Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Patrick Stewart Channels Voltaire

June 11, 2015

Voltaire is supposed to have said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He probably didn’t really say it but Patrick Stewart effectively did. I have read about this in various places, but here is the story at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Actor Patrick Stewart is supporting the free speech rights of Christian bakers from northern Ireland who declined to decorate a cake with a pro-gay-marriage message.

An Irish court fined the owners of Ashers Bakery £500 for not writing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake.

The bakery owners say they’re happy to bake a cake for anyone, but reserve the right to decline messages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Stewart, who is known for his roles in “Star Trek” and “X-Men,” told BBC “Newsnight” that no one should be forced to write things they disagree with.

Gay activists have been attacking Stewart for his comments.

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Sadly, it has become increasingly rare in our politically correct world, with its microaggressions and trigger warnings, for anyone to adopt Voltaire’s view on permitting freedom of speech, even for those you don’t like and Patrick Stewart deserves some praise for doing so. Naturally, he was subjected to the usual criticism from the supporters of tolerance and diversity and he felt he had to clarify his position on his Facebook page.

As part of my advocacy for Amnesty International, I gave an interview on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs. In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other. I know many disagree with my sentiments, including the courts. I respect and understand their position, especially in this important climate where the tides of prejudices and inequality are (thankfully) turning. What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.

There are a couple of things about this statement that bother me. Why does Patrick Stewart feel the need to declare his fealty to politically correct orthodoxy. I feel as if he is saying that he supports the right of thought criminals to speak freely but he is certainly not a thought criminal himself, or that he is most offended by the idea that he might be one thought of as one of those ignorant mouth-breathers who are opposed to same-sex marriage. I understand that Stewart does not want his views on this issue to be misconstrued and that he probably doesn’t intend his statement to be taken this way, but this assurance that he is on the right side gives a somewhat begrudging feel to his defense of free speech, as if he is saying he supports their right to be wrong. But, maybe I am reading too much into it.

The other thing that bothers me about Patrick Stewart’s statement is that he had to make any clarifying statement at all. I do not know precisely what his critics have been saying, but it seems that their reasoning is that the only reason that Patrick Stewart would support the right of a baker to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro gay marriage message is that he must agree with the baker. The idea that one can support the free speech even of people one disagrees with seems not to have entered into their minds. Voltaire’s statement could be left untranslated in the original French for all the good it does people like this.

Is Voltaire’s concept really so hard to grasp? Does it not ever occur to these people that defending the free speech of others is the only way to protect one’s own free speech, or that once free speech is abridged, they might be next? Do they never consider that the other side might be right but if they shout them down, they will never learn any better, or that if the other side is wrong, compelling outward compliance to orthodoxy does not persuade anyone? Perhaps they don’t think much at all.

Patrick Stewart stated that freedom of speech and equality are fundamental rights. I would say that freedom of speech is far more important. If we have freedom of speech, we can speak out about whatever changes are needed to ensure equality. Without freedom of speech, we can do nothing. The real danger here in America and throughout the West is that there seems to be an increasing number of people who either believe freedom of speech is, at best, a secondary right inferior to the struggle for social justice and equality or that freedom of speech is not a right at all. I’m glad at least one person from Hollywood is willing to publicly support the right to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. I hope others follow Stewart’s lead.

American Human Rights Violations

January 31, 2013

Last may, The People’s Republic of China released its report on the human rights violations committed by the US government. I suppose that this was some sort of response to the US State Department‘s annual report on the human rights violations committed by the Chinese government. The Chinese report makes for interesting reading. According to them, America is a country that routinely suppresses the rights and aspirations of its citizen, practices institutionalised discrimination against minorities, and locks up thousands of people for no reason. The press and Internet are subject to censorship and the police routinely abuse suspects in custody. Millions of Americans are desperately poor and the gap between rich and poor is widening. In other words, America is the sort of country China is.

I don’t know whether the authors of this report really believe what is written in it or if they are skilled propagandists. I suppose it really doesn’t matter much. This reminds me of the old argument the Soviets used during the Cold War. Sure, they would say, the Soviet Union doesn’t allow it’s people freedom of speech or religion, but we guarantee rights, such as the right to housing, education, medical care, that the Americans don’t, so each country is free, but in different ways.

I notice that the writers do not seem to be native English speakers. They write, and presumably speak, English fluently, and there are few obvious grammatical errors, but there seems to be odd word choices here and there, subtile hints that English is not their first language. I shouldn’t say anything though. Their English is much better than my Chinese which is nil.

But to get to my point, what would you think might be on the top of the list of American civil rights abuses? I would never have guessed the right to bear arms, but according to the Chinese, the fact that the US government allows private citizens to possess firearms is an example of how little the government cares for the lives of its citizens.

The United States prioritizes the right to keep and bear arms over the protection of citizens’ lives and personal security and exercises lax firearm possession control, causing rampant gun ownership. The U.S. people hold between 35 percent and 50 percent of the world’ s civilian-owned guns, with every 100 people having 90 guns (Online edition of the Foreign Policy, January 9, 2011). According to a Gallup poll in October 2011, 47 percent of American adults reported that they had a gun. That was an increase of six percentage points from a year ago and the highest Gallup had recorded since 1993. Fifty-two percent of middle-aged adults, aged between 35 and 54, reported to own guns, and the adults’ gun ownership in the south region was 54 percent (The China Press, October 28, 2011). The New York Times reported on November 14, 2011, that since 1995, more than 3,300 felons and people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors had regained their gun rights in the state of Washington and of that number, more than 400 had subsequently committed new crimes, including shooting and other felonies (The New York Times, November 14, 2011).

The United States is the leader among the world’s developed countries in gun violence and gun deaths. According to a report of the Foreign Policy on January 9, 2011, over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun violence and another 200,000 Americans are estimated to be injured each year due to guns (Online edition of the Foreign Policy, January 9, 2011). According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice, among the 480,760 robbery cases and 188,380 rape and sexual assault cases in 2010, the rates of victimization involving firearms were 29 percent and 7 percent, respectively ( On June 2, 2011, a shooting rampage in Arizona left six people dead and one injured (The China Press, June 3, 2011). In Chicago, more than 10 overnight shooting incidents took place just between the evening of June 3 and the morning of June 4 (Chicago Tribune, June 4, 2011). Another five overnight shootings occurred between August 12 evening and August 13 morning in Chicago. These incidents have caused a number of deaths and injuries (Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2011). Shooting spree cases involving one gunman shooting dead over five people also happened in the states of Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Nevada and Southern California (The New York Times, October 13, 2011; CNN, July 8, 2011; CBS, July 23, 2011;USA Today, August 9, 2011). High incidence of gun-related crimes has long ignited complaints of the U.S. people and they stage multiple protests every year, demanding the government strictly control the private possession of arms. The U.S. government, however, fails to pay due attention to this issue.

I would say that right now the government is paying too much attention to this issue. Notice how they have nothing to say about the fact that large numbers of Americans support the right to bear arms and much of the reason that the US government is unable to enact significant gun control is precisely because it is so unpopular. I don’t imagine that public opinion means very much to the people running China.

I wonder what the crime rate in China is and how it compares to America’s. I am not at all sure they keep accurate statistics. I also wonder if certain events in China’s recent history might have turned out differently if the Chinese had the right to bear arms.

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Some More About Osama

May 3, 2011

I’m sorry, but it’s all I can think of right now, so I’ll just highlight a few stories that caught my eye.

Obama doesn’t seem to have gotten any bounce in his approval ratings.

While the public lauds the president’s performance killing Bin Laden, he got no overall bounce in a new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll. Also: Obama vs. Bush on terror and Obama vs. Trump in 2012.

How much overall boost did President Obama get from the capture of Osama Bin Laden? None, according to an exclusive Newsweek / Daily Beast poll encompassing 1,200 American adults, conducted in the two days immediately before the president’s Sunday announcement about the terrorist leader, and then the two days immediately after.

Specifically, Americans like the way he handled the situation, giving him strong results in strength and decision-making (55 percent now term him a strong leader overall, and 63 percent do so in the area of terrorism). Yet he did not get any overall bump in terms of approval rating, or electoral support. His approval rate was unchanged—48 approve, 49 disapprove, both before and after. There was also no statistical change in whether Obama deserves reelection—40/48 before, 39/49 after.

This doesn’t seem quite fair for Obama. If the mission had failed he would have gotten blamed by everyone, s0 it’s only fair to give him some credit now. But, as the article mentions, people are probably more fixated on the poor economy right now.

On the other hand, it seems to have taken him sixteen hours to have made up his mind to go ahead. This would seem to be a  “no-brainer” but then he had to have been concerned about the risks

And, of course we have the usual carping:

From Der Speigel:

Was Bin Laden’s Killing Legal?

and the UN:

UN rights boss asks US for facts on bin Laden killing

GENEVA, May 3 (Reuters) – The United Nations’ top human rights official called on the United States on Tuesday to give the U.N. details about Osama bin Laden’s killing and said that all counter-terrorism operations must respect international law.

But Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the al Qaeda leader, killed in a U.S. operation in Pakistan, had committed crimes against humanity as self-confessed mastermind of “the most appalling acts of terrorism”, including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America.

It was always clear that taking bin Laden alive was likely to be difficult, she said, noting that U.S. authorities had stated that they intended to arrest him if possible.

“This was a complex operation and it would be helpful if we knew the precise facts surrounding his killing. The United Nations has consistently emphasised that all counter-terrorism acts must respect international law,” Pillay said in a statement issued in response to a Reuters request.

Is that some kind of joke? The UN has no moral authority whatever on the issue of human rights.


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