Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

February 22, 2006

Different reasons why some approved, others condemned the Danish cartoons.

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

We’re all now very familiar with the notorious Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, following the uproar over their publication by the Cadre, the student newspaper at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Two other Canadian publications, both in Calgary, followed suit.

UPEI president Wade MacLauchlan condemned the Cadre’s decision to print them and the entire issue of the paper was subsequently confiscated by the Student Union.

The reaction elsewhere around the world has been nothing short of amazing. Marches, demonstrations and riots ensued, embassies and legations were burned, and at least 50 people have been killed.

The furor still shows little sign of abating.

In trying to understand the motives of those who have supported or opposed the publication of these cartoons we must realize that there are at least two sets of players on either side of the issue.

Some of those who approved of the circulation of the cartoons are secularists, atheists or opponents of all religion. They uphold the right of free speech, including what we might call blasphemy, as an absolute principle in a modern society.

Others, though, might be devout followers of other faiths, who simply consider Islam to be a false religion and thus view Muhammad in a negative light.

On the other side, there are those who believe these cartoons are an unnecessary provocation and see their dissemination as an affront to Islam. These people are liberal multiculturalists, and they would feel just as strongly were any other faith to be denigrated or ridiculed.

But others who have taken offense might be observant Muslims who are upset because Islam, which they regard as the only true faith, has been mocked, but who might themselves have no compunction in belittling or denying the claims of other religions.

We have to keep all these different motives in mind as we watch this story continue to unfold around the world.

How amazing this cartoon controversy would seem to the 1960s student radicals. Not just because they, unlike today’s students, would probably have been on the side of “transgression,” or because Islam was a subject not even remotely on the radar back then. They would wonder why so few of today’s academics--many themselves “tenured radicals”--seem to be speaking out on this issue.

Friday, February 10, 2006

February 10, 2006

Conservatives should remove opposition to same-sex marriage from their agenda.

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Stephen Harper has become the prime minister of Canada. The election of his minority Conservative government has been a first step in reshaping the political landscape of Canada.

Harper has promised to re-open the issue of same-sex marriage and allow a free vote in parliament on rescinding the legislation that legalized it. But in order for the Conservative movement in this country to expand its reach and bring about much-needed reform, it must prevent its social agenda from being driven by those who want, for various ideological or religious reasons, to restore the traditional definition of marriage as one between a man and a woman.

Conservatives should reject the sterile and non-logical arguments against same-sex marriage and unequivocally affirm that gay and lesbian Canadians are full and equal citizens of this country.

The debate about abortion is of a different order entirely, as it revolves around such issues as when human life begins and the status of a fetus. Two individuals marrying, on the other hand, pose no threat to anyone or anything.

The Conservative Party needs to move beyond its fixation on the definition of marriage and welcome the gay community--which, by the way, is above the Canadian average in terms of education, occupational status, and wealth--to participate in its work.

Many fiscal conservatives, interested primarily in lower taxes and smaller government, and proponents of a robust defence and foreign policy, both natural constituencies for the Conservatives, will otherwise consider Harper a captive of certain religious forces and be reluctant to support him.

Those who do not subscribe to the theological arguments for opposing such single-sex unions, and secular libertarians who resist in general the intrusion of religiously-based morality in government, will shun the party as well.

All this will keep Conservatives from achieving electoral success in our major urban areas and prevent the party from ever achieving a working majority.

Perhaps government should get out of the marriage business altogether, and leave the public validation of two people committing themselves to each other to other institutions in society. But as long as the state remains involved, it must treat all people with equal respect.

A democracy must maintain what American political scientist Alfred Stepan calls the “twin tolerations”: allowing freedom of religion within civil society but also making certain that no particular religious group be allowed to authoritatively mandate public policy to a democratically elected government.

Endorsing same-sex marriage not only makes political sense, but is also the principled position to take.