Monday 25 July 2016

The Mother of Mohammed by Sally Neighbour: Book Note

The Mother of Mohammed by Sally Neighbour: Book Note

Recently my husband and I watched the movie, Eye in the Sky.  It’s about drones: English, American and Kenyan military and political figures are trying to kill some Al-Shabad leaders in Nairobi. The film raises two questions. 

Most centrally, the film asks what is the permitted “collateral damage” (civilians killed in the course of the operation), and what if the civilians are children. The movie also raises the question of the whole morality of long-distance killing. I don’t know whether drone technology is really as sophisticated as the movie makes it appear, but the question of killing children certainly gets an airing, as the film focuses on a cute little girl about eight years old, who may or not be killed if the attack goes ahead.

In this film, one of the objectives of the attack is to kill a woman convert to Islam from the UK, who is implicated in suicide bombings. I wondered if this woman was modeled on an Australian named Robyn (later Rabiah) Hutchinson. This extraordinary person was a normal young woman in the 1970s, partying and smoking dope. Then she travelled to Indonesia and converted to a rather benign form of Indonesian Islam in order to marry. That marriage failed, and she then married another Indonesian adhering to a stricter form of Islam, this husband was later assumed to be one of the people behind the 2002 Bali bombing. After that marriage failed as well, she had a series of other husbands and eventually had five children. She also raised a grand-daughter.

Unsatisfied with life in Australia, Hutchinson took her younger children to Pakistan and later to Afghanistan, where she joined a compound of Islamists seemingly connected to Osama Bin Laden (who also, it seems, was considering marrying her at one point). She was admired in this community and although lacking medical training was put in charge of the compound hospital. She insisted that in conformity with the teachings of Islam, she be treated with respect by all males. Ordered to marry because single women should not live independently, she did so. 

When the compound was being bombed, Hutchinson refused to leave until her husband ordered her to; she believed in the strict Islamic rule that women should obey their husbands. She escaped with her children to Iran and turned herself in to the Australian Embassy. Unlike her counterpart in the film, the government was eager to have her returned to Australia where she could be questioned, rather than killed or abandoned.  When Sally Neighbour, the author of The Mother of Mohammed: An Australian Woman’s Extraordinary Journey into Jihad (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) interviewed her, she was living in a suburb of Sydney, wearing a full burqah, seemingly under the strict eye of Australian security forces.

Psychologically, it appears that Hutchinson needed very strict moral guidelines and rules, which she found in Islam. Despite the fact that she spent almost her entire adult life married to and surrounded by violent Islamists of various sorts, she denied any responsibility whatsoever for their actions, insisting that she was a simple wife and mother. Politics did not interest her, she said. This is a standard women’s trope: wives and mothers are not expected to be aware of, interested in, or responsible for the actions of the men in their lives. According to Neighbour, “Rabiah’s view…was that the jihad against America was ‘Osama’s war.’ She had some sympathy for it, but regarded it as a quite separate undertaking from her own quest to help build an Islamic state.” (p. 251)

I think Hutchinson’s disingenuous claim that all she was doing was minding her own business was appallingly immoral, but women seem to get away with that more than men do.  If we want equality, we have to be equally aware of the world around us and equally responsible to notice and remedy injustice and violence. In her early life Hutchinson was attracted to a romantic vision of jihad, but later in life, enmeshed as she was in violent groups, she chose to close her eyes and ears to what she witnessed. This assumes, of course, that she was telling Neighbour the truth, as opposed to adopting the woman’s role to cover her own criminal activities.

Hutchinson’s two oldest children had spent part of their childhoods in Australia, so when she brought them back there after one of her forays abroad, they broke with her and stayed (although her daughter turned over her own daughter to Hutchinson to raise). I wondered what happened to the other children, so I checked on-line. It appears that in 2014 one of her sons was fighting with a rebel group in Syria, and one of her daughters married a man implicated in terrorism and arrested in Sydney in 2005.

 The Mother of Mohammed  is a fast read, extremely interesting and also scary. I am not an expert on terrorism so I can’t offer any interesting academic insights into the book, but I do recommend it.

Monday 18 July 2016

Audio Podcast on State Food Crimes

Audio Podcast on State Food Crimes

Readers of this blog over the last four years might have noticed that I have posted several entries on North Korea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Israel and West Bank/Gaza.  That is because I have been writing a book entitled State Food Crimes, which is scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press on August 15, 2016.

 Recently my colleague Todd Landman of the University of Nottingham interviewed me about this book for a 22-minute audio podcast. The podcast is called “Digesting Food Crimes: is there an appetite for Prosecution?” and is published by The Rights Track: Sound Evidence on Human Rights.  Here is the link:

And here is a brief summary of the book.

Governments sometimes introduce policies that cause malnutrition or starvation among their citizens or others for whom they are responsible. After an introduction on the right to food, Part I discusses historical cases; communist famines (Ukraine 1932-33; China 1958-62; Cambodia 1975-79); and neglect of starvation by democratic states (Ireland 1840s; Germany post-WWI; Canadian Aboriginals 1870s). Part II discusses contemporary starvation (North Korea) and malnutrition (Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and the West Bank and Gaza). Part III uses the cases in Part II to analyse international law (the law of genocide, crimes against humanity, refugee law, and penal starvation); sanctions and food aid, and civil and political rights as they pertain to the right to food. It also includes a chapter on the right to food in advanced capitalist democracies, focusing on Canadian Aboriginals, and concludes with a brief consideration of the need for a new international treaty on the right to food.

If anyone would like to know what I have been working on for the last six years without actually reading the book, this podcast will tell you.  Or you might actually decide to read the book as well!

Monday 11 July 2016

Announcement: Canadian Freedom of Association Award

Announcement: Canadian Freedom of Association Award

My friend and colleague, Roy J. Adams, recent endowed a new a new award, the Canadian Freedom of Association Award.  Roy is the author of the guest blog on February 25, 2015: “Full Freedom of Association Wins Charter Protection.”  Roy is a stalwart and strong promoter of the rights of trade unions; see particularly, below, his discussion of how Canada and most other countries fail to promote collective bargaining, as all members of the International Labour Organization are required to do.  

Roy J. Adams

“The Canadian Industrial Relations Association Announces a new Canadian Freedom of Association Award

Enabled by a start-up gift of $20,000 from Roy J. Adams, the Canadian Industrial Relations Association has established a Canadian Freedom of Association Award. It will be presented annually to a person or organization “that has made an outstanding contribution to promoting understanding of and compliance with international standards regarding the right to organize and bargain collectively as those standards apply to Canada.” Among the practices that the award is intended to encourage are “efforts or initiatives that establish or expand upon the right of all workers to form and join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization, that expand the guarantees for the free functioning of worker and employer organizations without interference by public authorities; and to respect, to promote and to realize in good faith the rights of workers and employers to collective bargaining in accord with internationally recognized human rights standards, and, in particular those principles and standards developed and promoted by the International Labour Organization.”

In his talk announcing the award, Roy Adams further elaborated on some of the issues that the award is intended to illuminate and the practices it is intended to encourage. Here is the text of his remarks made to those attending the CIRA Annual Meeting in Saskatoon on May 31, 2016.

The Canadian Freedom of Association Award: Why and For Whom?

Although I had been researching and teaching international and comparative industrial relations for many years, I first began to pay serious attention to labour rights as human rights in the early 1990s when McMaster introduced its Theme School on International Justice and Human Rights and I was asked to develop the international labour rights course. What I came to realize more clearly than I had before is that, although we have pledged to respect international human rights law, in many ways Canadian law, custom and practice is out of sync with international law.

Collective bargaining is a fundamental human right, recognized as such by relevant international organizations and most nations of the world but we do not honour it as a human right.

Employers, for example, who would not consider discouraging women from applying for jobs historically held by men, regularly make it known that they will do whatever the law permits to discourage their employees from forming the unions necessary to engage in collective bargaining.

Canada is a member of the International Labour Organization and all members of the ILO have a constitutional responsibility to “promote” collective bargaining but our governments don’t do that. “Promote” means “to encourage to exist or flourish” but our governments do not encourage employees to form unions and bargain collectively. Instead they remain neutral thereby granting legitimacy to the absence of collective bargaining and to the efforts of employers to avoid the process.

Viable, independent unions have a right to negotiate collective agreements and to organize work stoppages in support of their proposals but if they are unable to meet the stringent requirements for becoming “exclusive agent” for all employees in some government recognized bargaining unit, they get no government support. Rather than easy, as international standards say it should be, the road to union representation and a jointly regulated workplace is rocky, dangerous and difficult. 

Independent unions have no effective, protected right to strike and although it is clearly contrary to international law, even government certified unions on legal strike have regularly had their strike rights illicitly abrogated by the threat or practice of back to work orders.

And, let me provide one final way that our practices offend international human rights law: advice on how to avoid unions and collective bargaining is regularly on display at management conferences and in the classrooms of Canada’s business schools. University and college teachers do not commonly advocate practices that are clearly illegal, such as firing union activists, but they do teach potential human resource management executives how unions and collective bargaining may be rendered “unnecessary” much as Machiavellian advisors counseled their dictatorial “princes” on the ways to make democracy unnecessary.

This award is intended to encourage those who would expose and oppose these practices.

It might go to a civil society organization that went to extraordinary efforts to increase consciousness of the duty of governments to promote collective bargaining. Better yet, it might go to a political party that made collective bargaining promotion part of its electoral platform. Or still better yet, it might go to a sitting government that put a plan in place to increase collective bargaining coverage, where it is lagging, to over 50, or 60 or 70%.

It might go also to an employer who  scrupulously respected international standards by, for example, publicly announcing to his/her employees the firm’s willingness to enter into good faith negotiations leading to a collective agreement  with any independent, democratic union with sufficient resources to effectively represent employee interests on a daily basis.

It might go to a union that made active efforts to help workers exercise their right to organize in any format with which they feel comfortable so long as it is not illegal and conforms to international human rights law.

It might go to any organization or government deemed to rigorously respect worker strike rights especially in situations when doing so requires political courage.

It might also go to a University Business School that pledged to teach human resource management as practiced in unionized firms on the basis that all firms of any size would be unionized were the enterprise to rigorously respect international human rights law.

And, of course, the award might go to individuals – professors, union leaders, corporate executives, citizens-at large – who made extraordinary efforts to bring about a Canadian industrial relations system consistent with international law.

I’ve not mentioned constitutional law because it must be seen at this point to be, by default, virtually synonymous with international law. In its recent jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of Canada has, to a very large degree, handed down decisions consistent with international law.

I am sure that the committee of the Canadian Industrial Relations Association will be able to identify many more efforts worthy of this award. If over time the award is able to raise consciousness of the disconnect between our current practices and what our practices ought to be, its establishment will be a success.”