Open Letter to Algeria’s Ambassador To Canada

It is difficult to know for certain whether letters to our politicians and government officials will have an effect. Do you expect that a letter to your city or town Councillor be read and taken seriously? How about your Member of Provincial Parliament? Federal MP? Every bureaucratic layer, every mile from home can seem to shrink the probabilities.

What about writing a letter to dignitaries from foreign countries? Do you think you would be heard? But if the subject were important enough to you, would you still do it?

We imagine that these are some of the questions that ran through Dr. Richard Thain’s mind some weeks ago as he composed and sent a letter (an abridged version provided below) to members of the Algerian government. In his letter, Thain called for the release of Yacine Mebarki, a vocal member that country’s Berber minority who has been involved in the long-running Hirak protest movement. Mebarki had been imprisoned for “profaning Islam” (blasphemy, by a slightly different turn of phrase), encouraging a Muslim to leave the religion as well as several other charges.


Dear Ambassador Meghar
,

My name is Richard Thain. As a Canadian citizen, I have the power and the freedom to publicly communicate my perspectives, whether on political, religious or other public matters. I decide who I wish to engage in civil and civic dialog.

On those grounds, I intend to respectfully express my deep concern over the Algerian Court’s decision to find Yacine Mebarki guilty and sentence him to ten years of imprisonment. This decision is the latest of an extremely disturbing pattern in Algeria which is being covered in the international news media. The jailing of journalist Khaled Drareni provides another outrageous example. The world has learned, from Algeria’s National Committee for the Release of Detainees that over five dozen people have been incarcerated in your country, for merely holding unpopular opinions. Journalism is not a crime.

I respectfully direct your attention to the press release, issued on Thursday, September 8, by the Algerian League for the Defence of the Human Rights which “underlines the guarantees in the national law, notably the Constitution and the international conventions ratified by Algeria, in particular the respect for freedom of conscience and opinion.”

I urge you to inform President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Prime-Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati that many Canadians are appalled by events in Algeria. I urge you to advise the Government of Algeria to immediately release Yacine Mebarki and all prisoners of conscience in Algeria!

Ambassador, there is no-one better positioned or informed than you to recognize that it is of the utmost importance and in the best interests of the Government of Algeria and the Citizens of Algeria that these unconscionable matters be corrected. Help your government to bring the Citizens of Algeria and the Citizens of Canada together by ensuring shared individual freedoms, rights and powers. It is within your power to decide to act or not to act in the interests of Algerians.

Thank you for your time and prompt attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Richard G L Thain

You may read a version of Thain’s letter on EAP (en francais). It is our understanding that Thain has not yet received a reply to his letter. But that doesn’t mean that the Algerian government and courts have ignore Mebarki’s case.

We may also imagine the tremendous satisfaction and enthusiasm that Dr. Thain may have felt to read today, as reported on France24, that Algeria’s ” court reduced Mebarki’s prison term from 10 years to one after upholding convictions including “offending the precepts of (Islam)”, but overturning others with heavier sentences including “profaning the Koran”.

Whether Dr. Thain’s letter reached eyes of influential officials in Algeria or not should not reduce any satisfaction Dr. Thain may feel either for his correspondence or for the news for Mebarki. When it comes to the freedom of expression, it is not merely holding the value that is important, it is utilizing that freedom to express one’s opinion even in situations where one has every reason to expect not to be heard.

Dr. Thain encountered his own concerns with freedom of expression, government officials and religious privilege in 2014 when he attempted to publish advertisements objecting to the public funding of Catholic Schools systems in Canada during the launch of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

While it may be difficult to know whether our dignified and civilized protestations will be heard, that does not diminish our need to make them.


You may also be interested in Wole Soyinka’s open letter calling for the release of Mubarak Bala.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of
  2. https://www.editionap.ca/actualites–news/lettres–letters-d0125757f52f1f19bf41a22066d4bf13actualites–news/liberez-le-defenseur-des-droits-humains-et-militant-laic-yacine-mebarki-d2d4ef51505273408e7035cde3a90d08
  3. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20201125-algeria-slashes-activist-s-jail-term-for-offending-islam
  4. https://www.barrons.com/news/algeria-slashes-activist-s-jail-term-for-offending-islam-lawyer-01606307405
  5. https://al-bab.com/blog/2020/10/missing-page-quran-lands-algerian-jail

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Film: About Endlessness

Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness was released late in 2019 as a “reflection on human life in all its beauty and cruelty, its splendour and banality.

On the film’s website, Andersson provides several key insights regarding the film and his approach as a film-maker. They are the kinds of insights which have the capacity to alter the viewer’s perspective from bewilderment to informed engagement.

Rhetorically, we ask ourselves “Could there be a more advantageous way to approach the topic of “endlessness” than with informed engagement?” Perhaps. But we aren’t going to delve “plot” in this post as that might just be counter-to-the-concept. The film is ABOUT ENDLESSNESS after all.

Andersson shares that he had given up a “realistic/naturalistic aesthetic” in the mid-1980s, feeling that there was nowhere to go. It was, so to speak, at an end for him. He turned instead to an abstract approach which “has enabled me to tell stories about us and about our time in spectacularly anachronistic scenes.

As it may be far easier to relate to Andersson’s comments while viewing some of his work, Film Qualia‘s video essay titled “The Living Paintings of Roy Anderson” is an excellent resource and underlines our thought that informed engagement may just be best.

Film Qualia’s Video Essay on “The Living Paintings of Roy Anderson”

On the matter of his style, Andresson suggests that he wants “to continue to develop a cinematic language that is pared-down, simplified, refined, distilled, or however you choose to describe it. That’s what I mean by the expression abstraction. I strive to achieve that refinement, that simplification that is characteristic of our memories or our dreams.”

Andersson cites two cultural icons as central to the creation and development of About Endlessness: the horn of plenty from Greek mythology and the narrator of Thousand and One Nights, Scheherazade.

The horn of plenty is invoked for its “embodiment of inexhaustibility”. It is literally a symbol for endlessness. Andersson “art, art history plays the role of a horn of plenty, encompassing within it the entire scope of what it means to be human.”

Invoking Scheherazade, a character under near-constant threat of death, is, literally, a far more complex undertaking. There’s no shortage of context for a living symbol of those in society who may be fairly termed terminally vulnerable.

Andersson explains a perspective as filmmaker that, “Scheherazade managed to postpone her own execution for a thousand and one days, by which time the King had started to grow fond of her and wanted to stay married to her. My hope and ambition in this project, is for the scenes to be so interesting and fascinating that people will want to see more of them as soon as they’ve seen one, and that they will never want them to stop.

In short, we should feel like King Shahryar when he hears something through Scheherazade that seems inexhaustible, namely human existence, everything that it means to be human. The scenes in this film will naturally be fascinating in and of themselves, but it is the scope of the composition of the scenes that will generate the impression of being inexhaustible.


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://www.royandersson.com/eng/endlessness/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/About_Endlessness
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/nov/08/about-endlessness-review-roy-andersson
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/nov/05/about-endlessness-review-roy-andersson
  5. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/about-endlessness-a-droll-form-of-despair-1.4399995
  6. https://lwlies.com/reviews/about-endlessness/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Affandi: Call me a painter or better yet, just human

The National Gallery of Indonesia (Galeri Nasional Indonesia) in Jakarta is currently hosting an immersive exhibit of humanist painter, Affandi through to November 25, 2020.

According to The Jakarta Post, access to the exhibit is limited to 20 pre-registered people for each of six daily hour-long sessions. Additionally, as part of the National Culture Week activites, the exhibition will also display Affandi’s paintings via video projection and sound design.

Captured: Due to the ongoing pandemic, no more than 20 visitors are allowed inside the gallery for each session.
Photo Credit: The Jakarta Post

Affandi ( 1907-1990) is recognized as one of Indonesia’s leading modern artists.

The exhibition “Alam, Ruang, Manusia” (Nature, Space, Human) is held as part of the 2020 National Culture Week, and at the National Gallery of Indonesia in Jakarta. It offers “video performance mapping projection of 98 of Affandi’s paintings, as well as 15 of Affandi’s paintings in the collection of the Indonesian National Gallery.” The video performance mapping appears to be a dynamic observer-focussed experience enhanced by video, lighting and sound effects. Sounds fun.

HumanistFreedoms.com readers, whether already familiar with Affandi or not, may enjoy exploring Affandi’s art and perspectives. Fortunately for those of us not currently able to access the gallery can use our internet browsers to good effect (see Sources, Citations and References for some handy links). Here are a few Affandi attributions that we found interesting:

  • “For me, my movement is humanism. What it means is that I paint based on humanity. Because of that, I cannot proclaim that art is for art. For me, the title of artist is too grand. Call me a painter or better yet, just human.
  • My subjects are expressive rather than beautiful. I paint suffering – an old woman, a beggar, a black mountain … My great wish is that people learn a little from my work. I do know the danger of doing paintings with this in mind.
  • Affandi once defined humanism as meaning “all that is right and good to every living creature. When I am making a painting, and suddenly I hear a child that is crying because its doll has fallen into the water, I have to stop painting and help the child first.”
  • According to Christies, “as a humanist at heart, Affandi believed in the universal human experience above all else and dedicated his life’s practice to capturing the essence of the human condition in his paintings. This determination to depict life truthfully set him apart from the romanticised depictions of Indonesia…Affandi avoided omitting the candid and ugly, choosing instead to frame these untainted moments as crucial to our understanding of human nature.

Affandi’s art is often described as being “expressionist”. We have found at least one explanation of Affandi’s expressionism as being an outlet for a significant concern for freedom of expression. To what extent such an explanation of Affandi’s art is accurate is difficult to confirm, but there seems to be a reasonable alignment of the perspectives we have found and such an interpretation of his artistic philosophy.

Exploration of an painter’s art calls for presentation of at least one or two samples. Here are a few that caught our attention:

Affandi, the maestro of expressionist painter from ...

Kartika Affandi » Museum Affandi

Sources, Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of http://artcraftgiftideas.blogspot.com/2014/07/affandi-maestro-of-expressionist.html
  2. http://www.affandi.org/affandi/biografy-affandi
  3. https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2020/11/12/national-gallery-brings-affandis-paintings-to-life-in-immersive-spectacle.html
  4. http://galeri-nasional.or.id/newss/525-membaca_affandi_hari_ini
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affandi
  6. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,826081,00.html
  7. http://www.artnet.com/artists/affandi/
  8. https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/affandi-indonesia-1907-1990-market-scene-6146919-details.aspx
  9. http://www.the12list.com/2017/05/12-things-about-affandi.html
  10. http://www.affandi.org/
  11. https://www.luxartasia.com/2016/08/mini-exhibition-shows-affandis-humanist.html

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Stanford Medicine: Fostering Humanism Through PPE

PPE. Personal Protective Equipment. Such a cold and distant term, isn’t it? Due to the current social and regulatory environment stimulated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this clinical term is rapidly becoming part of routine conversation in non-clinical settings. Are the service providers in your community (retail clerks, travel-industry personnel, bank tellers, automotive mechanics) wearing their PPE? Are you wearing yours?

A rallying-cry for 2020/2021 may well turn out to be something like Mask-Up-For-Health! However, with all of this masking that has been going-on, it may be argued that some essential components of human interaction are being lost. It is comforting to observe that some folks in the healthcare field have begun to consider and act on this possibility.

A team at Stanford Medicine and partnered with The Arnold P. Gold Foundation and Occidental College have asked: How can we foster humanism in medicine, when the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required and providers don masks, glasses and gowns to protect their eyes, noses, and mouths from COVID-19?

Now there is an excellent and necessary question.

ppe

Lead: Cati Brown-Johnson, PhD

Team: Mary Beth Heffernan, Paige Parsons, Juliana Baratta, Alexis Amano, Mae Verano, Cynthia Perez

The team states that, “We believe PPE Portraits may support patient care and health, and even healthcare team function and provider wellness.

PPE Portraits are one possible solution: disposable provider portrait picture stickers (4×5) affixed to PPE where patients can see them. Our brief pilot showed signs of interest and adoption: a participating physician requested PPE Portraits at their clinic and masked medical assistant team-members required PPE Portraits to wear over scrubs.

How does it work? The Stanford Medicine team is taking a position that it is not unlike how a placebo works, ” we know that provider warmth and competence are positively associated with health at the biological level. Personal protective equipment (PPE) signals competence; portraits could be one of the only signals of warmth for patients who have, or may have, COVID-19. PPE Portraits are disposable portrait picture stickers (4×5 inches) put on PPE that can help patients and providers form a personal connection to positively impact patient health.

In a Smithsonian article, the project is described as “a way to reintroduce the aesthetic of kindness into patient care“. Fostering humanism is fostering an aesthetic of kindness. No surprise to the humanistfreedoms.com team!

The concept has been with Heffernan since at least 2014, based on an article on hyperallergic.com. Journalist Laura C. Mallonee quoted Heffernan as saying about an ebola epidemic in the news at the time, “Wouldn’t they be less frightening if the person on the inside was pictured on the outside?

A humanist approach could make a pandemic less frightening? No surprise to the humanistfreedoms.com team! Good ideas deserve to be shared.

Health care workers
Photo Courtesy of SmithosianMag.com (reference below)

If you are affiliated-with or aware-of an institution whose clientele may benefit by a PPE portraits launch or by participating in ongoing research, you may wish to consider contacting Cati Brown-Johnson or Mary Beth Heffernan.

If you found this article interesting, you may also wish to see these earlier articles:

  1. Critically Thinking About COVID 19 – Part I
  2. Critically Thinking About COVID 19- Part II
  3. Gold Humanism Society Inducts Class of 2021

Sources, Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://med.stanford.edu/pcph/research/ppe-project.html
  2. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/health-worker-portraits-buoy-spirits-covid-19-patients-180974681/
  3. https://hyperallergic.com/199732/picturing-the-people-inside-ebola-hazmat-suits/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Humanist Wins 2020 Ottawa Book Awards

HumanistFreedoms.com is thrilled to celebrate the recent announcement that one of our favourite poets and humanists, Henry Beissel, is a winner of the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards.

Henry Beissel is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, translator and editor. He has published 44 books published including 22 collections of poetry. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Francière, the literary translator and artist. While copies of the critically acclaimed Cantos North(1980 & 2017) and a poet-autographed copy of Fugitive Horizons (2013) adorn our shelves, it was Beissel’s Footprints of Dark Energy (2019) which caught the eye of the Ottawa Book Awards jury (Paul Carlucci, Lyse Champagne, Amatoritsero Ede).

Jury Statement for Footprints of Dark Energy: Part Idyll, part love song and mostly about man in nature, Henry Beissel’s Footprints of Dark Energy approaches the sublime in its epic treatment of its subjects. The meditative undertones of the shorter poems coalesce into the epigrammatic wit of the long title poem, and all are bolstered by the narration’s majestic sweep. 

The title poem of this collection takes us on an epic journey across past and present historical events and through spaces defined by the natural sciences, as it explores the challenges of being human in these troubled times. It is accompanied by a gathering of shorter poems that confront the dark forces in our world as they struggle for the light at the end of the tunnel. In stark imagery, these poems turn words into music to celebrate the anguish and the glory of being alive.

Courtesy of Youtube and the ongoing COVID-19 social environment, you can enjoy a highly personal, yet socially distanced, reading by the poet himself:

Since 1985, the Ottawa Book Awards have recognized the top English and French books published in the previous year. Both languages have categories for fiction and non-fiction. All shortlisted finalists receive $1,000 and each winner receives a prize of $7,500. 

Footprints of Dark Energy

Winners of the 2020 Ottawa Book Awards were announced during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. To watch a recording of the event, please visit:

Ottawa Public Library’s Facebook page!

Congratulations Henry! And well done! We admire the many contributions you have made to humanism and poetry.

Sources, Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://ottawa.ca/en/arts-heritage-and-events/ottawa-book-awards#2020-winners-and-finalists
  2. https://www.henrybeissel.com/
  3. https://www.cbc.ca/books/beverley-mclachlin-henry-beissel-win-2020-ottawa-book-awards-1.5772822
  4. https://ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/beverley-mclachlin-beissel-among-winners-of-ottawa-book-awards
  5. https://theworldnews.net/ca-news/finalists-announced-for-2020-ottawa-book-awards
  6. https://canlit.ca/article/gifts-for-the-journey/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.