Hu­man rights our new reli­gion

Penticton Herald - - OPINION - JIM TAY­LOR

We Cana­di­ans live in such a com­fort­able co­coon. Be­cause we have a gov­ern­ment and so­cial cul­ture that is, for the most part, ra­tio­nal and com­pas­sion­ate, we look askance at the po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing and par­ti­san loy­al­ties that af­flict our neigh­bour to the south.

We find it hard to be­lieve that 300-mil­lion pre­sum­ably right-minded peo­ple — those who qual­ify to sit on a jury — al­low them­selves to be gov­erned by a man who doesn’t seem to know the truth from one hour to the next, and who takes um­brage at the least of slights.

“Um­brage” — to take of­fence, to re­act strongly. It im­plies fly­ing off the han­dle at mi­nor slights.

But, re­cent events sug­gest we Cana­di­ans have tun­nel vi­sion. Ob­sessed with Pres­i­dent Tweet, we have ig­nored an even more ex­plo­sive per­son­al­ity on the in­ter­na­tional stage: Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man of Saudi Ara­bia.

The Na­tional Post’s Terry Glavin de­scribes him as “a chubby 32-year-old war crim­i­nal with a taste for fine art, French man­sions, and lux­ury yachts, (who) launched a bar­baric bomb­ing cam­paign in Yemen that has re­sulted in the deaths of at least 15,000 peo­ple and has left half the pop­u­la­tion of that des­per­ately poor coun­try at the brink of famine.”

The furore started when Canada sent a tweet that said, “Canada is gravely con­cerned about ad­di­tional ar­rests of civil so­ci­ety and women’s rights ac­tivists in #SaudiAra­bia .... We urge the Saudi au­thor­i­ties to im­me­di­ately re­lease them and all other peace­ful #hu­man­rights ac­tivists.”

The ve­he­mence of bin Sal­man’s re­sponse out­did even Trump’s tantrums. He im­me­di­ately: • ex­pelled Canada’s am­bas­sador; • froze new trade with Canada; • or­dered his global as­set man­agers to dis­pose of their Cana­dian eq­ui­ties, bonds and cash hold­ings “no mat­ter the cost”;

• pulled 16,000 Riyadh-funded stu­dents out of Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties and med­i­cal schools;

• trans­ferred Saudi pa­tients re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal care out of Cana­dian hospi­tals;

• sus­pended Saudi Ara­bian Air­lines flights to Toronto;

• and stopped buy­ing bar­ley any wheat from Canada.

He also ac­cused Canada of med­dling in his sov­er­eign na­tion’s in­ter­nal af­fairs.

His anger ig­nores the fact that the Cana­dian tweet used a rel­a­tively diplo­matic term, “urge.” It didn’t “de­mand,” it didn’t “in­sist.” It also specif­i­cally re­ferred to “peace­ful” ac­tivists.

Should Canada have made its view known through tra­di­tional diplo­matic chan­nels? Pos­si­bly. Although Trump has pretty much ren­dered con­ven­tional diplo­macy ob­so­lete with his own in­flam­ma­tory tweets. Like Trump, bin Sal­man takes any crit­i­cism of his poli­cies per­son­ally.

Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter For­eign Min­is­ter Adel al-Jubeir ruled out me­di­a­tion. He warned of fur­ther mea­sures to fur­ther pun­ish Canada. It was Canada’s fault, he said: “There is noth­ing to me­di­ate. A mis­take has been made and a mis­take should be cor­rected.”

How can a sim­ple — and rel­a­tively mild — tweet lead to such a con­fla­gra­tion?

Ba­si­cally, think, we mis­read the core be­liefs of the Saudi rul­ing fam­ily. Saudi Ara­bia is an ab­so­lute monar­chy, the ul­ti­mate pa­tri­archy.

As such, it bans on po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism. It deals harshly with dis­si­dents. One of the ac­tivists for whom Canada pleaded has been sen­tenced to 100 lashes and 10 years in prison.

Last month, it cru­ci­fied — yes, cru­ci­fied! — a man con­victed of theft, mur­der, and at­tempted rape.

Ear­lier this year, Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man did per­mit women to drive — the last coun­try in the world to do so. But, many of the those who cam­paigned for women’s right to drive have since been ar­rested and im­pris­oned.

In the same way, though, the Crown Prince failed to rec­og­nize Cana­dian core be­liefs.

As one of my read­ers, Steve Roney, cur­rently teach­ing in the United Arab Emi­rates, pointed out re­cently, we no longer expect to im­pose our reli­gion, Chris­tian­ity, on other na­tions. But, we will not tol­er­ate their re­jec­tion of our sci­ence, our tech­nol­ogy (in­clud­ing medicine), and es­pe­cially our hu­man rights.

These have be­come an un­of­fi­cial reli­gion in Canada. We expect any na­tion, any­where, to wel­come our po­lio vac­cines. Our mines. Our money.

And, whether it’s In­dige­nous peo­ples in Canada, vic­tims of eth­nic cleans­ing in Bos­nia, slaves in Su­dan, or young girls fac­ing gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion in So­ma­lia, hu­man rights are sa­cred.

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau de­clared, “Cana­di­ans have al­ways ex­pected our gov­ern­ment to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and po­litely about the need to re­spect hu­man rights at home and around the world... We will con­tinue to stand up for Cana­dian val­ues and in­deed for uni­ver­sal val­ues and hu­man rights at any oc­ca­sion.”

Trudeau is right not to back down. If hu­man rights are in­deed our new reli­gion, they are not ne­go­tiable. Canada must speak up in their favour. Even if tak­ing a stand has eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions.

Jim Tay­lor is an Okana­gan Cen­tre au­thor and free­lance jour­nal­ist. He can be reached at re­write@shaw.ca. This col­umn ap­pears Satur­days.

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