Saturday, October 10, 2015

Election 2015: The politics of intolerance (part 1)

     The Harper government is forcing us, as a society, to skate on thin ice by playing the populist religious / ethnic difference card. Summarized: one presents an identifiable group as "different from" and "dangerous" to "our" safety and well-being. This, of course, is tapping into deep levels of evolutionary "programming" of the vertebrate brain / mind: the "enemy" was always those who are similar to our own tribe or pack - they belong to the same species - but are "other" in that their tribe or pack is in competition for food resources and territory with our tribe or pack. Think: the way chimps organize their societies (note 1) 

The problem. Harper, during a recent campaign speech, claims he is considering a ban on the niqab in Federal bureaus and offices. His government has already attempted, using the courts, to prohibit women from wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies wherein immigrants accept Canadian citizenship. To the best of my knowledge a huge total of TWO women have asked for the privilege of wearing the niqab during the ceremony. And THIS is a major political issue - with our planetary ecology and climate spinning down out of control??? (note 2) Even on the purely national and international levels, Canada has bigger fish to fry: growing socio-economic inequalities and inequities at home and abroad, Canada's role in promoting geopolitical stability.. 

                          niqab: face covering worn for religious reasons by some conservative muslim women

             As the above short article from today's Ottawa Citizen makes clear, the wearing of the niqab is not - and never has been - a problem for anybody in the federal civil service! Why then would Harper go out of his way to introduce it as a major campaign issue? 

             Objectively, the veil would not appear to be on any sane person's political wish list. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Harper government is opportunistically (if not cynically) playing the the religous / ethnic bigotry card in a time of fear of muslim terrorism in order to win votes from the most reactionary elements of Canadian society. Scraping the bottom of the barrel out of political expediency. Not a pretty sight..

            Former conservative premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, earlier this week denounced Harper as the "worst Prime Minister in seventy years" and accused him - as I have - of stooping to (near) racist arguments to garner votes.

            "Donald Trump on steroids" - description of Harper's tactics, heard on Canadian Broadcasting Corp radio.

            The Harper team, unlike overtly racist politicians in Europe, ISIS or boko haram, plays coy and denies that they are exploitatively manipulating racist ideas and ideologies. Defence minister Jason Kenny has publically stated the Conservative government is defending feminist values against "medieval, tribal" customs which "have nothing to do with the faith of Islam". 

           You can hear Kenny's ethnologically incorrect views. They are in the second video from the right in the "related" articles bar of the above article. Kenny's comments begin at about 1 minute 40 seconds into the video. They are worth listening to in order to compare with what follows below. The complete 10 minute interview Warda Naili gave to Mike Finnerty on the Daybreak program is on the following link. 

          Now to put the boots to the lie.. Ms Naili is a young muslim woman who wears the full face veil. She spoke of her life here in Montréal. Her testimony is particularly revealing for a number of reasons. She is not, despite the face veil and name (adopted), an immigrant. Born and raised in a working class neighborhood of Montréal, she spoke tellingly of her reasons for joining Islam. Her life was pretty screwed up, as for so many Young people today. She didn't go into details but mentioned a lack of confidence and sense of direction. Muslims she knew seemed, however, to possess the things she lacked (and needed). Out of curiosity, she began to read the koran and voilà, found the values, confidence, direction, etc she found lacking in French speaking, working class Québec society.. Ms Naili re-iterated that the wives of the Prophet voluntarily chose to wear the veil. So much for Kenny's "medieval, tribal customs with no link to the faith of Islam." She emphasized, again re-iterated, that she willingly chose to wear the veil (at a time when she was not yet married). In fact, her husband - a muslim - worries about her safety and prefers she NOT wear it!

          Interestingly, Ms Naili emphasized the personal nature of the choice to wear the veil and says it is OK for other muslim women to wear only the head scarf (the hijab) or no head covering at all. Again, contrary to Islamic culture expert Defence MinisterJason Kenny, I have heard this type of curious "feminist" interpretation of religious head coverings on quite a few occasions. While I admit there is a strong component of group "identity politics" involved,  the "feminist" aspect of their commitment is easy to see. These - invariably young - women state that Islam has "empowered" then in some way, perhaps to overcome personal faults or bad life style choices, perhaps to discover the meaning and value of life. In any case, as empowered women - and specifically as empowered muslim women - they chose, personally, to wear the hijab (head scarf) or niqb (full face veil) as an act of commitment and affirmation of their faith. An intriguing side note: Ms Naili claimed that all niqab - full face veil - wearing women she knows are all native Québécoises, born on this soil, as she herself is..

                               the hijab, the "lesser veil", face uncovered

Getting down 'n dirty: now what, exactly, are the social effects of the islamophobic stance of the Harper government (and the Québec provincial government). It should be noted that Québec has already been through the exercise of politicians whipping up islamophobia in the recent "debate" we had about a proposed "charter of Québécois values" which included proposals for banning wearing "ostentatious religious symbols" in government institutions (provincial offices but also hospitals and schools).

        Ms Naili had quite some interesting stories to tell! Being sworn at, spit on, hit in the head by a thrown beer bottle and almost being run down by a car. (Apparently, it's become a game: playing chicken with veiled muslim women. She had a close call when one yahoo misjudged his braking capacity..)

        I am not - be it noted - claiming that Québécois are racist. Rather to contrary! I know non-whites who have chosen to reside in Québec because they found it less racist than elsewhere in North America. Québec opened its arms to the Vietnamese boat people at the end of the Vietnam War. These folk appeared to have integrated very well and done quite well. Several books written by boat people or their children are rather eulogic in praise of Québécois society and the benefits of living here.

       What I suspect we are seeing here is the fact that, as a linguistic and cultural minority in an English speaking ocean, the Québécois collectivity feels "identity challenged" (if, in fact, collectivities can be said to "feel" anything..). We're not racist but we have short fuses when we feel threatened in our collective identity. Enter islamophobic politicians who pander fear to win elections and things rapidly go pear-shaped.        


1 - it is not abusive to apply the term "society" to stable groups of chimps, wolves or crows since they meet the basic definition of the word: a group of con-specifics which functions - at least part of the time - as a unified, organized, self-directing whole with goals, subgoals, strategies, tactics, possessing a "command structure" associated with a social status or rank, differentiated tasks, etc. 

      In the present context, the problem is that the Harper gang are appealing to the lowest common denominator, the sub-basement of the human psyche we share in common with other vertebrates. Since these emotions and behaviors are primarily defensive in nature - hence instinct driven and extremely aggressive - we are, socially and politically, on very thin ice indeed. "Rationality" is precluded when these powerful defensive instincts are triggered: one does not debate the fine points of Hun theology and culture when the Huns are battering down the walls of the city.. One need only consider the great outbursts of religious, racial and ethnic intolerance of the past to grasp the danger involved for a technically advanced society possessing atom bombs, killer drones, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and modern methods of psychic manipulation..

2- Populations of wildlife have, globally speaking, plummeted by 50% in the last 40 years. That's faster than the die-off during the extinction of the dinosaurs!

       The oceans ain't in great shape either: 

       And then there's the climate thing, like (potentially catastrophic) sea level rise: 

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