Islamophobia, a discussion

Brian

Depending on who you read or listen to, either Islamophobia simply isn’t real, or it’s not as pervasive as people think it is, or sometimes it’s a legitimate criticism, but it’s often used incorrectly to shut down someone legitimately criticising Islam, or else it’s just some word (without any legitimate meaning) that people use to shut down conversations. To which I say: bullshit. I have to grant, of course, that there is possibly some people out there do these things, but I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen any of them. Even in articles where these claims are made, no evidence is provided.

Most often, people who haven’t ‘picked sides’ in this particular debate are left wondering what this term means, exactly. So I’m going to sketch out what I think it means, and how I see it used (which are, oddly enough, the same thing). Note that ‘what the term means’ isn’t the same as ‘what the word is defined as’. [Read more...]

New Required Reading: The Day I Taught Not to Rape

Part of my revulsion over the phrase “common sense” is because I am aware (acutely, in many cases) of the number of monstrous things that inform the background ideas that we don’t necessarily question. It is, for example, “common sense” that religion makes people more ethical. After all, if you’re aware that you’re being watched by a supernatural being and you don’t want to be punished with hell, if course you’re going to behave better! It’s just common sense! Of course, we know that the truth is quite  a bit more complicated than that.

White supremacy was (and continues to be, albeit in more palatable language) a “common sense” position. Homophobia is a “common sense” position. The Iraq war was started because of “common sense” reasoning about being greeted as liberators and a ridiculous abstraction of the world into “axes of evil”. “Common sense” is essentially shorthand for “I don’t want to think this through”. The problem, of course, is that we don’t see the world through a common set of axioms, and we don’t share a common set of life experiences. “Common sense” is how the majority justifies the continuation of the status quo.

In the wake of the Steubenville rape conviction, a number of people have been forced to contend with their “common sense” notion of the definition of rape and the concept of consent. Those who have derided those who point out our rape culture are, all of a sudden, realizing that their “common sense” approach does not comport with law or basic ethics. The following is a story of just such a realization: [Read more...]

Movie Friday: Voices United for Mali

Music has been, and continues to be, an integral part of my life. I picked up my first musical instrument at age 6, and since then there hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t doing something musical in my free time. I went through private lessons, string ensembles, chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, rock bands, solo gigs, string quartets… it’s been a huge part of not only how I live my life, but how I see myself.

So, at this moment in time, I am really glad I don’t live in Mali:

Musicians in Mali are defying militants in the North who have declared Shariah law and banned all music but the Islamic call to prayer.

(snip)

Strict Islamist militants imposing a version of Shariah law first seized control of major towns across northern Mali last March. They have since solidified their grip on the North and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

(snip)

“It is strange for us to understand the extent to which it is impossible to listen or play music in the North. You can’t do it anymore. The only way you can play it is to drive miles out into the desert, where you are beyond the earshot of anyone.”

Before this recent outbreak of fundagelical religious tyrannical fascism, Mali sounds like a place I could be quite happy in. Music is woven into their cultural expression in much the same way it is woven into my life. And that makes the ban on music all the more shocking and deplorable.

Now I’m not going to comment on the rightness or wrongness of European/North American military intervention in Mali. Some analysts have pointed out that the crisis there was triggered as a result of NATO intervention in Libya – as mercenary groups fled post-Gaddhafi Libya, they moved west and eventually took over. I am not sure what is to be done there, since foreign involvement may have triggered the damn thing in the first place. What I do know is that the people who made this video are impressive as hell:

I can’t imagine what I would do if music was outlawed by threat of death. One thing I do know is that by standing up and resisting, the people of Mali are setting a powerful example for oppressed groups everywhere: resistance in the face of unjust persecution is human dignity at its height.

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A Primer On Canada’s Indian Act

A post by Jamie

There seems to be a lot of misinformation and possibly wilful ignorance perpetually circulating around about Canada’s—quite frankly genocidal—140-year-old Indian Act. Internet trolls and eugenicists alike declare that it has so many “benefits” for First Nations. Special emphasis is placed on the two separate events in Canada’s history that a proposal for putting The Indian Act through the shredder was shouted down by a majority of indigenous peoples. This, in turn, is declared as evidence of how beneficial the Act is to the people over whom it legislates. I disagreed that the Act had any benefit to indigenous peoples at all, before actually committing to sitting down and reading the entire length of its current revision on Monday. I even disagreed that it had any utility before finding a handy list of all the revisions that have been made since it was written, because I’ve heard plenty from indigenous peoples, of what a piece of work this thing really is. And I still think it’s the work of a eugenicist scumbag now, after reading its entire length in the current revision (no wonder all the eugenicists agree with each other!), and this post is going to be about every reason why I came to that conclusion years ago.

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Idle No More: Deep Green Resistance Has Red Roots

A post by Jamie

I’ve been following and learning from a number of radical grassroots indigenous activists for quite a while now. I don’t remember when I encountered the first, who has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to me since our first contact on Facebook. But before long, I was getting to know a bunch of people who are proud of their indigineity, the lands their ancestors taught them to protect as though it were their next of kin, and all the life depending on that land — including people like me, by which I mean not related by blood to the First Peoples, and always learning new things about indigenous cultures. So when news of the pipelines and FIPPA deals the Harper government wanted to bury under the streams, rivers, lakes, and homes of many of the blood kin of my indigenous friends first broke, I found out about it through them. Not from the news. Then a whole lot of Occupy Vancouver activists (most of whom are white and apparently haven’t the foggiest clue beyond a very superficial understanding, of exactly what they are actually saying when they declare “unceded Coast Salish territory” at the beginning of their speeches) started their predictable and ambitious surge of hippy speak, wheat-pasting, vegan food, flyers, and public musical jam sessions, to try and raise awareness of the pipelines. Finally, it started to appear in the news, in between reports of Trayvon Martin being murdered while George Zimmerman was allowed to keep all his Nazi regalia company in the privacy of his own home for weeks, Shaima Alawadi’s murder being pegged at first as a hate crime until it was determined she was killed by her husband, and Bei Bei Shuai being sentenced to prison after her late-term pregnancy was interrupted by a suicide attempt (the baby was delivered and died a week later). But the Occupy activists just kept on truckin’ through all this extraordinarily depressing news that mysteriously never seems to be about white people getting put in prison, or even worse, in a coffin.

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Those poor Wall Street CEOs

One of the fascinating aspects of privilege is the way in which it totally skews your perception of what ‘average’ is. I would think, for example, that things like street harassment or sexual assault or other forms of misogynistic abuse are fantastically rare. After all, I’m a guy who spends a lot of time with and around women, and I almost never see street harassment or hear stories of people getting assaulted. It wasn’t until I actually asked the women in my life about their experiences that I saw just how widespread and pervasive these behaviours are – they just don’t happen when guys like me are around to see them. My male privilege makes the ‘norm’ of a safe and fair society seem plausible, when the lived experience of my friends and family is anything but.

So when one is confronted about their privilege, or when their privilege is even simply discussed openly, an interesting thing happens. From the perspective of the privileged, the critics are attacking what is right and normal! Why on Earth would someone criticize a just world? There’s certainly no rational reason to do that. Nobody without a particular axe to grind, or maybe even an outright hatred of a particular group would level such accusations against the norm, right? And when those criticisms continue unabated, there’s only one possible way to see it: as demonization: [Read more...]

Why I will be #IdleNoMore

I was born in 1984 in a hospital in a city called Vancouver. I was told that Vancouver was a part of a country called Canada. I was issued a birth certificate that entitled me (and my mother) to free health care, education, clean water, national defense, voting rights, and a whole host of other privileges that are difficult to innumerate by virtue of both their great number and the fact that most of them are largely invisible to me (as nobody has ever tried to deprive me of them). As you have undoubtedly gleaned from my previous writings, my Canadian identity is something that is both profoundly important and a source of immense pride to me. I love my country of citizenship and birth, and I want to see it prosper and grow.

My mother was born under similar geographic circumstances to parents who were of Irish descent and of German descent. My father was born in a British colony called Guyana, and was told that he was Guyanese. Guyana was purchased from the Dutch, who didn’t own the land to begin with but who had simply settled there are created a colony by force. The thing that allowed the Dutch (and later the English) to hold a claim to the land they called Guyana was the same thing that brought my father’s ancestors to that land: slavery. We don’t know where my father’s people are from originally, and we may never know.

Canada is the only home I have ever known. It is the only place that I could possibly call ‘home’ – I find it deeply unlikely that I would be accepted as Irish or German (as divorced as I am from its history, culture, and ethnic majority), and am no more Guyanese than I am English or Dutch. It was only recently that I learned that, by virtue of the fact that Vancouver is built on territory that was not granted to the English by the people who originally settled her, that while I may be culturally Canadian, legally speaking I am… something else entirely. [Read more...]

You will be assimilated

One of the recurring memes that crop up in many discussions of ‘what is to be done’ with Canadian First Nations is the idea that multiculturalism in its current state is unsustainable, and assimilation is the only answer. My response to that is inevitably “you might be right. When do you plan to start assimilating?” You see, the argument is never that non-Aboriginal Canadians should begin to adopt the cultural, religious, and social traditions of Canada’s original people. The argument is always that those who have been colonized should, for their own good, simply acquiesce to the destruction of their way of life because, y’know… we’re bigger than them?

Of course I find this position both absurd and offensive. The problems we see endemic in many First Nations communities – lack of opportunity, abject poverty, substance abuse, take your pick – are not the result of a failed policy of multiculturalism. Nor is it the fault of those people who fail to adopt a “Western”* way of thinking and living. No, the reason we see these problems is because those people with power have failed, time after frustratingly-frequent time, to uphold their end of the bargain when it comes to providing adequate resources and support to these communities. When First Nations Canadians are perpetually considered the ‘other’, ignoring them and their needs become a matter of course.

Which is why I am particularly intrigued by this story: [Read more...]

Today’s word-boner: Ta-Nehisi Coates

One of the great tragedies of my life is that while I love language, I can barely find enough time to write as much as I want, let alone read. There are writers out there like Teju Cole, Amanda Marcotte, Jamelle Bouie, Sikivu Hutchinson, Touré, Greta Christina, Tim Wise, and countless others whose ability to work the language makes me feel like a rank amateur, scribbling with my own feces on the wall of a cave*. From time to time though, I manage to get myself organized enough (or, more often, I decide to let another aspect of my life slide enough) to read the latest offering from my favourite writers, but more often I watch yet another masterwork sail past me, like I was a goldfish intently watching Shark Week.

Happily, today was one of those days when I managed to scrape together a few minutes, and I was rewarded handsomely:

But it would be wrong to attribute the burgeoning support for Zimmerman to the blunders of Spike Lee or an NBC producer. Before President Obama spoke, the death of Trayvon Martin was generally regarded as a national tragedy. After Obama spoke, Martin became material for an Internet vendor flogging paper gun-range targets that mimicked his hoodie and his bag of Skittles. (The vendor sold out within a week.) Before the president spoke, George Zimmerman was arguably the most reviled man in America. After the president spoke, Zimmerman became the patron saint of those who believe that an apt history of racism begins with Tawana Brawley and ends with the Duke lacrosse team.

The irony of Barack Obama is this: he has become the most successful black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being “clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled him)—and yet his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches. This irony is rooted in the greater ironies of the country he leads. For most of American history, our political system was premised on two conflicting facts—one, an oft-stated love of democracy; the other, an undemocratic white supremacy inscribed at every level of government. In warring against that paradox, African Americans have historically been restricted to the realm of protest and agitation. But when President Barack Obama pledged to “get to the bottom of exactly what happened,” he was not protesting or agitating. He was not appealing to federal power—he was employing it. The power was black—and, in certain quarters, was received as such. [Read more...]

Oak Creek – some thoughts

This past Sunday, a man walked into a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire with a 9 mm pistol, killing six people and wounding four others. After a firefight with police, he turned his weapon on himself and committed suicide. I learned of this story days after it happened, as I was far away from any news sources. As a result, there is really very little for me to contribute that hasn’t already been highlighted by countless others. I will briefly summarize my thoughts as best I can.

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