#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 19 January Update

Steep rise of infections remains the main story, along with resulting increases in hospitalizations and ICUs.

Vaccinations: Some minor shifts but general convergence among provinces and countries. Canadians fully vaccinated 79 percent, compared to Japan 78.9 percent, UK 71.4 percent and USA 63.4 percent.

Immigration source countries are also converging: China fully vaccinated 87.3 percent, India 48.2 percent, Nigeria 2.5 percent (the outlier), Pakistan 36 percent, Philippines 51.8 percent.

Trendline Charts:

Infections: Effects of Omicron seen in steep curve in all G7 countries and provinces. No such effect in immigration source countries

Deaths: No relative changes but Quebec uptick more visible.

Vaccinations: Ongoing convergence among most provinces but lower rates for Alberta and Prairies. Gap between G7 less Canada continues to grow despite overall convergence, with narrowing gap with immigration source countries. Nigeria remains the laggard.

Weekly

Infections: New York ahead of UK, France ahead of USA, Australia ahead of Canada less Quebec, Atlantic Canada ahead of India. 

Deaths: No relative change.

‘Anxious’ Chinese rethink study-abroad options, from Canada to Malta and beyond

Significant. May reverse the relative decline in Chinese students choosing Canada compared to other nationalities. Study permits issued to Chinese students fell from 24 percent in 2018 to 13 percent in 2021 (January-November numbers):

Amid the pandemic and geopolitical tensions with the West over the past two years, members of China’s middle class found themselves increasingly compelled to postpone plans to emigrate overseas, while others refrained from sending their children abroad to study.

But as a growing number of international schools in China have announced in recent months that they were shutting down or were accepting only foreign students in the wake of a nationwide crackdown on education, obtaining a Western-equivalent education at home has become more difficult.

As a result, a rising number of Chinese families are re-evaluating their emigration and foreign-study options.

Industry insiders also say there has been increased demand for Canadian immigration programmes, as well as for fast-track schemes to obtain foreign citizenship via investment opportunities in some small European countries and island nations.

Daisy Fu, who is based in Shenzhen and helps Chinese people obtain Malta citizenship, said business is up 20 per cent in the past two months. “Most of the clients are parents who are anxious about the new education policy,” she said.

Canada’s Immigrant Nominee Programme may also become a popular and practical solution for worried Chinese parents.

“The number of Chinese families applying for professional immigration to Canada will reach a new high in 2022,” said Jack Ho, chairman of Famed Star Group, an international consulting company helping clients immigrate to Canada.

“Whether they are high-net-worth individuals or middle-class white-collar workers, the rapid changes in China’s policies on education, property and wealth markets have prompted them to urgently start their immigration programmes as soon as possible,” Ho said.

In the past, around 95 per cent of families would opt to wait in China until obtaining their permanent residency in Canada, he said. But in recent months, that percentage has plummeted, and he said more than half of his customers told him that they wanted to move to Canada immediately upon receiving a work permit, so their children could begin school there more quickly.

He said his company has assisted with the Canadian immigration process for more than 1,000 families since 2017. This year, he expects their annual business could reach a record high, surpassing pre-pandemic numbers.

Under President Xi Jinping, ideological control has been tightened as the Communist Party tries to instil patriotism in younger generations and stifle dissent. In May, China passed new regulations tightening party oversight of private schools and restricting foreign players in the sector.

For years, Xi denounced the after-school tutoring sector as disruptive, burdensome and in need of regulation. That culminated in Beijing introducing tough new curbs on the lucrative private-education sector last year, despite strong demand from middle-class families for foreign education.

Under the Regulations for the Implementation of the Private Education Promotion Law, no new licences will be granted to international schools offering compulsory education – six years of primary education followed by three years of junior high school education. Chinese-run private schools teaching compulsory education are also banned from using foreign textbooks, though private schools teaching grades 10-12 can continue offering international curriculums.

“Two of my children had been attending an international school in Chengdu that used Singaporean textbooks and had a Western teaching style, with baseball lessons and other foreign languages,” said Zhang Na, who runs a tech-and-culture start-up in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

“The tuition ran about 70,000 yuan (US$11,000) a year, and I was very happy with everything the school offered, but it closed this semester due to a sudden change in policy, so I had to temporarily transfer my sons to a private local school that teaches only a Chinese curriculum.”

Zhang said her sons became extremely stressed amid the fierce competition and pressure to excel in examinations.

“I once set aside my wish to immigrate, but now I may have to put it back on the agenda for my children,” she said.

In December, international schools in Shenzhen – including the Bay Academy, Shenzhen Harrow Innovation Leadership Academy and the King’s School Shenzhen International – which had previously enrolled Chinese students, announced that they would either close or pivot their business model to focus on only foreign students.

And in November, one of Britain’s most prestigious private schools, Westminster School, said it would abandon its first overseas school in Chengdu, four years after the project had begun.

The school had ambitious plans to open six bilingual institutions in China, but “recent changes in Chinese education policy” forced the school to axe the entire project, according to Mark Batten, chair of the school’s governing body.

“It is highly unfortunate – the landscape for developing such schools now is very different from 2017,” Batten said in a letter to past and current students and staff.

In Beijing, education authorities are also pushing ahead with curriculum reform in private bilingual schools by requiring students to use Chinese textbooks adopted by public schools, and to take compulsory exams – known as the zhong kao – for admission to public senior high schools.

The Beijing World Youth Academy, with more than 1,200 students aged 5 to 18, complied with the mandate last year by requiring its grade 9 students to sit the exam – the first time the academy had done so in its 20 years.

A faculty member who spoke on condition of anonymity said the school had integrated subjects required by China’s statutory curriculum, such as Chinese language courses and maths to its Middle Years Programme – an International Baccalaureate programme requiring students aged 11 to 16 to study eight subject groups: two languages, humanities, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical education and technology.

“By doing so, we can help students acquire a [junior middle school] graduation certificate and an academic track record acknowledged by Chinese authorities,” the staff member said.

According to implementation regulations outlined in the Private Education Promotion Law, which went into effect in September, private schools can develop their own curriculums based only “on the standards of the state curriculum”. And the curriculums must be submitted to education authorities first. Students in grades 1-9 are also not allowed to be taught from foreign textbooks.

“More schools offering international curriculums are expected to require students to sit the zhong kao, as China is unifying admission standards for private and public senior high schools,” said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute. “But regardless, international schools will only use zhong kao performance as a reference.”

Stephen Wang, the father of a grade 8 student at the Beijing World Youth Academy, said that although the zhong kao requirement has doubled his daughter’s workload, the academy’s inclusion in the national academic system may benefit her career in the future.

“My daughter makes painstaking efforts to study two sets of subjects. However, it may prove worth it someday. After returning from overseas, she’ll have the freedom to choose to develop a career in China,” said Wang, a 48-year-old private entrepreneur.

Susan Li, the mother of a grade 6 student at an international school in Beijing, said: “Our school hasn’t announced whether it will make the exams compulsory. But I’m afraid it will come sooner or later with the government’s tightened scrutiny of private schools.”

Nonetheless, the 45-year-old corporate executive said, “it would be a waste of time”.

“As we are determined to go to a university in the UK, preparing for and sitting domestic exams is really unnecessary,” Li said.

Source: ‘Anxious’ Chinese rethink study-abroad options, from Canada to Malta and beyond

Indo-Canadian leaders say Elections B.C. oversight would end questionable tactics in party races

Of note. Look forward to comments from British Columbia readers:

Leaders in the province’s Indo-Canadian community say the recent controversy surrounding B.C. Liberal party memberships would not be happening if a third-party organization such as Elections B.C. was given an oversight role in political party leadership elections.

Several long-time Liberals and New Democrats of Punjabi heritage are concerned that the blame for questionable memberships is being unfairly placed on racialized communities, instead of on the parties’ membership and voting rules.

“Punjabi-Canadians are a demographic that loves their politics, and you have the traditional loyalty to family and friends, so that is why this community is able to sign up large number of members in a very short period of time. It does not mean their memberships are illegal,” said long-time B.C. Liberal Barj Dhahan.

“Whenever this question comes up, it is Punjabi-Canadians who get stereotyped that they are not following the rules. The real question is: Are the rules being followed by the candidates and their campaign teams and volunteers?”

The controversy came to a head last month, after six of the seven B.C. Liberal leadership campaign teams demanded the party audit close to half of its new memberships over concerns that rules were not being followed. They pointed to addresses that were not residences, including one on a forest service road. One campaign said its canvassers found one residence where only one of the five people signed up using that addressed lived there. The campaigns questioned whether the party was capable of catching potential cheaters.

Since then, the party has been accused of singling out members from the South Asian and Chinese communities for review and audit.

Former NDP MLA Harry Lali said there is a long history of groups, including lawyers and teachers, that launched large membership campaigns for their favoured candidates, but those campaigns were never questioned. He believes all leadership elections over the past two decades in every party have been tainted by dubious membership recruitment tactics.

Lali said when that happens, the party suffers.

“What ends up happening is the old-guard membership is pitted against the new membership, so it often becomes white people being pitted against non-white people,” he said. “It’s time that political parties were dragged into the 21st century.”

That is why Lali recommended that Elections B.C. take over the process of vetting memberships and overseeing leadership votes more than a decade ago, when he was running for the NDP leadership.

Vikram Bajwa also supports calls for involvement by Elections B.C. Bajwa has been a member of the B.C. Liberal party for more than 20 years, and was one of the whistle-blowers in the so-called “quick wins” scandal in 2013, when the party under former premier Christy Clark planned to use government funds to target ethnic support.

Bajwa now claims more than 6,000 international students from India and China have been signed up as Liberal party members in the current leadership race. Bajwa said he and several other party members have sought legal advice and have written a letter demanding the party take action.

“The Liberal party membership form does not ask you to state your citizenship or permanent resident status,” explained Bajwa. “It was overlooked during Christy Clark’s time, and this time we want to put a stop to this.”

Bajwa said if the issue is not properly addressed at the final Liberal leadership debate on Tuesday night, as promised by the party, he and several concerned members will be filing a judicial review of the memberships in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the party has not responded to a request for comment about foreign student memberships.

The leadership election organizing committee issued a public statement last week, saying that more than 3,000, or six per cent, of the party’s 43,000 current active members have been flagged for an audit. It said some audits were triggered when a non-Canadian IP address was used to buy a membership.

It added that, so far, no membership has been rejected.

Critics say they are not working for any of the B.C. Liberal campaigns and their only agenda is to rid the system of the abuses within it. They say it will take political will not seen so far to introduce legislation allowing Elections B.C. to oversee all party leadership elections.

“Not doing something about it, for all political parties, it ends up creating a schism and that erodes to less and less participation in the political process,” said Lali. “And on a wider scale, when you’re talking about someone who wants to be the premier of the province, you want to make sure that individual has won fairly and that the general public can have that confidence.”

Source: Indo-Canadian leaders say Elections B.C. oversight would end questionable tactics in party races

The AP Interview: Exiled artist Ai Weiwei on Beijing Games

Refreshing to have a sports journalist do this kind of reporting:

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most famous artists, and many regard him as one of the world’s greatest living ones. Working with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, he helped design the Bird’s Nest Stadium, the centerpiece of Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics.

The stadium in northern Beijing, instantly recognizable for its weave of curving steel beams, will also host the opening ceremony for Beijing’s Winter Olympics on Feb. 4.

In the design phase, Ai hoped the stadium’s latticework form and the presence of the Olympics would symbolize China’s new openness. He was disappointed. He has repeatedly described the stadium and the 2008 Olympics as a “fake smile” that China presented to the world.

Ai expects the Winter Games to offer more of the same.

Even before his fame landed him the design job, Ai had been an unrelenting critic of the Chinese Communist Party. He was jailed in 2011 in China for unspecified crimes and is now an outspoken dissident who lives in exile in Portugal. He has also lived in exile in Germany — he still maintains a studio there — and in Britain.

His art — ranging from sculpture to architecture to photography, video and the written word — is almost always provocative, and he’s scathing about censorship and the absence of civil liberties in his native country.

His memoir — “1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows” — was published last year and details the overlap of his life and career with that of his father Ai Qing, a famous poet who was sent into internal exile in 1957, the year Ai Weiwei was born.

Ai writes in his memoir: “The year I was born, Mao Zedong unleashed a political storm — the Anti-Rightist Campaign, designed to purge “rightist” intellectuals who had criticized the government. The whirlpool that swallowed up my father upended my life too, leaving a mark on me that I carry to this day.”

He quotes his father: “To suppress the voices of the people is the cruelest form of violence.”

Ai responded to a list of questions by email from the Associated Press. He used his dashed hopes for the Bird’s Nest to illustrate how China has changed since 2008.

“As an architect my goal was the same as other architects, that is, to design it as perfectly as possible,” Ai wrote to Associated Press. “The way it was used afterwards went in the opposite direction from our ideals. We had hoped that our architecture could be a symbol of freedom and openness and represent optimism and a positive force, which was very different from how it was used as a promotional tool in the end.”

The 2008 Olympics are usually seen as a “coming out” party for China, When the IOC awarded Beijing the Olympics in 2001, it said they could help improve human rights. Ai, instead, termed the 2008 Olympics a “low point” as migrant workers were forced out of the city, small shops were shuttered and street vendors removed, and blocks-long billboards popped up, painted with palm trees and beach scenes to hide shabby neighborhoods from view.

“The entire Olympics took place under the situation of a blockade,” Ai told AP. “For the general public there was no joy in participation. Instead, there was a close collaboration between International Olympic Committee and the Chinese regime, who put on a show together in order to obtain economic and political capital.”

Ai writes in his book that he watched the opening ceremony away from the stadium on a television screen, and jotted down the following.

“In this world where everything has a political dimension, we are now told we mustn’t politicize things: this is simply a sporting event, detached from history and ideas and values — detached from human nature, even.”

The IOC and China again say the Olympics are divorced from politics. China, of course, has political ends in mind. For the IOC, the Olympics are a sports business that generates billions in sponsor and television income.

In his email, Ai described China as emboldened by the 2008 Olympics — “more confident and uncompromising.” He said the 2008 Olympics were a “negative” that allowed China’s government to better shape its message. The Olympics did not change China in ways the IOC suggested, or foster civil liberties. Instead, China used the Olympics to alter how it was perceived on the world stage and to signal its rising power.

The 2008 Games were followed a month later by the world financial crisis, and in 2012 by the rise of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi was a senior politician in charge of the 2008 Olympics, but the 2022 Games are his own.

“Since 2008 the government of China has further strengthened its control and the human rights situation has further deteriorated,” Ai told AP. “China has seen the West’s hypocrisy and inaction when it comes to issues of human rights, so they have become even bolder, more unscrupulous, and more ruthless. In 2022 China will impose more stringent constraints to the Internet and political life, including human rights, the press, and We-media. The CCP does not care if the West participates in the Games or not because China is confident that the West is busy enough with their own affairs.”

Ai characterized the 2022 Winter Olympics and the pandemic as a case of fortunate timing for China’s authoritarian government. The pandemic will limit the movement of journalists during the Games, and it will also showcase the state’s Orwellian control.

“China, under the system of state capitalism and especially after COVID, firmly believes that its administrative control is the only effective method; this enhances their belief in authoritarianism. Meanwhile, China thinks that the West, with its ideas of democracy and freedom, can hardly obtain effective control. So, the 2022 Olympics will further testify to the effectiveness of authoritarianism in China and the frustration of the West’s democratic regimes.”

Ai was repeatedly critical of the IOC as an enabler; interested solely in generating income from the Chinese market. The IOC and China both see the Games as a business opportunity. Ai suggested many Chinese see the Olympics as another political exercise with some — like athletes — trying to extract value.

“In China there is only the Party’s guidance, state-controlled media, and people who have been brainwashed by the media,” Ai wrote. “There is no real civil society. Under this circumstance, Chinese people are not interested in the Olympics at all because it is simply a display of state politics. Nationally trained athletes exchange Olympic gold medals for economic gains for individuals or even for sport organizations; this way of doing things deviates from the Olympics’ original ideas.”

Ai was asked if the planned to go back to China. He said he was doubtful.

“Judging from the current situation, it is more and more unlikely for me to be able to return to China,” he said. “My main point here is that the situation in China has worsened. The West’s boycott is futile and pointless. China does not care about it at all.”

Source: https://apnews.com/article/winter-olympics-sports-business-ai-weiwei-beijing-1be58fc1f4c7e2ad67a24fdf02ff7690?user_email=493060eb1cb5da6f90ab22a591bc627176b5cc39456eeb420f43f5376b912d43&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MorningWire_jan18&utm_term=Morning%20Wire%20Subscribers

‘Racist’ junior high immigration assignment has advocates calling for curriculum change

Not convinced by the arguments advanced against the approach of having students contrast and compare opposing perspectives and develop their critical thinking.

Most of the immigration opposing points reflect polling and other data and students will likely be exposed to these positions in any case outside of the more controlled space of a classroom.

Of course, the role of teachers in leading and framing the issues is critical.

And while I hate the term “snowflake,” (which can apply both the “woke” and “non-woke”), this is a classic example of underestimating the ability of people to handle such material:

Advocates and university professors are calling this school assignment ‘dehumanizing.’ (Name withheld)

Anti-racism advocates and a university professor are calling an assignment handed out at a junior high school in St. John’s “racist” and say it could result in bullying and discrimination.

A textbook assignment that was sent to CBC News by a concerned parent asked students to write down two reasons why immigrants and refugees should be allowed into the country — and two reasons why they should not be.

The textbook provides a list of reasons why immigrants and refugees should be allowed in the country; for example, “Canada is a big country with room for many more people” and “Immigrants provide new ideas and skills.”

Source: ‘Racist’ junior high immigration assignment has advocates calling for curriculum change

Canada is sleepwalking into bed with Big Tech, as politicos float between firms and public office

Sort of inevitable, unfortunately:

Canadians have been served a familiar dish of election promises aimed at taking on the American web giants. But our governments have demonstrated a knack for aggressive procrastination on this file.

A new initiative is providing a glimpse into Canada’s revolving door with Big Tech, and as the clock ticks on the Liberal government’s hundred-day promise to enact legislation, Canadians have 22 reasons to start asking tough questions.

The Regulatory Capture Lab — a collaboration between FRIENDS(formerly Friends of Canadian Broadcasting), the Centre for Digital Rights and McMaster University’s Master of Public Policy in Digital Society Program — is shedding light on a carousel of unconstrained career moves between public policy teams at Big Tech firms and federal public offices. 

Canadians should review this new resource and see for themselves the creeping links between the most powerful companies on earth and the institutions responsible for reining them in. 

And they’d be wise to look soon. According to the Liberal government, a wave of tech-oriented policy is in formation, from updating the Broadcasting Act to forcing tech firms to pay for journalism that appears on their platforms.

But our work raises vital questions about all these proposals: are Canadians’ interests being served through these pieces of legislation? Has a slow creep of influence over public office put Big Tech in the driver’s seat? These promises of regulation have been around for years, so, why is it taking so long to get on with it?

Cosy relations between Big Tech and those in public office in Canada have bubbled to the surface before, most notably through the work of Kevin Chan, the man for Meta (Facebook) in Canada. In 2020, the Star exposed Chan’s efforts to recruit senior analysts from within Canadian Heritage, the department leading the efforts to regulate social media giants, to work at Facebook.

It doesn’t stop there. A 2021 story from The Logic revealed the scope of Chan’s enthusiasm in advancing the interests of his employer. Under Chan’s skilful direction, Facebook has managed to get its tendrils of influence into everything — government offices, universities, even media outlets. And in so many instances, Chan has found willing participants across the aisle who offer up glowing statements about strategic partnerships with Facebook.

Facebook isn’t alone in the revolving door. For some politicos, moving between Big Tech and public office appears to be the norm, in both directions. Big Tech public policy teams are filled with people who have worked in Liberal and Conservative offices, the PMO, Heritage and Finance ministries, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and more.

Conversely, some current senior public office holders are former Big Tech employees. Amazon, Google, Netflix, Huawei, Microsoft and Palantir are all connected through a revolving door with government. And this doesn’t even begin to cover Big Tech’s soft-power activities in Canada, from academic partnerships, deals with journalism outlets (including this one), and even shared initiatives with government to save democracy. The connections are vast and deep.

So, why has tech regulation taken so long? Armed with the knowledge that so many of Canada’s brightest public policy minds are moving between the offices of Big Tech and the halls of power in Ottawa, Canadians should be forgiven for jumping to conclusions. Or, maybe it’s just that simple? 

That these employment moves are taking place in both directions is hardly surprising. But the fact that so little attention has been paid to this phenomenon is deeply troubling. And how can this power be held to account when our journalism outlets are left with little choice but to partner with Big Tech?

The Regulatory Capture Lab has pried opened the window on this situation, but others must jump in. It’s time for Canadians to start asking tough questions. FRIENDS is ready to get the answers.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2022/01/17/canada-is-sleepwalking-into-bed-with-big-tech-as-politicos-float-between-firms-and-public-office.html

How the New Atheists Hijacked Secularism After 9/11

Of note:

In the English-speaking world today, it is very common for the words “atheism” and “secularism” to be used interchangeably. This is unfortunate because far from being synonyms, the two terms have very different intellectual lineages and refer to very different things. The confusion, as we shall see, has been debilitating for those who yearn for secular governance (among whom are atheists and believers alike).

The most recent knotting of “secularism” and “atheism” can be explained by reference to the history, technology, and intellectuals of the new millennium. Historically, the attacks of 9/11 forced many writers to ponder religious extremism with new urgency. Technologically, this was the moment that digital media was coming into its own. Each passing year of the 21st century exponentially magnified the ability of new social movements to spread their message, mobilize members, and grow their ranks.

Which brings us to the new class of atheist intellectuals that emerged in the aftermath of 9/11. These figures were outraged by the violence of militant Islam. They were also stunned by the growing political stature of conservative Christian political movements in the United States. One important voice was the independent scholar Susan Jacoby. Her 2004 book—notice the subtitle—Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism was among a slew of texts that casually tied the knot mentioned above.

Then there were the New Atheists, i.e., Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens. The so-called “Four Horsemen” published fierce smackdowns of religion—and not just the Fundamentalist variants. In the early aughts, they quickly became digital media sensations. Their books not only sold millions of physical copies around the world, but energized a growing nonbelief community on the internet.

Two themes emerge in New Atheist interventions. First, much of their prose was devoted to proving how senseless, illogical, and violent all forms of religion were. Second, they embraced science as an alternative to faith. Their training in fields like evolutionary biology (Dawkins), neuroscience (Harris), and cognitive science (Dennett) made them worthy ambassadors of one of secularism’s core principles. Namely, the idea that public policy decisions should be based on science, rationality, and data.

Curiously, the New Atheists seldom reflected on political secularism and its many variants. When they did, they showed themselves to be proponents of what is known as “separationism.” As Dawkins approvingly observed in The God Delusion: “The [American] founders most certainly were secularists who believed in keeping religion out of politics.”

The accuracy of that statement notwithstanding, the New Atheists portrayed their activism as defending aggrieved secular people everywhere. “I think it’s us, plus the 82nd Airborne and the 101st,” exclaimed Christopher Hitchens, “who are the real fighters for secularism at the moment, the ones who are really fighting the main enemy.” Joining the fight were countless other nonbelievers, many with digital platforms and training in STEM disciplines.

The result of this intervention, now 20 years on, is that a good deal of the conversation about secularism has been dominated by New Atheist views. This is unfortunate because accusations of Islamophobia, sexism, transphobia, and even a general drift to the alt-right have dogged followers of The Four Horsemen. Yet it is their unyielding animus towards people of faith that has elicited the most anger among religious people across the spectrum. Situated on that spectrum are religious moderates and religious minorities who have traditionally been proponents of secular governance.

The dividend of this all is that, for many, the word “secularism” has become linked with forms of extreme atheism that are hostile to all forms of religion.

How different this is from classical definitions of secularism which center on how a government is to interact with the religious groups under its jurisdiction. In this more traditional understanding, secularism isn’t about metaphysics or anti-metaphysics or God or gods. It’s about how a state is to judiciously govern a polity of diverse believers and, increasingly, non-believers.

Then again, there is no Vatican of secularism. No institution exists which retains the power to decide who is, and who is not, a secularist. If some atheists call themselves secularists, I think there is a moral imperative to respect that self-designation. Media outlets routinely draw this connection, as do conservative religious activists. Accordingly, the equation that prevails in public discourse is “all atheists are secularists,” and vice versa.

For me, the New Atheist embrace of secularism raises an interesting theoretical question: Is there such a thing as a non-secular atheist? I mention this because extreme atheists sometimes advocate ideas that undermine the very secular principles they claimed to be championing.

Toleration has been a staple of secular discourse since the Enlightenment. In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris viewed “the very ideal of religious tolerance,” as “one of the principal forces driving us towards the abyss.” The impression that the New Atheists—and hence secularists—were deeply intolerant was widespread among their critics. It led many to wonder what they might do if their “secular” state came into being.

The sharpest contradiction between New Atheism and political secularism had to do with basic beliefs about religion’s legitimacy. Hitchens’ catchphrase in his 2007 polemic, God is Not Great, was “religion poisons everything.” He warned his readers that “people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction.” Harris averred that religious moderates were every bit as dangerous as a suicide bomber. Moderate religious faith, he insisted, posed a “threat” to our survival.

Few observers of the New Atheists, pro or con, believe that their true intent was to eliminate religion. Yet their rhetoric, performative as it may have been, strongly intimated that goal. This put these champions of secularism in a rather tense relation with the political secularism they claimed to be defending.

The latter has always accorded religion a legitimate place within the social body. Political secularism takes the existence of religion as a given. If there were no religion, there would be no need for secularism!

True, there is no Vatican of Secularism. But there are ways for social scientists to define their terms precisely. Given the New Atheists’ rejection of so many secular principles, they might conceivably be referred to as “non-secular atheists.”

What must be stressed, though, is that their position is extreme among atheists. Most non-believers are not bent on the liquidation of religion even in their rhetoric. They request something entirely different from the secular state. And what they request is basically what religious moderates and religious minorities request as well. All seek freedom from a religion that is not their own.

The secular state is tasked with balancing its citizens’ competing desires for freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The New Atheists had a very different conception of secular governance in mind. That conception disillusioned and even frightened the vast religious mainstream–the very constituency whose support is essential for secularism to persevere in a liberal democracy.

Source: How the New Atheists Hijacked Secularism After 9/11

British man made stateless by Home Office has citizenship reinstated

Of note:

A British man who was stripped of his citizenship by the Home Office for almost five years has described the “devastating” impact of the decision as the government pursues fresh powers to remove a person’s citizenship without warning.

The 40-year-old, who was born in London, returns to the UK this week after being stranded in Bangladesh since 2017 when the Home Office served a deprivation of citizenship order on him shortly after he flew to the country for the birth of his second daughter.

E3, as he is referred to in court documents, was working in the UK when he travelled to Bangladesh but not earning enough to sponsor his wife to join him and has since been stateless and destitute with his wife and three daughters.

According to the Home Office’s deprivation order, the Briton was “an Islamist extremist who had previously sought to travel abroad to participate in terrorism-related activity” and that he posed a threat to national security.

Although the UK government has reinstated his citizenship, his lawyers say they have received no explanation or any specific details to support the claims. E3 has never been charged with any criminal offence in the UK or elsewhere.

E3 told the Observer: “The allegation against me is so vague that it even suggests that I only tried to travel to some unknown destination to take part in an unspecified activity related to terrorism.

“How on earth do you defend yourself against an allegation like that, especially when the government relies on secret evidence? The disclosure my solicitors received was almost entirely redacted so I have no idea what the government is referring to.

“Why was I not arrested and questioned? Why have I been punished in this way without ever being shown a single piece of evidence against me? The government should admit that they have made a mistake and own up to it.”

It comes as politicians consider controversial plans contained in the contentious nationality and borders bill, which is going through the House of Lords, to allow the Home Office to remove someone’s citizenship without the need to inform them.

Source: British man made stateless by Home Office has citizenship reinstated

Pakistan to give citizenship to Afghan, Chinese and American Sikh investors

Hard to know how successful this citizenship-by-investment scheme will be in comparison to those of other questions as the Pakistani passport has limited visa-free travel privileges (number 88 on the passport index). One also has to ask questions regarding the risks of criminal or corrupt backgrounds of those who will apply:

The Pakistan government has decided to offer permanent residency to foreign investors, especially to fetch heavy investments from wealthy Afghans, Chinese and American Sikhs, Dawn reported.

In a tweet late on Friday night, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said: “In line with new National Security Policy, through which Pakistan declared geo-economics as the core of its national security doctrine, the government has decided to allow permanent residency scheme for foreign nationals. The new policy allows foreigners to get permanent resident status in lieu of investment.”

The government believes it will fetch billions of dollars in foreign investment by giving Pakistani nationality and proprietary rights to the foreign investors, the Dawn news report said.

An informed source said that the government wanted to attract heavy investments from the wealthy Afghan nationals who were presently investing in countries such as Iran, Turkey and Malaysia.

They said the government also hoped that US-based Sikh nationals would be happy to make investment in different sectors in Pakistan due to their attachment with Sikh religious sites in the country, the report added

Also, Prime Minister Imran Khan in his recent statements hinted that he wanted to attract top Chi­n­ese investors who relocated their industries to other countries in the region, according to Indo-Asian News Service.

The government also hoped that rich Arab nationals, who used to visit Pakistan every year for hunting purposes, would like to have Pakistani citizenship.

Source: Pakistan to give citizenship to Afghan, Chinese and American Sikh investors

Paquet et Beland: Le variant Omicron et les boucs émissaires de la CAQ

Good commentary:

Un peu avant Noël, le ministre Jean Boulet, qui est à la fois ministre du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, et aussi ministre de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration, a émis un gazouillis liant la montée des cas du variant Omicron au Québec aux demandeurs d’asile arrivant par le chemin Roxham, en Estrie :

« Le gouvernement fédéral doit prendre ses responsabilités. Il faut fermer le chemin #Roxham. Nous devons tous nous mobiliser devant la remontée des cas de #COVID19 #Ominicron[sic] afin de ne pas surcharger notre système de santé! 
La publication a notamment été reprise par la vice-première ministre et ministre de la Sécurité publique Geneviève Guilbault, et d’autres élus ou membres du personnel politique de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ).

En plus de propager une fausse inférence selon laquelle les demandeurs d’asile – et, plus largement, les immigrants – sont à la source de la nouvelle vague de COVID-19 que traverse le Québec, ces propos donnent peut-être un avant-goût des stratégies caquistes de rejet du blâme auxquelles on peut s’attendre en cette année électorale.

Bien que cette stratégie fasse partie de la boite à outils de tous les acteurs politiques, le gazouillis du ministre Boulet illustre comment, lorsque la situation se détériore sur le terrain, le gouvernement de la CAQ aime bien mettre la faute sur deux boucs émissaires : les immigrants et le gouvernement fédéral.

Les immigrants : vieux comme le monde

L’utilisation des immigrants comme boucs émissaires, de même que leur représentation comme étant à la source de crises sanitaires, sociales, économiques et linguistiques, sont des constantes de l’histoire humaine. Dès le début de la crise de la COVID-19, des chefs d’état à travers le monde ont utilisé de telles stratégies à saveur xénophobe. Ce fut le cas aux États-Unis lorsqu’on a parlé du « virus chinois », par exemple.

Au Québec, on doit reconnaître que les élus de la CAQ n’ont pas véhiculé un tel discours pendant les premières vagues de la pandémie. La déclaration du ministre Boulet est-elle donc une aberration ? Un simple égarement ? La politisation stratégique et répétée des questions migratoires par le gouvernement caquiste permet d’en douter.

Depuis son virage nationaliste, le parti a soutenu des positions plus restrictives que ses adversaires en matière d’immigration, une stratégie qui a réussi à faire des niveaux d’immigration la question de l’urne lors des élections de 2018. Après son assermentation, le gouvernement de François Legault a continué à mobiliser les enjeux migratoires et ceux liés, à tort ou à raison, aux questions identitaires et linguistiques, afin de consolider sa base électorale.

Si le geste de M. Boulet n’était pas prémédité, il s’inscrit à tout le moins dans la continuité d’une certaine rhétorique de son parti. En tous les cas, son gazouillis n’a pas été retiré à ce jour, malgré les centaines de commentaires négatifs qu’il a générés.

La faute d’Ottawa

L’autre bouc émissaire commode pour la CAQ, c’est le gouvernement fédéral. Ça n’a rien de nouveau dans le contexte du fédéralisme canadien, où les gouvernements provinciaux ont tendance à blâmer Ottawa pour leurs problèmes, même lorsque la responsabilité du fédéral est loin d’être démontrée.

Par contre, puisque l’immigration est maintenant une compétence partagée et que la vision de la CAQ et celle du Parti libéral du Canada sont aux antipodes en ce qui a trait à l’immigration et la diversité culturelle, la critique caquiste des politiques du gouvernement Trudeau est presque inévitable.

Elle l’est encore plus lorsqu’elle concerne le fameux chemin Roxham, qui est devenu le symbole d’une « menace » migratoire. Cependant, la nouvelle entente sur les tiers pays sûrs qu’Ottawa vient de signer avec son homologue américain pour « colmater cette brèche à la frontière » pourrait priver le gouvernement Legault d’une de ses sources habituelles de critique envers le fédéral.

Il y aura sans doute d’autres occasions de critiquer Ottawa, sur d’autres enjeux. Comme c’est le cas pour les immigrants, le gouvernement fédéral est en soi lui aussi considéré par de nombreux caquistes – et bien des Québécois – comme une menace potentielle envers les intérêts et les valeurs du Québec.

Un jeu dangereux pour faire oublier le manque de préparation

S’il est presque devenu une tradition pour chaque gouvernement québécois de critiquer le gouvernement fédéral, les propos du ministre Boulet en ce qui a trait à l’immigration sont particulièrement inquiétants.

Qu’elle ait été planifiée ou non, cette stratégie de rejeter de blâme sur les demandeurs d’asile reste dangereuse, puisqu’elle propage de fausses informations. Il n’y a en effet aucune preuve que les demandeurs d’asile soient responsables, même de façon partielle, de la hausse dramatique des cas de COVID-19 au Québec. En Amérique, en Europe et ailleurs, l’arrivée du variant Omicron est d’abord le fait de voyageurs détenant un passeport et arrivés de façon régulière, comme ce fut le cas pour la propagation des variants précédents ou encore d’autres virus au potentiel pandémique, comme le SRAS.

Le gouvernement Legault peut bien tenter de blâmer les migrants pour la venue d’Omicron, mais la réalité est qu’il s’y est mal préparé, malgré les nombreux signes avant-coureurs en Europe et ailleurs dans le monde.

En matière d’immigration, la stratégie récurrente de rejet du blâme de la CAQ risque aussi d’avoir des effets durables sur la teneur des débats publics. Les recherches sur la politisation de l’immigration ont documenté de façon abondante que les prises de position comme celles du ministre Boulet contribuent à polariser les discours de tous les partis politiques, ce qui peut modifier grandement l’offre politique disponible.

La réaction de Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon, chef du Parti Québécois, l’illustre bien : plutôt que de dénoncer l’inférence du ministre, M. St-Pierre Plamondon a renchéri en affirmant que seule l’indépendance permettrait au Québec de contrôler ses frontières.  Ce faisant, il se trouvait à légitimer les propos du ministre Boulet, même s’ils ne s’appuient sur aucune base factuelle.

Les travaux sur les stratégies partisanes de politisation montrent aussi comment la diffusion par les élus d’informations incorrectes sur l’immigration élargit la fenêtre des discours légitimes et peut valider des positions radicales. Cela contribue à la désinformation, et ultimement à l’érosion de la confiance des citoyens envers l’État.

À court terme, une telle stratégie, avant tout électoraliste, peut sembler une bonne façon pour la CAQ de s’assurer de remporter un nouveau mandat majoritaire en octobre 2022. Il faut pourtant s’inquiéter des conséquences à long terme sur la vie politique et la société québécoises.

Source: https://irpp.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f538f283d07ef7057a628bed8&id=9829acadf7&e=86cabdc518