Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Mother Hale

 


Mother Hale

Clara McBride Hale was born on April 1, 1905 in Philadelphia. Hale’s mother had four children and openly assisted the children from the neighborhood and their families. She was mulatto and according to her daughter, could have “passed” for white. Hale’s grandmother had been a slave and she conceived a child fathered by her master; that child was Hale’s mother.

Hale vividly remembered her mother advising her children, “I want you to hold your head up and be proud of yourself. We were brought over and we were enslaved all this time, but it’s over now. You’re supposed to be free, but you aren’t free. Remember that.” Her mother’s love, generosity and understanding of the African-American experience had a profound influence on Hale and the direction her life would eventually take. She had no recollection of her father; he died when she was a baby.

Hale had three children, Nathan, Lorraine and Kenneth, who were very young when their father died. As an African American widow, her employment options were strictly limited to domestic service; she chose to become a foster parent, instead, and to take in other people’s children. Although the initial arrangement with the parents was to care for the children five days out of the week, many of the children didn’t want to go home. As a consequence, she came to an understanding with the parents; they gave her an additional dollar each week and she kept them with her all the time. She raised forty children in this way. All of these children eventually went on to college and graduated; they all ended up with meaningful careers and led successful lives. Hale always encouraged and supported their efforts. As a result, some became singers, dancers, preachers and “…things like that.”

By 1969, at the age of 64, she decided to retire from foster care and, therefore, no longer love and nurture children. That determination would soon change when her daughter sent her the baby of an addict; her name was Amanda. Although she was reluctant, at first, to assume this new responsibility, within two months she had twenty-two babies living in a five room apartment. Hale’s viewpoint can best be described in her own words, “Angels must have him – the baby’s name was Tiny Ty – the night his mother pitched him in the dumpster. It was filled with broken wine bottles and splintered furniture. Yet he fell on the one soft thing in it; a piece of discarded carpet that smelled of wine. Fortunately, only a few mosquitoes and roaches had bothered him…

“It was truly a miracle that he had beaten the odds of dying from exposure those critical first hours of his young life. And now he needed us to help him beat a more determined foe: heroin, his birth companion. The monkey on his back.”

It is important to remember that 1969 was a terrible and ominous time in the nation’s history – Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been recently assassinated. Robert Kennedy, brother to President John F. Kennedy, was killed in the midst of his primary campaign for the presidency. He was a Democratic, who ran on a platform oriented towards social justice issues and the end of the Vietnam War. His sudden demise along with Martin Luther King Jr. was a serious blow to the equanimity of the entire country and especially to minority populations. To the people of Harlem it was a desperate era in which nascent hope was shattered and at its nadir, horrific riots devastated the region.

In 1973, Mother Hale opened the Hale House and started the Center for the Promotion of Human Potential; it was a brownstone in Harlem with the purpose of providing a safe and nurturing environment for the babies of young drug-addicted mothers. The success of this operation has been spectacular – hundreds of babies have returned to health as a result of their stay in Hale House, which is now administered by her daughter, Dr. Lorraine Hale.

According to Mother Hale, “It’s been over six hundred addicted babies. We hold them and rock them. They love you to tell them how great they are, how good they are. Somehow even at a young age, they understand that. They’re happy and they turn out well.”

Her philosophy may best be summarized in her own words, “Being black does not stop you. You can sit out in the world and say, ‘Well, white people kept me back, and I can’t do this.’ Not so. You can have anything you want if you make up your mind and you want it. You don’t have to crack nobody across the head, don’t have to steal or anything. Don’t have to be smart like the men up high stealing all the money. We’re good people and we try.”

She decided to open up a place for children with AIDS in the 1980s when she was in her mid seventies, knowing that these children were destined for an early death. This was a remarkably courageous act, since knowledge concerning AIDS was incomplete at that time, and the general population greatly feared the disease. The victims of AIDS were often regarded as pariahs. This disease that cripples the immune system had a devastating impact in Harlem, leaving many AIDS-infected children without parents. She hoped that, “… one day there will be no Hale House, that we won’t need anybody to look after these children, that the drugs will be gone. I’m not an American hero. I’m a person that loves children.”

She remained active and involved until her death. Clare McBride Hale died on December 18, 1992; she was a truly remarkable woman. She lived an exemplary life filled with an abundance of love for the human kind. She exhibited an extraordinary kind of courage and a generosity of spirit that is difficult to fathom. The Hale House Center is still extant and continues to serve children as it has done for over forty years.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

At the Abyss

 

At the Abyss

Uvalde, Texas May 25, 2022

 

Nineteen children

barely adolescents

life evident in every step,

filled with

playful enthusiasm,

brimming with possibilities,

drinking in life through

every pour,

engaging every breath with

shimmering resolve,

the world the canvas

on which they painted

with vivid imagination and a

tapestry of color.

 

Suddenly and terribly negated

by the fiery discharge of a

cold metal gun,

bullets riddling through their young bodies

destroying hopes and idle dreams,

exhuberant ideas,

incipient joy and so many aspirations

terminated in an instant,

locked in the grip of absolute terror,

negating their future,

driving their families to the very edge

of corrosive despair,

turning off the light of existence

leaving a blackness steeped

in hollow silence.

 

Nineteen children

slaughtered by a young man

with madness in his brain,

delusional and beset by

the demons of explosive hatred and rage,

nameless passions unhinged and deadly.

 

The scope of this tragedy would not be

conceivable or even imagined

without weapons of such ferocity that

only a few moments intervened between

the living and the dead.

 

There is another madness present,

large, insidious and looming,

a madness resident within a social order

that formulated the idea that all

citizens have the right to be armed,

encouraged to be fearful and ever vigilant

prepared for violence and stoked with hate

for the sake of profit and greed,

for the sake of a

corrupt and deformed ideology.

 

A madness that pretends that

the corpses of children are

the price to be paid for a contrived

and ridiculous idea of freedom

devoid of any sanity,

empty of compassion,

dismissive of the common good.

 

A madness so cold that

it sees no need to

take such random and brutal

termination of young lives

to heart.

 

A madness infused with such stupidity

that it cannot see the

consequences of its own

barren and disastrous conclusions.

 

A madness that if unchecked

will bring only grief and

wreak havoc upon the future

for us all.

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Thurgood Marshall


Thurgood Marshall was a famous lawyer and jurist. Marshall first gained notoriety when he successfully argued and won the very famous landmark case that declared that a separate but equal education for people of color to be unconstitutional – Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954. He was the first African-American to be a Justice in the United States Supreme Court. His accomplishments were in no small measure due to his hard work and persistence; for, he had to overcome many of the obstacles placed in his way due to the color of his skin.
Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore Maryland in a political climate that was permeated with Jim Crow – the body of local and national laws and customs designed to deny African-Americans the full rights entitled to them as citizens. His parents were Willie and Norma Marshall. It would be of value to preface his story with a cursory view of race history in the United States.
 
Slaves were first brought to the colonies in 1670 and the institution of slavery flourished within the United States for 270 years until the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Prior to this historic pronouncement, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, there were many instances of laws and rulings that were designed to deny African-Americans equal rights. For example, in 1705, the Virginia legislature passed a law that effectively equated Negro, Mulatto and Indian slaves as real estate with no legal rights or legal identity. This was in comparison to states like Massachusetts and Vermont that guaranteed the equal rights to all of its citizens. In addition, on a number of instances, Supreme Court decisions upheld the widespread belief in the inherent inferiority of Blacks.
The famous Dred Scott Decision of 1856 validated the belief that slaves were to be treated separately. Dred Scott was a slave who lived with his owner in the free states of Illinois and Wisconsin. When his owner died in 1843, Scott sued for his freedom. The Supreme Court eventually heard the arguments and in 1857 decided that an African-American slave or free had no constitutional rights.
In the words of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, “People of African descent are beings of an inferior order and are altogether unfit to associate with the white race in social or political relations, and are so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and legally be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
To reclaim the inherent rights of all U.S. citizens, the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution were passed beginning in 1868. They were as follows:

AMENDMENT XIII
Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

AMENDMENT XIV
Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.
Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

AMENDMENT XV
Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870.
Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude--
These amendments were passed to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves during the post-Civil War era. It was Jim Crow that was effectively employed to subvert these newly-held rights. It was into such a racially charged environment that Marshall was born. His grandfather was born into slavery.
In spite of these additional guarantees written into the constitution, the Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of segregation. In 1892, Homer Plessey, one-eighth African-American, purchased a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad with the intention of challenging state law. He was ordered into a “black car;” he refused and was subsequently thrown off the train and convicted of violating the law. The Supreme Court heard the legal arguments in 1895 and during the next year voted 7-1 against his appeal. In the Court’s opinion, as written by Justice Henry B. Brown, “Legislation is powerless to eradicate social instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation.” In his descent, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, “…U.S. government laws must protect all citizens.” The nation would endure sixty more years of such racial discrimination and segregation.

America at the time of Marshall’s birth had a population of eighty-nine million and was composed of forty-six states. Ten percent of the population was African-American and in Baltimore, African-Americans constituted twenty percent of the population. Jim Crow was evident everywhere. Additionally, less than half the population of the country enjoyed full legal rights; this was before woman’s suffrage. In addition, child labor was very common with workers as young as seven or eight years old – making as little as ten cents per day.

The Marshall family valued education. Willie Marshall taught his children tolerance and pride in their black heritage. Norma graduated college – an unusual achievement for a woman, especially being African-American. There were limited expectations for a young black person seeking a college education. The most that could be hoped for was a professional career such as medicine, dentistry and teaching. Even within these professions, the graduate could not hope to serve the white community. In order to further understand the obstacles felt by African-Americans, especially males, in that era, it should be kept in mind that between 1889 and 1918 there were 2500 lynchings in the United States with 15 of those reported in the state of Maryland. There were race riots in Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 and Springfield, Illinois in 1908. This was the daunting environment into which Marshall was born.

In spite of these fierce and uncompromising racist attitudes, there were African-Americans courageous enough to stand their ground in opposition. One of these was W.E.B. Du Bois who founded the Niagara Movement for the purpose of opposing segregation and the oppression of black people. This organization ultimately failed, but he went on to merge with like organizations to found the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The Marshall family moved to New York’s Harlem in 1910. In this regard, Marshall vividly remembered a banner that read, “This part of 135th Street guaranteed against Negro invasion.” He started working when he was only seven years old. The family eventually returned to Baltimore where the racial tension was exceedingly high and the city was highly segregated. At that time, there were no toilet facilities of any kind available to African-Americans.

Marshall was severely impacted by these brutal realities as he was growing up. In particular, he remembered a story out of Washington D.C. in which two African-American males accosted a white woman and grabbed her umbrella. As a consequence, the woman’s husband and his friends decided to lynch the two men. The mob of white vigilantes roamed the streets indiscriminately attacking any blacks they found. The unforgiving nature of existence that Marshall had to endure as a child made him a “tough kid” by his own admission.

In response to these aspects of daily life, his parents emphasized black heritage and his mother, especially, inculcated the idea of standing up against racism. Marshall did not apply himself in school and often got into trouble. On one of these occasions, his punishment was to memorize the U.S. Constitution. By the time he left school he knew it by heart. Ironically, this punishment inadvertently exposed him to the egalitarian nature of the nation’s premier document and its potential to improve the social condition. He ultimately became its undying advocate.

Marshall entered Lincoln University in 1925 in Oxford, Pennsylvania. He was enamored of his social life and at one point was threatened with suspension. The famed poet Langston Hughes was a senior at the University at that time and intervened on Marshall’s behalf. He eventually decided to apply himself enough to pass.

On September 4, 1929, Marshall married Vivian Buster Burey. It was her influence that helped Marshall begin to apply himself. It was at this point that he developed an interest in the law and finally decided to enter law school. According to him, “My father never told me to become a lawyer. But, he turned me into one by teaching me to argue, to prove every statement I made and by challenging my logic in every point.”
 
He applied to the University of Maryland and was denied acceptance on account of race. He entered Howard University in Washington D.C. There, he was greatly influenced by Charles Hamilton Houston who brought to his class such notable figures as Clarence Darrow and Felix Frankfurter. The class also took field trips to police stations, courtrooms, and mental asylums. Houston emphasized that a lawyer wages battle in court and needs to be a social engineer. According to his mentor, “We’ve got to turn this whole thing around. And the black man has got to do it; nobody’s going to do it for you.” Marshall was ultimately convinced by this logic and understood where his professional life would lead him.

In 1933, he became a licensed attorney. His attempt at starting his own legal business; however, was daunting since the nation was in the grips of a Depression in which one out of three workers was unemployed. He did not even have access to the local Bar Association - he was denied membership on account of his race. Marshall was not deterred by these difficulties; instead, he used the court library to gain access to the legal books so essential in a lawyer’s career. Finally, in 1934, he was hired by the NAACP.

It was in this role that Marshall, as lead attorney, presented the evidence to Earl Warren’s Supreme Court to support the argument that a separate but “equal” education was unconstitutional in the renowned case of Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954. He was, of course, successful in this endeavor. Marshall and his team of lawyers had worked for four years to perfect their case.

On account of his illustrious career at the Bar and as an avid supporter of civil rights, Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1967. Marshall resigned from the Supreme Court on October 1, 1991 having resided on the court through six different presidential administrations. Ironically, his position was filled by Clarence Thomas appointed by President George Bush. Thomas, an avowed conservative, holds views on matters of social equality and justice that run counter to those of Marshall. Marshall was not terribly happy regarding this choice. He died on January 24, 1993.

In a commencement address delivered at the University of Virginia on May 21, 1978, Marshall demonstrated his profound commitment to the Constitution. The following is an excerpt from that speech.

“The democratizing aspects of the Constitution cannot be overstated. For me, its cardinal principle is that all persons stand in a position of equality before the law. The Constitution gives to each and every one of you an equal right to your own opinions and to participate in the process of your own governance. These are precious rights that we must continually strive to preserve, and whose promise we must seek to attain. There are still far too many persons in this country who cannot participate as equals in the processes of Government – persons too poor, too ignorant, persons discriminated against by other people for no good reason. But our ideal, the ideal of our Constitution, is to eliminate these barriers to the aspirations of all Americans to participate fully in our government and society. We have realized it far better than most countries, but we still have a long way to travel and we must continue to strive in that direction.”

Friday, May 20, 2022

Dag Hammarskjold

 


The United Nations (UN) was created in 1941 by the Allied powers during World War II anticipating the end of the war with the goal of maintaining the peace after the hostilities had ended. The one significant drawback regarding the makeup of this organization is the fact that it is essentially controlled by the powerful industrial nations through the Security Council that was originally composed of five members - the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France and England.

The UN is under the leadership of the Secretary General, who is voted in. The first Secretary General was Trygve Lie, who remained in that position until 1952. During his administration, many UN members had lost confidence in the international organization for a number of reasons. The Security Council had become known for its inaction. Furthermore, the Taiwanese government represented China on the Security Council after mainland China - People’s Republic of China (PRC) - had fallen to the Communists. As a consequence, about one-quarter of the world’s population was not represented. In protest regarding this exclusion, representatives of the Soviet Union boycotted the UN from January to August 1950; it was their absence that allowed for the UN-sponsored military intervention in Korea.

At that time, Lie had supported the Security Council’s decision to resist by force the invasion of South Korea by military forces from North Korea - a conflict that was first called a “police action” but eventually came to be referred to as the Korean War. The Soviet Union essentially ignored Lie after 1950 and right-wing elements of the United States were severely critical of his leadership. As a consequence of the Korean War, Lie came under intense political pressure. He ultimately resigned his position on November 10, 1952.

At that time, Dag Hammarskjold was Minister of State in Sweden’s Foreign Office. He was recommended for the post of Secretary General of the UN and was accepted by all with the exception of the Chinese. Hammarskjold was truly surprised by the nomination; he never expected it. After considerable personal deliberation, he accepted the nomination and on April 10, 1953, he was instated.

The following taken from a speech he made at John Hopkins University in 1955 sheds considerable light on his worldview and the principles that motivated him, “The dignity of man, as a justification of our faith in freedom, can be part of our living creed only if we revert to a view of life where maturity of mind counts for more than outward success and where happiness is no longer to be measured in quantitative terms. Politics and diplomacy are no play of will and skill where results are independent of the character of those engaging in the game.” He was a realist, but also was a man of strong ethics. He was a believer in the power of the mind, especially when operating through reasoned judgment. He deeply valued integrity and what he often referred to as “maturity of mind.”

To further illustrate the character of his thinking, I have included a number of his commentaries taken from his book entitled, Markings:

“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. And only he who listens can speak. Is this the starting point of the road towards the union of your two dreams – to be allowed in clarity of mind to mirror life and in purity of heart to mold it?”

“A heart pulsating in harmony with the circulation of sap and flow of rivers A body with the rhythms of the earth in its movements? No. Instead: a mind, shut off from the oxygen of alert senses, that has wasted itself on “treasons, stratagems and spoils” – of importance only within four walls. A tame animal – in whom the strength of the species has outspent itself, to no purpose.”

“Like the bee, we distill poison from the honey for our self-defense – what happens to the bee if it uses its sting is well known.”

“O how much self-discipline, nobility of soul, lofty sentiments, we can treat ourselves to, when we are well-off and everything we touch prospers – Cheap: scarcely better than believing success is the reward of virtue.”

“Only he deserves power who every day justifies it.”

“To preserve the silence within-amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens-no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.”

“The style of conduct which carries weight calls for stubbornness even in an act of concession: you have to be severe with yourself in order to have the right to be gentle to others.”

“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.”

“Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who “forgives” you---out of love---takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.

“The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.”

These comments offer, in my judgment, important insights into the character and persuasions of the man and inform us regarding the inner motivations that determined his actions.

Hammarskjold was born on July 29, 1905 in Jonkoping, Sweden. His father, Hajmar Hammarskjold, was involved in Swedish politics; he served as a delegate to the negotiations that led to the dissolution of the Swedish union with Norway. He was a severe man, fully entrenched in his principles. His father ultimately became Prime Minister in 1914. Over time, he became unpopular; his views were interpreted as essentially undemocratic and reactionary. During the First World War he proclaimed Sweden’s neutrality. In a joint note to both warring parties, Hajmar proposed that the Swedish government remain the guardian of international principles. He was chosen as chairman of the League of Nations Committee for the Codification of International Law and delegate to the Disarmament Conference. Hammarskjold felt that one of his father’s admirable qualities was that he believed in and actively sought justice. His mother, Agnes, was described as having clarity of mind and a radically democratic view of her fellow humans.

Hammarskjold was obviously influenced by both his parents. Given his upbringing, it is no surprise that he chose a life of public service. Those who knew him found him to have a quick and astute mind, a sense of humor, boundless curiosity and to be highly disciplined. These traits would serve him well as Secretary General of the UN.

At the time that Hammarskjold took over the Secretary General position at the UN, the international body was in disarray, especially in regards to its role in the Korean War in the midst of the Cold War. He realized that the UN needed reorganization; he set about this task with remarkable energy. The world community seemed to be pleased with his efforts and, more importantly, his results.

According to Brian Urquhart, author of Hammarskjold, “Hammarskjold saw as the primary function of the UN the day-to-day effort to control and moderate conflicts that were a threat to peace, through a system of mediation and conciliation developed on the basis of the sovereign equality of states. This primary function went hand in hand with a long-term effort to attain wider social justice and equality both for individuals and, in the political, economic and social senses, for nations. He believed that progress in this direction must be based on a growing respect for international law and on the emergence of a truly international civil service, free from all national pressure and influences and recognized as such by governments.”

He saw his role as Secretary General as a discreet, objective and relentless negotiator always acting with and through sovereign governments. He visualized his role as an embodiment of the hopes of mankind and for peace and justice. He felt that in this position, he should avoid pointing a finger of blame. It is a position that only assumes any semblance of authority when the situation becomes so tenuous and dangerous that the UN becomes the last hope for a peaceful resolution.

During his tenure as Secretary General, Hammarskjold had to employ his talents and abilities on numerous occasions. We will focus on one in particular regarding the issue of Palestine. With the collapse of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire during World War I, the colonial powers, especially Great Britain and France, filled the political vacuum left by the former empire. The post war arrangements that were a direct result of this shift in power and influence created the environment for future upheavals, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict that persists even to this day. When Hammarskjold arrived at the UN in 1953, an uneasy peace was maintained through armistice agreements and the Tripartite Declaration of France, Great Britain and the United States, signed in May 1950. Its purpose was to maintain the status quo and prevent aggression by any governments in the region against their neighbors. The inherent instability of the region came to a head in 1948 with the creation of the state of Israel. There were many factors that contributed to the de-facto end of the Tripartite Declaration including the growth of Arab nationalism, the increased influence of the Soviet Union in the region and the decline of influence of the waning powers of Great Britain and France. The failed Arab invasion of Palestine in 1948 exacerbated the underlying tensions.

To further exacerbate difficulties in the region, President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt refused to allow ships to and from Israel to pass through the canal despite UN resolution issued in 1951 that called upon Egypt to allow all ships to pass through the canal. In spite of his intransigence, Great Britain and France pulled their troops out of the canal. The enmity between Israel and Egypt and other neighboring Arab states in the region quickly deteriorated. Skirmishes and reprisals soon began to spiral out of control. Israeli raids into Gaza and raids of Egyptian-trained Palestinian fedayeen became all too common place. During this time, Hammarskjold made it quite clear that he would not intervene in any way; until, he was asked to do so. It was not long before the situation became so grim that he was called upon to get the offending sides to negotiate with one another. Despite the intense enmity and hatred, Hammarskjold managed to get Nasser and David Ben-Gurion of Israel to sit down with one another; this represented a significant first step in the negotiation process. Eventually, all sides agreed upon a cease fire. This was a truly amazing accomplishment. In spite of this success, Hammarskjold was too much of a realist to believe the situation was resolved, for he knew only too well that he was but one man. In fact, in just a few years the Suez Canal crisis would erupt, and, once again, he would be called upon to employ his remarkable skills.

Dag Hammarskjold had an illustrious career; until, his untimely death in a plane crash while trying to help bring peace to the troubled African Congo. He was a person of great courage and inner strength, who believed strongly in the cause of peace and the rule of law. He was driven by a strong sense of purpose, and an indefatigable willingness to serve. He dedicated himself to a selfless life of service for what he understood to be the greater good.

Monday, May 16, 2022

There is a Giant Elephant in the Room

 





There is a giant elephant in the room. This creature moves about clumsily and with little fanfare. The weight of its presence is unmistakable, yet it seems to be relegated to the shadows. Its impact is ponderous and fully compatible with its enormous size and girth. Wherever it moves, it by necessity creates a wake that is capable of extremely disruptive power. Wherever it is, it produces consequences that are readily and immediately apparent, yet is never given the credit that it truly deserves. It is capable of disrupting gravity and, on account of its mass, drawing everything ineluctably within it sphere of influence. What is the real identity of this “mysterious” entity?

 This creature is the sterling product of the economy of greed.  This creature is a devotee of social imbalance and instability.  This creature has been spawned by an economic system gone amok.  It has sculptured a social order in which a massive share of the nation’s wealth has been funneled into the outstretched hands of the very few.  Much of this overblown wealth has been squirreled away into offshore accounts that most likely add up to trillions of dollars.  This enormous disparity has led to the creation of a ruling class that controls the purse strings of power that effectively corals the formulators of public policy to do its biding and puts enormous restraints upon effecting change for the common good.

 This creature has produced many offspring that have been disseminated throughout the world.  The object of their cooperative endeavor is to maintain the status quo at all costs.  This creature possesses no discernible moral compass – anything or any process that delivers profit is totally acceptable.  If this means adding poison into the air and water at increasing and often alarming rates, well that is no problem, for within its distorted vision of reality that never was a concern to begin with.  If this means mass producing weapons that can kill and maim with stunning precision and making enough of these so as to arm every man and woman throughout the globe well than that is the way of things and, therefore, as it should be.  If this means injecting flotillas of satellites into near-earth orbit for the sake of amassing wealth, well let it be even it should rob the night sky of its inherent beauty and threaten the very future of space exploration.

 This giant elephant in the room happily transcends logic and makes a mockery of reason as it distorts reality, endangers perception, and undermines truth.  However, not unlike the parasite that ultimately kills its host, this creature cannot survive in a desolate world that may well be the product of its own making.


Monday, March 14, 2022

Raif Badawi - Saudi Activist & Political Prisoner


Raif bin Muhammad Badawi gained notoriety when he was arrested in 2012 at the age of twenty-eight for the following crimes: "setting up a website that undermines general security", "ridiculing Islamic religious figures", and "going beyond the realm of obedience.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison. This sentence was increased to 10 years in 2014.


Badawi is a is a Saudi writer actively engaged in advocating for a more liberal social and political environment in his native Saudi Arabia. To expand his audience, he created a website – Free Saudi Liberals.

Badawi's blog had many members. It quickly became a forum for vigorous debate regarding Saudi politics. For this reason, he was arrested in late 2007. Although he was eventually released, he became the victim of constant harassment that eventually led to his subsequent arrest in 2012.

Raif Badawi was born on January 13, 1984, in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. His parents are Najwa, a Lebanese Christian, and Muhammad Badawi, a Saudi Muslim. At a young age, his Saudi grandmother explained to him that, “Saudi society historically was not as strict and men and women used to work together in the fields.”

Badawi's mother died young at an unknown age. He was raised by his father and grandmother in a household beset by economic difficulties. Badawi attended school until the age of thirteen when his father reported him for parental disobedience, a crime in Saudi Arabia, and spent six months in a teenage detention center.

Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy whose laws and regulations follow the rulings and teaching of Islamic law. The legal system is based on sharia as interpreted by Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The government is under the leadership of a king and prime minister. Furthermore, the royal family rules by fiat, and there is no Constitution.

Wahhabism is an Islamic revisionist theology that exerts a powerful influence in Saudi Arabian politics. It derived its name from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhabi. Wahhabism is an extremely stringent and uncompromising from of Islam that insists on a purely literal interpretation of the Koran. Through this highly restrictive interpretation, those who do not practice this form of Islam are considered heathens and are dealt with harshly. In Saudi Arabia apostasy itself is considered a crime worthy of the death penalty.

Badawi was influenced by the writings of progressive Arab author, Abdullah al-Qasemi, and Turki al-Hamad, a noted journalist and thinker. He was particularly inspired by Mohammed Saeed Tayeb, a staunch believer in democracy who was also imprisoned.

Ultimately, he became so concerned about the oppressive and authoritarian nature of Saudi politics that he began to speak out openly in regard to these concerns. For this reason, Badawi’s activities were considered by the government as anathema and explains the severity of the punishment he has been forced to endure. Badawi’s courageous insistence on expressing his views has been regarded as a particular threat, for the government’s autocratic imposition of Islam on the lives of its people is especially vulnerable in the human world of the twenty-first century in which global communication is a predominant aspect of modern life.


He has been reported to be in poor health, and his general condition has noticeably worsened during his imprisonment and torture according to his wife, Ensaf Haidar, currently residing in Canada. She fled her native country convinced that her life would be endangered if she remained in Saudi Arabia.


The following interview with Ensaf Haidar was conducted by Jaafar Abdul Karim at Deutshe Welle (dw.com) in 2017.


Ensaf Haidar: The fact that my husband has been in jail for five years shows that there is no freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Raif expressed his opinion in a friendly and peaceful manner, so there was no reason to be afraid. He had also written for Saudi newspapers, and that shows that he wasn't an enemy of the state. He even had the experience of traveling abroad.


So why are some states so afraid of these independent spirits?

Because of the different opinions. It's us they're afraid of, not the expression of opinion as such.


So they would prefer there to be only one opinion?

This is what their approach suggests. They want everyone to be of the same opinion. They're afraid of a wide range of opinions.


How is your husband doing at the moment?

After five years in captivity separated from his children and the outside world, he's naturally doing poorly physically and psychologically. He has been imprisoned for five years without having committed a crime.


Of course, the Saudi authorities see the situation differently. What do you tell your children? Do they understand what's going on?

They understand it and are proud of their father, though they miss him very much. They need him, especially at this age.


Do you stay in constant contact with Raif?

In the beginning he always called me for brief periods of time, but I haven't heard anything from him in over three weeks.

If we had press freedom, Raif would be free. He's been in jail for five years and he'll be there for five more. Along with that he's also been handed a 10-year travel ban, a fine of one million riyal ($266,654 USD) and 1,000 lashings by cane. Anyone who sees this sentence can decide if we have press freedom here or not.


How important then is freedom of expression?

There are people who say there is already too much division; there's terrorism and there's foreign interference, which undermine a country's sovereignty.

Those who speak peacefully and know the laws have the right to express themselves! That is a basic right of every person, whatever the subject.


Do you speak with your children about freedom of expression?

That is a social issue and not just a legal one. From society as well there is a partial rejection of freedom of expression…

Here in Canada it is, of course, completely different. It's a secular country, where you can express your opinion freely, directly in the press. When I tell my kids about their father, they don't understand what the problem is at all with someone having a blog. It's completely different here.


There is an international solidarity campaign for your husband. How does that make you feel?

I can only be thankful and hope that the initiators continue with it. However, so far it has had a psychological effect. It hasn't impacted the proceedings against Raif so far. But I hope that the solidarity continues nonetheless, because moral support is so important. That gives Raif and me hope and strength.


Do you personally hope that pressure from the campaign will help free Raif? It is now an international campaign.

I hope that the Saudi government one day recognizes that freedom of expression is every man's right. Raif always peacefully expressed himself and loved his country. In this way I hope that he soon comes free.


What is your appeal for World Press Freedom Day?

I hope that the whole world continues to stand by us. I call on the Saudi government to give every citizen a space for freedom of expression.


Badawi is currently represented by The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights that acts as his international legal counsel. The mission statement of this organization is the following as presented on their website (raoulwallenbergcentre.org).


“The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights is a unique international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, human rights defenders, NGOs, and students united in the pursuit of justice, inspired by and anchored in Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy – how

act can confront evil, prevail, and transform history.

“From mid-May to early July 1944, the Nazis deported 440,000 from Hungary to the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp – one of the most efficient, cruelest, and most horrific mass deportations in the Holocaust. Raoul Wallenberg arrived as a Swedish diplomat in the Swedish legation in Budapest in July 1944 and in six months saved 100,000 Jews.

“The Wallenberg Centre is organized around five pillars of pursuing justice, each of which reflects and represents Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy. The Honorary Co-Chairs of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights are: Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel (U.S. – in memoriam); the Honorable Justice Rosalie Abella (Supreme Court of Canada); the Honourable Göran Persson (former Prime Minister of Sweden); and the Honourable Elyakim Rubinstein (Former Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court). The Centre’s Founder and International Chair is Professor Irwin Cotler and the Co-Chairs from countries of Wallenberg’s Honorary Citizenship include Jared Genser (US); Michael Danby (Australia); and Natan Sharansky (Israel).”


The goal of this organization is to use the global media as well as private diplomatic efforts to help secure Badawi's release from prison.

According to this organization, “Raif Badawi has been languishing in a Saudi prison since his arrest in 2012, and his subsequent sentencing in 2014 to 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes, itself constitutive of torture and a standing violation of International Human Rights Law. Badawi's "crime"? Establishing an online forum and exercising his right to freedom of expression. Despite Saudi Arabia expressing an interest in reforming and modernizing, Raif Badawi – an advocate of liberalism and tolerance, and the champion of these changes – remains imprisoned and separated from his wife and three children, now citizens of Canada.”


While his exact location is unknown, it has been reported that Badawi is currently imprisoned in Dhahban Central Prison.


Following the 2012 arrest, Amnesty International designated Badawi a prisoner of conscience. As reported on their website – amnestyusa.org,

“In May 2014, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years behind bars, 1,000 lashes, a 10-year travel ban, and a lifetime ban from appearing in the media. He was convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's draconian information technology law and "insulting Islam." The conviction stems from number of articles Raif wrote and published on his site "Saudi Arabian Liberals," which he founded as a forum for social and political debate. Raif also refused to remove other Saudi writers' articles from the site.

"We want life for those who call for our death, and rationality for those who desire ignorance for us." -Raif Badawi


“The charges against Raif are related to articles he wrote criticizing religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, and pieces penned by others that Raif published on the Saudi Arabian Liberals' site. The prosecution had called for him to be tried for 'apostasy' or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.

“Raif is one of many activists in Saudi Arabia persecuted for openly expressing their views online. Facebook and Twitter are incredibly popular in a country where people can't openly voice their opinions in public. The authorities have responded to this increase in online debate by monitoring social media sites and even trying to ban applications such as Skype and WhatsApp, further stifling free expression.”

Badawi’s unshakeable determination and remarkable courage as an advocate of human freedom and the right to express one’s views openly are of great value to us all, and a reminder of the inherent power of the human spirit.


Saturday, January 29, 2022

Why Moving Towards the Light is More Important than Ever

 This country, founded on a belief in human equality, the power of democracy and the rule of law, is in serious crisis and moving inexorably towards the darkness. After only 232 years since the birth of the Democratic Republic in 1789, the democratic system as outlined in the Constitution has been seriously threatened especially following an attempted coup by its former President on Jan 6 of the year 2021. The near successful attempt to undermine the peaceful transition of power by a mentally unbalanced demagogue and blatant white supremacist is troublesome in its own right.


However, it seems that a major political party not only has essentially refused to condemn this overt attempt to subvert the very basis of a democratically-aligned government but has made it clear through both rhetoric and actions its determination to undermine the electoral process. Through its unrelenting attacks on the truth; and through its violent and corrosive language in which the members of the opposing party – that clearly holds the majority – are labeled as the enemy, it has become quite evident that the democratic process is held in contempt.

These are indeed dark times when the forces of bigotry and repression, of ignorance and violence, of hatred and fear are encouraged and seen as values to be lauded. These are indeed dark times when white supremacy is regarded as a political philosophy to be embraced and emulated. These are indeed dark times when truth is supplanted with outrageous falsehoods and intellect and science are held suspect.

This nation has failed to come to terms with the violent reality of its past. Part of this violent heritage was the near genocide of the native peoples of North America for the primary purpose of uprooting them from their land and their way of life so as to make room for white settlers who wished to forcefully occupy all available land and exploit its vast and untapped resources. There has been and continues to be a refusal to acknowledge the great injustice of the enslavement of the peoples of Africa captured and forcefully exported from their land and their people so as to exploit their labor .and deprive them of their inherent humanity. This incomplete accounting does not include the totality of violent aggression directed at immigrant populations over the life of the nation.

A significant aspect of this past is the many wars of aggression fought around the world so as to impose and protect economic and political hegemony especially in regard to poorer nations. More often than not these conflicts left millions of needless and avoidable deaths and unimaginable destruction.

This unabashed history of intolerance, hatred and violence has left innumerable injuries that fester within the body politic and have seriously impacted the collective psyche of the American people. As a result, fear, uncertainty, insecurity, and suspicion have festered within the population making it susceptible to the vitriol and toxic polemics that reverberate throughout the culture. This has given rise to a crazed environment where hundreds of millions of guns and weaponry are now in the hands of the general public. A consideration of the inevitable outcome of this mass possession of instruments of death is difficult to contemplate.

We are a people in crisis. A route out of this path into the darkness is to turn towards the light. This shift in direction involves a number of key transformations. A first priority must be a return to the truth and the concomitant rejection of the lie in all its manifestations. Secondly, the reality that science has clearly demonstrated that needs to be fully embraced is the fact that all peoples of the world regardless of the color of their skin, place of origin, sexual orientation, gender, etc. are members of the same species – Homo sapiens – all worthy of the same rights and privileges and entitled to the same treatment under the law. A necessary corollary of this truth is the fact that race is an artificial construct that has no reality outside this mistaken perception. A true ascendence to this reality would deny bigotry, prejudice and feelings of racial superiority any standing.

One of the key components of such a shift in attitudes and general mindset is the necessity of discarding delusional thinking that has led to the acceptance of crazed philosophies and expectations that have no true relationship with reality. Freeing ourselves of the burden of this thinking would allow the nation to begin to confront real issues such as climate change, that in the absence of remedial action may eventually engulf us.

Finally and most importantly, we need to discard the blinders that have kept us trapped in a world of our own creation where we have come to believe that we as individuals are the center of existence and therefore fail to recognize and appreciate the wondrous diversity that surrounds us. We are, after all, a part of the fabric of existence; all of humanity and nature deserves to be heard, nurtured, supported and appreciated. This, to me, is the essence of love.