All posts filed under: Human Rights

Upholding the Jihadist’s Veto

In his provocative essay The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine didn’t mince words on Christianity. ”What is it the Bible teaches us?” he asked, and answered: ”rapine, cruelty and murder. What is it the New Testament teaches us?—to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.” In 1819, the English deist Richard Carlile was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison for selling The Age of Reason. Today Tom Paine is celebrated as one of the Enlightenment’s foremost champions of human rights. But even 200 years after his conviction Carlile might not have been vindicated had he been able to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. In a recent ruling, the Court upheld the conviction of an Austrian citizen for an ”abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace” for denouncing the Prophet Muhammad as a “pedophile.” The Court insisted that the comments could arouse “justified indignation” in religious believers …

Asian-Americans’ Unrequited Love of Harvard

Harvard is known as the Ivy League’s Ivy. It is toasted as the gold standard, not only in education, but in academic culture—in visibility as the pinnacle of academic achievement in the entire world. It’s the #1 best-endowed school in the world, with a 400-year history that has produced some of the world’s most powerful and influential people of all time. But to the United States’ 22 million Asian-Americans, Harvard means something even more.  Entire industries have been formed to tutor Asian kids to get into Harvard—and Princeton and Yale. Bestselling memoirs like Harvard Girl and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother have commented on Asian parents’ ceaseless devotion to getting their kids to breathe the rarefied air of Cambridge, Massachusetts. To these Asian parents, deeply committed to ideas of competition and meritocracy, Harvard represents their ultimate prize. All this power, all this adoration, levelled upon one institution—Harvard is Asian-American culture’s king, and how does it treat its subjects? “Harvard never accepts Asian guys,” says Kenneth Xu (no relation to the author) says. Xu is …

Righteous Among the Nations: The Rescued Tribe of Colonel Jose Arturo Castellanos Contreras

“When you grow up in a country where war is the order of the day, the bullets are flying all around you, it is only normal that once you get to a safe place like Canada, it may actually be a good thing to leave your country’s history behind, at least for a while,” Alvaro Castellanos tells me over coffee in midtown Toronto. “And so that is what my brothers did when we got here.” But in time, the past caught up with the Castellanos family. With the release of their extraordinary documentary film The Rescue, Alvaro and his younger brother Boris haven’t just faced up to their clan’s history. They have turned it into high art. Alvaro and Boris came to Canada as immigrants during the height of the civil war in native El Salvador. Their first home was in Pickering, a predominantly white, middle-class Toronto suburb. This was a household run by their mother and aunt. The boys’ estranged father remained in El Salvador, an almost entirely unknown figure in their lives. “You …

Purity or Universalism?

A few days after his recent passing, the Manhattan Institute reposted a speech by V. S. Naipaul from October 1990. The title, “Our Universal Civilization,” captured the triumphal and optimistic spirit of that moment, nearly one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In order to render this universal civilization in greater relief, Naipaul related the following about his travels in Asia [emphasis added]: Traveling among non-Arab Muslims, I found myself among a colonized people who had been stripped by their faith of all that expanding intellectual life, all the varied life of the mind and senses, the expanding cultural and historical knowledge of the world, that I had been growing into on the other side of the world. I was among people whose identity was more or less contained in the faith. I was among people who wished to be pure. If we had read this paragraph without knowing its date or the subjects’ actual geography, religion, and history (in this case colonized non-Arab Muslims), we might have surmised that Naipaul was talking about …

Why It’s Not OK to Hate Men

Is it okay to hate women? Obviously not. It’s not only stupid and immoral but impractical given how many of them there are and the marked differences between each and every one of them. Is it okay to hate men, then? Again, obviously not, for the same reasons. Except – it’s not so obvious. Because such sentiments are again entering the mainstream. I say ‘again’, since misandry – the unapologetic hatred of men as an undifferentiated group – is nothing new. Radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Valerie Solanis (founder of the Society for Cutting Up Men and shooter of Andy Warhol) were the most famous man-haters in the 1970s, but were pretty much disavowed at the time by many more mainstream feminists and later by third wave feminists. Misandry went out of fashion during the 1980s and the idea that feminists were all ‘lesbians and man haters’ was rightly ridiculed. Now it’s back – and much closer to the mainstream than it was 50 years ago. Despite all the remarkable advances we have made …

The Islamic Republic Must Fall

The breathtaking, unprecedented displays of dissent throughout Iran—most notably by the mostazafeen or the traditionally ‘downtrodden’ base of support for the regime—are important. They are important to the Iranian people who brave imprisonment and torture as they struggle for their livelihoods, their freedom, their dignity, and the futures of their children. But they are also important because they offer a glimpse of a more liberal, more peaceful, and more prosperous Middle East—a region at last open to the world, ready to move forwards not backwards, and to prosper rather than terrorize. Belief in such a prospect cannot be scorned as naïve, nor offered as an act of mere charity. Without such a future for Iran, the turmoil of the Middle East and the exodus of refugees to the shores of the free world will continue. Polarization of American politics and civic discourse has left the struggle for freedom in Iran almost exclusively within the purview of the political Right, where the threat posed by Islamist ideas and terrorism have always been taken more seriously. But …

The Enlightenment’s Cynical Critics

Tribalism and slavery are as old as humanity. The very first human records are records of human bondage. Reports estimate that today 60 million people are held as slaves. While each one of these lives represents an unacceptable tragedy, not one occurs with the approval of law. And that is revolutionary. For while slavery is as old as humanity, abolitionism is a relatively recent phenomenon that did not emerge until the ideas and ideals of the Enlightenment nurtured it into existence. In a June 5 article for Slate, Jamelle Bouie writes of the Enlightenment: “At its heart, the movement contained a paradox: Ideas of human freedom and individual rights took root in nations that held other human beings in bondage and were then in the process of exterminating native populations.” In the context of an article largely aimed at undermining a “handful of centrist and conservative writers” who have taken up the Enlightenment’s defence, this appears to be a damning indictment of hypocrisy. That is, of course, unless one considers that, until the Enlightenment, it …

Censorship and Stereotypes: China’s Hip-Hop Generation

Last year, China was hit by a phenomenon unprecedented in its history. Close to a billion of its citizens tuned in to watch ‘The Rap of China,’ a competition designed to introduce hip-hop to a broader public. It was so successful that several of the show’s participants, many of whom were relative unknowns from the underground, went on to sign lucrative record deals and become mainstream stars. The rising popularity of a genre known for its politically subversive content and heavy use of profanity clearly unnerved some of the more staid, rigid ideologues in the Communist Party who saw the art form’s potential to encourage youngsters to stray from collectivist values. Subsequently two high-profile rappers, GAI and PG One, both competitors in ‘The Rap of China,’ were reprimanded for their misogynistic content. The latter was singled out for particular disapproval by the Communist Youth League for his references to pornography and drug use. A nationwide government crackdown ensued and hip-hop culture was effectively banned from the heavily state-controlled mainstream media on the grounds that it …

A History of the Struggle for Gay Equality: Civil Rights or Counterculture Movement?

The history of the gay rights movement in the United States is fascinating, and its progress raises an interesting question about the nature of its activism. Has the struggle for gay equality been primarily a universalist drive for equity and civil rights, with the inter-related goals of individual liberty, respect, and freedom from persecution? Or is it a social justice movement driven by a countercultural constituency intent on separating itself from mainstream culture? The answer is that the gay rights movement in the United States is a complicated combination of both perspectives. To date, the successes of the gay rights movement in the United States have been laudable. The repeal of laws that criminalized homosexual sex was a significant gain. As a consequence, gay people can now live openly and are free to marry. It is true that elements of anti-gay prejudice linger, mainly among the ranks of the religious and the socially conservative. It also remains the case that only a patchwork of laws exist across the 50 states prohibiting discrimination in employment on …

Life as a Kuffar: My Seven Lost Years in Kuwait

It’s December, 2017, and I’m awash in late-afternoon sunshine, sitting outside around a table with old friends and former colleagues. The setting is a farm in the agricultural sector of Kuwait. We’re drinking tea and maybe bootleg date rum, reminiscing. Some of us are smoking shisha. There are dogs at our feet. At night, the courtyard lights can be programmed to flash and glow in different colors. If you stand on the roof, you can see the oil fires burning at Burgan, the largest oil field in Kuwait. This is my first time back since I lived in Kuwait between 2006 and 2013, when I was in my thirties. It was a period during which I became uglier, angrier—and, finally, broken. I returned last year to see familiar faces and revisit old haunts. But I also came to figure out why I broke. Was it me? Or was it Kuwait? I find that some things have changed and many have not. That’s true of me. And it’s true of this country. It’s big things like …