For 34 years, Toronto’s York University shut down on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The University of Windsor Law School also closed for these Jewish holidays. This practice has come to a halt in both institutions.
At York, Professor David Noble, himself a Jew, defied the closure and held class on Rosh Hashana. He also filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Alex Bilyk, York’s Director of Media Relations, explained that “When the policy was designed, a lot of students and faculty members celebrated those dates, but over the past 10 years, the diversity of our campus has grown.” Now, York allows students to have alternative arrangements when a religious holiday they celebrate conflicts with an academic requirement.
Len Rudner, Ontario Director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, supported the change, agreeing with Bilyk about the growing diversity of the student population.
Barred from the U.S.
Maher Arar was seized at the airport in New York while changing planes en route from Europe to Montreal. America sent him to Syria to be tortured, and he is now barred from the U.S. Canada has cleared him of all allegations and paid him $10 million in compensation for its role in feeding faulty information to American and Syrian governments. While Canada has urged Washington to end his ban, the Bush administration has refused. And Maher is not the only Arar barred from entering.
Maher’s brother Hanssan was questioned by the RCMP in 2003, about his trucking business. A year later, the U.S. border security refused him entry, telling him that he was barred. He had to sell his truck because he could no longer make pickups and deliveries in the U.S. Hanssan believes that the RCMP shared false information about him with the Americans.
Kohail nearing execution
Serious questions have been raised about the fairness of the trial. Amnesty International states that Mohamed’s lawyer was not even permitted to attend seven of the nine court sessions and was not permitted to challenge evidence.
The Kohail family has called upon Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene personally. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, plans to meet the Saudi foreign minister to press the case, but Canada’s position in the matter is difficult.
Prior to the Harper Conservatives taking power, Canada had a policy opposing the death penalty for any Canadian citizen. However, Harper reversed this stand in the case of a Canadian convicted of a pair of murders in Montana. The new Canadian position is that it will not oppose the death penalty in cases where a fair trial in a democratic country imposes such a penalty. Thus, in challenging the death penalty for Kohail, Canada is in essence saying that Saudi legal procedures are not up to snuff. While that is undoubtedly true, it is an argument that will have a hard time winning a willing ear in Riyadh.
At the Ottawa Said conference, University of British Columbia geography professor Derek Gregory discussed cultural distortions about war. There is, he said, a “civilized” Western warfare and an “uncivilized” Oriental warfare, as seen through Western eyes. “Uncivilized” Eastern warfare is guerrilla warfare, suicide attacks, and roadside bombs. Western warfare is high tech, with fewer ground forces, and without a special front. But this is expensive warfare. It is not just the collapse of the housing market that has created economic turmoil.
We are also presented with the myth of the just war, which the U.S. military is now calling military social work. We are told of “surgical strikes” using “smart bombs,” but these bombs are 500-pounders. And if a surgical strike eliminates a power plant, the victims are far more numerous than the handful of people at the site and nearby. The IT focus enables the military to ignore real corpses. It promotes desensitization.
And here is where Said comes in in spades. In training, the troops are reminded of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), active in the British undermining of the Ottoman Empire. Lawrence of Arabia? With the Arabs, it appears, nothing changes. And why do they hate us? It must be because of what we are, not what we do. But now, in Iraq, with internal conflicts, the new question is “Why do they hate each other?” Thus, the U.S. and allied troops are just innocent bystanders. The “other” are conceived as so radically different that we can’t easily identify with their suffering.
And finally, the Orientalist clincher. Condoleezza Rice: “The world is a messy place and someone has to clean it up.”
Canada denies wronging Benatta
In spite of the fact that American authorities cleared him of any terrorist connection as far back as November, 2001, he was kept in custody till July 2006. While in jail, he was brutally treated.
Canada has changed its story as to why he ended back in the U.S. Story #1: He voluntarily withdrew his refugee status request and agreed to return to the States. Story #2: Paperwork overload caused by 9/11 led Canadian border agents to send him back to the States with the expectation that he would be returned by the Americans soon after, when Canadian officials were able to bail out from under their paper jam and handle his case.
It is puzzling that, since he was already in jail in Fort Erie, Ontario, he would be sent back to the U.S. to ease pressures on Canadian border security. Janet Dench, Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, which acted in his case beginning in 2005, indicates that it took considerable effort on the Council’s part to get Canada to agree to allow Benatta to re-enter, a fact inconsistent with the claim that border services wanted to have America return him. He is now in Toronto and is suing Canada for his ordeal.
9/11 and “The Other”
Zainab Amery feels under threat. She wonders why, as an airplane passenger, she and no one else is pulled aside for a “random” check. She sees her experience as part of “the construction of the ‘enemy other’,” part of the War on Terror hysteria with Arabs and Muslims as scapegoats.
Amery, a Carleton University Ph.D. candidate, told the Edward Said conference in Ottawa that Said himself shared her discomfort. He said that he “never felt so isolated in the light of the mass arrests and discrimination.” And, he added, “I don’t know a single Arab or Muslim American” who hasn’t had to endure “quite specifically targeted hostility.”
Such experiences illustrate for her that “a more insidious, transparent and legitimized form of Orientalism” is in play. The “other” is the enemy other, stereotyped as terrorists, wealthy oil sheiks, belly dancers, veiled women, dangerous, etc. Such images emerge in the news and entertainment media. Thus, she and other Arabs and Muslims are seen as “potential terrorists and/or criminals.” As she said, “The current ‘war on terror’ has legitimized racialization of Arabs and Muslims with the hope that surveillance will save the world from further violence.”
As well, she said, currently Arab and Muslim lives do not count for much in the West. Thus, she quotes one source that found that two-thirds of casualties at the hands of the U.S. military since Vietnam have been Muslims. Liberal M.P. Ken Dryden called for a halt to all aid to Gaza, even though it “will hurt Palestinians.” Condoleezza Rice referred to the destruction in Lebanon as “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper called massive Israeli destruction in Lebanon as “a measured response,” something about which Liberal M.P. Michael Ignatieff said he was “not losing any sleep.”
Amery finds the tortures such as those at Abu Graib as behavior harkening back to a colonial past, involving humiliation, including sexual humiliation, of conquered inferiors.
Little Mosque on the Prairie revisited
What’s there not to like about Little Mosque on the Prairie (LMOP)? Lots, according to University of Toronto’s Shelina Kassam, speaking at the Edward Said conference in Ottawa. The program tries to make all Muslims “good”, “just like us.” It reinforces the idea that all Muslims think alike. In spite of the fact that Muslims come from all over, as is shown, the program makes them basically the same. The issue of race is never raised. There is a constant search for doctrinal purity, with the assumption that there is such a thing, for example around dating.
Kassam says that the program ignores people who push the limits. As well, when there are real problems that people face, she asks, do they really begin by asking, “What does Islam say?” She charges that LMOP promotes positive (equal opportunity) stereotypes.
Where Orientalism defines the West as rational and traditional Muslims as primitive and irrational, the LMOP “good Muslim” straddles the two. But Canada defines the boundaries and limits the extent of differences tolerated if one is to be a “good Muslim.”
If we look at intergroup relations options for a minority, Kassam identifies three: assimilation, separate but equal, and multiculturalism. She says that LMOP opts for separate but equal. She would like more complexity in the program, giving an example of where it falls short, the absence of any Shi’a characters.
Yet, she observes, LMOP is a comedy, and if it were to meet the kinds of concerns she raised it might not survive. She noted that some minority-related programs that tried to be more complex fell by the wayside.