Saturday, July 10, 2010

Culture And Human Rights

In late June I took a day off work to attend a morning seminar, held at the downtown library, on “Human Rights and Aboriginals.” A man I used to work with, Ed Yuen, told us that human rights, as declared by the United Nations after the last world war, are worldwide. He said, “You don’t gain human rights by coming to Canada.” You already have human rights everywhere on the planet.

I suppose universal rights, back before we entered the atomic age, were not as urgent. And now? Urgent! “Beneath the spreading mushroom tree there is no time for apathy.”

Some slow-moving elderly men at church once pointed out a biblical passage in Genesis, the passage once used to deny human rights to persons of Negro heritage. These men were old enough to remember a time when there was no U.N. Now, no longer racist, they pointed out this passage as a curiosity, like ice boxes and buttonhooks. These elders may seem straight-laced and narrow-minded but truly I say: They won’t use religion to deny human rights. If I would quote the Bible to justify my crime of “uttering death threats” against a woman, then they would surely rebuke me, and notify the police. For me to quote, “Thou may not allow a witch to live” is no excuse.

Furthermore, if I would put Biblical law, or Muslim religious sharia law, above human rights, then I would be putting scripture above God: I would be idol worshipping. Like my Muslim classmate, I too believe the Lord, Allah, is a “living God.” Life is change. To me this means that as I “live and grow” I become able to realize that God has always believed in human rights. God wants all children to exist. It is I who have been slow to see.

Some would say that culture trumps human rights… at least, that’s what I’ve read. Some people approved when the province of Ontario was considering bringing in sharia law. These people reasoned Arabian-Canadians would “choose” sharia as their “culture.” One problem, of course, is that by this reasoning logically it follows: Before the tumbling of the Berlin wall, we should approve of the Yugoslavians, as their culture, having communism and then, after the fall, having ethic cleansing. Instead we rebuked them for ethnic cleansing, rescued Muslims in Yugoslavia, and now cleansing is gone.

For years we rebuked South Africa, and now apartheid is gone. For years even the Dutch, who shared blood-ties and religion-ties with South Africa, joined in the international outcry. Now it is time to rebuke the government of Iran… Yesterday, Friday July 9, I read in the Globe and Mail there is a petition to save the life of a young woman in Iran, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. She has been condemned, under sharia law, to death by stoning… slow, painful and barbaric. She has already been whipped 99 times. Her crime was adultery.

Now is the time for those who share religion-ties with Iranians to rebuke Iran. I would hope that Muslims in the cities of the eastern U.S. seaboard, and, to the east of those cities, on the prairies of Canada, and, even further east, across the vast ocean to the jungles of Indonesia and Malaysia, will raise their Muslim voices to join in the international outcry.

The prairies? Yes, there are Muslims here on the prairies. And yes, they play hockey. And, however quietly or shyly, they do believe in human rights. They do. And, if not today, then some day they will achieve the self-confidence to cry out across the world to Iran. This I believe.

Sean Crawford
July 2010

~The Calgary Sun for Sunday July 12 has a reuters story that the stoning has been suspended for the time being, "... and it might still carry out the sentence later."

~The “mushroom tree” quote is a paraphrase of a line in the song Who Will Answer?
For the complete lyrics, type the title, all in quotes, into a search engine, then type lyrics, and then hit search.


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