or any of the signatories of the Change.org petition to which Roman and Littlefield appears to have capitulated, have read the book in question. I do know that the Change.org petition is full of misinformation. Indeed, it appears to me that one of the statements in this petition, the claim that Dr. Gilley “endorses a white nationalist perspective,” is libelous.

I, on the other hand, have read Dr. Gilley's original article. I attach a copy of a piece I published in the newsletter of Canada's Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship about it. (http://safs.ca/newsletters/article.php?article=1060) I am also the author of Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana (Croom Helm, 1978), and I do not agree with Dr. Gilley's defense of colonialism. (https://books.google.ca/books/about/Colonialism_and_Underdevelopment_in_Ghan.html?id=npQoAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y ) I do believe, however, that he had a right to publish this article. Others who believed this were Dr, Martin Klein, a distinguished historian of Africa who, like me, disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley argued, and Noam Chomsky.

I have not read The Last Imperialist, but had Lexington published it and had I read it, I suspect I would find it interesting but nevertheless disagree with some or all of it. 

I am also the author of Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa, published in 1986 by Rowman and Littlefield. ( https://www.amazon.ca/Human-Rights-Commonwealth-Africa-Howard/dp/0847674339) Mr. Matthew Held, an editor at Rowman and Littlefield at the time, encouraged me to submit this manuscript to you. This book is very critical of the human rights practices and policies of post-colonial African rulers in nine English-speaking African countries. I am now wondering if you would be willing to publish such a volume today, given your apparent reaction to a petition signed by over a thousand people, the vast majority of whom, I suspect, did not read Dr. Gilley's original controversial article or his book. Perhaps they would find my human-rights perspective indicative of white nationalism.

There is now a counter-petition on Change.org, inaugurated by the (U.S.) National Association of Scholars. (https://www.change.org/p/rowman-littlefield-publishing-group-vindicate-dr-bruce-gilley-s-personal-and-professional-reputation?recruiter=37142265&utm_source=share_petition&utm_med ) I have chosen not to sign it, preferring to write this letter to you instead. However, I agreed with the gist of this petition, especially the call for you to apologize to Dr Gilley, to vindicate his scholarly reputation, and to-re-commit Rowman and Littlefield to publication of The Last Imperialist and the series on problems of anti-colonialism.

I am copying this letter to Dr. Gilley for his information. He did not request that I send this letter to you, nor did he in any way influence its content. However, he has my permission to circulate this letter to you as he sees fit. 

I am also attaching a one-page professional biography. You will note that I have received several academic awards for my work on human rights. Freedom of speech is a core human right.  By your apparent capitulation to a call for censorship on Change.org, you have undermined freedom of speech.

Yours sincerely,

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science,

Wilfrid Laurier University

Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights 2003-16

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

 

 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Threat to Americans' Human Rights

Note: I originally wrote the blog below for a bipartisan US website called Divided We Fall. It was posted on October 5, 2020. Here is the link to the original post, with a reply by Prof. Catherine Renshaw of Australia. https://dividedwefall.com/2020/10/05/human-rights/ I was asked to write about threats to Americans' human rights from both the political left and the political right, and decided to do so from the point of view of international human rights law, which makes it clear that the far larger threat is from the right.

Threats to Americans’ Human Rights

International Human Rights Law

In the midst of the 2020 campaign for the US Presidency, many people worry that both the political left and the political right are undermining human rights. This article compares human rights in the US to international human rights law, in order to assess these possible threats.

Three documents comprise the International Bill of Rights. Along with other UN members, in 1948 the US voted for the non-binding 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Two 1976 treaties elaborated on the UDHR and transformed it into international law. They are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Civil and Political Rights

The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992. Ratification means that a government has consented to be bound by a treaty.

The ICCPR protects such rights as freedom of thought and expression (freedom of speech) and peaceful assembly. It also protects the right to vote and to participate in public affairs, the rule of law, and the rights of people detained by the police. And it protects freedom of religion. 

Some American leftists would like to deny freedom of speech to some individuals or categories of people. These leftists practice identity politics. They believe that everything an individual says can be explained by their identity, for example as a white male.

Many identity politics leftists have campaigned to restrict freedom of speech, especially on US campuses. This trend to restrict freedom of speech is indeed worrisome, and should be combatted. 

Freedom of speech is a core human right. No one should be denied their right to freedom of speech because of their identity, either as Black or White, or female or male.

But the leftist threat to freedom of speech is far from the most important threat to civil and political rights in the US today. That threat comes from the political right, specifically the Republican Party and President Donald Trump.

The right to vote has never been well-protected in the US. Women, African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities had to fight for it. In some US states, convicted felons are not permitted to vote, even after they have served their sentences. In 2016, only 64 per cent of voting-age Americans was actually registered to vote

More recent initiatives further restrict the right to vote. These include the requirement that voters produce identification, and reduction of the numbers of polling booths.  

In recent months the US has also witnessed restrictions on the right of peaceable assembly.  Unidentified but presumably federal forces descended on Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2020 and arrested peaceful protesters, taking them to unknown locations.

The Portland arrests seem to be a violation of the 2010 UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention defines enforced disappearance as “arrest…by agents of the State …followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”  But the US has not ratified this Convention.  

President Trump also undermines the rule of law in other ways. He routinely dismisses law enforcement officers with whose decisions he disagrees. He pardons convicted criminals who are or were his cronies. He does not criticize heavily armed police forces that attack unarmed protesters or murder unarmed citizens.

And President Trump calls journalists enemies of the people. So far, he has not actually been able to eliminate freedom of the press, which is a bedrock right in any democracy.

These recent attacks on civil and political rights have led many observers to wonder if the future of the US lies in fascism. The parallels with Nazi Germany are not exact, but are very worrisome. Just as the rich and powerful in 1930s Germany deferred to Adolf Hitler, so many Republicans who should know better have supported President Trump’s attacks on civil and political rights. 

The US was once respected worldwide for its defense of civil and political rights. Yet it is now a country where such basic human rights are under attack.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Meantime, the US has never supported the international law of economic and social rights. It has never ratified the ICESCR. Thus under international law, it is not obliged to protect human rights to health care, housing, social security, or an adequate standard of living.

Yet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed some of these rights as early as 1944. He proclaimed a second Bill of Rights. This second Bill included rights to a useful and remunerative job, a decent home, adequate medical care, a good education, and adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.

When Senator Bernie Sanders claims that “health is a human right,” he is agreeing both with President Roosevelt and with international human rights law, but not with US law. The US is one of the few developed Western countries where citizens do not enjoy universal, tax-supported access to health care.

The US is also one of the most unequal developed Western countries. Tax cuts for the rich intensify that inequality. So does denial of health care to the poor, extremely unequal educational systems from the primary to the university levels, and inadequate social welfare. 

There is no human right in international law to economic equality. Yet scholars and activists know that the more unequal a society is, the less likely that those at the bottom will enjoy not only their economic and social rights, but also their civil and political rights.

It is difficult to take part in the deliberative political process, for example, is you are working three minimum-wage jobs to support your family. Or if you are sick with Covid-19 and can’t afford medical treatment.

Collective Rights

Aside from the rights mentioned in the ICCPR and ICESCR, collective rights are emerging in international human rights law. Collective rights include the right to peace, the right to development, and the right to a clean and healthy environment.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for US President, acknowledges climate change and its threats to the environment. President Trump and the Republican Party do not.

Unalienable Rights

Recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made public the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This report mentioned two foremost unalienable rights: religious liberty and property rights.

Religious liberty is not threatened in the US, although some religious people may believe that they should be free to discriminate in their businesses against LGBT+ people. President Trump's early attempt to impose a so-called “Muslim ban” on immigrants, later modified to ban immigrants from certain Muslim majority countries, did threaten the freedom of religion of prospective immigrants.

As with freedom of religion, no one threatens Americans’ property rights. Even people whom some members of the political right consider to be extreme leftists, if not “communists,” do not do so.

Social Democracy

Left-wing politicians in the US such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are social democrats, not communists. Social democracy is a variant of liberalism that views the social provision of economic security as an inherent part of respect for the individual. It is not communism.

Social democracy protects civil and political rights, which communism routinely violates. It preserves a market-based economic system and protects private property, which communism destroys.

But social democrats also try to protect citizens against detrimental market forces and extreme inequality. Contemporary social democrats also worry about collective rights, especially the right to be protected against climate change.

In other Western states, social democracy is a normal part of politics. It is not considered to be an extreme leftist position.

The left wing of the Democratic Party is comprised of social democrats, or what Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez call democratic socialists. It is the political group most willing to protect the entire range of internationally-recognized human rights in the US.