Monday, May 31, 2010

will Canadian government representatives condemn the Israeli attack on the flotilla?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a letter to my MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament), Michael Gravelle (Liberal) to voice my concern about Ontario Premier McGuinty's trip to Israel May 23-27. I asked my MPP to condemn this trip. What I got back was a letter saying that (my paraphrasing) No, he won't condemn this because he supports the increasing economic connections between the Thunder Bay region and Israel for two reasons: it is in line with Ontario's plan to increase trade relations with Israel, and because there are local groups who are looking with interest at this trip. Basically, Gravelle's response to me was if it's good for business for us here in northwestern Ontario, we support it. Here is an excerpt from his letter:

"As MPP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, I welcome opportunities for our rapidly-growing 'life sciences' sector here in Northwestern Ontario, and will note that local representatives in the bio-science community are paying close attention to the trade mission. While I sincerely hope that equitable and friendly relations will eventually be achieved between Israel and Palestine, as MPP I cannot support your approach, as it would reduce or eliminate these significant opportunities for our local business and research and development community."

Of course, I was dismayed with this response. In fact, I couldn't believe it. Opportunities above human rights? Is this what I'm reading? To hell with all those deaths and injuries during Operation Cast Lead as there are dollars to be made in northern Ontario? Is that what I can read from this? That it's too bad but business takes the upper hand? I wondered to myself, did we also support the Apartheid government of South Africa because there were business opportunities to be gained? or did we have second thoughts about the ethics of doing business with death machines, where clearly some people were paying disproportionately for just wearing their skin? I was so sobered by MPP Gravelle's response, I couldn't respond.

Then, on top of that, Netanyahu has come to Canada. Too much bad news to digest. Turn off the tv. More bad news. What else but that Netanyahu backs the attack on Gaza aid? Indeed, in his version the soldier commandos ARE THE VICTIMS. IN that same article, Harper regrets the loss of life but is happy he had some time with Netanyahu. Seriously.

The attack that I am referring to is the killing by Israeli commandos of unarmed civilians and activists from the relief flotilla; Salon reports 19 dead 60 injured. There is a call for all concerned people to contact their government representatives to demand they take action:

"The coalition is calling on governments everywhere to immediately recall their ambassadors to Israel; demand that the Israeli ambassadors in their countries reveal the names, nationalities, whereabouts and condition of all flotilla participants, including those detained, injured and killed; and halt all arms sales or other military aid to Israel. The coalition is also calling for civil society everywhere to push for these actions through demonstrations, calls and emails targeting the Israeli embassy in their countries or, if one is not present, the U.S. consulate (which provides the majority of Israel's military support) or their own foreign ministry."

I will send another letter to my MPP. Will the provincial government also support this killing of people bringing much need humanitarian supplies to the Palestinians of Gaza? The Salon article reports that this Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla occurred in international waters, but that Israel is claiming it "owns" these waters (read the Update at the end). Further, it is reported that some of the people on board the ships were sleeping when they were shot.

What will be the Canadian government's statement on this horrific attack? What will my MPP say about this?

A Canadian man, Kevin Neish, is missing; he was asked by the Canadian embassy not to go on the mission; however, "He told them instead, they should be asking Israel not to attack the aid convoy."

Night Wings

Eleanor Albanese has written a new play, and along with some other actors, will be giving a play reading tonight at Waverley Library. In this play, she has created an old Finnish man, Mr. Lintunen (Mr. Little Bird). The young talkative city-dwelling girl in this play meets Mr. Lintunen, who is an idiosyncratic loner who loves birds. Eleanor and I had some interesting conversations about the fictional old Finnish man while she was researching this play. If you are in town, the reading starts at 7:30 pm.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Today, I was telling my sister about how the internet is so full of useless stuff to waste our time with. Yet, people busy themselves reading stuff that has no merit, that does nothing but enter their eyes and heads for a moment then off they go to the next useless site. They collect information, facts, and opinions, but gather no knowledge or wisdom.

Now, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer because one of my jobs is teaching online. Because I teach courses on contemporary culture, students post links to websites to help explain or give examples of media culture and social media.

So, recently, I entered FMyLife. At this site people send in horrible things that have happened to them that other people will find funny. (It's a requirement of your post getting accepted--it has to be humorous. The other requirements are that you have to start with the word "Today" and end with "FML"). Doesn't this sound so .... entertaining? Reading snippet statements of the bad, hurtful and stupid things that happen to people?

Now, since I have been teaching Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion and also researching vampire culture for my upcoming class on literatures of the supernatural, this FMyLife post did make me laugh (it's one of the Top FMLs):

"Today, my girlfriend dumped me proclaiming she wanted someone more like her "Edward". I asked her who Edward was. She held up a copy her "Twilight" book. She was talking about a fictional vampire. FML" [my hyperlinks; his typo]

It seems fantasy is where many people prefer to live. Illusion is preferable to reality. It seems this guy's girlfriend is not the only one who always had a thing for vampires. There's even a meadow you can go to to find him. And who really knows how many Facebook, MySpace, bebo, Youtube or other fansites there are with members fantasizing over a fictional vampire? Many, many middle-aged women go gaga over Edward, credit Twilight for "making them feel like teenagers again" and "improving their sex life", and others like:

"Maruchy Lachance wants you to know that, at 46, she’s 'a fairly well-behaved individual' who has a great job and a loving husband and son.

She just also happens to have a thing for a fictional teenaged vampire."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I looked in a magnifying mirror, and what did I see?

magnifying mirror image from The nonblonde

The other day, my middle son brought home a magnifying mirror.

"Mom, you're going to like this mirror," he said.

I took the mirror, a pair of tweezers and went by the dining room window where the light is good to pluck a few stray hairs from my lipline and to pull that one obstinate dark hair that no matter how many times I pull it out it continues to defy me and juts straight out of the mole below my nose, growing back with a vengeance each time.

Bringing the mirror to my face, I screamed "Oh, my God! Scary! What sort of mirror is this?" I was horrified. Seen through this magnifying mirror my skin look like that of the old ladies that I pass by during my morning walk. Weather beaten, riven and wrinkly stared back at me. Every fuzzy hair suddenly loomed like a forest of wire. I didn't know what was more abundant, criss-crossing crevices in my skin or stray hairs. And not only that, I saw all sorts of small spots of sun damage scattered on my cheeks, brown spots that I did not notice before this "magic mirror" that I was going to like so much.

After a few more "oh my Gods", I plucked out a seeming endless bunch of hairs on my lipline, under my chin, and from my eyebrows. I handed the mirror back to my son.

"This is a HORRIBLE mirror! Who the hell wants to look in that?? It's positively scary!"

And true to my word, I have not looked in that magnifying mirror again.

Coppertone ad 1970

The sun damage on my face is a direct result of the relentless tanning I did up until about 10 years ago. I found the ad above online, but it was common in the Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines I read as a teenager. Read the headline and shake your head.

Beautiful tan today. Young looking skin tomorrow.

How did companies get away with stating the exact opposite of what is known to be true? Of encouraging dangerous and risky behaviour? Well, why is that? The answer: the profit motive aka capitalism. And they had no lack of gullible, eager consumers -- like me. Independent minded young women who did not let anyone tell them what to do. Except why were we so enchanted by the lies of ads? Back in the 70s and 80s, who didn't want a dark tan? -- that is, among me and the white-skinned.

It is amazing the things we used to believe when we were younger, and even if we were told different--as in it's dangerous to tan your skin, we just rationalized it away. Somehow we thought we were invincible. We did not, could not, see ourselves getting older. That--liver spots and wrinkles-- happened to other people.

I loved the sun (still do, but now I'm much more judicious in how I spent time in it). In my teenage years of the 1970s, as soon as summer started or spring warmed up, I used to tan myself black. With my sisters and my friends, I used to lie on the sundeck of our family home in my smallest bikini, slather oil on every exposed surface of my skin, and lie on the cement, just baking. And brown I did get. Oh, yes. And I never burned (except my face and shoulders on Varadero Beach in Cuba in the 80s), so I ignored the warnings about sun damage. That was for folks who burned! And I got lots of compliments for my chocolate brown skin. Lots of jealousy and envy because my skin tanned so easy, so fast and so dark.

Well, now the magic mirror is laughing at me; tells me that was an illusion. Reality stares me in the face. In my face. I've caught up to the 70s and the 80s, caught up to my denial.

Glamour magazine cover 1976

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

stuff I saw

The stuff that we buy, the stuff that fills our cupboards, closets, and houses just doesn't end. I saw this train transporting stuff from the west coast of Canada passing through my town.

Of course, the stuff doesn't originate in the west coast of Canada. The stuff comes from China and gets shipped in huge container ships to the ports in British Columbia. It's part of containerization, that is standardizing the movement of stuff around the world. Part of this stuff then gets loaded onto trains (the other part gets transported by tractor trailers) which cross Canada to reach southern Ontario.

Our stuff is just never ending. It really makes you wonder, do the people who are concerned about the environment and working conditions in China actually exist here in Canada? Who is buying all this stuff? Why with all the information at our fingertips here on the World Wide Web about how problematic all this stuff is do we not do anything about this stuff? Why does stuff continue to happen?

Monday, May 10, 2010

the world is also what we eat"

Carolyn Steel: How food shapes our cities

In this very interesting video, Carolyn Steel discusses how cities are shaped by food, how the growth of cities and new technologies (such as trains and cars) led to the separation of its inhabitants from the cycle of nature. In this short 15 min. talk she gives us an historical overview of the relationships among cities, people, and food, including animals. It is no wonder that the average urbanite has no sense of the natural world today; Carolyn's explanation provides us one understanding of how that happened. On the TED site, you can read the transcript of her talk; below is an excerpt:

" you can see from these maps of London, in the 90 years after the trains came, it goes from being a little blob that was quite easy to feed, by animals coming in on foot, and so on, to a large splurge, that would be very very difficult to feed with anybody on foot, either animals or people. And of course that was just the beginning. After the trains came cars. And really this marks the end of this process. It's the final emancipation of the city from any apparent relationship with nature at all.

And this is the kind of city that's devoid of smell, devoid of mess, certainly devoid of people. Because nobody would have dreamed of walking in such a landscape. In fact, what they did to get food was they got in their cars, drove to a box somewhere on the outskirts, came back with a week's worth of shopping, and wondered what on earth to do with it. And this really is the moment when our relationship, both with food and cities, changes completely.

Here we have food -- that used to be the center, the social core of the city -- at the periphery. It used to be a social event, buying and selling food. Now it's anonymous. We used to cook; now we just add water, or a little bit of an egg if you're making a cake or something. We don't smell food to see if it's okay to eat. We just read the back of a label on a packet. And we don't value food. We don't trust it. So instead of trusting it we fear it. And instead of valuing it we throw it away.

One of the great ironies of modern food systems is that they've made the very thing they promised to make easier much harder.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

if it were holy, would we treat it like sh#$%?

Why do folks hang on to romantic mythic stories about ancient peoples and places yet ignore the contemporary realities of those places and the people who live there now, the descendants? Why do we continue to imagine things as they were in the past, rather than confront what we've made of these places and their peoples today? Live in these romantic headspaces that do not exist except in our own imaginings, serving our own needs?

People read about the Jordan River in the Bible, putting its sacredness into their archive of religiosity, yet are completely and utterly blind to what the Jordan River is in its material form rather than their mythic imaginings.

Although we imagine the Jordan River as the image above, in fact, it is "one of the world's 100 most endangered ecological sites." This once holy river is little more than a meek depleted cesspool that is deteriorating at an alarming rate. The flow of the River Jordan has been reduced by 95% over the last 50 years. Half of the flow of the river is raw sewage and agricultural runoff.

Today I read that "Some three million cubic meters of untreated sewage per year pours into the river from Beit Shea'an Municipality in Israel, despite the fact that Israel is considered a leading country in the region in terms of sewage treatment, Bromberg said." [Gideon Bromberg, the Israeli director of FOEME, the Jordan River Project of Friends of the Earth Middle East]

How's that for holy? As in holy shit, I think. Baptism by fecal coliform doesn't sound too sacred to me. The same Ma'an article reports that:

"Israel diverts the highest amount from the river, 46.47 percent, Syria draws 25.24 percent, Jordan 23.24 percent, and the PA only 5.05 percent. The report said the PA must receive its fair share."

I guess we can't blame the Palestinians for this (un)holy mess.

"What was once the narrowest stretch of the river has now become its widest. In some spots, the Jordan is only a trickle. Otters and other creatures that used to live on its banks are long gone" and "You can almost jump across this river. In other places, you don't need to even jump — you can just cross it. It's ankle deep," said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, the organization that commissioned the report. "You struggle to see the water."

Not only are we lost in bygone tales in books of myth, preventing us from knowing what is actually happening, but also "The condition of the Jordan is invisible to the world at large because much of the area is a closed military zone. Fences and mines keep the public away from the area near the river." This author forgot to mention whose closed military zone it is. Whose fences and mines keep people out?

Hand-colored postcard of the River Jordan, circa 1925, by Karimeh Abbud, an early female Palestinian photographer.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

steel blue

Lake Superior one morning. The awesome energy that the water and the sky and the inhabitants with wings who call its shores home create together is hard to describe, except to say it is at once peaceful and revitalizing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Canadian women and democracy

As you can imagine, Canadian women refuse to back down from the public tongue lashing and are spelling out the Conservative government's anti-democratic policies. The defunding of women's groups and the government's refusal to fund abortion in aid work is, as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May explains, “like moving back to the (Richard) Nixon era in a whole bunch of areas … it’s chilling to see Canada going backwards.”

That old black and white photo I posted last post was not far off the mark. Are we going to have to go back to the days when being a woman meant your choices were decided by men? All those Canadians busying themselves with outrage against a Muslim woman from Quebec who wears a niqab in public places should be busying themselves wondering what this current government is doing to WOMEN, to the status of women in Canada. Why is their outrage (mis)directed at one single woman when it should be directed at the government?

I'm sure the government is pleased that people are not paying attention to what they are up to.

Finnish servant girl Irja Honkas. 1932. Toronto (Ont.) Archives of Ontario.

Women have worked too hard to lose their hard-won gains.

As this morning's report explains: "Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been accused of systematically undermining women in this country by stripping their advocacy groups of tens of millions of dollars and targeting those critical of his government’s anti-abortion stance on the world stage.

In the past two weeks, the federal government has ended funding to 14 women’s groups, including a non-governmental agency that was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for more than 30 years." [this refers to MATCH, the women's group I told you about last post].


"The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights says the government war on women’s groups 'is actually an attack on democracy in Canada.'

'By defunding those women’s groups you are effectively silencing discussion . . . on women and women’s advocacy,' said Claire Tremblay, coordinator of the coalition, which represents about 30 organizations.

Since 2006, Harper has cut funding for women’s advocacy by 43 per cent, shut 12 out of 16 Status of Women offices in Canada and eliminated funding of legal voices for women and minority groups, including the National Association of Women and the Law and the Courts Challenges Program,critics say."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Canadian women told to "shut the fuck up"

getty images

The evangelical fervor of our federal government to clamp down on progressive work that threatens their neo-conservative ideas on gender and race has hit another low. Last week, the government announced that it won't be supporting any foreign aid work that supports abortion. Representatives from women's groups were alarmed and gathered at Parliament Hill to speak out on Canada's draconian stand against abortion in aid work.

So, what were the women told? To stay quiet....but not in those word; they were actually told by a Conservative Senator, Nancy Ruth, to "shut the fuck up about abortion."

Ruth told them this is not a Canadian woman's health issue, so shut up or it could get worse.

Just days earlier, MATCH, a women's rights group that works on international women's issues had their funding cut (along with 10 other groups), which they say is "ideological punishment" for those who are pushing for abortion to be included in the G8 plans. In the same article, it was reported that "In the House of Commons, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said the senator's warning demonstrates the 'culture of intimidation and bullying' the Harper government uses to silence critics."

What sort of work does MATCH do?

"MATCH International Centre is a women's international organization guided by a feminist vision of sustainable development which recognizes the diverse realities of women and respects their efforts for self-determination. To fulfill its mission, MATCH works in partnership with women's groups in Africa, Asia, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America towards the empowerment of women and the achievement of the practical enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms through civil, political, economic, social and cultural justice. MATCH works in partnership with women’s group in the South on the themes: Eliminating Violence Against Women, and, Women and Sustainable Human Development."

Clearly, the work that MATCH does needs funding not cuts!

"One international aid advocate, Lydia Alpizar Duran, from the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, vowed that Canadian women would have help from other countries if they want to start making noise here. 'I don’t remember any women’s rights ever gained by staying silent,' she said."

True. Women have learned a long time ago that Your silence will not protect you, nor will shutting the fuck up be the path to effect change.

Earlier, the Conservative government cut funding from groups working with immigrants from Arab countries, such as the Canadian Arab Federation, as well as other groups that don't share the government's regressive ideas.

If you are a woman, brown, and non-Christian.... guess what?

let's just say things are fucked up here in Canada.

Monday, May 3, 2010

a yellow iris

I can’t bare to look at that “cartoon” of the woman wearing a niqab that I uploaded to my last post. There is something really disturbing about how the Montreal cartoonist put the lock and bars in place of the eyes of a woman. It is so offensive in the context of the Islamophobia that is so rampant in some sectors of Canadian media and society today. It just screams intolerance and bigotry--by people who consider themselves fair-minded. Who feel themselves to be protecting Canadian values, you know. I guess intolerance is a Canadian value, too.

It seems that hate-filled comments are ok when directed against Muslims (e.g. recently US visitor Ann Coulter remarked on a university campus that Muslims should be banned from air travel). Replace the word “Muslims” with “Jews.” Would the majority of Canadians find it hateful to say Jews should be banned from air travel? I think so.

Where is the outrage? ho-hum. Missing. Why am I not surprised?

Why are we afraid to name hatred against Islam but not hatred against Judaism?

A female in Quebec wearing a niqab should not be an issue of debate (it is estimated that only about 25 women wear a face covering in all of Quebec) for Canadians. Do “we”, the self-defining promoters of freedom, choice, and democracy, tell her what she must do, just as a handful of patriarchal extremists (who do not represent the religion of Islam) tell her what she must do? If she chooses--or is convinced-- to wear a niqab after considering her options and decides for herself, is she oppressed? Should we, the supposedly free of oppression, rescue her from herself?

The niqab, which originates in the Gulf countries, is cultural apparel, not religious apparel. It is not traditional Muslim wear for the Quebec immigrant who is of Egyptian descent. She has chosen to wear it for her own reasons.

Don’t our fears say more about us than her?

If we are interested in helping Muslim and Arab women get their rights why doesn’t Canada – instead of supporting Israel– work on pressuring Israel to lift the siege on the Palestinian people of Gaza, which is preventing their practice of freedom? This would help bring much needed relief to 1.5 million people. Half of that number I am assuming are female, or perhaps more, as a disporportionate number of young males have been killed by the Israeli military.

Where is the outrage to go rescue these women? From the practice of unfreedom? From the militarized walls enshrouding Palestinian society?

Why doesn't the Quebec cartoonist draw an image of that?

The image above is a photo I took of a painting. The painting is by a Bahraini artist (name unknown) that was on display as part of an exhibit at the Bahrain National Museum when I went to Bahrain last summer with my husband. It’s funny, but I had never noticed the yellow eye peeking out of the painting. You can read the text of this image as talking back with a bit of humour to that black hood with the bars and lock.

While in Bahrain, early one morning my husband and I decided to go for a walk. It wasn’t quite 8 a.m. yet, but the temperature was only about 40 degrees or “not too bad” as we learned to say, and, as I looked out the window, I thought the wind that had come up, that was swirling through the streets, might feel refreshing after the previous day’s 46 degree ….smothering. So we went for a walk.

Well, wind in Bahrain is not like wind in Canada. The wind in Bahrain comes from the desert; I’m used to the boreal forest. We hadn’t walked too far when I wished I had a niqab on. A fine blowing sand invaded our mouths and noses as we walked towards Bab al Bahrain, the gate of the city. Reaching the narrow passageways of the old souq was a relief. The planners of these old urban spaces really knew how to build cities that worked with the environment. The narrow alleyways lined with small shops were a cool sanctuary, away from the sun, the wind, and best of all, away from the sand dust.

I learned a lot when I was in Bahrain. One of the things I was surprised to learn was the blessing of shade. The few date palms left in Bahrain are being uprooted at an alarming rate, making way for “progress.” I missed the trees of Canada. Oh, to walk encased in my own protective shade!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

some women's behaviour excused, Others' not

Sigh. Blogger Tasnim has a post on Sweden's intolerance of the niqab that echoes Canadian intolerance of the niqab. Here's what I wrote for one of my class blogs about two months ago:

Canadian identity has been getting a lot of press recently. The Olympics told us we were one big happy family ... that is, if you read the stories that supported that construction and missed the other ones. The Olympics, like other socio-cultural politico-economic phenomena, is a site of many stories, not one, and I don’t mean just individual athletes’ training regimes and hard work to get to this sporting / entertainment extravaganza/spectacle/corporate gathering site of contradictions. The Olympics are a site of multiple narratives that exist in complex intersections of power relations. Whose story/ies hold dominance in our imaginations, of course, has a lot to do with absences, with whose stories get left out, marginalized, sensationalized, or dismissed.

The Olympics are a site of struggle, a contested site, yet this entertainment spectacle that reinforces the oft told against-all-odds (individual) hero narrative was constructed in mainstream media and mainstream Canada as the story where we meet as Canadians.

...with side stories such as the woman’s hockey team raising questions about post-game respectable gender behaviour, but, hey, beer/alcohol IS part of hockey, isn’t it? – which raises the question, can one become a member of hockey culture if one doesn’t drink?.

Our media had been working double time in the months leading up to the Olympics to construct this event as a place to meet, not only literally, physically (for those who could afford the airfare and the tickets), but on our screens and psychologically and in our hearts. In our imaginations. A place where we could see / be what it means to be Canadian, where we could participate in creating the metanarrative “Canada”, that imaginary place where no racism, discrimination, intolerance, or bigotry exists.

The word patriotism floated around after the media event, with a euphoric aura attached to it. Finally! A defining Canadian moment! Within the celebratory narrative of the Vancouver Olympics capturing (some of) our hearts and minds, other stories did not seem to trouble the national consciousness, such as those pesky interruptions of No Olympics on Stolen Land, to name one story that did not make it into the canon called The Olympics. For most Canadians, that story remain/ed/s unread, as does the reality of No Olympic Benefits for Aboriginal People.

So, what does it mean to be Canadian? Do “we” have “a” Canadian culture? Who do we mean by ‘we’, anyway? How does Canadian multiculturalism construct culture and identities when globalizing processes intersect with Canadian (national) identity? Does Canada as a concept have borders? What does that mean in the everyday practices of multiculturalism?

Canada’s demography has changed dramatically and continues to change. The groups of immigrants who came in the past to Canada (such as me, from a non-English speaking working poor Finnish peasant Christian class) are not the same groups of immigrants who are coming today, neither from class backgrounds, country of origin, religion, or ethnicity, to name a few.

Indeed, I remind my mother when she struggles to understand Canada and what it means to be Canadian beyond her Finnish-speaking community, her white skin privilege, her Christianity, and her understanding and acceptance of difference that if she and my father sought to enter Canada today as immigrants, they would never be allowed in. I would not be Canadian. Our family would not make it through the points system. No education, no language skills, no money -- no points.

I remind her of that to intervene in her story of what she imagines Canada should be, which she has learned from watching a lot of Amerian news on Canadian tv while reading her Finnish Evangelical magazines.

The image above of a woman wearing a niqab with the bars of a jail and a lock where her eyes should be is the cartoon created by a cartoonist at the Montreal Gazette who calls himself Ainslen. He made this cartoon he said to contribute to “a healthy debate” on what should be tolerated in Canada, specifically Quebec. His representation is of real person, a new Canadian, of Egyptian origin, who had been attending English language classes at CEGEPs in Quebec. A pharmacist by profession, she wears a niqab. She was asked to leave two separate classrooms on two separate occasions because it was decided that her niqab was interfering with the ability of other people in the class, especially the teachers, from understanding what she was saying.

One of the teachers said she needed to see the woman’s facial expressions and the movements of her mouth in order to understand her, in order to help her correct her enunciation of English. The woman, Naema Atef Amed, left the room.

This story created much commentary online, (738 comments), exposing an obsessive interest in what a woman wears, particularly when that woman is Muslim, which in the discourses of dominant liberal multiculturalism, exposes the illiberal values of Canadians. She is Othered by gender, religion, skin colour, and ethnic origins, and not only becomes the label "the immigrant woman," but also the label "Muslim woman" that is almost synonymous with oppression in the national imaginary.

Yet, if a female student had chosen to wear a clingy top with her cleavage pushed up in your face to class, or popped on a pair of daisy dukes, strutting her ass in your face as you walk behind her in class (something I wish I could say I did not have to witness), this debate would not exist; it would be a non-issue, as we tolerate, accept, and normalize the public exposure of the female body, particularly tits and ass, and particularly, if the woman is young and not what we culturally consider fat.

The comments on the media spectacle of the niqab-wearing language student ranged from racist intolerance, Islamophobia and demands that she abide by “our” cultural standards, to critical comments that expose and question the limits of Canadian concepts of freedom, a woman’s right to choose, freedom of religious expression, among others, as revealed through the denial of this woman’s rights.

Authentic others (native informants) chimed in on the debate, too, defending “Canadian values” making it easy for non-Muslim Canadians to defend intolerance and illiberal ideas, as one of “them” thinks like “we” do, too. Following the Quebec court's decree "to require Muslim women or others who wear face coverings such as niqabs to remove them if they want to work in the public sector or do business with government officials," Muslim Canadians like Tarek Fatah, for example, declared that he was "thrilled at this development, and welcome the rescue of all Muslim-Canadian women who were being blackmailed, bullied and brainwashed into wearing attire that has no place in either Islam or the 21st century."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

this dog should bite the politicians, too

There are many ways to decode this video, including its reproduction of the facile and reductionist idea that somehow individual people's daily habits can make a dent in the huge problem of the earth's destruction which shifts the blame from the combined criminal efforts of corporations and government policies that strip away the meager earnest changes by individuals like me, as well as, its anthropomorphizing of dogs and disciplining them to act counter to their true natures in our making them over into pets for our entertainment and emotional needs, never mind the multi-billion dollar US pet industry's (and Canadian one, too) contributions to the problems of consumer culture; however,

it can also be read as a small shoot of green in an otherwise overwhelming problem. Happy May 1st, which in Finnish cultural history is known as Vappu, a day of celebration, including eating muikku, those little fish much beloved in Finland that I told you about already.