World AIDS day

Thirty years into the AIDS pandemic, UNAIDS estimates that 33.3 million people globally are living with HIV. This number includes an estimated 2.5 million children under the age of 15 years.The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries has increased thirteenfold since  2004, to more than 5 million. However, only 35 percent of people in need of treatment are currently receiving it. Roughly 10 million people cannot get the medication they need.

The Catholic Church is playing its part, operating 117,000 centres to care for AIDS victims throughout the world. 27% global institutions caring for AIDS patients are run by Catholics. The South African Catholic Bishops Conference AIDS office supports projects and programs in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa, making it one of the largest anti-HIV/AIDS programmes in Southern Africa and active in many of the countries with the world’s highest rate of HIV infection. The Church cares for orphans of the AIDS epidemic, it works to place them in foster homes and helps to support foster families, it runs education and prevention programs for primary and secondary school students, home care and counselling programs for those who are HIV-positive, it provides patient units for the terminally ill who have no-one to care for them and a program to provide drugs to reduce the incidence of mother-to-child transmission.

The spread of HIV is not confined to the developing world. In 2010, 69, 424 people were treated for HIV in the UK, a 6% increase on the number in 2009 (65,292) and a 166% increase since 2001 (26,088). According to the most recent figures of the UK Health Protection Agency, there were an estimated 80,800 people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2009, of whom 67% were male and 33% female.

A recent review of 14 studies showed that in discordant couples a consistent use of condoms leads to an 80% reduction in HIV incidence.

HIV transmission is reduced by approximately 80% when condoms are used correctly 100% of the time.

80% reduction is good, but it is not enough. Doesn’t everyone deserve adequate protection? There is a method of achieving 100% risk avoidance. Why settle for anything less?  It is World AIDS Day, not World Condom day. There is no such thing as safe sex.

In the meantime we must continue to fight for equal healthcare for all of those affected by the ravages of this dreadful disease.

Stay safe and keep your loved ones safe.

*Sources: The US National Institute of Health & the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Weller SC & Davis-Beaty K (2007), ‘Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission‘.

Voltaire anyone?

No doubt, Christians will be accused once again of playing the pity game, but can it really be argued that we have true freedom of speech in this country?

For those who might claim that Mr Smith is not being persecuted for his beliefs in the same way as someone like Pastor Nadarkhani, although his life might not be literally in the balance, this case is extremely chilling. What can be more disempowering or de-humanising than to restrict someone’s ability to work and earn money? Mr Smith is being punished, not because he has done anything wrong; he has broken no law, he has not engaged in bullying, he has simply expressed a point of view, one that he is perfectly entitled to hold.

To some extent, Mr Smith’s Christianity is an irrelevance. He should be perfectly able to express whatever views he likes, no matter how offensive other people might find them, and frankly, you’d have to be pushing it to take issue at his words. They are perfectly logical and contain no malice. Mr Smith was not attacking individuals, he was not extending hate, he was simply expressing an opinion about how the law should be applied. He has broken no law and yet his employers are seeking to punish him for having a point of view which a thin-skinned colleague found offensive.

Earlier this week, I was musing whether or not certain internet ‘personalities’ with thousands of followers bear an additional responsibility in terms of what they express on the internet. The answer was ‘no’. Even though they may write the most irresponsible and offensive garbage, which often gets picked up and repeated verbatim en masse by sheep-like followers who believe that someone’s status automatically lends them an air of authority, we cannot be held responsible for other people’s reactions to our words, so long as we are not inciting criminal acts.

Literary theorists will be familiar with Barthes’ convention of “death of the author”. Whenever something is committed to writing, there is an extent to which authorial intention has no impact upon how that text will be interpreted. We cannot be responsible for every single possible interpretation of our words, and though it might be prudent to avoid causing deliberate offence in work or social situations, we cannot be so frightened that our views may be the cause of undue offence and thus our undoing, that we stay silent.

My husband tells me that he refuses to talk about any moral issues at work for the very reason he is too scared that if he were to engage on any of these issues, it could lose him his job. Though its perfectly legitimate for a ‘professional’ religious person, like a priest or vicar to discuss moral issues in the course of their work or ministry, heaven help anyone else who might have a view.

Having a job now means that not only must one avoiding discussing these topics at the workplace, but what is far more sinister, you can no longer express them publicly from the comfort of your own home. An employer not only has a duty to ensure that their employees are capable and qualified to do the work for which they are paid, but that they must also conform to the norms of “right thinking” and never say anything that might offend anybody; even when they are not on company time or premises or acting for their employer in any way.

Whilst Christians are not being persecuted for their faith, it is the nature of our beliefs that is causing us to come into increasing conflict with the militant secularist agenda. Not wishing to endorse a certain lifestyle does not indicate a desire to persecute those who follow that lifestyle, which is what people on all sides seem to be having difficulty getting to grips with. Sometimes people say things with which you will disagree or find offensive. That is your right, just as it is your right to express annoyance or irritation at perceived injustices or sleights. Just because someone might find something that you have said offensive, doesn’t mean that you have no right to say it, or should be prevented from doing so, as long as you refrain from defamation or slander that can cause palpable damage.

I wonder whether or not Mr Smith would still have faced a disciplinary had he stated “Fat people should go on a diet or face more tax”?  What was so offensive or wrong about his particular statement  vis a vis gay marriage, that meant that he and his family should be punished?

When a personal view, whatever that might be, particularly one that has been politely and inoffensively expressed, jeopardises someone’s job, causes them to be demoted and lose a sizeable chunk of their income, we should all start to worry.

The world should be watching

If you thought the case of Troy Davis was unfair, take a look at the case of Yousef Nadarkhani in Iran. This has yet to be covered by any mainstream media outlets and so far Twitter has seemed rather lack-lustre. Have we all contracted  death penalty fatigue?

Yousef Nadarkhani has done nothing wrong. He was arrested when attempting to register his church. For starters Pastor Nadarkhani is not even guilty of apostasy (converting from Islam).  A court has ruled that he was not a practicing muslim, yet is guilty by very nature of his muslim ancestry. Even if one extends the definition of apostasy to accept that genetic inheritance entails automatic cultural inheritance, regardless of whether or not one has been brought up in the faith that your forefathers practiced, it still is not illegal under Iranian law. Pastor Nadarkhani has been sentenced via a loophole in the law, under a fatwah issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who decided that Salman Rushdie must die for writing a book.  He was initially charged with protesting, but the charges were later changed to apostasy. His lawyer, Mr Mohammed Ali Dadkah, a prominent defender of human rights, is also in trouble; he has been sentenced to nine years in jail and a ten year ban on practicing law or teaching at a university for “actions and propaganda agains the Islamic regime”.

Perhaps we are more accustomed to breaches of human rights in countries that don’t operate under a Western democracy? Perhaps we think that protesting is futile? Perhaps we are culturally racist, we have lower expectations of those with differing beliefs, despite the fact that we share a common humanity? Whatever the reason, we need to pray for Pastor Nadarkhani and his family.

At this point the need for action is far more pressing than a dissemination of why no-one in the Western world seems remotely interested. I have sent a carefully and courteously worded email to the Iranian embassy. Please feel free to C&P the text into this link and do the same.

Dear Your Excellency, the Ambassador of Iran,

I write to express my concern with regards to the latest developments in the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani who faces imminent execution for his refusal to recant his Christian faith.

It is my hope that the Iranian judiciary will cease to pursue their current course of action against Pastor Nadarkhani and will acquit him of all charges. His execution would put Iran in breach of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Article 18 includes a provision for the right to “have or adopt” a religion. This has been interpreted authoritatively by the UN Human Rights Committee as including the right to change one’s religion.

As I am sure Your Excellency is aware, Iran’s constitution sanctions Christianity as a legitimate minority faith and asserts that Christians are allowed to freely carry out their religious rites. Article 23 states that no-one may be “reprimanded simply because of having a certain belief”.

If Pastor Nadarkhani were to be executed, it would constitute a gross miscarriage of justice on grounds on violating his basic human rights, particularly when he is not in contravention of any domestic or international law.

I would be extremely grateful if you could pass this appeal for justice for Pastor Nadarkhani to the relevant officials of the Iranian government, as a matter of urgency. Pastor Nadardkhani must be released to his family immediately.

I should like to thank you for your prompt action in this matter.

Yours faithfully

The other thing you can do is telephone the Iranian embassy on 020 7225 3000 to express your concern and support. You can also try 020 7937 5225, if you are unable to get through. Please fill in this form, to let the campaign know how you got on. And keep praying. Let’s storm heaven on this one.