Islam is dangerous

The extent to which I object to any religious belief is more or less commensurate with the level to which it informs one’s daily life. If you privately believe that the universe is 20 minutes away from being devoured in a ball of flame, but you still do a good job filing my tax returns, it’s really not my place to get all hot and bothered by your delusion. This isn’t to say that, if given the opportunity, I won’t say something about how ridiculous your beliefs are. After all, the truth is important. However, it simply doesn’t interest me to put my shoulders into exposing the irrationality of your particular faith. After all, provided you make no (or comparatively few) life decisions based on it, it’s a bit arch of me to go after it.

Islam, at least insofar as I understand it (and have seen it practiced) is one of those faiths wherein daily observance and connection to day-to-day life is much more persistent. Christianity, by comparison, has fewer daily rituals and practices that mark someone as “a Christian”. There is no dress code, there are no dietary restrictions, few necessary public observances. It is far easier to be a “stealth Christian” than it is to be a “stealth Muslim”. Couple that with daily prayers and the phrase “inshallah” (which one of the guys I work with uses – to be sure, one branch of my family doesn’t talk about the future without saying “God willing”, so that kind of obeisance is not exclusively Muslim), and you get a religion that is very much a ‘live in’ one.

Perhaps the most visible signifier of Muslim belief is the head covering that many Muslim women wear (either by choice or by coercion). I’ve known sisters, both who would describe themselves as ‘observant’ – one wore the head scarf, the other did not. It was very much a choice for them, and I have no quarrel with that. The only thing that weirds me out about the whole practice is the fact that it is an open, visible sign to everyone around you that you subscribe to the belief that women ought to cover their hair for ‘modesty’ purposes. I would be, I imagine, similarly put off by a Catholic woman who wore a wimple or a Hindu woman displaying a bindi (although the bindi is often cosmetic rather than religious).

But one cannot escape the fact that, at least here in North America, there is a lot of danger associated with women who wear hijabs. Danger to the women themselves, at least: [Read more…]

Warm fuzzy religious tolerance

The great religious traditions of the world do not agree on much. They certainly don’t agree on the name, number, type, or behaviour of their various gods. They don’t agree on what happens after you die, what you’re supposed to do while you’re alive, and when life even starts. They disagree about how, what, and when you should eat, pray, and fuck. Even groups that are titularly similar – i.e., different sects of the same religion – have disagreements over how to properly interpret the same passages in their holy books. Basically, there’s a notable absence of convergence when it comes to religion as a method of learning about the supernatural.

One thing they can agree on, however, is the fact that the rising tide of secularism is the greatest threat to mankind. We are repeatedly exhorted to stand up for religious traditions in the face of the threat of atheist extremists pushing religious life to the margins of society. Of course it’s a secret agenda – they wouldn’t dare come for our bibles with guns drawn – the backlash would be unbelievable. No instead they do it by the trickiest mechanism possible – forcing everyone to play by the same rules: [Read more…]

Please sign this petition

Natalie Reed’s audience is much larger than mine, and I can’t imagine that there are too many of you reading this who aren’t reading her as well (and if you’re not, you should be). However, this issue is important so I’m going to signal boost as much as I can:

Next month, in April, an extremely pivotal bill is going to be up for debate in the Canadian parliament. It’s Bill C-279, which will add gender identity and gender expression to the list of statuses protected under the Canadian Human Rights Code, and amend the pertinent sections of the Criminal Code in regards to anti-transgender violence, assault, and harassment.

Currently, transgender Canadians have no such protections, and may be discriminated against on the basis of their gender by employers, businesses, shelters, institutions (public or private) and individuals without any legal consequence. Effectively, I can be turned down for a job, barred from entering a restaurant, denied admittance to a shelter or hostel, or forced to comply with male dress-codes at public institutions without my having any recourse. If I am harassed, assaulted or murdered on the basis of my being trans, this does nto qualify as a hate crime. I am in the position of having to depend simply on the mercies of a legally empowered majority to choose not to exercise their right to openly discriminate against me.

This is not okay.

Read the rest of the post, then (if you’re Canadian), call your MP and demand an answer. My MP (who I can’t imagine opposes this bill) is being uncharacteristically circumspect, so I’m going to keep pressing her. Right now the biggest opponent of the bill is the fact that nobody’s talking about it. Let’s see if we can’t get some chatter going.

Sign the petition

The passing of history

It is a fairly common and mainstream opinion to deride formal apologies from governmental institutions for historical wrongs. Often it is couched in the language of privilege: “why should the government apologize for something that happened a hundred years ago?” , as though there is a statue of limitations on right and wrong. Other times it comes from a place of arch-liberal cynicism: “words are cheap and easy. An apology is meaningless – just a political stunt to deflect attention”.

There is some superficial legitimacy to both of these responses. After all, if the current government has not committed an action, what exactly does an apology mean? That they feel just super awful about the whole thing? That they think they are somehow responsible for actions that took place before they were elected into office? That we should all, by extension, feel guilty for something over which we had no control?

In my eyes, an apology, properly done, affords us the opportunity to do two things. The first is to, in an entirely inadequate way, attempt to recognize and ease the pain of those who have suffered injustice at the hands of a government whose duties ostensibly include protecting people from victimization (rather than participating in it). The second and more important function of these apologies is to acknowledge our history, both good and bad. Especially when our history is so ugly: [Read more…]

Two wrongs make an amputee

Many people, even well-meaning, thoughtful, and intelligent liberal people, have a major issue with affirmative action policies. In fact, folks from all over the ideological map struggle to understand any program or policy that allows for race to be taken into account. Whether they be housing, hiring, promoting, legal, whatever. People see what looks like textbook racism – looking at a person’s skin colour instead of hir credentials – and goggle at the seeming hypocrisy of it. Why is it okay to look at race to give certain people an advantage, but not the other way around? Two wrongs don’t make a right!

I get it. I really do. I can even sympathize a bit. I lay the blame for this confusion not at the feet of the individuals who lack understanding, but rather at a society that is terrified to discuss race for fear it will reopen old wounds. After a major victory in the 1960s, we began to get gun-shy about the topic of race. Beyond some superficial bromides about “colour blindness” and pulled quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., we have become entrenched in the position that less is more when it comes to discussing these kinds of social issues.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the notorious “judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” line from King’s I Have a Dream speech thrown out in an attempt to deride affirmative action programs, as though Dr. King wasn’t an avid supporter of AA (he was), or that skin colour was the only thing he ever talked about. Part of the reason King’s Dream was called that is because it was not yet a reality. If I dream of being rich, acting like I’m already rich is going to screw me over pretty hard. Instead, I have to buckle down, put in the work, commit myself, and whore myself out to enough rich widows to make that dream a reality. [Read more…]

All that is old is new again

I don’t really like suspense movies. I think they’re wildly inaccurately named, because they’re about as suspenseful as an egg timer. The plots tend to be mundanely formulaic, and the “startling” moments can often be predicted within a 5-second window – not exactly shocking stuff. One of the most common tropes within the horror genre is the moment where the monster/killer/villain falls under a hail of bullets/magic spells/thrown puppies and appears to be finally defeated. Tentatively, the hero inches toward the prone corpse and nudges it to ensure that it’s really dead. Relieved, ze walks away. The camera cuts to the face of the villain, whose eyes suddenly and “dramatically” open, revealing that the evil has only been temporarily slowed, not ultimately defeated.

As trite and cliche as these moments are, we do see parallels in our political life:

A Ugandan MP has revived a controversial anti-gay bill but says the provision for the death penalty for some homosexual acts will be dropped. A BBC correspondent says MPs laughed, clapped and cried out: “Our bill, our bill,” when its architect David Bahati reintroduced the draft legislation on Tuesday. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was shelved in 2011 after an international outcry. It still increases the punishment to life in prison for homosexual offences.

Yes, the infamous “kill the gays” bill has once again reared its disgusting and bigoted head in Uganda. Fueled by endemic homophobic attitudes, anti-gay rhetoric from the United States, and a (somewhat justified) paranoia about colonial control of an African democracy, lawmakers in Uganda are trying to revive a bill that received widespread denunciation from the international community. Interestingly, though, the bill does not have the support of the government: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said

Because it’s Black History Month (and because I can’t get enough Jay Smooth), here’s a few choice quotations from one of the greatest Americans to ever draw breath.

He could be speaking to our time right now. In fact, he is – these themes are eternal and will not die as long as we fail to learn from them. While it is convenient and gives us fuzzy feelings to think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a patient saint who had a colourblind dream, such fantasy robs us of a much richer portrait of a tireless warrior for equality who refused to capitulate to the status quo.

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Participation deserves more than a ribbon

When I first heard of the Occupy movement, I was overjoyed. “Finally,” I thought “some people who have been paying attention and have decided this shit is enough.” As someone who follows politics, it’s often disheartening to speak to my peers and realize that they are, far too often at least, completely clued out about what happening in our system. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I at least scan headlines to keep track of the major stories. Not so my friends.

It was encouraging, therefore, to see a group of people energized and passionate about not simply one issue, but the entire political process. They were gearing up to try and tackle the system as a whole, not simply agitate for the flavour of the month – be that pay increases or blocking a given legislation. As long as I’ve been following politics, it has begun to become abundantly clear to me that the problem with our political system is not the corruption of those who participate – it is the apathy of those who do not.

Democracy can only work to serve the people if those people are actively represented. In some cases, that representation comes from a heroically-benevolent elected official who understands and sympathizes with the issues facing hir constituents, even in those times when ze does not necessarily agree. Those kinds of examples are what people have come to expect, but because of the natural corrupting influence of power, they are rare. What is a much better system is to have full and rigorous scrutiny of the elected by the electorate. In order for that to happen, however, the electorate needs to be actively paying attention.

I am, thankfully, not the only person who thinks this: [Read more…]

Nation will rise against Nations

It is difficult to be Canadian sometimes. We pride ourselves (well, most of us at least) on being tolerant, forward-thinking people. Part of our national neurotic need to be seen as distinct from our American cousins pushes us to be more collective, more restrained, more self-effacing; a contrast to the stereotype of our indvidualistic, brash and assertive southern neighbours.

The reason this stance is difficult is because of the cognitive dissonance present in seeing ourselves as progressive and inclusive, and yet becoming increasingly aware of the abhorrent way we have treated our most-maligned minority group: First Nations and other aboriginal people. Whereas slavery is America’s admitted national shame, Canada has not yet donned the sackcloth and ash required to atone for our past (and current) sins. We saw a dramatic manifestation of those sins this morning.

It is not enough to simply allocate increased funding to First Nations communities, or to issue public apologies for past mistakes (although both of those are helpful in their own way). We need to instead change the narrative we have about the relationship between the nation of Canada and its First Nations across the country. High-profile discussions like this may yield some hope: [Read more…]

History debunks myths about Occupy

One of the things that has struck me most about the opposition to the Occupy movement is the ease with which people approach repeating the trite truisms about the occupiers. No matter how many professionals stand up in support of the protest, everyone reaches for the “unemployed bums” canard. Regardless of the number of specific problems highlighted by protests at each site, nobody seems to have any problem expressing their bewilderment at the lack of a cohesive message. Despite the amount of energy and time put into making the occupied sites more than just an urban camping trip, people throw around the term “lazy” like rice at a wedding.

The other aspect that particularly fascinates me is the tin ear for the lessons of history that these criticisms showcase. Every revolutionary protest movement looks like this, even the ones that we would otherwise support. It doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge of history to see the parallels between the occupation of public space and the non-violent resistance of Indians to British rule. Nor does one have to have a degree in the humanities to see the attempted demonization of Occupy’s “hippies” echoing the same condemnations from a generation ago in the person of the actual hippies of the Vietnam resistance movement.

But even if one isn’t well-attuned to those particular stories, it’s hard for me to look at the Occupiers and not see links to the civil rights movement of African-Americans in the mid-20th century. Now this is not to say that the problems of centuries of racism and the fight for human decency is on equivalent footing to corruption in financial and political institutions (which have become two sides of the same ill-gained coin); however, it is worth noting that many of the common bromides hurled at the Occupy movement are shown to be quite hollow by even a cursory examination of history. [Read more…]