Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Hopeful Dream

Truth no longer a whisperbut a flood of clarity,
guns and all weapons of
bad intention or ill feeling
reduced to their base metals
and fashioned into implements of healing,
all who are hungry
are fed,
all who are afraid
are reassured,
all who are pariahs
brought into the human fold,
all who are filled with the bile of hatred
cajoled with sweetness and caring,
all who suffer needlessly
from their own lack of faith in themselves
see the blazing light of true wisdom,
all who have hearts weighted by greed
free themselves from the onerous weight of possessions,
all who love ignorance
witness the rapture and wonder of learning,
all who usurp themselves and others with power,
come to recognize their own impotence,
all who are crippled and torn apart by disease
see their true worth,
artists and lovers of knowledge and thought
are finally appreciated,
all without homes
find shelter in the heart of humanity,
all who are fractured
made whole,
all who are obsessed by race or creed
are freed of their limitations,
all limited and pernicious ideas
fall to oblivion from their own weight,
all who are demagogues
find a life of true service,
all ideas born of avarice and rooted in war
are finally dead,
all embrace all
as members of the human family.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Dr. Paul Farmer


A Tribute to Paul Farmer who died February 21, 2022
Paul Farmer
Doctor Paul Edward Farmer was born in 1959. He was the second of six children; he grew up in the mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts. In 1966, the family moved to Alabama and later relocated to Florida in 1971. They were so poor that they lived in a bus that his father had purchased in auction. There, as a young boy, he picked fruit with Haitian migrant workers and was probably influenced by that experience. The extent of the economic deprivation that he felt growing up helped him understand what it means to be without, and may have inspired him to devote his life’s energy to those in need.
Farmer is widely known for his remarkable and unrelenting service to the people of Haiti, driven by his desire to provide good quality health care and assistance to the impoverished people of that country. In addition, he has been a strong advocate for Haiti in the international arena and has been particularly critical of what he sees as America’s plan for fixing the nation’s enfeebled economy.
In order to have a clearer understanding of the economic and political forces that have come to shape present-day Haiti, it is important to have an historic perspective of this beleaguered country. Hispaniola was colonized by Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartolomeo, for Spain in 1496. He established the capital at Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) on the eastern side of the island. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick ceded France dominion over the western half of the island – present day Haiti. During the eighteenth century, Haiti operated as a slave colony and a leading port of call for slave ships. By the latter part of that century, nearly one out of every three slaves, who arrived in Haiti, died within a few years of reaching the colony.
In 1791, a revolt began against French domination. This revolt was led by François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (May 20, 1743 – April 7, 1803). Toussaint led enslaved blacks in a long struggle for independence over the French colonizers; ultimately, his movement abolished slavery, and secured "native" control over the Haitian colony. In 1797, following his victory, L’Ouverture expelled the French commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, as well as the British army; freed the slaves in neighboring Santo Domingo, and wrote a Constitution naming himself governor-for-life.
Between the years 1800 and 1802, Toussaint L'Ouverture - translated from the French, his name literally means “all saints” or “all souls opening” - tried to rebuild the collapsed economy of Haiti and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. His rule permitted the colony a taste of freedom which, after his death in exile, was gradually undermined during the successive reigns of a series of despots. His last words were to his son in France, "My boy, you will one day go back to St. Domingo; forget that France murdered your father."
In 1804, the independent state of Haiti was formed and it was declared as a safe haven for runaway slaves. It is important to note here that the United States government refused to recognize Haiti’s independence. Sadly, the native population of Haiti is no longer extant; they were eliminated as a result of the Spanish domination that preceded the arrival of the French.
In 1825, King Charles X of France recognized the independence of the country only on condition that an indemnity of 150 million Francs - approximately one-half million dollars - be paid and that an agreement be reached regarding a reduction of import and export taxes placed on French goods; this arrangement was tantamount to extortion. These repayments continued until after World War II. The effect of this agreement was devastating to the Haitian economy in that it represented a mass transfer of wealth from the poor indigenous people of Haiti to wealthy foreigners.
From 1915 through 1934, Haiti was occupied by the U.S. military. The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince as directed by President Woodrow Wilson. They were dispatched to the island with the express purpose of protecting U.S. corporate interests. It ended on August 1, 1934, during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
Farmer first traveled to Haiti in 1983 while it was under the harsh dictatorship of the Duvalier family. At that time, it was considered to be the poorest country in the western world. Baby Doc Duvalier who was “President for Life” fled the country in 1986. The first attempt at democratic elections was undertaken the following year; the fragile nature of this movement towards democracy was made apparent by the fact that a massacre took place at one of the polling stations.
In 1990, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide ran for President and on Dec 16, 1990 he won sixty-seven percent of the popular vote. He was a catholic priest who was an avid proponent of liberation theology and believed strongly in the, “preferential option for the poor,” reminiscent of the work and mission of Father Romero of El Salvador. He voiced opposition to the policies of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, President of the United States. As a consequence, President Bush, who succeeded Reagan, funded Aristide’s opposition and cut off aid. The paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) rose to prominence and staged a coup on September, 1991 that left one thousand dead. Aristide ultimately returned to power in 1994.
Before the devastating effect of the recent earthquake, the Haitian economy was already in terrible shape. By the year 2000, the entire budget for Haiti, with a population of eight million people, was less than the budget of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city of 100,000 individuals.
Farmer graduated from Harvard Medical School with an ancillary PhD degree in anthropology. He worked in Haiti for eight months out of every year without pay, serving peasants who had lost their land as a result of the construction of a hydroelectric dam. For the remaining four months of each year, he worked in Boston living in a church sanctuary. He was briefly expelled from Haiti during the reign of the military junta, but managed to sneak back into the country by bribing government officials. In 1994, Jimmy Carter was dispatched by President Bill Clinton to try to persuade the junta to abdicate their pernicious rule of the country.
The tireless energy of Farmer on behalf of the people of Haiti has earned him the affectionate title of the, “poor people’s doctor.” In 1999, he also worked at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston and was the Professor of Medicine and Medical Anthropology at Harvard Medical School.
Farmer’s primary concern and professional interest lies in the realm of the relationship between economic inequality and infectious disease. In his mind, many of the premature deaths that occur throughout the world from uncontrolled infectious diseases are a direct result of the mal-distribution of medical technologies. He is never reluctant to fault the rich countries for their failure to address this issue on a global scale, especially his home country, the United States.
On account of his strong commitment to the service of those in need and his passion to do whatever he can to counter the dire effects of poverty, he has created a remarkable community referred to as Partners in Health (PIH) in Zammi Lasante. This complex includes a woman’s clinic, a general hospital, an Anglican Church, a kitchen that prepares meals for 2,000 people daily and a treatment center for Tuberculosis (TB). This medical center possesses two laboratories and an ambulatory clinic that serves hundreds of people. One million peasant farmers - in a country of eight million -depend upon this facility. The per capita income of the average Haitian is about one dollar per day. Twenty-five percent of Haitians die before the age of 40. Farmer is so committed to the health and well-being of the people of Haiti that no one is turned away. In addition, PIH helps build schools, water systems and manages a vaccination program with the goals of vaccinating all children, reducing malnutrition and decreasing infant mortality.
In 1993, Farmer was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant of $220,000 for his efforts. He donated the entire sum to PIH. The following is an excerpt of his acceptance speech on receiving this grant: “The individuals who are living in dire poverty throughout the world may well exceed one billion in number. The suffering, starvation and premature death that is a consequence of this poverty is unconscionable in a world where the wealthiest nations enjoy an abundance and have ready access to a multiplicity of resources that are denied to so many of their fellow humans. In many regards, the scale of this suffering is due to a lack of access to an adequate food supply, appropriate medical technology, education and basic information.”
Dr. Paul Farmer had dedicated his life to demonstrate that these horrific conditions can be effectively ameliorated, if not entirely eliminated, by making available to everyone what is currently available only to some

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Anna Arnold Hedgeman


Anna Arnold Hedgeman


Anna Arnold Hedgeman was born in the late 19th century (1899) in the small town of Marshalltown, Iowa.  As a small child, her family moved to Anoka, Minnesota – they were the only black family in their local community.  Her parents, William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen (Parker) Arnold, placed a great deal of value and importance upon education and scholarship.  They were also active in their community, and Hedgeman did not experience any notable discrimination while growing up.  However, she was to feel the full weight of racial prejudice later in her adult life.

 Following her graduation in 1918, Hedgeman continued her education at Hamline University In Saint Paul, Minnesota – a private liberal arts college founded in 1854.  This university places a strong emphasis on experiential learning, service, and active engagement in issues of social justice.

As a student at the university, she attended a lecture given by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois – a famous sociologist and historian (1868 – 1963) - that she found inspirational and helped direct her aspirations towards a career in education.  She graduated from Hamline University in 1922 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.  She was the first person of color to earn a degree at Hamline University.

One of her first positions post-graduation was a teaching position at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Rust College is an historic black college founded in 1866 during the brief period of post-war Reconstruction (1865 – 1877). During her stay in Rust College in the heart of the Deep South she suddenly experienced the full impact of Jim Crow (as discussed previously). She was awakened to this reality even before she arrived in Mississippi by train, for she was obliged to sit in the “colored” car behind the locomotive and was denied access to the dining car on account of the color of her skin as soon as the train departed from the Cairo, Illinois train station. This demeaning experience sharpened her awareness of the true nature of racism within the United States.

After two years at Rust College, she moved back to Minnesota to find racial barriers confront her when she tried to find a teaching position. In 1924, she accepted a position as executive director of the black branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Springfield, Ohio; she remained in that position until 1938.

For the following ten years she worked at a number of high-level positions including serving as the Assistant Dean of Women at Howard University. By 1948, she turned her attention to a political career and worked for the Harry Truman campaign for President of the United States, and went on to become the first black woman to serve on the cabinet of then New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. In this role, she gained a reputation as a strong advocate for civil rights and was recruited by Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to plan and coordinate the 1963 March on Washington that was highlighted earlier in this book (see the chapter devoted to John Lewis). Serving as the Coordinator of Special Events for the Commission of Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches, Hedgeman convinced some 40,000 Protestants to participate in this march on August 28, 1963, that brought hundreds of thousands of individuals to the nation’s capital.

On account of her wide-ranging experience and professional career especially in regard to her inexhaustible advocacy in the area of equal rights for African-Americans, Hedgeman became a sought-after lecturer at black colleges and universities throughout the United States. She authored a number of books that highlighted her efforts including, The Trumpet Sounds (1964) and The Gift of Chaos (1977). Hedgeman died on January 7, 1990.

As an African-American woman, Hedgeman came to understand the deleterious impact of racism on the lives of people of color within the United States and dedicated herself to help make substantive changes in this cultural dynamic that remains a persistent aspect of the national landscape.

Excerpted from Comments and Reflections Regarding Life's Journey

             I seem to be in the midst of struggling with the prospect of ageing that dominates the horizon of my remaining years.  It is no easy matter to find accommodation with the ineluctable reality that body is no longer as capable of doing the complete bidding of my wishes and desires.  In regard to my intrinsic abilities I can no longer trust them as completely as I used to.  Of course, this comes as no great surprise, and to resist this reality is, of course, futile.

To me the only sensible course is acceptance.  Furthermore, a recognition of individual mortality has an additional benefit.  That benefit resides within an increased and more acute awareness of the wondrous qualities and subtleties and intrinsic beauty that imbues every passing moment.  The world presents me with a remarkable array of details and perspectives present in the simplest of experiences if I choose to open myself to them. 

In my mind, if I allow myself to be caught up within the intricate fabric of distractions produced and sustained by the modern world the unfortunate consequence is that the precious moments are lost within the crazy-quilt miasma of contrived existence.  It is, after all, an inventive and intricate shadow world that envelops the modern human world that constantly demands our complete attention.  Much of this shadow world is wrapped in the comforting domain of the pursuit of material possessions.  The potpourri of images and manifestations of objects that are continually fed into the sensory apparatus of the thinking brain are presented to us as palpable vehicles designed to enhance our chances for individual happiness whether it be a shiny new car, an ensemble of fabulous clothes that would improve our sexual appeal, all manner of so-called “hygiene products” that have become our necessary companions in the social world, labor-saving devices that are guaranteed to free up our time and bring us even more happiness, and on and on – the list is seemingly without end.

Moments lost to these distractions cannot be regained.  Life cannot be rewound.  Life proceeds moment to moment through a continuum of choices.  Modern living demands heightened unquestioned passivity to the multi-faceted norms that have been carefully constructed for mass consumption.  This intricate structure is indeed a reality of a kind, but it is not representative of the natural world and by its nature is impermanent and can readily implode upon itself.  Many examples exist of such an internal collapse have been reported through the course of history of human civilizations.


We are representatives of a sentient species – our home is planet earth.  We are by no means the sole inhabitants on Spaceship Earth, although we often behave as we should be and possess a seeming determination to make it so.  What we will accomplish, however, if we do not awaken from our collective stupor, is to craft an environment that will ultimately be unable to sustain us.  This is the height of stupidity, for we seem to relish the idea of killing each other over issues that are more contrived than real, undermine our collective future by our continued raping of the natural world, and endanger our future rather than embrace peace, harmony, and real and substantial social justice.

Without the presence of Homo sapiens, the earth will continue to spin on its axis, revolve around its sun and move through time within a vast and wondrous cosmos.  Our continued existence as a species is not required and is certainly not a necessary component of the working universe. 

As products of our collective imagination, the panoply of gods, ethereal beings, spirits, demons, apparitions, etc. will all vanish when humans are no longer extant.  They have no substance outside the realm of the human brain.  The universe, however, is real, time is substantial and each moment is transient.  Within this fabulous matrix our individual selves are created and move on time’s ineluctable trajectory until our individual brains cease to function and the molecular organization that sustains us unravels joining us once again to the chaos and ferment of creation.  We may pretend that this is not reality; we may put our faith in fabulous ideas of other-worldliness, but it is not matter for it changes nothing.  Self-delusion may provide comfort but it changes nothing.  We may choose to embrace death with the belief that there is something more, but it changes nothing.  Reality has no need of either our acquiescence or resistance, for when the brain ceases to function, as individuals we are no longer.  It is that simple. 


In my thinking, if I choose delusion over reality, I choose to engage the pretend version of existence and fail to appreciate the vivid reality that surrounds me.  What I do know is that while I continue to have a conscious existence it is my responsibility to fully appreciate that I am a living witness to the wonders around me no matter how brief my sojourn.  I am, after all, grounded to this Earth, lungs filled with the air that sustains me, a body that moves me through life and the marvelous organ of the human brain that is me.

If I can embrace myself so thoroughly and completely than I can embrace everything.  Once stripped of the array of filters that distort existence in order to fit into prescribed limits, it is then that I can truly see and understand what it is to be human.  There is an inseparable bond between the ability to see with clarity and love, compassion and understanding.  We are all, in fact, flawed creatures, imperfect on account of the evolutionary path of our species, mortal by design, contained within the architecture of our brains, yet we are collectively capable of so much more than the disastrous and unsettling choices we have made to date.


Think of the world we could craft if all humans were to fully incorporate the truth that we are all (the eight billion of us) members of the same human family rather than continuing to pursue the current idea that we are somehow intrinsically separate based upon contrived differences in race, belief systems, political ideology, sexual preference etc.  Think of the world we could craft if we finally stopped killing each other for no good or apparently justifiable reasons.  Think of the world we could craft if we seriously began to be responsible stewards of our earthly home rather than actively undermining the natural world that sustains us.  Think of the world we could inhabit if we finally took full responsibility for our collective fate rather than allow ourselves to move about in a delusional reality of our own making that presumes that a super-human being(s) is “watching over us.”  If we were to bring about our own self-destruction tomorrow, the cosmos would be completely unaffected and the movement of time would be unimpaired.  The human species is not a required component for the running of the universe machine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Dame Cicely Saunders


Cicely Mary Strode Saunders, was the founder of the modern conception of hospice and, also established the discipline and rigor associated with palliative care – a type of care with the primary goal of relieving pain and distress in patients with severe and often terminal illnesses. By definition, a hospice is a home for the severely or terminally ill patient.

Cicely Mary Strode Saunders was born in Barnet, Hertfordshire, England in 1918. She was the eldest of three children. Saunders’ family was financially well-situated; however, the household environment was deeply affected by a controlling father and a remote and withdrawn mother. The family lived in in a large house with spacious grounds.

When Saunders was just one years old, she was cared for by her Aunt Daisy. This arrangement was soon abruptly ended and she was subsequently returned to her home and sent to Roedean School when she was 10 years-old. At school, Saunders was taller than the other girls. This difference made her feel awkward and separate from her peers. she felt that this aspect of her growing up made her come to appreciate those who were considered different. As a child Saunders suffered from scoliosis – defined as a sideways curvature of the spine - severe enough that she was made to lie flat on the floor for 40 minutes a day.

These experiences as a child may have contributed to her desire to be of service to others and become a nurse. Her father did not approve of this choice of possible careers. As a result, she went to St. Anne’s College in Oxford where she pursued the study of politics, philosophy, and economics with the goal of eventually working in government.

However, the outbreak of World War II that began when Germany - under the aegis of Adolph Hitler - invaded Poland (1939), disrupted this career path, and, defying her father’s wishes, she enrolled as a student at The Nightingale Training School to become a Red Cross war nurse. During her training, she had rotations at several mental hospitals and worked at the Park Prewett Hospital in London. Physically, the work was very stressful, and placed an additional burden on her back. As a result, she returned to Oxford for a year and gained a "war degree." She was trained at the Royal Cancer Hospital that qualified her as a social worker (almoner), in 1947.

It was in the following year that a life-changing experience altered the course of her professional career. While working at Archway hospital in London, she cared for a Polish émigré, David Tasma, who was dying. In the course of her caregiving, Saunders and Tasma became intensely involved with each other. In their conversations, the idea occurred to them of founding a home in which people who were dying could find some solace and peace in their final days. On his death, he left her 500 pounds as seed money to realize this dream.

Saunders was advised by professional colleagues that if she truly wished to realize her dream, she should obtain a degree in medicine as a doctor. It was reasoned that with this credential she would be more readily listened to. In 1957, she became a physician graduating from St. Thomas’ Medical School in London. She broadened her knowledge in pharmacology so that she could better understand how to alleviate pain in terminally ill patients. With this knew knowledge, she became a powerful advocate for the regular administration of pain medications to such patients rather than supplying them on demand.

In 1958, shortly after she qualified, she wrote an article concerning a new approach to the end of life. In it she stated that, "It appears that many patients feel deserted by their doctors at the end. Ideally the doctor should remain the centre of a team who work together to relieve where they cannot heal, to keep the patient’s own struggle within his compass and to bring hope and consolation to the end."

During this time, Saunders began to formulate her vision for a facility devoted to the care of terminally-ill patents. She envisioned a facility that would provide emotional and spiritual support in addition to the traditional focus on medicine. She also appreciated the value of providing a comforting and homelike environment to those at the end of life. Saunders also kept in mind the need to offer support to the families of patients as well, recognizing the stressful aspects of end-of-life issues.

By 1959, she had drawn up a detailed proposal for the hospice she had in mind. After an intense period of negotiation, construction began in 1965 – it was to be called St. Christopher’s Hospice located in South London. It was opened in 1967. It has since become a prime model for hospice care to this date, that is emulated throughout the world.

Saunders spent her final days at St. Christopher’s along with her husband, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. He passed away in 1995 and she continued working until the end of her life in 2005.

The extent of the contribution Saunder’s has made to the caring of the terminally ill might best be expressed in her own words taken as an excerpt from her acceptance address of the Templeton Prize given on May 12, 1981.

“For over 1,000 years hospice was a resting place for pilgrims, giving them a welcome that lasted till they were ready to go on. For a few, the sick and wounded, it would have been the last stage. For the past 100 years or so hospice has also meant a foundation, still religious, admitting those with incurable illness when the hospitals would no longer care for them. Founded on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia around the turn of the century, they were for patients dying of cancer and of tuberculosis and with long term illness when the only alternatives were the Poor Law and similar Institutions. Among this group it was the Irish Sisters of Charity who chose the name Hospice, first in Dublin, later in Hackney and applied it especially to those who were dying.

“Over the past decade the word has been filled up with new meanings and has come to stand for a world-wide movement identified by attitudes and expertise rather than by bricks and mortar, for many hospice teams have no beds of their own. I would define the modern hospice as a skilled community working to improve the quality of life remaining for patients and their families struggling with mortal and long-term illness. Some also include the frail elderly. Hospice is about a special kind of living and in a sense is still concerned with travelling: patients, families, elderly residents and the staff and volunteers who meet them, find they are drawn into a journey of the spirit.

“However, this new development began with a building when you, Ma’am, opened St. Christopher’s in July 1967, when we took the word Hospice from St. Joseph’s, generous in this as in everything else. Not the first hospice, but the first planned not only to care for a mixed group of patients but also to develop research and teaching.”

It is for these reasons that the name and person of Dame Cicely Saunders has become synonymous with what is regarded as modern hospice care. Without her clear and compassionate vision, the pain and suffering endured by the terminally ill would not have been so effectively curtailed.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Raif Badawi - Saudi Activist & Political Prisoner


Raif bin Muhammad Badawi gained notoriety when he was arrested in 2012 at the age of twenty-eight for the following crimes: "setting up a website that undermines general security", "ridiculing Islamic religious figures", and "going beyond the realm of obedience.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison. This sentence was increased to 10 years in 2014.

Badawi is a is a Saudi writer actively engaged in advocating for a more liberal social and political environment in his native Saudi Arabia. To expand his audience, he created a website – Free Saudi Liberals.

Badawi's blog had many members. It quickly became a forum for vigorous debate regarding Saudi politics. For this reason, he was arrested in late 2007. Although he was eventually released, he became the victim of constant harassment that eventually led to his subsequent arrest in 2012.

Raif Badawi was born on January 13, 1984, in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. His parents are Najwa, a Lebanese Christian, and Muhammad Badawi, a Saudi Muslim. At a young age, his Saudi grandmother explained to him that, “Saudi society historically was not as strict and men and women used to work together in the fields.”

Badawi's mother died young at an unknown age. He was raised by his father and grandmother in a household beset by economic difficulties. Badawi attended school until the age of thirteen when his father reported him for parental disobedience, a crime in Saudi Arabia, and spent six months in a teenage detention center.

Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy whose laws and regulations follow the rulings and teaching of Islamic law. The legal system is based on sharia as interpreted by Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The government is under the leadership of a king and prime minister. Furthermore, the royal family rules by fiat, and there is no Constitution.

Wahhabism is an Islamic revisionist theology that exerts a powerful influence in Saudi Arabian politics. It derived its name from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhabi. Wahhabism is an extremely stringent and uncompromising from of Islam that insists on a purely literal interpretation of the Koran. Through this highly restrictive interpretation, those who do not practice this form of Islam are considered heathens and are dealt with harshly. In Saudi Arabia apostasy itself is considered a crime worthy of the death penalty.

Badawi was influenced by the writings of progressive Arab author, Abdullah al-Qasemi, and Turki al-Hamad, a noted journalist and thinker. He was particularly inspired by Mohammed Saeed Tayeb, a staunch believer in democracy who was also imprisoned.

Ultimately, he became so concerned about the oppressive and authoritarian nature of Saudi politics that he began to speak out openly in regard to these concerns. For this reason, Badawi’s activities were considered by the government as anathema and explains the severity of the punishment he has been forced to endure. Badawi’s courageous insistence on expressing his views has been regarded as a particular threat, for the government’s autocratic imposition of Islam on the lives of its people is especially vulnerable in the human world of the twenty-first century in which global communication is a predominant aspect of modern life.

He has been reported to be in poor health, and his general condition has noticeably worsened during his imprisonment and torture according to his wife, Ensaf Haidar, currently residing in Canada. She fled her native country convinced that her life would be endangered if she remained in Saudi Arabia.

The following interview with Ensaf Haidar was conducted by Jaafar Abdul Karim at Deutshe Welle ( in 2017.

Ensaf Haidar: The fact that my husband has been in jail for five years shows that there is no freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Raif expressed his opinion in a friendly and peaceful manner, so there was no reason to be afraid. He had also written for Saudi newspapers, and that shows that he wasn't an enemy of the state. He even had the experience of traveling abroad.

So why are some states so afraid of these independent spirits?

Because of the different opinions. It's us they're afraid of, not the expression of opinion as such.

So they would prefer there to be only one opinion?

This is what their approach suggests. They want everyone to be of the same opinion. They're afraid of a wide range of opinions.

How is your husband doing at the moment?

After five years in captivity separated from his children and the outside world, he's naturally doing poorly physically and psychologically. He has been imprisoned for five years without having committed a crime.

Of course, the Saudi authorities see the situation differently. What do you tell your children? Do they understand what's going on?

They understand it and are proud of their father, though they miss him very much. They need him, especially at this age.

Do you stay in constant contact with Raif?

In the beginning he always called me for brief periods of time, but I haven't heard anything from him in over three weeks.

If we had press freedom, Raif would be free. He's been in jail for five years and he'll be there for five more. Along with that he's also been handed a 10-year travel ban, a fine of one million riyal ($266,654 USD) and 1,000 lashings by cane. Anyone who sees this sentence can decide if we have press freedom here or not.

How important then is freedom of expression?

There are people who say there is already too much division; there's terrorism and there's foreign interference, which undermine a country's sovereignty.

Those who speak peacefully and know the laws have the right to express themselves! That is a basic right of every person, whatever the subject.

Do you speak with your children about freedom of expression?

That is a social issue and not just a legal one. From society as well there is a partial rejection of freedom of expression…

Here in Canada it is, of course, completely different. It's a secular country, where you can express your opinion freely, directly in the press. When I tell my kids about their father, they don't understand what the problem is at all with someone having a blog. It's completely different here.

There is an international solidarity campaign for your husband. How does that make you feel?

I can only be thankful and hope that the initiators continue with it. However, so far it has had a psychological effect. It hasn't impacted the proceedings against Raif so far. But I hope that the solidarity continues nonetheless, because moral support is so important. That gives Raif and me hope and strength.

Do you personally hope that pressure from the campaign will help free Raif? It is now an international campaign.

I hope that the Saudi government one day recognizes that freedom of expression is every man's right. Raif always peacefully expressed himself and loved his country. In this way I hope that he soon comes free.

What is your appeal for World Press Freedom Day?

I hope that the whole world continues to stand by us. I call on the Saudi government to give every citizen a space for freedom of expression.

Badawi is currently represented by The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights that acts as his international legal counsel. The mission statement of this organization is the following as presented on their website (

“The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights is a unique international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, human rights defenders, NGOs, and students united in the pursuit of justice, inspired by and anchored in Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy – how

act can confront evil, prevail, and transform history.

“From mid-May to early July 1944, the Nazis deported 440,000 from Hungary to the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp – one of the most efficient, cruelest, and most horrific mass deportations in the Holocaust. Raoul Wallenberg arrived as a Swedish diplomat in the Swedish legation in Budapest in July 1944 and in six months saved 100,000 Jews.

“The Wallenberg Centre is organized around five pillars of pursuing justice, each of which reflects and represents Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy. The Honorary Co-Chairs of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights are: Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel (U.S. – in memoriam); the Honorable Justice Rosalie Abella (Supreme Court of Canada); the Honourable Göran Persson (former Prime Minister of Sweden); and the Honourable Elyakim Rubinstein (Former Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court). The Centre’s Founder and International Chair is Professor Irwin Cotler and the Co-Chairs from countries of Wallenberg’s Honorary Citizenship include Jared Genser (US); Michael Danby (Australia); and Natan Sharansky (Israel).”

The goal of this organization is to use the global media as well as private diplomatic efforts to help secure Badawi's release from prison.

According to this organization, “Raif Badawi has been languishing in a Saudi prison since his arrest in 2012, and his subsequent sentencing in 2014 to 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes, itself constitutive of torture and a standing violation of International Human Rights Law. Badawi's "crime"? Establishing an online forum and exercising his right to freedom of expression. Despite Saudi Arabia expressing an interest in reforming and modernizing, Raif Badawi – an advocate of liberalism and tolerance, and the champion of these changes – remains imprisoned and separated from his wife and three children, now citizens of Canada.”

While his exact location is unknown, it has been reported that Badawi is currently imprisoned in Dhahban Central Prison.

Following the 2012 arrest, Amnesty International designated Badawi a prisoner of conscience. As reported on their website –,

“In May 2014, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years behind bars, 1,000 lashes, a 10-year travel ban, and a lifetime ban from appearing in the media. He was convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's draconian information technology law and "insulting Islam." The conviction stems from number of articles Raif wrote and published on his site "Saudi Arabian Liberals," which he founded as a forum for social and political debate. Raif also refused to remove other Saudi writers' articles from the site.

"We want life for those who call for our death, and rationality for those who desire ignorance for us." -Raif Badawi

“The charges against Raif are related to articles he wrote criticizing religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, and pieces penned by others that Raif published on the Saudi Arabian Liberals' site. The prosecution had called for him to be tried for 'apostasy' or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.

“Raif is one of many activists in Saudi Arabia persecuted for openly expressing their views online. Facebook and Twitter are incredibly popular in a country where people can't openly voice their opinions in public. The authorities have responded to this increase in online debate by monitoring social media sites and even trying to ban applications such as Skype and WhatsApp, further stifling free expression.”

Badawi’s unshakeable determination and remarkable courage as an advocate of human freedom and the right to express one’s views openly are of great value to us all, and a reminder of the inherent power of the human spirit.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Gordon Hirabayashi


We have previously examined the life of Fred Korematsu, above, and have seen the degree of his courage in opposing the involuntary internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. There was yet another individual, Gordon Hirabayashi, who openly defied Order No. 9066 that forcefully relocated so many Japanese-Americans, brutally uprooted them from their lives and livelihoods and for many their property as well.

Hirabayashi was born on April 23, 1918, in Sandpoint, Washington to Shungo and Mitsuko Hirabayashi who emigrated from Nagano Prefecture, Japan – a farming community. Shungo came to the United States in 1907 and was later to marry Mitsuko in 1914. It was an arranged marriage that was not uncommon in that era. Both Shungo and Mitsuko had studied at the Kenshi Gijuku Academy in Japan where they had learned English and eventually converted to the Christian religion. Rather than joining a conventional Christian mainline church they became followers of Kanzo Uchimura (1861 – 1930) who was responsible for founding the Mukyokai movement in Japan. The emphasis of this mode of Christianity proposed a non-liturgical approach to religious practice. It became known for its non-church services.

In 1891, Uchimura gained notoriety when, as a teacher at the First Higher School in Tokyo, he refused to bow before the signature of the emperor affixed to a copy of the new Imperial Rescript on Education. He later changed his mind and from a sickbed sent a colleague to bow for him, but the affair effectually ended his educational career. The Mukoyokai movement was pacifist in its orientation and stressed that behavior should reflect belief. It was apparently this ideology that inspired Hirabyashi to act in a way that lived up to his beliefs.

Once in America, Hirabayashi’s parents were instrumental with others in forming the White River Garden Corporation. In order to accomplish this, the Japanese-American members had to use a white intermediary on account of the fact that the Washington State Constitution had incorporated an alien land law in its founding documents in 1889. In 1921, this law was amended to make it impossible for aliens ineligible for citizenship to hold major shares in a corporation, hold property or hold any major interest in lands delegated for agricultural use. Because of this legal stipulation, the White River Garden Corporation lost its case in the Washington State Supreme Court and the farmland was ceded to the State, but the families involved were allowed to stay on the land and rent it from the State.

Given his unique Christian upbringing, he began to take a pacifist stance in regard to the growing conflict that was embracing Europe and Asia. By 1939 following the German occupation of Poland, the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany. As a consequence of these events, Hirabayashi as a young man registered with the Selective Service as a conscientious objector and joined the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, known for their long-standing pacifist theology.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it was becoming quite evident that the United States domestic policy had begun to focus on Japanese-Americans as possible being a potential threat to domestic security. Finally, with the promulgation of Executive Order 9066, the military was given the responsibility of implementing the forced migration of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to hastily constructed internment camps.

Realizing that his constitutionally mandated rights were being violated, he made the momentous and courageous decision to resist. When the time came requiring him to register for relocation, Hirabayashi turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). His strategy was to create a test case as a way to challenge the underlying constitutionality of the federal mandate that ordered the forced incarceration of an entire group without due process of law. He had an underlying faith in the democratic system. He received a substantial amount of legal help and was eventually represented by Frank L. Waters. He was also supported by the American Friends Service Committee and Norman Thomas (1884 – 1968), the noted pacifist and leader of the Socialist Party of the United States for many years.

On May 13, 942, Hirabayashi wrote the following letter (see the image below) –

On May 28, 1942, Hirabayashi was indicted for violating Public Law 505 that made the violation of the mandated curfew imposed upon Japanese-Americans a federal crime. He was subsequently arraigned on June 1, 1942, at which time he pleaded not guilty based upon the legal argument that both the exclusion law and the curfew denied him basic constitutional rights as a citizen of the United States.

He ultimately lost this case and was sentenced to serve his allotted time in confinement at a road camp and ended up at a camp outside of Tacoma, Washington. When Hirabayashi’s legal team appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, Hirabayashi v. United States, the justices by unanimous vote upheld his conviction on June 21, 1943.

He served his remaining time in a prison in Tucson, Arizona. There he met Hopi draft resistors and other pacifists like himself who refused military service on the grounds of being conscientious objectors. This experience reinforced his determination to resist.

Following his release from the federal prison in Tucson, he was faced with yet another challenge to his determination to resist what he believed were unconstitutional infringements on his personal liberty. He received a form from the Selective Service that came to be known as the “loyalty questionnaire (Form 304A). It was entitled, The Statement of United States Citizens of Japanese Ancestry

Since this form specifically singled out citizens of Japanese descent, he refused to fill it out and returned the blank form with a letter detailing his view regarding his view of the legitimacy of the questionnaire. His submission was ignored, and he was subsequently ordered to proceed to the CPS camp for induction. He refused induction. And was charged with Selective Service violations. In court, he represented himself, and was found guilty and was sentenced to one year at the McNeil Island Penitentiary.

After his release and following the end of the war, Hirabayashi completed his studies in sociology and with his advanced PhD degree, he taught abroad in Beirut, Lebanon, Cairo, Egypt, and Alberta Canada where he finally retired in 1983.

Ultimately, his wartime conviction was vacated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1987. This decision represented a repudiation of the extra-legal treatment of the Japanese-American population during the war.

In 1999, Hirabayashi was recognized for his courage and conviction in the face of the assault on his basic freedoms as a citizen of the United States by the renaming of the site of the Tucson Federal Prison in his honor to the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. In 2002, a kiosk was created that honored not only Hirabayashi, but also the forty-one Nisei draft resistors that were also sent to prison.

Hirabayashi died on January 2, 2012 and was subsequently posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama – a fitting acknowledgment to his contributions in living up to a central ideal of democracy – equal treatment of all under the law.