Friday, 26 October 2018

John Ralston Saul The Fight for Freedom of Expression Around the World: A Personal Account

John Ralston Saul delivered his lecture The Fight for Freedom of Expression Around the World: A Personal Account
On October 18, world-renowned author John Ralston Saul delivered the inaugural lecture of the Warren Allmand Lecture Series. The Series, co-sponsored by the Thomas More Institute, and supported by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and the Institute of the Study of International Development, is intended to honour the legacy of the late Warren Allmand, former MP, Cabinet Minister, and tireless proponent for the advancement of human rights. Allmand was also a proud McGill alumnus, graduating in 1957 with a Bachelor of Civil Law degree.
John Ralston Saul, CC OOnt (born June 19, 1947) is a Canadian writer, political philosopher, and public intellectual. Saul is most widely known for his writings on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good; the failures of manager-led societies;[1] the confusion between leadership and managerialism; military strategy, in particular irregular warfare; the role of freedom of speech and culture; and critiques of the modern economic situation. He is a champion of freedom of expression and was the International President of PEN International, an association of writers. Saul is the co-founder and co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national charity promoting the inclusion of new citizens. Saul was international president of PEN International from 2009-2015.
Lecture Topic:
Recent debates about free speech have become increasingly confused. How can one defend the right to freedom of expression in the face of hate speech and an increasingly skewed division between fact and opinion? For John Ralston Saul, it has always been clear in the world of writing that freedom of expression involves two fundamentals: a belief in unrestricted expression, coupled with a commitment to not encouraging hatred between people. This means that those who claim the right to freedom of expression in order to encourage racism or hatred simply have no understanding of the history of freedom of expression. And they neglect what has caused so many public voices, over the last few hundred years, to die in its defense.
Rough transcript of lecture:
It is through language that we express the state as best we can.  People being hung are being hung by me, not the state. If I’m not willing to do it individually, then I should be against in general.
Freedom of expression is central to everything we do. Non democratic states hate it; corporations have difficulty because it is the opposite of advertising; people in politics are uncomfortable with it,  they will say‘’the press is very mean to me’’, but in politics, you have to have thick skin. In conversations with heads of state, you need thick skin.  Anyone, anywhere with power makes them very nervous. Often they could not figure out how to deal with writers, they couldn’t figure out how to buy us.
Il existe une confusion, la liberté d’expression est mal comprise – on pense que la liberté d’expression justifie la haine, la violence, tandis que la gauche croit que c’est un outil pour ceux qui ont le privilège. 
Le mouvement technologique a commencé avec un romanticisme, ce n’est plus le cas. L’internet est moins une voix de l’expression libre qu’outil pour voler l’information libre des citoyens ou une plateform pour des politiques extrêmes. On répond souvent, ‘’donc vous avez des choses à cacher?’’. Moi je réponds, ‘’oui j’ai beaucoup de choses à cacher’’. Ma discussion privé, vous n’avez pas le droit de le savoir avant que je le présente en public.
Je suis allés à des réunions avec des diplomates, qui pour dire certaines choses, devaient sortir de la salle de réunion, car on m’informe qu’ il y a avait 4-5 micros dans la pièce.  Un ambassadeur d’Ankara a mis son téléphone dans une en valise et l’a placé en dehors de la salle de réunion car  le téléphone, ouvert ou fermé, est un micro accessible. Un millier d’écrivains sont emprisonés outués chaque année.  Combien de présidents de banques sont tués? Il ya une paresse des canadiens de prendre la liberté d’expression, de parler en public. Galsworthy, à son époque, voyait déjà les problèmes politiques pour la liberté d’expression.
Unhampered freedom of expression and unlimited freedom implies voluntary restraint, and implies the need to check mendacious and deliberate falsehoods, which means a refusal to use language that encourages hatred. There is no hate literature, this is hate propaganda.  
Quelques piliers de la charte :
1-      déclaration des droits linguistiques pour protéger les langues en danger
2-      déclaration des droits et devoirs sur le web
3-      droit des femmes
4-      la traduction en tant qu’élément de liberté d’expression
We support targeted writers who feel alone, we give them a sense of being listened to. In Moscow, there are posters of the best Russian writers with the blurb ‘’enemies of the state’’. In Central Asia, we visited a writer in prison. After the visit, prison official dressed in a soviet-style uniform invited us to lunch at an Argentinean steak house. Now dressed in a dapper suit, he told how he loved literature and so we managed to get the prisoner’s sentence cut in half. It is hard getting people out of prison. There was a case were a Muslim student downloaded a religious tract with some dubious elements in it and was sentenced to death, we managed to get him quietly taken out of the country. One meeting in Central Asia, the representative loudly shouted at me for most of the meeting. You weren’t there – neither were you.
One writer had his house surrounded by soldiers with machine guns. We had a contact alert the press and when the news quickly got out, there was a public outcry, and this dispersed the gunmen.
In Mexico, with murder of a number of journalists, we met with Mexican Senate to change a law from provincial to federal in order to better protect them.
A writer in Turkey was tortured and horribly beaten to near death. He is still alive and had to flee to England for 10 years after which he went back to Turkey. Three quarters  of the world is unlike Canada, they do not have that degree of freedom of expression. In Istanbul, there are 10 000 people in prison, of which 135 are writers. We visited them in two school buses.  It was very disorganized and we ended up being allowed to drive up too close to the prison and officials started screaming with guards waiving machine guns at us.
There was a writer in Myanmar in prison who refused medication, saying let me out or I die, he was released. With the Rohinga crisis, you have an extreme right wing generals alliance with an unbalanced Buddhist monk who used Facebook to orchestrate the oppression.  43 000 people have died as a result of this. At a meeting with in Honduras with the minister of justice, we became aware that they were behind the violence we were concerned about and at a press conference, there was an attempt to kidnap one of our delegates.
Perdre sa langue, c’est perdre sa liberté d’expression. Il faut faire un effort, les langues autochtones sont en danger. La grande réussite du français au Québec peut aider pour écrire un document de protection de langues autochtones. Les Acadiens ont fait un retour en force, mais les choses sont difficiles au Manitoba et en Ontario. Il y a de vrai luttes au Canada avec 70 langues autochtones en danger; il ya des abus éthique déplorables. C’est notre décision consciente; si on détruit la langue, on détruit la culture.  Il y a 15 ans, il n’a avait aucun désir dans le gouvernement de faire quelque chosel il y a trois ans, ont a annoncé de l’argent réel, mais c’est très tard. On a besoin d’un rôle des citoyens de soutenir ces langues.
We need to support indigenous languages. I can see newspapers such as the Toronto Sun and the Journal de Montréal write that it is a waste of tax payers money. We have experience with the laws on French immersion. My grandson can now take a course on Ojibway. There is a potential mass liquidation of languages going on.
In Newfoundland, there is a classic violation of freedom of expression with the Muskrat Falls Hydro project. A Journalist Justin was given a criminal charge in a dictatorial manner, with the aim of bankrupting him through heavy court costs. It is the biggest freedom of expression problem in a long time. It reminds me of Joseph Hom when corrupt judges attempted to try to bankrupt him. The Halifax trial lasted four hours where he gave a memorable testimony stating that ‘’When I sit down in solitude, the only questions I ask are, what is right, what is just, and what is good for the people’’.
40 % of writers are in prison because of their use of the internet.  In Ethiopia, where the population of 85 million are very poor, the government has one of the world’s most sophisticated internet security systems.
 As a citizen and internet user, you have to begin every day testing yourself to what extent you believe in freedom of expression.
Utilitarianism arguments are prevalent now. The dependence on management is rising, but we are not doing any better. There is a return of monopolies, we need to break up the monopolies. The problem of authoritarianism is linked to the western concept of the nation state which can’t deal with complexity.  As a democracy we should be able to deal with multiple interests. We need to  stop shutting down minority language schools. This is not because of technology, it is because of government decisions.  
Universities need to encourage debate among students. Universities should create places of debates, not racism and hatred. To say that internet sites are not publishers is a lie. We need define hate, we need to do this every day and speak out. At a European diplomatic dinner with my wire, we would hear anti-semitic comments, so we decided to take them to task for this

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Blavatsky and the Kalama Sutta

In Isis Unveiled Vol.2, p. 559, Blavatsky quotes a well-known passage from the Kalama Sutta, which she got from Henry Alabaster’s Wheel of the Law (1871), pp. 35-36, who is referencing Chao Phya Thipakon, a Siamese foreign affairs minister from 1856-1869, who wrote a book on Buddhism entitled ‘Kitchanukit’. She later quoted it from Henry Olcott’s Buddhist Catechism (See Collected Writings vol. 14, p. 417), both use it to suggest that there are no dogmas in Buddhism that are required to be believed on faith:
"Do not believe in anything because it is rumored and spoken of by many," says Buddha; "do not think that is a proof of its truth.
"Do not believe merely because the written statement of some old sage is produced; do not be sure that the writing has ever been revised by the said sage, or can be relied on. Do not believe in what you have fancied, thinking that, because an idea is extraordinary, it must have been implanted by a Deva, or some wonderful being.
"Do not believe in guesses, that is, assuming something at hap-hazard as a starting-point, and then drawing conclusions from it — reckoning your two and your three and your four before you have fixed your number one.
"Do not believe merely on the authority of your teachers and masters, or believe and practice merely because they believe and practice.
"I [Buddha] tell you all, you must of yourselves know that this is evil, this is punishable, this is censured by wise men; belief in this will bring no advantage to any one, but will cause sorrow; and when you know this, then eschew it."*
The Kalama Sutra is a sutra in the Anguttara Nikaya of the Tipitaka. It is often cited by Mahayana and Theravada Buddhists and is known as the Buddha's charter of free inquiry, free of fanaticism, bigotry, dogmatism, and intolerance. Below is a more recent translation:
Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.
Kalama Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya, Tika Nipata, Mahavagga, Sutta No. 65, Verse 4
Translated from the Pali by Ven. Soma Thera

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Through the Gates of Gold, part 5 - The Secret of Strength, ch. 1

We embark  on the final (and best)  part of this great spiritual classic. There are three chapters, but chapters 2 & 3 are quite rich so there will be four more posts after this one.
This first part echoes Dhammapa 103-105
Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one —    himself. Better to conquer yourself than others.When you’ve trained yourself, living in constant self-control, neither a deva nor gandhabba, nor a Mara banded with Brahmas, could turn that triumph back into defeat.
or from Proverbs:
16.32. He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
First you need the strength to step forward. This comes from conviction. This entails preserving stillness amid the din and bustle of the noisy world. Then one finds peace, which gives power, the power of faith that moves mountains…
Part 1
STRENGTH to step forward is the primary need of him who has chosen his path. Where is this to be found? Looking round, it is not hard to see where other men find their strength. Its source is profound conviction. Through this great moral power is brought to birth in the natural life of the man that which enables him, however frail he may be, to go on and conquer. Conquer what? Not continents, not worlds, but himself. Through that supreme victory is obtained the entrance to the whole, where all that might be conquered and obtained by effort becomes at once not his, but himself.
To put on armor and go forth to war, taking the chances of death in the hurry of the fight, is an easy thing; to stand still amid the jangle of the world, to preserve stillness within the turmoil of the body, to hold silence amid the thousand cries of the senses and desires, and then, stripped of all armor and without hurry or excitement take the deadly serpent of self and kill it, is no easy thing. Yet that is what has to be done; and it can only be done in the moment of equilibrium when the enemy is disconcerted by the silence.
But there is needed for this supreme moment a strength such as no hero of the battlefield needs. A great soldier must be filled with the profound convictions of the justness of his cause and the rightness of his method. The man who wars against himself and wins the battle can do it only when he knows that in that war he is doing the one thing which is worth doing, and when he knows that in doing it he is winning heaven and hell as his servitors.
Yes, he stands on both. He needs no heaven where pleasure comes as a long-promised reward; he fears no hell where pain waits to punish him for his sins. For he has conquered once for all that shifting serpent in himself which turns from side to side in its constant desire of contact, in its perpetual search after pleasure and pain. Never again (the victory once really won) can he tremble or grow exultant at any thought of that which the future holds. Those burning sensations which seemed to him to be the only proofs of his existence are his no longer. How, then, can he know that he lives? He knows it only by argument. And in time he does not care to argue about it. For him there is then peace; and he will find in that peace the power he has coveted. Then he will know what is that faith which can remove mountains.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Sufi Ethics: What the Seeker Needs 3

Extracts from a classic text: Book of the Quintessence Concerning What Is Indispensable For the Spiritual Seeker (transl. - Tosun Bayrak) Muhiyy ad-Din Ibn 'Arabi

1- Be giving, generous
Learn to give, whether you have plenty or little, whether you are happy or in pain. This is a proof of your faith in Allah. Try to satisfy the needs of the needy. This is an affirmation that Allah has assigned everyone's sustenance and nothing will change it. This is a proof of your trusting in Allah.
2- Do not be miserly
A miser is a coward. The accursed Devil whispers in his ear that there is no death, that he will live a long time; that the world is hostile; that if he gives he will be left destitute, dishonored, and alone; that he should not be fooled by the plenty that he now has, for no one knows what will happen tomorrow. Worse still, if the miser has little, the devil tells him that soon he will have even less. No one will help him; he will be a load on others and will be detested. He has to look  after himself. If these evil imaginations capture the heart one may be led to he edge of hellfire.
On the other hand, the ones who give their ears to Allah hear His blessed words. Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:...and whoever is saved from the miserliness of his ego, these it is that find salvation. (Hashr, 9)
3- Do not be negative and control your temper
If you wish to find the truth and have Allah's pleasure and support in it, then avoid being negative and control your temper and anger. If you cannot stop anger, at least do not show it. When you do this, you will please Allah and disappoint the devil. You will begin to educate your ego and straighten and shorten your path. Anger is a result and a sign of the ego not being under control, like a mean wild animal untied and uncaged. As you hold your temper, it is as if you put a bridle on its head and barriers around it. You begin then to tame it, teach it how to behave, to obey, so that it cannot hurt others or itself (because it is a part of you).
4- Be just, peaceful, helpful, gentle and loving
Allah will treat you the way He has ordered you to treat others. So try to assume the good qualities of being just, peaceful, helpful, gentle, and loving. Persist in these qualities; act with them. You will see that this character will spread from you to others around you, creating harmony, mutual love, and respect. The Beloved of Allah, our master the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), orders us to love each other, to be in a continuous loving state. He repeats this in so many ways, in so many statements. To leave anger, to replace it with bearing hardship, with forgiving, with caring for the one who causes the hardship, is one of the cornerstones of the foundation of love.
5- Open your heart to spiritual influences, listen to the voice of your conscience
Open your heart in order to receive divine benevolence. A benevolent heart becomes the mirror in which Allah's favors are manifest. When the divine favors manifest and come through you, when you feel His presence, you will feel shame at your improper actions. This will cause both you and others to have conscience. Thus your benevolence will protect you and others from sin.
6- Repent of your misdeeds
Wake before sunrise, remember Allah, and repent. When repentance follows sin, it erases it The sin disappears as if it never happened. When repentance follows a benevolent action or prayer, it is like light upon light, grace upon grace. To remember Allah and to praise Him unifies the heart when it is scattered all around - like a mirror broken into a thousand pieces - and mends it, makes it into one, and turns it towards the One. Then all trouble leaves the heart, and it is filled with the joy of the One whom it remembers.
7- Strive to reform the faults of your lower self
Say to the self: "Indeed, after the aura of death has rendered you prostrate and life is fading away, if you can remember at all and repent, that repentance will not be accepted by Allah. The Prophet whom He sent as a mercy upon the universe said that though Allah accepts your repentance until the time when your breath is being choked out of you, at the moment of your death throes it is too late. Death comes without: warning - to some while eating, to some while drinking, to others while sleeping with their wives, to others in deep sleep from which they do not awake. Whoever, before that, has not turned from falsehood to truth, has not repented but persists in sinning, will fall into the abyss of death."
Talk this way to your self. Try to discipline and educate the desires of your flesh. As. they are persistent in sinning, be persistent in convincing them to stop sinning. If you keep warning your lower self, with the help of Allah the knots binding your heart will be untied. That is the only way to be saved.

8- Fear the retributions of your misdeeds
The fear of Allah is a protection, the thing that guards you from harm. Allah's protection is the strongest of all armor, of all fortifications; no harm can penetrate it. That is what divine fear secures for you. The Prophet of Allah, whom He sent as His mercy upon the universe, himself took refuge in his lord. Praying to Him, he said, "I take refuge in Your pleasure, in Your beauty, in Your gentleness, from Your wrath and Your strength. I take refuge in Your divine mercy and compassion, from your punishment. I take refuge in You from You."
9- Strive to follow god, fearing karmic retribution
Seek, learn about, and imitate the beneficent acts of your Creator that manifest all around you. Protect yourself against divine wrath with acts and deeds in accordance with Allah's pleasure. Whatever act, whatever thing, whatever path is under the shadow of doubt and fear, do not come close to it. Leave it. Know that knowing your Creator and obeying Him is the only path that will lead you to peace and felicity.
10 - Do not be fatalistic or agnostic about karma
While you persist in sinning and stubbornly refuse to see your errors, why are you so proud that Allah treats you with patience, kindness, and generosity in spite of your sins? Is it that you are fooled by what the devil whispers in your ear, saying, "If it weren't for your sins and your revolt, how would Allah manifest His infinite mercy, compassion, and generosity?" Don't you see how irrational that evil teaching is? Would it be less merciful and beneficent for the Owner of Infinite Wisdom to prevent His servant from opposing His will and pleasure?
11- Seek to be chaste and pure and develop the discrimination to do so
It falls upon you to examine each act, each word, each act of worship, each relation with others such as friendship or marriage. You must find whether each thing is good or bad, clean or unclean, right or wrong-in other words, lawful or unlawful. In some cases it is clear; then you must choose the right over the wrong. In some cases it is doubtful; then you must leave it as if it were wrong and seek that which is sure.
12- Do not give in to the temptations of the lower self
Chastity is the foundation of religion and the path to truth. If you are chaste, all your deeds will be pure and sincere; all you do will end well; you will be in harmony with the divine order. You will be the recipient of divine generosity; all will turn to you. You will be under divine protection. If you are chaste and pious, avoiding the wrong and the doubtful, there is no doubt that you will receive all these blessings.
13- View the world as a ground for trials and learning experiences – face them with detachment, acceptance and equanimity
This world is a place of preparation where one is given many lessons and poses many tests.
Choose less over more in it. Be satisfied with what you have, even if it is less than what others have. In fact, prefer to have less. This world is not bad - on the contrary, it is the field of the hereafter. What you plant here, you will reap there. This world is the way to eternal bliss and so is good - worthy to be cherished and to be praised. What is bad is what you do with the world when you become blind to truth and totally consumed by your desires, lust, and ambition for it.
14- Do not abandon the world, participate actively in it
This does not mean that you should abandon the world, not do your duties in it or participate in its affairs - retiring to a corner, making no effort, doing no work. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) says, "Allah likes to see the believer working at his profession." "Indeed Allah likes the one who has a craft." "The one who earns his sustenance lawfully through his efforts is beloved of Allah." These sayings mean that Allah's beneficence encompasses all who work hard in a craft or business in this world. It is for this reason that all the prophets worked for their sustenance.
15- Do not be wordly
When the love of the world fills your heart totally, it leaves no space for the remembrance of Allah. Forgetting the hereafter, you prefer this temporal world. All that you need from the world is something lawful to satisfy your hunger, something with which to cover yourself, and a roof over your head. Let these be the only things you ask from this world, nothing more. Don't be envious of the apparent temporal abundance the world-bound seem to enjoy, nor wish for the riches they have gathered without any consideration of right or wrong, of lawful or unlawful.
Someone who chooses this temporal world over the true good of the eternal Hereafter will never reach his goal, either here or there. For the ambition of one who is ambitious for this world will never be satisfied. …The desires of this world are like sea water. The more you drink of them, the more you thirst….Do not exchange your spiritual peace and the possibility of eternal bliss for the temporal,decaying goods of this world. No matter how grand and secure they look, they will die when you die. Death may come in your next step upon this earth, and all your dreams of this world will evaporate.