Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson and the gun culture

By Dennis Gruending

On January 8th a young man Jared Lee Loughner opened fire with a Glock 19 handgun during a political event held in the parking lot of a Tucson, Arizona mall. He killed six people and wounded 14, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He shot her in the head. She is being treated for a serious brain injury and is fortunate to be alive. The debate following this tragic event has focused on the “heroes” who attempted to disarm Loughner; on whether he is mentally ill; and whether the increasingly toxic language being used in American political debate might have prompted his actions. Hardly anyone, it seems, is having second thoughts about the fact that almost anyone in the U.S. can buy and carry a gun. President Barrack Obama studiously avoided that point in his otherwise eloquent speech at a memorial event in Tucson.

Far from having doubts about the disastrous effects of the nation’s gun laws, or lack of them, there were calls in the wake of the shootings to make it even easier for people to carry concealed firearms. Arizona state representative Jack Harper was quoted as saying, “When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim.” This implies that someone at the shooting scene who was armed would have shot Jared Lee Loughner before he killed and wounded others.

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Coptic Christians, al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower

By Dennis Gruending

Early on the morning of January 1 Coptic Christians were leaving Saints Church in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria after celebrating midnight mass. A suicide bomber waiting outside set off explosives that killed 21 people and injured almost 100 others. The attack also led to concern in Canada as Eastern Rite Christians prepared to celebrate their Christmas on January 7. More than 100 Canadian-Arab Coptic Christians had been named and threatened on an al-Qaeda affiliated website, allegedly for “defaming” Islam and attempting to convert Muslims. Despite the threats, most churches went ahead with services, although there was talk of added security by the RCMP and private firms. Back in Alexandria, Egyptian authorities were uncertain if foreign al-Qaeda operatives had slipped into the country or if the suicide bombing was the work of homegrown Islamic extremists.

Killing enemy combatants in wars is bad enough but killing unsuspecting civilians as they worship, ride buses or subways, travel on airplanes or eat restaurant meals is unspeakable. How can anyone or any ideology – religious or secular – justify these acts? The Quran does contain numerous exhortations to violence, and the same can be said of the Old Testament. But the general thrust of both books is that killing another human being is a great crime and that killing yourself (suicide) is also a crime. The Quran says that Muslims shall not kill anyone except as a punishment for murder.

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Dirty tricks at Rights and Democracy

By Dennis Gruending

The parliamentary season in Ottawa ended on a singularly tawdry note in December 2010. The government abruptly cancelled a scheduled meeting of a House of Commons committee that would have discussed an auditor’s report clearing a deceased president of the embattled Rights and Democracy agency of alleged wrongdoings. The allegations against Rémy Beauregard were made during and following a particularly tense meeting back on January 7, 2010, where recently-appointed members of the agency’s board of directors made accusations about financial mismanagement, not to mention their opinion that the organization was funding “terrorist” groups in the Middle East. Mr. Beauregard died of a heart attack in the early hours of the following day. It has now been shown that the allegations against him were baseless. The Globe and Mail newspaper has provided a leaked copy of the forensic audit that was to be discussed by the parliamentary committee. It cleared Mr. Beauregard. The irregularities, so darkly hinted at, had not occurred.

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development was created in 1990 by the Conservative administration of Brian Mulroney as an organization at arms-length from the Canadian government, with a mandate to support democracy-enhancing projects internationally. Its first president was Ed Broadbent, the former leader of the New Democratic Party and the second was Warren Allmand, a former cabinet minister in various Liberal governments. Mr. Beauregard was appointed in June 2008 by the Conservatives as president for a five-year term. He was a former executive director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and had worked in the human rights field internationally as well.

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The Christmas concert (seasonal fiction)

By Dennis Gruending

The school Christmas concert is on in the town hall tonight and Dale has a big part in it. When they pull back the curtain on the stage and fourteen kids stand there holding pieces of cardboard with block letters spelling the words “Merry Christmas”, he is going to be the letter M. He is also Joseph in the crib scene. His mother has made him a headpiece from an old orange dishtowel. He has a fake brown beard, and sandals borrowed especially for the concert from his cousin in Saskatoon

Miss Melanson, the principal, has overseen three weeks of happy rehearsals. She stands five feet eleven. The scent of her perfume sets fire to your nostrils and catches in your throat. Her hair is a shoe polish black but white at the roots, and she wears framed glasses with thick lenses that magnify her eyes in such a way that any student who catches her stern gaze freezes like rabbit in the headlights. The awe inspired by Miss Melanson’s presence, however, does not prevent students from poking fun behind her back. Her Christian names are Mary and Theresa — Mary Theresa Melanson. She signs report cards and notes home with the initials M.T., letters that loop and flow on the page. M. T. Melanson. So the students call Empty. Empty Melanson.

Miss Melanson’s Christmas program has a little bit of everything. There are carols sung by a thin-voiced children’s choir; actually, it’s mostly a girls’ choir because even fear of Miss Melanson doesn’t move boys over ten years of age to sing. Then there are the dramas. Miss Melanson has produced a coup this year with Dickens’s Christmas Carol because a girl who has a bone disease and actually wears a leg brace is playing Tiny Tim. Then there’s the crib scene which involves every child in the primary grades, with many of them being shepherds and others sheep.

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Bev Oda ignored CIDA, betrayed KAIROS

By Dennis Gruending

A year ago I wrote stories about the Conservative government’s ham-handed bullying of the Canadian ecumenical social justice group KAIROS. The story is now in the news again in a way that would be comic if it were not so nasty. It provides yet another glimpse into the ideologically driven spitefulness of the government, not to mention the lack of competence and truthfulness on the part of Bev Oda, the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Let’s begin with some background. KAIROS is an ecumenical human rights and justice organization that acts on behalf of 11 of Canada’s churches and church-based organizations. It includes under its umbrella the Anglican, Catholic, Christian Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Churches, as well as the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers and others.

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Blair, Hitchens and the Munk debate about religion

By Dennis Gruending

The much-anticipated Munk Centre debate in Toronto between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and writer Christopher Hitchens has come and gone. A sell out crowd of about 2600 people paid up to $500 each to sit in plush seats at Roy Thomson Hall and …

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Tony Blair: My Political Life

By Dennis Gruending

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to debate acerbic writer Christopher Hitchens at the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto on whether religion is a force for good or evil. Blair, of course, is the former three-term Labour prime minister who stunned most everyone by converting to Roman Catholicism just after he left office in 2007. He will argue that religious faith has a major part to play in shaping the values that guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress. Hitchens, also British, is a former leftist who now lives in the United States and is ill with cancer. He has become a fervent supporter of the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and finds himself on the lecture circuits and at dinner tables of those on the political right. He is a harsh critic of what he calls “fascism with an Islamic face” — but his scorn embraces all world religions. He published a book in 2007 called, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

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Best books 2010, Harperland:The Politics of Control

By Dennis Gruending

[This brief piece was published in the November 22 edition of The Hill Times newspaper in Ottawa. The paper asked a number of us to choose a political book that we liked in 2010].

Journalism is commonly called history on …

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