Justice for the Oppressed: The Plight of the Falun Gong

An article in the front page of the Vancouver Sun this week says that the Falun Gong are going to be allowed to rebuild their protest booth on Granville Street.  Although I rejoice that the court has decided to give a public voice back to those who stand up for the injustice being inflicted on their fellow religious adherents, I cannot help at the same time to be saddened when I think about why this booth was ordered to be disassembled in the first place.

The timing appears to be more than a little suspicious.  Those familiar with Vancouver will know that the protest booth has been a part of the landscape in the fair city since August 2001.  To be sure the city has wanted to get rid of the protest booth for quite some time now—Vancouver’s former fearless leader Sam Sullivan started the process in 2006.  These efforts met no success until last year when Vancouver was granted an injunction which required the booth to be removed.  Fast forward one year and the BC Court of Appeal unanimously decides that the original judge who granted the injunction made an error.

I cannot help but find the timing of these events to be more than a little suspicious.  Despite the victory of the Falun Gong in the Court of Appeal, the process ensured that the booth would be removed between 2009 and late 2010.  Perhaps there was some sort of highly publicized event occurring in the ‘Greatest City on Earth’ in this time period that made the authorities want to make the Falung Gong go away—at least for a little while? 

Of course the irony in this should not be lost.  It has been said that the Olympics were Canada’s coming out party.  It was a time where patriotism wasn’t hid underneath a shell of Canadian politeness but rather where we shouted “we’re Canadian and we’re proud of it”.  In my opinion national pride is something this country has been missing for a long time.  Healthy patriotism can be a sign that a country is maturing and are shoring up a sense of identity—a sense of who they are.

Unfortunately it is precisely this factor that still seems to be lacking in the Canadian psyche.  Sure we are proud of our geography, diversity, and clean streets but what of our character?  What is it about who we are that makes us gush with pride?  It is my hope that as country we take on an identity that goes beyond politeness—surely this must not be the primary virtue!  I dream of a country that stands up for justice whose citizens rail against the violation of basic human rights no matter how financially significant the abusers are.  It’s time for politeness with a backbone.

 “OK”, you may be thinking “I get what you’re saying but aren’t you making a little bit much out of an eye-sore protest booth in our otherwise beautiful city that nobody cares about anyway.  Besides it’s not like the booth is saving any lives”.  It’s true the Falun Gong booth has not likely saved any lives from the totalitarian government in China.  However the cold reality is that the protest booth is one of the few public voices this oppressed group has. Unless the civic leaders were to publicly condemn the actions of the Communist Party of China or provide some other voice for this religious group their actions say that the murdering of thousands, harvesting of organs, and exile of hundreds of thousands to Chinese Gulag-style work camps (called Laogai) does not matter.

I understand that in the time of recession increasing trade with the emerging market of China is being heralded as our great escape and the road back to prosperity.  However no matter how tempting and insistent is the Siren’s call there is a voice that is even harder to ignore.  The blood of the murdered cries out from the ground—it’s so loud, it’s deafening….

To Thine Own Self Be True: Authenticity as a Helpful Guide for Making Ethical Decisions

For the past several weeks I have been thinking about an article in the Vancouver Sun written by Douglas Todd.

The article, written in the context of the Olympics, suggests that a helpful tool for making ethical decisions is authenticity–i.e. the ethical merit of a decision can be measured by the extent to which it reflects “being true to oneself”. The importance of making tough ethical decisions remains significant even as the morally “mixed-bag” that was the Olympics fades into the rearview mirror.

The question Todd asks is therefore an important one:  should our ethical decisions take into account our own unique identities?

Before answering this question a little more needs to be said regarding what is exactly meant by the words “be true to yourself”.  Certainly authenticity should not be taken to mean that a person can in good conscience suspend their moral faculties and merely respond to situations with a “gut-reaction”.  Rather Todd argues that authenticity should be understood in light of the good of the community.  In other words when an individual is making an ethical decision part of the process should include asking themself how they, in light of who they are as an individual, could best contribute to the good of the community.

If understood in this light the idea of being true to oneself suddenly seems like a helpful criterion.  For instance it holds together in healthy tension the worth and autonomy of individual people and humanity’s intrinsically communal nature.  For this and other reasons Todd’s approach is one that I find helpful provided the following nuance is added:  rather than making decisions on who we are vis-a-vis the community we should make decisions based on who we ought to be.   Because it is fresh in my experience I’ll use my Olympic experience as an example to explain what I mean:

In a previous blog I expressed my mixed feelings towards the Olympics but also noted that I wouldn’t be donning a balaclava for the purpose of protesting.  Instead I engaged in moderate participation in the Olympic festivities including several trips to Robson Square and a medal ceremony at B.C. place highlighted by an excellent performance by Burton Cummings.  My participation was not a matter of being caught up in the moment or compromising my convictions about the Olympics by giving in and joining the party but rather a matter of being “true to myself”.  I am not a protestor.  It’s simply not a part of my makeup–rather I believe that my role vis-a-vis the communities of which I am a part requires me to participate in the good while trying to abstain from and draw attention to the bad.  That being said it is difficult for me to understand how I would have become aware of the Olympic “darkside” without people being true to their “calling” as protestors.  It is equally difficult for me to perceive how I would see the good without people in my life who simply enjoy the party as it presents itself.

It therefore seems most likely to me that the potential of ethical success in a given situation is maximized when individuals make the best possible and authentic decisions in the context of what is best for the community.  Although it is difficult for those of us who tend to find themselves on the ends of the spectrum (an Olympic e.g. are protestors and Olympic fanatics) to recognize the value of those on the opposite side the fact remains that our various communities whether they be families, cities, churches, or country may be less than they are today without the presence of the other.

Olympics hate to love or hate to hate?

This blog is a slightly edited version of one I wrote just prior to the beginning of the Olympics on my old site.  I thought I should gradually move my old posts over here.  My opinions have developed since this was written since my perspective is now from “within” rather than looking forward to.  I am planning on posting another Olympic blog in the near future that will reflect some of this change:

In case anyone is concerned, there is no need to worry because yours truly has not caught Olympic fever. That’s right despite residing near the epicentre of the worst epidemic Vancouver has seen since the H1N1 outbreak of last fall I have manged to avoid the bug–perhaps Cold Fx does work after all…

Irreverent imagery aside it has become impossible to ignore the increased enthusiasm directed towards the Olympics in Greater Vancouver over the last few days. However as the games have drawn closer I have found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the glossy-eyed, waive-your-flag supporters and the balaclava wearing protesters.

The title of this blog really sums up my feelings on this event. I find myself feeling guilty for either being unable to ignore the darkside of the games or for recognizing the good. As I listen to news reports on CKNW, read the paper, or chat with friends about the games I constantly find myself saying “That’s why I hate the games…” or conversely “That’s what’s good about the games”.

Several days ago I thought it may be an interesting exercise to record my ever-growing list into the categories of pro and con. Of course some of my cons may be your pro and my pro your con…For your amusement here are a few examples from each side…

Pro:
family events, good role-models for kids, free things to do, Blue Rodeo, Burton Cummings, Canada Line, nostalgia, multitude of cultures coming to Vancouver, amateur sport, people having a good time, celebration of heroes from the past and present

Con:
Volunteers wearing their goofy passes all over town (we get it you’re proud), insane ticket prices, paranoia of terrorism, $900 Million in security, crowds, stupid mascots (are they Wii characters?–I swear I saw something that looked just like them on my friend Nick’s favourite animé show), “Corporate Canada” buying gold metal men’s hockey tickets and giving them away to people who could probably afford them anyway (I know that one hurts…), VANOC, the mistreatment of the poor, IOC, Corporate Sponsorship (and not just because I prefer Pepsi, don’t have a Visa, and bank somewhere other than RBC), the Olympic torch, rites being threatened/ignored, “Big Brother” trying to sue any small business that has “Olympics” or something similar in its name (see “Olympic Pizza” in Vancouver), the fact that people can’t use the word “Olympics” unless they are a sponsor, ugly torch-carrying track suits, and Paying God-only-knows how much to truck and helicopter snow to Cyprus…

In terms of quantity I recognize the modesty of the former and the fact that the latter could rival one of Dr. Cox’s best rants from SCRUBS. However it is also important to recognize the variability in regards to quality.  The former list is short but each of the items are quite substantial.  The latter is a mix of pet peeve and serious concern.  Nevertheless I find the negative attributes of the Olympics continually waring me down—however no need to fear as I shall keep my balaclava in the closet and you’ll find me doing what any good student of John Stackhouse would…Making the Best of it