Tag Archives: politics

We can always call them Bulgarians. — Samuel Goldwyn (Attributed)

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Dining with my friend Plamen at a restaurant in Sofia.

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“We can always call them Bulgarians,” is a quotation attributed by Wilella Waldorf to “Samuel Goldwyn or somebody” in the New York Post, September 17, 1937. (as cited in The origin of “Bulgarian” as a euphemism for sexual minorities.) The euphemism was used in American cinema and theatre when referring to gay and lesbian characters on screen and stage starting in the first half of the 20th century. What made me think of this is my recent trip to Bulgaria. I left Ottawa, bound for Bulgaria, on July 14 and returned on July 25. I met up with my friend Plamen in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, and embarked on a whirlwind tour with him as my guide and interpreter. We had a great time. Bulgaria has a rich history and culture going back to antiquity, and today Bulgaria is a peaceful and prosperous society. During the tour, we did not visit any gay bars or clubs in Bulgaria as it was not on the itinerary; still, in the back of my mind, I wondered what life is like for gay people in Bulgaria. Do gay people live openly in Bulgarian society, or do they remain closeted and if so, why? Continue reading

Today, the degradation of the inner life is symbolized by the fact that the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet. — Lewis Mumford

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Using the toilet is a basic human need. Everyone needs to relieve themselves and defecate; these are natural bodily functions. As small children, going to the bathroom is typically a shameless affair. It is not unusual to do your business under the care and supervision of a parent or caregiver at home and in public washrooms. I remember accompanying my mother into public women’s washrooms as a small boy when I had to go. As we grow older, using the bathroom becomes a more private affair. People generally prefer to respond to the call of nature without an audience. This preference was brought home to me the time while serving in the Canadian Army I found myself and my regiment taking part in an exercise at a National Guard camp in Grayling, Michigan. In 1979 at least, the U.S. Army did not concern itself with privacy in the washroom facilities for the lower ranks. The urinal was an open trough, and the “shitters” were in a row in plain view. Pooping in plain sight of your comrades took a little getting used to. Fortunately, with existing etiquette concerning public washrooms, one is generally assured a modicum of privacy. Also, public washrooms are designated for men and women separately. This has long been the norm and quite reasonable, so how did public washroom etiquette become such a hot button issue in recent history? Continue reading

Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

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Years ago I remembered while having a discussion of theology with a group of friends, one in the group referred to himself as a pious atheist. I was taken aback by his comment as piety and atheism were not terms I associated with one another. Piety is most commonly associated with religious belief and practice. Since then I gave this notion a great deal of thought: is secular piety a possibility? This question is worth considering in light of the reality that how one expresses their piety in an increasingly secular society such as Canada has become a contentious issue of late as is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises). The stated aim of the charter is to ensure there is a clear separation of religion and state and that public employees have religious neutrality. What this means is the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols or garb on the job will be prohibited. Continue reading

I think Islam is in a sense, in crisis. It needs to question and re-question itself. — Azar Nafisi

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Criticism of religion is a tender subject. Criticism of Islam, in particular, is especially so as is evidenced by the court battle that threatened to take shape between the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald (spokesman for Prime Minister Harper). The NCCM filed a notice of libel in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice over remarks made by Jason MacDonald in dismissing their objection to the inclusion of Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the Beth Avraham Yosef Synagogue in Toronto as part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Harper on a visit to Israel in January 2014. MacDonald dismissed their objection stating “we will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to terrorist organization such as Hamas.” (as cited in CTV News) The NCCM objected to the inclusion of Rabbi Korobkin in the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Harper because he hosted speaking engagements featuring Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two noted critics of Islam, in September 2013. Continue reading

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. — Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

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In essays published earlier on this blog the topic of religion in society, particularly the direction the Western world took in gradually establishing a clear separation of religion and state, relegating religion to the sphere of private conscience is discussed. The last remnants of Papal authority in temporal affairs ended with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929. In the present, in the Western world, religious liberty is guaranteed in law and members of religious institutions are free to comment on moral and political issues just as anyone else. In the Islamic world, this distinction between religion and state never emerged, save for the Republic of Turkey which was founded as a secular state in 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The constitutional, civil and common law legal systems in effect across the Western world are rooted in the theory of natural rights, primarily as espoused by the men of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. By contrast, across the Islamic world, the system of law, sharia, a religiously based moral and legal code applies. The differences in the legal systems and the place of religion in society between the Western world and the Islamic world are quite noticeable in comparing responses to the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Continue reading

“Dignity is not negotiable. Dignity is the honor of the family.” — Vartan Gregorian

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A good friend and hunting buddy of mine, Omer, is an observant Muslim whose family immigrated to Canada from Pakistan. Omer is an educated man as is the rest of his family. He is someone I have known several years and with whom I have enjoyed many in-depth discussions, learning about his faith and the culture in which he grew up before coming to Canada.  He tells me that family honour and shame are taken very seriously by some elements of Pakistani society. The phenomenon of honour killing is a reality for these elements of Pakistani society, particularly in the rural and tribal regions. Family honour is taken so seriously in this culture that if a family member (typically a girl or young woman) brings shame on the family the whole family suffers. They become untouchables; they are deemed unfit to associate with and most certainly are not welcome to marry into other families. The only way family honour can be restored in such a case is in killing the family member who brought the shame onto the family. This understanding of family honour is bound up in religion (Islam) and a culture in which men dominate. He certainly does not approve of this behaviour. He recognizes it as a problem that Pakistani society must address. Continue reading

Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us. Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and we support each other. I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative. — David Cameron

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Mika and I are supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada. While we support the government led by Prime Minister Harper, we do not have membership in the Conservative Party of Canada, nor do we donate money to the Party. Neither do we agree with every position taken by the Conservative government and where instances of wrongdoing are exposed, we think those responsible should suffer the consequences. You may find odd that a gay couple identifies as conservative, but in our outlook and values, we see ourselves moderate centre-right politically. We value personal liberty, religious liberty (freedom of conscience), intellectual freedom, equality of opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. In our opinion, the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper currently best represents these values. Continue reading

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.”–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

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Martyrdom is a concept with which I have been familiar since I was very young. From my Roman Catholic background growing up I remember reading accounts of the lives of saints, many of whom were martyred in the most grisly fashions imaginable. In the summer of 1969 my family, myself, my three siblings, our mother and father and my mother’s parents toured Europe, traveling in a Volkswagen van. Among the sights we saw were a number of art galleries where I viewed a great many works of art depicting the martyrdom of various saints. The martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is one of the more memorable depictions I recall, but it was the depiction of one event in particular from the Bible that really made an impression on me: that of the Massacre of the Innocents. From the first time I heard that story read to me I was troubled by it. I struggled to understand why God would allow such an atrocity. In one version of the story, written for children, I remember reading that we should find solace  in that the mothers of the slain baby boys would have found comfort had they known their murdered sons were the first Christian martyrs. This raised a question for me I have pondered over the years: can children be martyrs? Continue reading

Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.–Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

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While attitudes toward gay people have changed a great deal for the better in my lifetime, prejudice and stereotypes remain. There is one stereotype in particular that kept me from coming out until later in life: that of the gay man as a predator from whom children must be protected. I am told I am good in my interaction with children and young people. I am gentle and soft-spoken and very easy going, and children generally like me. Because of this, it was suggested that I consider a career in teaching by one of my mentors at Queen’s University. I was reluctant to go into teaching because of this stereotype. I was confronted with this stereotype and the prejudice against gay men as teachers in 1986, the year I graduated from Queen’s. The Chairman of the Frontenac County Board of Education, in commenting on the amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code which added sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, was dismayed that he no longer had any legal grounds to refuse to hire a teacher if he knew he was dealing with an “obvious faggot.” Continue reading

You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight. — Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)

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The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the United States is great news for gay couples who are employed by the federal government, particularly those who are serving in the US military. Interestingly, the ban on gays serving in the US military was lifted before the repeal of DOMA, and the effort to lift this ban was supported by what you might think was a most unlikely advocate: none other than Barry Goldwater (1909-1998).  Goldwater was a staunch conservative, an anti-communist politician whose career in federal politics began in 1952 as a Senator for the State of Arizona and presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1964, continuing until his retirement in 1987. He was forthright and transparent in his thought concerning gay rights in US society and gays serving in the US military and not in the way you may be thinking.  Concerning gays serving in the military, he stated “everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar. They’ll still be serving long after we’re all dead and buried. That should not surprise anyone.” He added:

The conservative movement, to which I subscribe, has as one of its basic tenets the belief that government should stay out of people’s private lives. Government governs best when it governs least – and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone’s version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays. (Lifting ban on gays in military should be conservative cause) Continue reading