Burqas, hijabs, niqabs, oh my!

McGill Daily

I suppose it’s time to address the rather large and noisy elephant floating between the margins of Aristotle’s lackey.

Law 94.

Just last week, the National Assembly passed a law banning the niqab from such critical public spaces as universities, government offices, daycares, and hospitals receiving government funding. The support for the ban has been strong throughout Canada, with an 80% approval rating according to a survey conducted by Angus Reid. Criticisms have been sparse, coming primarily from an unsure Muslim community, various lawyers, scattered academics, and select university papers.

But the general discussion on this matter has just been a mess, with a near complete avoidance in English-speaking Canada of the question of the role of identity. Given the provincial nature of this legislation, however, I will limit my discussion to Quebec.

As mentioned briefly in an article last month by Sheetal Pathak (“Muslim women don’t need saving from themselves,” Commentary, March 18), the Canadian Muslim community is itself divided on this issue. Unlike the hijab, there’s no real consensus on the status of the niqab. A small minority see it as an obligation – or at the very least, the superior form of the modesty principle prescribed by Islam.

While this debate is legitimate, it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand – the discussion on the matter within the Muslim community needs to move beyond the question of necessity. If there are women who believe it is their religious obligation to wear the niqab while living in North America, then that choice must be respected.

That cyclic debate along with broader reductionist debate on “choice,” grossly undermine women’s agency and completely overlook the greater context of Law 94 and the persistence of a discourse ultimately not about gender equality, secularism, integration, or identification, but about identity. And just as identity politics create a limiting framework for political discourse, identity politics can and often do create limiting platforms for legislation and issues regarding minority populations.

Quebec is not France. But like French identity, Quebec identity is built upon a shared linguistic and ethnic heritage as embodied by the historical interactions between church and state, epitomized by the near-total rejection of Catholicism during the Quiet Revolution.

And like France, Quebec has seen a surge in its immigrant population – which challenges a system long sustained by the province’s homogeneity. It is understandable that the majority of Quebeckers – outside Montreal especially – would fear the erosion of an identity with a tumultuous past. Quebeckers are, after all, a minority within Canada so the issue of identity is already fragile.

While this fear is understandable, it is not justified and it certainly should not be the source for any law. With only a few dozen women in the province actually wearing the niqab, how much of a problem does the covering actually cause? France’s proposed ban on the burqa, recently judged unconstitutional by an advisory board, affected only 367 women out of 5 million Muslims. How necessary is a law for an exception – especially at the expense of appearing hostile to a significant and growing minority? What’s more, where exactly is the line drawn? When does “reasonable” accommodation become “unreasonable”? Can any demand be unreasonable if it’s made in the name of identity and ideology? Is it unreasonable if by the minority and reasonable if by the majority?

All of this is not to ignore the obligation upon the Muslim community itself, as with any other ethno-religious group, to sincerely engage with such issues and ask themselves what is a “reasonable accommodation” to ask of the state. But this question and its implications are to be addressed and dealt with by the respective communities themselves as it hinges on their own identity and place in society.

For many, a law that discriminates against an exception may not be really consequential to the “big picture” in a negative or a positive way. It is, however, crucial that we consider the sort of framework this persistent debate and this particular legislation create for future discussions on matters concerning minorities. This discussion is not black and white, nor do I wish to even hint at such a claim. There are, however, some factors which play a stronger role than others and we must pay heed to their influence.

But until we get to future debates, I’ll keep rocking flashy and colourful scarves that my students seem to love for as long as I can.

Sexquisite Corpses: The shock-and-awe capitalism of BODIES the Exhibition

McGill Daily

If there is anything sexier than a naked human body, it’s clearly the skinned and chemically-preserved human body. At least according to disturbingly exploitative displays such as BODIES the Exhibition, currently being held at the Eaton Centre. BODIES offers med-school failures the opportunity to explore “the amazing and complex machine we call the human body” using “actual human specimens” (apparently of the Chinese prisoner persuasion), allowing “access to sights and knowledge normally reserved…for medical professionals.”

While I have not had the chance to visit the exhibition itself, I have heard some interesting remarks regarding the morbidly alluring smell that fills the exhibit, the predominant representation of a particular ethnic group, and the general awe inspired by the sheer complexity and muscular synchronization of the human body. While the exhibit certainly seems as though it would be worth a portion of my pay cheque, I find myself hesitating.

There is only one reason why the BODIES exhibit is as popular as it is and has received the sort of attention and acclaim that it has: the use of “actual human specimens.” As a friend recently, and heatedly, mentioned, we have the scientific ability to perfectly recreate the human body from within; we have the ability to even create the required tissue – so why use cadavers, formerly referred to as human beings, as educational models on display to teach the non-medical world?

Because sex sells.

BODIES sexes up science. It adds to the growing sexual commodification and morbidity to which we are becoming increasingly desensitized. We are constantly looking for a selling “schtick” for our products. Shock-and-awe – albeit the name of a military strategy – is perhaps the best way to characterize this so-called “century of the self,” in which to garner attention for and to sell a commodity means constantly pushing the bounds of the shocking. The human body itself has become a huge marketing point, used to get people to purchase products and services in varying ways and to various degrees – thereby promoting the sexualization of capitalism, beyond sex itself.

See also: Lady Gaga.

Now, I’m not trying to promote any sort of moral Puritanism, but there is something sincerely and deeply unsettling about the concept behind BODIES. For a few dollars, you can see once-living human beings skinned, preserved, and arranged in positions highlighting our own bodies’ intricacies. Just as I stand outside the looking glass, if I were once the unfortunate inmate of a Chinese prison, I could very easily be standing on the other side – frozen in formaldehyde.

What is ironic is that the very same field – medical science – which claims deep respect, understanding, and love for the human body has completely dehumanized it and made it into something worth consuming without the added bonus of being referred to as an establishment of “pimps.”

What does this exhibit – and displays like it – say about our priorities and values as a society? What does it say about us as a people when we use a military strategy to sell products, especially those that are a source of entertainment, using the human body and its various functions? We’re approaching a threshold that will force us to ask: what else is left to sell for entertainment value? And I’m unsure if I want to be around when the answer to that question is known.

No apologies for any self-righteousness that may have been displayed in this column.

Bad Romance: Feminism and women of colour make an unhappy pair

Original Source.

Influenced by seventies empowerment classics, the Spice Girls, and my own experience as a veiled teenager vacillating between homogenous and diverse ethnic communities, the word “Woman” became a defining characteristic of my identity during my middle and high school years. While unaware of all the word’s connotations, I knew from a very young age that to be a woman is beyond breasts, Aunt Flows, and unmentionable monologues. Struggle is inherent to every woman’s life, regardless of her appearance, her location, her age, her past. I believed that to be a woman was not only to experience this struggle, but also to realize it, to embrace it, to fight.

To never succumb.

The realization of the struggle(s) inherent to my womanhood helped me better formulate a worldview that would eventually bring me to peace with several things that had haunted my thoughts for years. Vanity, glass ceilings, career, ambition, opinions, unorthodox language and choices, and unattainable expectations had all carved out comfortable abodes in my head and I was constantly forced to deal with the issues that arose from their sometimes unwanted and sometimes desired presence.

I picked up my first piece of feminist literature at the age of 16. It was your basic introductory work, providing a detailed discussion and analysis of various forms of feminism – as an ideology and as an academic discipline – ranging from radical to ecological. The academic foundation of the activist movement attracted me and eventually led me to take a feminist theory class during my first undergraduate semester. A mixture of an activist fetish, first-year depression, and general intellectual curiosity gently coaxed me into joining a collective of sorts and really exploring the McGill feminist landscape. It was angry, fun, filled with ambiguities. I liked it. It terrified me at times, overwhelmed me, but it was something.

Alas, somewhere along the way, the relationship went sour. The passion left. The tensions had always been there, but were ignored for the sake of solidarity.

Though always aware of my womanhood, I had never been as sensitive to my ethnic and religious identity as much as I was forced to be upon entering university. New ideas regarding power relations, history, politics, gender, and ethnicity were thrust into my adorable 18-year-old face. I embarked on the sort of spiritual and cultural rejuvenation that seems to come with age and paying tuition. I began to re-explore my Islamic identity while also looking into my heritage, beyond the date of my parents’ migration to North America.

And as my awareness of racism and ethnic power dynamics’ pervasive nature increased, the paradox involved in maintaining a capital-F feminist self also increased. I became more and more uncomfortable being associated with Feminism – a feeling fueled largely by how mainstream strands of feminism (including the ever-dominant Radical branch) would treat ethnic identities.

Generally speaking, feminism, as a socio-political and intellectual movement, has been dominated by white women, along with a select few white transgendered individuals and white homosexual men.

Think that’s a gross exaggeration? Send a letter.

There has been very little input in the initial and primary construction of feminist discourse by those outside the aforementioned groups. The “white” history and experience – the meaning and implications of which exceed the scope of this column’s word count – defined, created, and have sustained what we understand feminism to be today, specifically the Liberal and Radical strands.

Now many will respond that several types of feminism today have evolved into more inclusive movements that take into consideration that so-called “women of colour” have different experiences than white women as women.

And that’s precisely where the problem lies: women of colour.

“Women of colour” beautifully illustrates the exact problem I discovered with feminism, as a woman who did not fit the mainstream criteria for being just a Woman. As a “woman of colour,” I am not just a Woman. I am a woman with a little something extra; there is a difference struck between women like me and white women. There is no Woman. There are no Women. There are two groups: women and “women of colour.” This tidily, and unfortunately, translates into the “us” and “them” categorization.

Because this distinction is made and has been proudly appropriated by “women of colour” without much criticism, this presumption that the white woman’s identity is a sort of “foundational” identity for all women is prevalent within feminism. As mentioned earlier, feminism was created and has been sustained on a very white – and North American – experience and history. This experience and this history have created the framework within which decades of feminist theory and thought have been constructed.

This paradigm was most aptly demonstrated when non-white feminists began to critique the very real ethnic power imbalances that existed in the discourse during the sixties and seventies. “Ethnicity,” including also faith and culture, was more or less fitted into the existing framework: the framework that was built on the white woman’s experience with and understanding of patriarchy. There was no real attempt to rethink the intellectual and historical foundations of the movement. Those thinkers, like Angela Y. Davis and bell hooks, who did attempt that reconceptualization, have gone into the shadows of academia, existing as mere footnotes at the end of feminist class syllabuses.

So, is the white woman the palette upon which the “colours” of all other women can be found and mixed, used interchangeably to create a beautiful “inclusive” portrait of something which is, in many respects, ugly? If we are all equal, why are some “of colour” while others have the privilege of a much shorter identity label?

I strongly believe that much of the feminist analysis on sex, sexual identities, capitalism, beauty, and gender deconstruction comprises a powerful tool, building ideas that require our consideration if we want to change our status-quo condition. I am not, however, foolish enough to believe in the universal applicability of these ideas here in North America (forget the rest of the world).

There is a real void within mainstream feminist discourse that has marginalized the very women whom it has allegedly sought to empower and “save.” Feminism is still very much a white woman’s movement and discipline; it has tokenized women it sees as “of colour” in its attempt to be more inclusive and universal. This is not progress: this is not equality. This is a kinder racism: unintentional, and really a part of an institutionalized mentality and epistemic history, but racism nevertheless.

What is required for feminism’s return to relevance is a complete reconsideration and questioning of the foundation it was built upon, one sustained by the white woman’s narrative on patriarchy. This reevaluation can potentially lead toward a more holistic feminism – hopefully rebranded as something for all men, women, and everyone beyond – that is based on an understanding that the experiences of all women with patriarchy vary. All women view and interact with “patriarchy” in different ways and more than lip-service recognition of this fact is required to transform feminism.

There should be no saving involved. There should be no brackets. There should not be two categories of women, if it is women about whom we speak. There should be realization, embracement, and battle. There should be real inclusivity – of cultures and ideas. Nothing fitted neatly into the existing crevices and cracks.

And there should be just Women. Period.

TEDx Talk – Mesmerizing Commute

Because I’m all about self-promotion and glory. Here’s the video of my TEDx talk at McGill University.

McGill Daily columnist, Sana Saeed, transports us with her powerful writing, proving that the more avenues we create to be public as a society, the more private we become as individuals.

It’s based on a piece of mine which was published over a year ago. The major point that I am making is that the more we create ways to interact with the public – social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, blogs or to enhance it such as with cellphones, iPods, and so forth, the more we actually are becoming private. The Public has been an essential part of Western social and political thought for thousands of years, going back to the Ancient Greeks. There was an importance that was ascribed to the Public, it had something that one could never find in the private. And this “something” was related to interaction which led to the exchange of ideas – be they good or bad. It was in the public sphere that we would learn about ways to better govern ourselves, to better our society, and our individual selves. We’d clash over ideas and we’d reunite over ideas. This, we are beginning to lose. This was the beauty of the public, the face to face confrontation of words and ideas that is becoming more and more obsolete. There is nothing wrong with these new avenues we’ve created to engage with and expand the public, but it has taken away our appreciation of the beauty of the public sphere. We must break our private havens. We must not be afraid to confront the ideas and words of others. We must not be afraid to initiate. If we lose this, if we lose our public – we lose far more than just a physical presence. We lose, in a sense, our humanity. We become desensitized to the thriving life around us. We voluntarily alienate ourselves from each other, albeit unconsciously.

So, go ahead and look around. Observe. Breathe. You might see something beautiful.

Multiculturalism is a Sham: The Canadian mosaic trivializes immigrant culture under a façade of respect

Recent Column.

I’m going to say it. I’ve been holding it in for a while but the time has come for me to say it: the Canadian mosaic is complete and utter bullshit.

Catch your breath.

In classical Western political theory, the key to state stability has often, if not always, been seen as the maintenance of a homogeneous society. Foundational divisions of any sort create a threat to both the state and the fabric of society. And how was this homogeneity achieved? Primarily through education, as philosopher Ernest Gellner so wonderfully noted. Industrialized societies require strong bureaucratic states and these states must in turn create educational systems, the goal of which is not learning but rather the creation of a perfect citizenry to serve that state materially and ideologically.

While it was easier to achieve homogeneity during the time period when such monistic, dead-white-man liberal theories were popular, today’s pluralism forces another approach. Theorists and statesmen are trying to come up with ways to deal with the issues pluralism has brought up in the West. Problems of religious values and rights, individual rights, language, secularism, immigration policies, and gender have all been pushed and pulled. While some countries have tried to deal with their minority populations through assimilationist policies, others have opted for seemingly more inclusive models.

Like Canada.

During the mid-to-late 20th century, Canada’s demographic landscape saw some major changes. The population, which at the time of confederation was primarily French and British in origin, had begun to transform into a collage of various ethnic identities. In response to these changes, Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s federal government sought not only to ensure the political and social integration of these populations, but also to allow them some form of cultural continuity in order to contribute to what would soon be called Canada’s mosaic identity.

The development of Canada’s multiculturalist policies saw three major stages intended to homogenize the Canadian citizenry’s thinking about its society’s nature and makeup. The incipient stage (pre-1971) consisted of gradually socially accepting the ethnic and cultural diversity that was becoming more and more apparent. The formative stage (1971-1981) legally recognized this diversity. In 1969, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism recommended an ethno-inclusive integrationist policy, leading to the formal creation of multiculturalism. Equality became the end goal, and removal of racist or unfortunate circumstantial obstacles became the means. In the period of institutionalization (1982 til present), multiculturalism was protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and in 1988 a reform of the policy made the Multiculturalism Act into official Canadian law.

That’s five years of Canadian grade schooling right there.

Here we are, 20 years later. Are we heading toward a society that has successfully been able to balance its heavily heterogeneous populations, which in turn have contributed to the prosperity of our country? That was the point, was it not?

No, not really.

Multiculturalism, as an official policy and not as a demographic reality, was never meant to sustain our diverse Canadian cultures. Instead, it has been a way to create a façade – a fictitious support of diversity that in fact suffocates it.

Let’s take the instance of “illiberal” cultural practices and beliefs, however they are defined and categorized. How does our multiculturalist structure allow us to deal with them? Will Kymlicka, Canadian scholar and Official Defender of Multiculturalism, provides some insight into this question in Multicultural Citizenship. Kymlicka argues that multiculturalism should seek to liberalize facets of various cultures that appear to the government to be ‘illiberal.’ It is ethnocentric to think that cultures are intrinsically “illiberal” and thus incompetent to change. He argues that since there is a link between choice and culture that allows individuals to live and work in their relative cultures, there is a right, a right that is waived once immigrants have left their native countries. Kymlicka concedes that there are limitations to liberal tolerance. A liberal state cannot allow groups to restrict the individual freedom of their members nor can these groups impede on the rights and freedoms of other groups. The question is thus not about whether liberals believe in toleration; it is about what kind of toleration they support.

Awesome, but isn’t the attempt to “liberalize” a culture or group another form of assimilation? Multiculturalism then serves only to create a sort of symbolic identity. People shed any real, substantial ties and practices to their cultures as generations progress, holding onto the very superficial. Additionally, assimilation through liberalization becomes inevitable even without government intervention; individuals become liberalized and distanced from their own cultures and ethnic identities not only through daily interaction with individuals outside their “ethnic” or “cultural” group, but also through the daily barrage of the media. The change is slow, but emphatic: the second generation Indo-Canadian begins to date; the third generation Catholic Italo-Canadian supports gay marriage; and the Syrian-Muslim girl living in Canada since she was six years old begins to drink.

So, do we really believe that we are helping sustain cultures when in actuality all that is being sustained are colourful costumes, delicious cuisine, and fun dances that we can add to further enhance our mosaic?

Most importantly perhaps, what does it mean to receive state-enforced values of equality? If the state is telling us through education and other institutions that we are equal, that we must respect one another, are we really creating any values of substantial worth? Within the past two decades we’ve seen a sharp rise in ethnic tensions in our country. From the wearing of the Islamic hijab during sports to the bearing of the Sikh kirpan to school, any “minority” tradition or practice that seeks to integrate itself into the dominant culture has become a polarizing issue: it has been welcomed not with open arms, but with angry outcries. While one side of the debate argues for integration, the other side, which is becoming louder, argues for assimilation. For Canadians who are espousing assimilationist opinions, it may very well be the fact that they are frustrated not with what is happening but with how it is being dealt with by the government. The government must think of ways not only to ensure the rights of minority groups, but to keep the dominant culture content – a balance which is seemingly becoming harder to achieve.

At the root of this problem is the educational system that has been constructed by multiculturalist policies. What we have is a material educational approach to Canada’s diverse populations. Young Canadian students reading their social studies textbook might see their country as the Canadian mosaic but fail to grasp the profound understanding of the term. Instead, they are made to believe that this mosaic, colourful and cohesive, each piece complementing the other, is what Canadian society is like, leaving them unprepared for the realities that face thousands of so-called hyphenated Canadians everyday. And this needs to change.

The policies of multiculturalism may have worked for Canada and its citizens for the short-term, but are we prepared for the potential long-term affects?

But, then again, I’d rather live here than anywhere else, so I’ll just shut up now.

Emerging from the Nostalgia of Pakistan’s Past

Back it up.

In March of 1999, I stepped out of the Allama Iqbal International Airport, in Lahore, Pakistan, greeted by long-lost family members and a barrage of young men wanting to carry our luggage to the awaiting cars. While in the clutch of my aunt’s bosom, I quietly asked, “Will we be shot at?” Both amused and concerned, my aunt laughed and asked if I had lost my mind, assuring me that I was perfectly safe, even when the country was in the midst of a war with its neighbour. Yet even with her good-humoured comfort my heart and breath continued their uneven palpitations. I was 11 years old and couldn’t bring myself to trust my Pakistani niqabi-clad aunt over what I had been told from the good folks at CNN for the past few years. My eyes remained fixated on every rooftop that passed; they expected to see a bearded extremist wielding a Kalashnikov, just waiting to shoot at any car holding foreigners.

But the Pakistan I would experience in the ensuing six months would be fundamentally different from the one that I had expected. Although the subcontinent was being torn apart by a war, life was, to my innocent surprise, completely normal. Better than normal. The problems were plentiful, but nothing lived up to the negative image that the hype back home, in the United States, had created in my mind.

Ten years later, however, the situation is radically different. The country is falling apart at the seams, and even some of the most unwaveringly patriotic Pakistanis are beginning to take notice of issues regarding extremism that required their attention years ago. Yet the hype with which we are constantly bombarded is still leading us to false conclusions. As The Observer’s Jason Burke rightly observes, the prediction of Pakistan’s collapse is an old story, one that has been espoused several times in the past 40 years, from after the creation of Bangladesh to after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan will most likely become a failed state, but it will not be the next Somalia. But most importantly, Burke notes that one of the biggest problems facing Pakistan’s future and existence, as well as the security of the international community, is the rise of so-called religious and nationalist extremism, not only among Pakistanis living in Pakistan but also in the diaspora, as seen with several communities in the United Kingdom in recent years.

This isn’t about a black dress or facial hair. This is about the rhetoric and reactionary mentality of a significant minority of Pakistanis, especially among those living in the West. The problem of Pakistan is no longer secluded to its government; it has penetrated through the country’s citizenry, which is reacting against the social and economic realities denigrating culture and life through the use of religion and nationalism. These vulnerabilities allow for the politics of the region to be as they are; corrupt government after corrupt government has filled its stomach on these vulnerabilities. And do not doubt the transcendence of these frustrations. While people with such warped religious essentialism and national zealousness are a minority, with the majority of Pakistanis on the secular side, they do still exist and are not isolated to the subcontinent.

That being said, my fellow Pakistanis need to awaken from their slumber. We have to come to terms with the fact that what we understand as Pakistan exists now only in nostalgia. The road to democracy and stability is never easy. And even then there’s no guarantee. Pakistan arose from another country, through the bloodiest mass migration of our time, breaking away from colonialism, with no institutions to call its own – it had to create a country essentially from scratch. The foundation that Muhammad Ali Jinnah and company created was not strong. Yet the country has continued to attempt to build itself upon that weak foundation. And all of this, of course, is not to deny the involvement of international parties, which has helped exacerbate the downward spiral of Pakistan. But there’s still much that can be done.

Islam has become corrupted as a political tool, violence against women has increased, civil society is constantly repressed, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to rise at a repulsive rate, and justice and accountability remain just mere song topics. As Pakistanis, we need to be able to accept that these issues have surpassed the borders of Pakistan. Many of us need to snap out of our classist bubble and realize that a Pakistan exists outside our massive bungalows. As McGill students, we need to bring further light to religious and nationalist extremism that will prove to hinder any potential progress or stability for the region. We need to bring attention to the fact that the many different situations in South Asia have an effect on our political conduct in North America. The lack of a proper department or even sub-department for South Asian studies – in either political science or Islamic studies – is indicative of the general, and unfortunate, lack of academic interest in the region.

Of course a discourse on Pakistan exists on campus, but it is minimal and primarily involves an audience of South Asian descent. This needs to change. There needs to be a larger, more inclusive discourse regarding Pakistan, and South Asia as a whole, which can be sustained. As another commentator, Faiz Lalani, mentioned in Monday’s edition of The Daily, there is a world of conflict outside the Middle East. Amen, Lalani. Hezbollah has nothing on the Swat Valley.

How suburban education brainwashes women

Step back.

Through the 21 years that I’ve seen – unless you take out the first one to two-and-a-half, as they remain a blur – I’ve always kept the male sex at arm’s distance: military arms distance. Rommel would have been proud.

There was a time when chasing boys across the school’s green field and chipped asphalt was acceptable. Then we entered middle school, and ignoring them became the new practice. High school hit, and degradation through witty insults was all the rage. In university, intellectual knockouts prove to be the best testosterone agitators. All were great techniques for achieving…um…okay, so here’s my Eastern Front. The Germans had no chance of winning against the Red Army, and I have no chance of figuring out to what 14 years of chasing, ignoring, teasing, and intellectual knockouts have all led.

To be quite honest, I blame suburban public education. Somewhere along the line, the whole philosophy of, “If they tease you it means they like you,” which our first grade teachers shoved down our throats, became perverted in my head and, I am sure, in the heads of millions of other young women. This is why women chase men who treat them like shit, why women believe they can change men, why nice guys finish last and why Rihanna has not dumped Chris Brown’s ass. Since the days of nap time, we’ve been programmed to believe that a male’s lack of attention is indicative of his insecurity with his sexuality and masculinity; he is unable to be upfront about his feelings because that hurts the development of the ideal Man he is being coerced to adopt.

But this seemingly simple explanation has left me a damaged, but refurbished good now at the age of 21. The line between being insulted and having a sincere gesture of affection made has become blurred and convoluted. My understanding of love and relationships is severely distorted. Kind sincerity becomes an offensive joke and pure douche-baggery becomes flirtatious teasing, potentially leading to marriage and two-point-five kids. Guy tells me I’m pretty, and I verbally sack him. Guy calls me a disgusting piece of leftist bulimic vomit, and I swoon. Something’s wrong here, but I find comfort in knowing that I am not alone in feeling this way.

Many women flock toward the men who treat them the worst, with the stereotypical but oh-god-so-painfully-true belief that they can change them. You know, the Obama kind of change – the kind that’s promised, but that deep down inside, you know won’t be delivered. And yet, you continue to lust after it because that is where the sad fulfillment of your efforts and your self-worth lie, and because the alternative is terrifying. Being single is engrained into our minds as a fate worse than death, since even the dead get some love from the maggots.

In my much younger years, like many other young girls, I chased, teased, and ignored with the belief that that’s what the opposite sex found attractive. Et sequitur, we expected the same strategy and result to be employed by the recipients of our cold shoulders. But as I’ve matured into the strikingly attractive and intelligent young woman I am today, I have come to realize what a load of bullshit my first grade teacher taught me. And my second grade teacher. And my third. Fourth. Ad nauseum.

Through these subtly damaging lessons, the public education system makes women into sado-masochistic beings. Our heads are filled with fallacious tales about gender relations, sex, and love. We take this knowledge and conditioning and add it to what we learn at home and through the ever-changing forms of media, and we create our own yet similarly perverted understanding of relationships and how we should conduct ourselves in situations with those to whom we are attracted.

But then again, what do I know? The most intimate relationship I’ve ever had was last semester with Mr. James Ferrier. And even that was unsatisfying.

Note: This was not based on “He’s just not that into you”  – rather on a diary entry from when I was 18. Additionally, “James Ferrier” is the name of one of the computer labs on campus :)

Patrick Part II – the secular fundamentalist

What this!?

In my last column I introduced you to my friend Patrick* who, by the way, is a real person and not a figment of my attempt to create an interesting preface to this second part. Now, in this piece, I want to discuss the existence of what specifically Patrick represented: secular fundamentalism.

“Fundamentalism” is, in and of itself, a contentious term which has come to take on completely negative connotations extending to all religions. For the sake of argument and brevity, I will adopt the term in its modern construction and with such connotations. Today, we relate zealousness, close-mindedness and religion to the term: a fundamentalist is a religious zealot who has medieval and unwavering ideas regarding religion and its role in society. My problem with this popular understanding of fundamentalism is not with the inclusion of religion, but rather the definition’s exclusiveness. Fundamentalism, as we take it to mean in the popular sense, should not be confined solely to religious zealots.

Religious fundamentalists strictly adhere to certain ideas based on an eschatological foundation. Their ideas about the public and private realms are political and social ideas based on a greater ideal and good they see as the salvation force of society and humanity.

Regardless of anyone’s personal convictions against religious fundamentalists, and regardless of “right” versus “wrong” and other moral epithets we can throw, their ideas are legitimate as they define a certain way of living; they form a certain worldview which is as legitimate, in and of itself, as any other worldview. “In and of itself” is important because it stresses not the fundamentalist beliefs, but that the ability to have such a worldview is objectively valid. That being said, if fundamentalism relates to strict and unwavering adherence to certain social and political ideas, based on a greater utilitarian good, then why should it be limited to religious zealots?

Secularism, broadly defined and understood, consists of certain ideas regarding the public and private life based on a particular idea of the role and the understanding of religion. It differs in both theory and practice.

American secularism, as established by the forefathers, serves to protect religion from the political realm, while French secularism aims to protect the French citizenry from the evils of religion. These two examples right away show us the vast differences in understanding what secularism is and/or what it should be.

We do, however, see the latter understanding of secularism, in which religion – with no differentiation made – becomes a negative force in society that needs to be controlled; religion creates a life contrary to the aims of the secular ideology. Religious fundamentalists see other forms of life, secularist or from other religions, as contrary to the aims of their ideology.

Political and academic rhetoric in France, Turkey, northern Europe and North America, in particular, shows the rise of secular fundamentalism in which religion – seen as a unified and stagnant force – is swiped away from the Enlightenment-rooted ideals of rationalism; it is made incompatible, a joke. The enemies of secularism fundamentalists are not religious fundamentalists, but rather anyone who adheres to religion. Religion is a brainwashing force that chains minds to lofty fairytales and fruity promises; it cannot be upheld by those with a hint of rationality. This line of thinking ironically makes religious and secular fundamentalists brethren. Religious fundamentalists see those who adhere to other religions, or to nothing at all, as lost, brainwashed by false prophets into believing in lofty fairytales and fruity promises. Salvation and destruction become parallel terms – both see their salvation in what the other sees to be destruction.

Secularism is not the problem in our society, nor is religion; both can co-exist peacefully, and both have proven to be positive forces in the governance and function of society – as well as negative thanks to their uses by individuals and groups. What we see increasingly today, however, is this “fundamentalism” penetrating all ideologies and belief-systems. Feminist fundamentalists, Buddhist fundamentalists, libertarian fundamentalists and atheist fundamentalists, who share an intellectual relationship with the secular fundamentalists, exist – they’re not griffins. Intellectual essentialism becomes practical fundamentalism, and this practical fundamentalism affects the portrayal of other worldviews, especially religion, which is again seen in a singular and stagnant lens.

Christianity, in particular, has had to bear the burden of social contempt given the negative role it has played in many Western societies that now bear the mark of secular fundamentalism. Thus, like religious fundamentalism, which is largely reactionary, as embodied in the works of individuals such as Syed Qutib, secular fundamentalism follows the same route – reacting to a long history of a negative relationship with a particular belief system by extending that reaction towards not just a religion but toward religion..

The solution? I’ll write about that after I learn to type secularism without first typing sexularism.

*Patrick is real, but this name isn’t.

Patrick, the Ideological Rationalist

Take it back! (Timbaland style!)

This is the first of a two part-piece looking at secularism. This first part acts as a loose introduction to a discussion on the negative approach secularism has taken toward fundamentalism, ideology, and essentialism. If we consider secularism to be the governing ideal of the future and the modern state, then we must reconsider the popular form it has taken within the past decade.

Meet Patrick*, a young 22-year-old living and attending school in Alberta. Patrick’s your stereotypical college guy. He’s intelligent, good-looking, well-liked, laid-back, politically active, well-read, and knowledgeable about current affairs. The ladies love him and the guys want to be him. That kind of guy. But behind his bright I-want-to-knock-his-teeth-out kind of smile, there lies a deafening darkness. See, Patrick’s a conservative. Not usually a big deal, but having known Patrick for almost six years, his evolution into his current manifestation of neo-conservatism has shown me the dangers of ideology. I had always believed that ideology, no matter where on that sham of a spectrum it fell, was inherently poisonous and conducive to loss of rationality, even if that ideology was rationalism.

Patrick wasn’t always a huge ideologue. He used to be cool. Like “Whoa! Even though you’re from, like, hick-chuck Alberta, you’re still so awesome!” sort of cool. We met through our love for political discourse and international affairs six years ago. I was sarcastically dabbling in Communism, a result of my high school teacher who was the former head of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and, unapologetically, really NDP. Patrick was dabbling in green politics, holding favour toward the Green Party while still grasping onto the prepubescent beginnings of conservatism. I thought Karl Marx had a sick beard; he thought John Locke was a saviour. Juxtaposed properly, we fit. We met through mutual friends, and formed a good platonic relationship, filled with enlightening conversation and music-file sharing. Our common thirst for knowledge despite dissimilar views, allowed us to have civil conversations and grow together intellectually.

But things began to change by the time I hit university. Patrick had already been in university for about a year by the time I made my historical entrance into McGill in 2005. His views had become more refined and his MSN citations were also more impressive. He had also begun to get heavily involved with local prominent conservatives in Alberta – something that concerned me as he had always said he felt the only party decent in the Canadian system was the Green Party. Slowly but surely, classes with leading conservative scholars in a conservative university and close relations with prominent Conservative politicians led to a hardening of Patrick’s prepubescent conservatism. He had hit political puberty.

While he became conservative, but not Conservative, in most aspects, his greatest concentration took the form of the superiority of the West. Seriously. During the next four years, I would see the radicalization of Patrick; from a moderate young guy with conservative tendencies to an ideological rationalist. Don’t get me wrong – I love rationalism, it’s great and whatever, but to be such a proponent of it so as to believe that it’s inherent to the so-called West and lacking in “other” cultures? That’s enough to get Edward Said to bust a cap in his own, now deceased, ass. But this extremely erroneous line of thinking did not stop Patrick from fighting against what he thought was the antithesis of Western rationalism. The major part of this antithesis was “Islam” – a religion he believes needs a Protestant revolution, but with a “Mohammadan” twist of course.

After a while, I just came to the conclusion that he had become reactionary to cultural globalization. After all, he had begun seeking what “Western culture” really entailed. To him, it was a given (albeit a fallacious one) that the Ancient Greeks were the forefathers of Western awesomeness. He felt, however, that there must be more to being Western other than the suffocatingly brilliant works of Hegel, Kant, Locke, Rousseau, and Dershowitz. Patrick found this awesomeness in the American South and secularism.

Patrick started asserting that the real heart of the West, everything it stood for, was found in the South, in the form of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll, he said, encapsulated the very essence of everything associated with the West, including freedom. Aside from the geographical misnomer, I didn’t have the heart to tell the only person I know who identifies so strongly with his hemisphere, that even rock ‘n’ roll, his emblem of the West, was rooted deeply in African music traditions brought over on the slave ships and into the cotton fields. And while he claimed he was an internally religious person, his rhetoric claimed religion to be the most destructive of forces, unless it was liberalized – in other words, regardless of origin and belief, religions needed to conform to his Western ideals of liberalism. The implications of such a line of thinking are tremendous and reflective of a growing trend within popular ideas of secularism, all of with which Patrick has been acquainted.

During the past year, especially more recently, Patrick has become unbearable. He has become rabid about the West, which excludes Russia, but includes Israel and Turkey. He quietly refuses all opposing perspectives, and when debate is ended with frustration by his opponents, he claims they are against dialogue and thus against the core of sweet, sweet Western values. Secularism, rationalism, and the so-called West have been rolled into one massive and ticking package of ideology. All three of these components are fine in and of themselves as ideas and practices, to a large extent. However, as soon as we turn these into a cohesive unwavering ideology, which we have seen happen in the past decade, we begin to see a sort of fundamentalism arise. In my next column, I will address the fundamentalism of secularism from which, I will argue, rationalism and the idea of the “West” cannot be separated.

*name has been changed

The Shifting Discourse on Gaza

Original source.

A cosmic motherly-sounding voice has always told me that even the darkest of clouds have silver linings. The past two weeks have forced me to now wonder if the same idea of a silver lining applies to clouds of white phosphorous.

In an arbitrary 15 years from now, the past two weeks (and, unfortunately, the remaining time to come) will be remembered with images of disturbing death and injury, reports of complete destruction of an already weakened Gazan infrastructure; thousands of IDPs; an unreachable humanitarian crisis and stories from survivors. Yet there is another memory which may leave an impact on the dynamics of the region and the North American perception on the entire 60-year-old conflict.

Without question, the North American media has often shown sympathy with one side more so than the other – an unfortunate, but natural occurrence. At the same time, however, a digression from such a grievance is vital. The aforementioned complaint does not take into consideration the surprising slight shift in the coverage of the war and humanitarian crisis. Oft-repressed opinions and oft-ignored facts are being given the opportunity to be expressed. Fierce criticisms of Israel and piercing predictions of the ramifications of the war are flooding major newspapers.

Unapologetic opinion pieces about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are being published every day. Aside from asserting truths about the conflict during an extremely pertinent and bloody time, a common cause cannot be found amongst the authors. The claims of the Israeli government in regards to the operation and the facts about the humanitarian crisis are two points of contention which have been repeatedly brought up. The commentary has also, unsurprisingly, treaded outside the proximity of the current conflict. It is extremely hard to discuss this war without considering 60 years of context. And it is this particular tangent which may leave a legacy in popular discourse and thought about the conflict at large in North America – a region in dire need of another perspective. Underdog ideas seeping into the mainstream allow for a slim, but potentially momentous opportunity for the balance to be tipped toward a more equal and fair footing.

The rise of commentaries has also thrown out a rather pathetic and almost saddening punch to Israel’s public relations monopoly. Active writers, in print or online, have rushed to assist in and showcase the “unravelling” of Israel’s claims of self-defence and cries of moral responsibility. Fingers are viciously being thrust toward the direction of the political timing of the war, the Israeli breach of ceasefire; the failures of Israel’s propaganda machine this time around, and the unfathomable denial of the existence of a humanitarian crisis. Even the International Red Cross, a thoroughly neutral organization, came out with a statement which condemned and criticized Israel for its complete lack of compliance (and fatal defiance) of the organization’s attempt to reach injured and starving Gazans.

There generally seems to be an air of exasperation, as though the war has become one of the final pieces in a long and painful Jenga puzzle, with the prophetic early quivering of the tower just beginning. These sighs of being fed-up most poignantly found within the brief titles of the daily commentaries.

American historian Mark LeVine’s seething article “Who Will Save Israel from itself?” featured in Al-Jazeera discusses the gun with which Israel has shot itself in the foot, albeit with an extremely unsatisfactory answer to the title question. Robert Fisk’s repeated commentary in The Independent has asked and answered age old questions from an insightful and firsthand perspective, in such pieces as “Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask,” and “Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony.” Gideon Levy’s “The Time of the Righteous” in Haaretz unwaveringly with silent solemn anger lashed out against all supporters of the Israeli so-called “defensive war,” claiming that “anyone who justifies this war also justifies all its crimes.”

The BBC’s Paul Reynolds brought to the public’s attention, early on, the question of Israel’s propaganda in “Propaganda war: trusting what we see?” Khalid Rashidi’s “What you don’t know about Gaza” in The New York Times wrote a quick and to-the-point piece with “a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation [in the press] about Israel’s attack…”

Former Israel Defense Force soldier and now Oxford professor Avi Shlaim’s furious article in The Guardian, “How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe” labels Israel as a rogue state. Just recently, the Times Online reported that Israeli soldiers coming back from the frontline were revealing the sort of “ruthless tactics against Hamas” being used. One soldier claims that he was shocked to see the neighbourhoods in Gaza as though “we [had been] bombing them for years.” Naomi Klein also got in on the action when she posted “Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction” on her online blog. And the list continues tirelessly.

This proposed shift is not solely about politics, just as the situation in Gaza is not. To approach the conflict as such is to approach it with a narrow and propaganda-cluttered ideological mind. The Palestinian issue is about a mounting humanitarian crisis which has existed for far longer than 18 days. Our governments (save for the Venezuelans) may not be taking the appropriate action required to address the atrocities being committed by Israel, but challenges to the mainstream discourse through the mainstream discourse allow for the general populace to gain the critical information necessary for change in the policies of our own states toward any country oppressing another people. On January 14, the president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, described the slaughter of the Palestinians as genocide. The tower begins to sway a bit more.

This is the silver lining in the clouds of white phosphorous over Gaza.