July 2016 Newsletter

bigotryIn this issue:

  • Outreach report from our first Summer in the City
  • Bigotry is a lifestyle choice
  • Commenting on social media? Think twice!
  • Is blasphemy a victimless crime? Stand up for free speech!
  • and more…

July newsletter


Reactions to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

There has been no shortage of controversy in both the mainstream and social media networks lately over Syrian refugees. Canada has committed to accepting 25,000 of them over the next few months. This has prompted criticism – and worse – from every kind of fear-mongerer, racist, and xenophobe. Meanwhile, desperate people are trying to escape terrorism and get to safety. Look at this heartbreaking image from a news article about where refugee children sleep.

where children sleep

In spite of that, posts like this one are appearing on social media pages:

I see the posts against allowing the refugees and I see the posts condemning those people who don’t want the refugees. Here’s the problem with the refugee’s – it only takes 1 member of ISIS to hide among them and be allowed in. Only 1. To live in a free country means to preserve that freedom, at all costs. To some I know that sounds so savage and uncaring, but it’s my country too. My free & safe country and I believe that it should be protected at all costs.

One of HAAM’s executive responded to that post:

Terrorists are already here, and Canada will likely be attacked at some point whether we help suffering people or whether we don’t. My values as a humanist don’t allow me to say “I’ve got mine, so screw you” to people whose kids are being bombed and shot at and starved (or drowned in their desperate escape attempts) by the same extremists who attacked Paris. The world needs more courage in the time of ISIS, not less. If I or my loved ones die in the service of humanism, so be it. I believe your bible says in Leviticus, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbour’s blood is shed.”

“First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.”

-Martin Niemöller, 1946

Reply from the original post:

I think I come at it from a different, more – for lack of a better word, selfish – angle, and I hate that it makes me look selfish, that it makes me look uncaring and unyielding because I am not. The freedom of Canada is becoming more and more diluted the more we accept others’ values, beliefs and mores over the ones that created the country. While I agree that evolution is evolution – change has to occur in order to have progress; truth be told, many of the beliefs and values of those entering Canada are not in tune with that freedom, and more and more those holding those beliefs are asking to be more and more recognized. Sharia law for instance – it’s practiced here on our free land and my fear is that one day it will actually be recognized. To accept more and more beliefs that are completely anti-freedom (those beliefs and values that fly in the face of freedom like women’s rights, gay rights, and humanitarian rights) well, that is a slippery slope. Freedom comes with the responsibility of preserving it. How do we preserve it? Right now in Canada we have some of the highest child poverty rates among 1st world nations, cities with no family physicians available so thousands of people have to rely on a ‘walk in’ system, wait lists for surgeries that extend into months, sub-par education and education facilities, failing infrastructure in most major urban centers, a CPP that arguably won’t exist in 20-30 years, an aging population that health care will not keep up with, unaffordable housing in most major urban centers – how do we cope with that while allowing thousands upon thousands of refugees in? I know it’s selfish of me, I hate that it is… but I don’t know how to blend these issues so that they make sense.

A final response from our exec:

Ah, so people in Canada have the “freedom” to be exactly like you are. And it’s OK to let innocent bystanders from a war zone suffer and die by the thousands because they might want to come here and cause you inconvenience with their differences. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not OK with allowing what I consider to be backward and horrid practices here, like ‘honour’ killings or gender segregation, but I certainly am not harmed by having the necessary conversations about them. And that’s a different topic from giving necessary aid to humans in desperate need. We already have hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Canada (among many other groups) and we’re OK. Having challenging conversations about how we build our society together doesn’t deserve to be in the same sphere of conversation as whether we should save people from genocide. We can afford to be inconvenienced by crumbling roads and dwindling CPP as the worst problems of our mismanaged wealth; people can’t survive *at all* in a genocide. It’s a no-brainer.

This attitude isn’t new

Sad to say that historically, fear and rejection of newcomers is nothing new. Anne Frank might be a 75 year old woman living in the US today if her family had been able to get out of Germany in the 1930’s. Dr Seuss, who later wrote children’s books, drew this political cartoon in 1938, and it still rings true today.

seuss refugees


“Foreigners’ weren’t always so welcome here in Manitoba, either, decades ago, as history shows.

ukranian immigrants 2

Ideas do not always deserve respect, but people do

It can sometimes be difficult to separate out criticism of ideologies from bigotry against entire groups of people. But separate them we must, because the lives of innocent victims are at stake. Here is an example of a meme that’s been circulated lately on social media. It illustrates the kind of conflict that develops when people confuse the two.
being an atheist

HAAM member Dorothy Stephens shared this response:

I’ve seen this in my newsfeed a few times lately and I feel the need to address point #2.
Promotion and acceptance of irrational and superstitious beliefs is NOT okay.
People deserve respect. Ideas and ideologies do NOT automatically deserve respect. Ideas should be open to debate in the public sphere, where they must earn respect based on their own merits.

Religious ideologies – ALL of them – fail in this regard, because religion itself is not based on evidence or rational thinking. Perhaps many Christians have forgotten that it wasn’t so long ago their own religion was burning witches at the stake. There are plenty of evangelical leaders today who are just as fervent about their own brand of theocracy as Muslim leaders are about theirs. The level of violence hasn’t been equaled – yet – but the potential is there (for an example, look up Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill).

At best, religious thinking leads people to make decisions without sufficient evidence, and which are therefore often not in their own, or society’s, best interests. On a personal or local level, such bad decision making leads to individuals taking comfort in the supernatural rather than seeking legitimate treatment for ailments like mental illness, PTSD, or addictions; and children being denied proper health care and education. On a societal level, it leads to poor policy decisions on issues like global warming, denial of basic human rights to minority groups like the LGBT community, and, at the extreme end, terrorist attacks. I will continue to call out nonsense and irrational thinking when I see it, and I’m not apologizing for that.

Speaking out against irrational ideas, however, is NOT the same thing as attacking individual people. Unfortunately, every new terrorist attack brings out the xenophobes – the anti-immigration rants, the racists, the gun-toting right-wing nut-jobs. Adding this kind of hatred and intolerance to an already violent situation only makes the atmosphere more toxic and the situation more desperate for the victims.

Refugees are fleeing the same terrorists that the rest of the world is fighting, and most have no place to return to. As fellow human beings we need to offer assistance and place to stay. Have we already forgotten the lessons of WWII?


If you are still concerned about accepting Syrian refugees, read this.

The Niqab – Yes or No?

Note: The following article expresses the views of the author and may not represent the views of all HAAM members.

niqabI have no use for any religion – to me, Islam and Christianity are on equal playing fields. I think both are equally dangerous, and both have done tremendous harm to humanity. Without going too far into church history (and I could go back to the early days and start from there; it’s rife with bloodshed and evil), I’m going to point to the last 100 years – the very recent treatment of Aboriginals in Canada. The massacre and genocide of so many native children was directly done in the name of God. And that was mainstream Christianity – we’re not even talking about extremism. Present day, there are still extremist groups that are violent and dangerous. They’re not as profiled as often as Muslim religions are, but they exist, and they’re doing huge amounts of damage. I address this recent phenomenon as “Islamophobia” because that’s what it’s called, but it’s really not fear/hatred of the religion – it’s actually pure racism. If there were this level of hatred/fear/mistrust against Caucasians called “Christianityphobia”, I would definitely have the same reaction. Racism, however it’s disguised, is NEVER OK.

Christians like to complain that there’s hatred for Christianity, but what it really is, is disagreement, and calling out the fact that Christians have been using their privilege to wield their power and beliefs on everyone else. Historically, Christians have enjoyed an imbalance of power in Canadian society, and that imbalance is now being straightened out, which means that the privilege/power is being lost. Naturally, that’s uncomfortable, and I can understand how it feels like persecution/hatred, but it’s not. It’s just leveling out the playing field for everyone. If you’re Christian, nobody is challenging your right to believe and worship as you would like. Nobody is telling you to go back to your home country unless you completely assimilate and become like the majority of Canadian society. Nobody is telling you to remove important symbols of your faith on your private property because the rest of us don’t like it. We’re just saying that it’s no longer ok to force your beliefs on the rest of us – that is all.

And now, my favorite part. I read an article about Muslim woman saying that the niqab isn’t a part of Islam, and this is where it hits close to home for me. I was raised in an extremist Christian cult called the Church of God Restoration, which for this purpose I’m going to compare to the ISIS branch of Islam. (Not saying that we went about killing people with guns, although if we could have gotten away with it, we probably would have…) So. This article is comparable to a mainstream Mennonite woman writing something similar about her religion. No, the head covering isn’t a part of her mainstream Mennonite religion, and she doesn’t think that the Bible says she needs to wear it. For Hutterite, Holdeman, Conservative Mennonite, etc. etc. etc. women, however, the head covering absolutely IS a part of their religion. They have rock solid backing in their interpretation of the Bible for wearing it, and to force them to take it off would be humiliating and violating beyond belief. Yes, the rest of us may look at those women with pity, thinking that they’re oppressed by men, and we would be partly right. That form of religion is absolutely subjugating the women, and awarding them less status than men.

But, having been inside a similar circle, I sympathize. Yes, I may have been oppressed and in bondage – no arguments there. HOWEVER, the clothes that I wore were my safety, my way of obeying God, and my way of fitting in in my culture. It was MY CHOICE to wear those clothes, and if someone had told me that I had to put on a pair of jeans and a tank top… gosh, I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it. I don’t think I can even start to describe the panic and violation I would have felt at that. Some strange person, from outside my group (so I already would have had no trust, because I didn’t trust anyone on the outside) was telling me that what I was wearing was wrong, that the men in my group were forcing me to wear it, and now they (the men outside of my group) are telling me that I CANNOT legally wear it? That would have traumatized me beyond belief, and I would never, ever have trusted an “outsider” again. It was MY CHOICE to wear those clothes, and it had to be MY CHOICE to take them off. Even that was brutal; even though I reasoned my way through it, and had good reasons for putting on 3/4 length sleeves or pants, I still felt naked and evil. It’s a part of who these women are- they have deeply held beliefs, which we may think are wrong, but it’s not for us to force them to change. We have to respect their choices, just as we would want ours to be respected. If a political party were to attack Christianity, telling Mennonite women that they had to take their head coverings off, I would have exactly the same reaction as I have to this. It’s a violation of personal beliefs and choice, and that is never OK. As individuals, we need to have the freedom to worship (or not) as we please, to dress as we feel as our religion dictates, etc. I believe in equality, but I fail to see how a white male telling a Muslim woman what she can’t wear is any better than a Muslim man telling her what she has to wear.

Of course, if a woman’s identity needs to be verified, we need mechanisms in place that allow that, absolutely, but we have to do so in a way that that is not humiliating her, and does not violate her personal security or beliefs. Back to the parallel of me in the Church of God Restoration. One of my greatest fears was that my bun (with the dozens of hairpins I used to keep it secure) would set off the machines at airport security, and I would be forced to take down my hair in front of a bunch of men. That was the height of immodesty, and would have reduced me to unbearable tears of shame. Nothing ever happened, but if it had, the compassionate thing would have been for a female security guard to take me into a secluded room for me to take my hair down, thus sparing me from the humiliation of having men see my hair. Whether we agree or not, the thought of exposing her face to strange men is incomprehensible to a Muslim woman who wears a niqab.

I may fiercely disagree with religion, but I will always fight for your right to believe and practice it. That is what makes us Canadians- we have the freedom to choose. The way to go about this is to educate and empower women to make choices for themselves. Period. If their choice right now includes wearing a niqab, then that is their right. In time, as they’re exposed to different schools of thought and education, they may or may not decide to ditch it. Again, that needs to be THEIR CHOICE. Nobody can make it for them. Period.

– Gloria Froese

Je Suis Charlie

Je Suis CharlieFor the record, as a statement of our values, we at HAAM wholeheartedly denounce the violence wrought in Paris, France, by terrorists who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo. This cold-blooded act of murder is offensive to our beliefs and is causing us much heartache and grief. Our sympathies go out to all of those impacted by this tragedy.

There is no guarantee in the world that, as adults, we will never be insulted, offended, or hurt by the actions of others. We can protest, exchange insults, write letters, start a law suit, or take any number of other actions in response. Violence, however, is not an acceptable reaction. Acts of terrorism are especially heinous, being anonymous.

While we may not be fans of the brand of satire practised by Charlie Hebdo, we still assert and agree with their right to freedom of speech.

Right now, we may feel helpless, wondering what action we can take; what can we do to help stop these kinds of events. At HAAM, as a positive action we have decided to support the Centre for Inquiry and Humanist Canada in their efforts to repeal Canada’s archaic and useless blasphemy laws.

In conclusion, we would like to just remind those reading of the names of the twelve victims. May their loss not be in vain.

  • Frédéric Boisseau, 42, building maintenance worker
  • Franck Brinsolaro, 49, Protection Service police officer
  • Cabu (Jean Cabut), 76, cartoonist
  • Elsa Cayat, 54, psychoanalyst and columnist of Jewish religion
  • Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, cartoonist, columnist, and editor-in-chief
  • Philippe Honoré, 74, cartoonist
  • Bernard Maris, 68, economist, editor, and columnist
  • Ahmed Merabet, 42, a Muslim police officer of Algerian descent
  • Mustapha Ourrad, 60, copy editor, Muslim French-Algerian
  • Michel Renaud, 69, guest at the meeting
  • Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57, cartoonist.
  • Georges Wolinski, 80, cartoonist born in Tunisia of Jewish descent

March 2013 Newsletter

tracie harris_0Our March newsletter. Tracie Harris is our guest speaker (via Skype) for our March meeting. And we discuss bullying and the Office of Religious Freedom.