THE SPORT OF KINGS, ALRIGHT…MEDIEVAL KINGS!

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Anyone connected to the Queen’s community has known since yesterday about the cancellation of Fall Homecoming Weekend for the next two years. That’s not especially newsworthy anymore. There’s plenty of arguments to be made on both sides; I’m personally surprised how heavy-handed this decision has been and questioning where the students were at this press conference Principal Tom Williams had yesterday.

The Homecoming move has spawned howls of protest from many people, with Facebook groups now sprouting up everywhere in a new wave of anti-administration vitriol. You can find them here, here and here.

But this story is alarming to say the least. Sure, I’m all for sensitivity in language, but speech police? Is Queen’s going too far now in its quest to address long-standing criticisms about the place (an alarming lack of diversity, systemic insensitivity to minorities, et al)?

One thing’s for sure: the John Orr event’s elimination of the dance-only option, the Homecoming cancellation and now this speech police initiative isn’t going to make a great number of alumni very happy. With the hefty price tag attached to the monolithic Queen’s Centre (and the administration’s banking on alumni support for the project through financial donations), can Queen’s be affording to do all these initiatives all at once? Is it worth it from an alumni donations point of view? Does the administration really believe alumni will roll over and continue to donate as if nothing ever happened?

While I’m personally of the belief that yes, Homecoming has gotten out of hand and making changes to how things are done at Homecoming was long overdue. Yet that being said, is a wholesale cancellation really the answer? Was there not a better way?

More thoughts about the Queen’s issue can be found on Out of Left Field, too.

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THE GHOST AND THE CENSORS

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I like to think, along with many of my educated friends, that I’m an open-minded person. I’m an accepting person when it comes to cultures and the multiculturalism that Canada enjoys.

That being said, I’m now convinced the criticisms coming at Sarah Fulford, Toronto Life and Mary Hogan over the article on Aqsa Parvez is clearly an indication that these so-called progressive groups representing reflexive, sometimes reactionary views want tolerance alright, but only tolerance for what they think is acceptable. Fulford shouldn’t even consider apologizing.

For the extraordinarily obtuse, I’m calling these people hypocritical. Who are they to define what’s acceptable for public dialogue and what isn’t?

I’m not going to go into a major argument here about liberalism vs. multiculturalism (not sold on either), was Aqsa Parvez’s murder an honour killing or not (sure sounds like it, if you actually read the article), if an article like this promotes Islamophobia (if you choose to view all Islam with one generalized view, chances are you already are anti-Islam anyway), or if this kind of debate cuts to the core issue of whether or not conservative Islam is even compatible with Canadian society as a whole. There’s been plenty of people talking about this already.

That being said, it’s more than a little creepy that, as Margaret Wente points out today, conservative Muslims are teaming up with many feminists over their criticism of Hogan’s article. Both sides are essentially using each other for political gain and to push their own agendas. How they managed to become allies-by-proxy is remarkable in itself – feminists rightly support the stance of stopping violence against women; conservative Islam’s litany of repugnant acts against women have been well-documented – given how much these two sides are opposed to each other. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Why are these two very-much-at-odds groups hooking up in a reactionary attempt to stop freedom of speech here? Here’s some of the criticisms leveled at the article, all from the press conference held by several women’s rights groups and anti-racism groups. Some criticisms they make are valid. Some are, well, not so much, in my opinion.

“Aqsa Parvez had a choice: wear a hijab to please her devout family or take it off and be like her friends. She paid for her decision with her life.” One panellist argued there is no hard evidence to prove the hijab was the motive for the killing.

A fair comment, although a minor detail in the broader story.

“The conflation of Aqsa’s death with earlier media stories about the “the acceptability of sharia law, disputes over young girls wearing hijabs at soccer games, and the arrest of the Toronto 18.”

This is where things get dicey. Sure, there’s a perfectly legitimate argument to be made that by associating these stories together, we’re essentially getting a very negative portrait of Islam in Toronto. More pointedly, there’s the problem of whether other ethnic groups in Toronto would get similar treatment for a story like this – after all, there are plenty of ethnic groups in Toronto with cultural traditions that may offend the ethics and ideals of what Canada is, in theory, supposed to represent.

That being said, these incidents do beg journalistically-relevant questions, considering they aren’t made up and did happen. Is there a pattern here? Why aren’t we allowed to ask questions if bad things like these keep happening? By treating entire communities with politically correct kid gloves, we’re ensuring more people, not less, will take on racist views of Islam. Reacting as if a community is powerless to have a real, open, honest debate about what goes on in it may be construed as racist and paternalistic itself.

“The posing of the question, “Is it possible that Toronto has become too tolerant of cultural differences?” Cho said the question itself was racist: “There’s a judgement implicit.”

Okay. I’m convinced Michelle Cho of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations is either a deeply-entrenched ideologue determined to protect her relevancy position, or that she clearly has no idea what journalism is all about. Either way, she looks foolish by making that claim.

“The implication that “ethnic enclaves” within the city create alienated and dangerous subcultures of immigrants who don’t share “Western liberal values.” Sumayya Kas of Our Collective Dreams, Muslim Women Against Violence objected to the way Rogan’s portrait of immigrant-heavy Mississauga (“you see stores offering halal meat, instant passport photos, Thai food and Pakistani takeout. Dental and legal clinics advertise in Perso-Arabic script”) was tied it to this specific incident of domestic violence.”

I heard the very inarticulate Kas on CBC Radio on Tuesday about this topic. Aside from reiterating the same talking points we’ve been hearing non-stop here, has she even been to Mississauga recently? Unless everything being described was an ideology-driven mirage Mary Hogan saw, it’s not exactly an unfair treatment of the city.

“The use of photos taken from Aqsa’s Facebook page as art for the piece, which was deemed “distasteful” and “disrespectful.”

Um, alright. Not sure how, considering she’s dead.

After all this posturing from these groups, what are we left with? The right to free speech? I’d hope so.

FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

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When I was 10 years old, I was part of a Remembrance Day ceremony that’s stuck with me since then. Remarkably, it was followed up almost 20 years later with another moment not too dissimilar that only solidified in my mind how, if you’re actually pausing the remember the war dead, you’ll avoid any and all Official Government Ceremonies to do with Remembrance Day.

First off, let’s get one thing straight: in no way, shape or form is this post an attempt to demean, disparage or downplay the personal sacrifices made by the world’s war veterans. There’s nothing glorious about war: it’s a brutal, serious, terrible thing. True horrors that 99 per cent of us will never face or understand happen in war. It’s not something any one, living or dead, generally wants to be reminded of.

There’s a good reason why many of our grandfathers, great uncles and their kin never talked at length about their war experiences: try explaining to family members what it was like to see your friends, brothers-in-arms, being blown apart by heavy machine gun fire, or watching them, dying of thirst, accidently gulp down a tub of poison and die right in front of you, or watching a man’s leg get amputated due to gangrene.

War is a serious business. And that’s why we should tell our corporations (and sycophantic governments) to stop turning these events as tie-ins to rationalize current military policies and push product. It’s sick, twisted and an insult to the memories of veterans everywhere.

When I was 10, there was a Remembrance Day ceremony at my public school that I still remember. There were the usual aspects of events like these: kids not paying attention, wreaths placed upon the stage, Flanders’ Fields Where Poppies Grow. Of course, the attention was paid largely to Canada’s war dead. I can recall no such moment of recognizing the thousands of soldiers from other nations. I certainly don’t recall empathy towards German soldiers in The Great War, many of whom were doing the exact same thing the Triple Alliance soldiers were doing – defending country.

Fast forward 20 years – the CBC brought on board a retired military commander as Peter Mansbridge’s co-host of the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. While I can’t recall his name, I do remember how he made me feel – sickened.

It was bad enough this military man was waxing poetic on the amazing nature of the dead soldiers and their achievements. While I can’t speak for them, it seems like a pretty safe bet most of them would probably hate the thought of being glorified in death for things anyone in their position would have done. More pointedly though, was the military man’s inability to distinguish between the personal sacrifices made by soldiers across the decades and the motivations for actually entering war. To him, every conflict was the same.

This became the bulwark for my frustration. For years now, Canadians have been told the standard line in Remembrance Day ceremonies: we must honour our war dead for the personal sacrifices they made for us. True. We – the people – should. But governments and corporations shouldn’t be leading the way. They’re the last kinds of institutions we need telling us what sacrifice is.

On the corporate side, we have the shameless pandering companies like Tim Hortons do when it comes to associating their brand with Remembrance Day. It’s a not-too-remarkable coincidence that the core market for Tim Hortons products – seniors – also happens to be the demographic most directly affected by war in our recent history. The corporate convergence of coffee, donuts and poppies might seem like a nice gesture for seniors. That is, of course, if you want to believe their motivations are innocent, and a corporation’s motives are always more about profit than being sympathetic. It’s playing off seniors’ genuine, hard-hearted feelings about war and turning it into an easy sell.

Bell did this exact same parlor trick a few years back when a young man called his grandfather on Juno Beach in a commercial pushing the company’s brand with keywords like “sacrifice.”

It’s enough to make you gag and wretch. What do these companies know about war? Other than the fact corporations have, throughout the past 120 years, been actively involved in making profits off the deaths of millions of people during war? If you don’t know the story of IBM’s strongly intimated involvement in the computerizing of the Holocaust, you should. If you don’t the story of Coca-Cola inventing Fanta Orange for Germans to drink to keep profits rolling in World War II, you should. If you don’t know of the mass war profiteering of Halliburton, Kellogg-Brown and Williamson and Blackwater in Iraq, you should.

Governments, of course, do the exact same thing, but in a more insidious way: the subtler inferences governments (especially the Harper government) make to justify unthinking, blind acceptance of war.

Case in point: Afghanistan.

While here in Canada, we all rest comfortably in the notion Canada’s at war in Afghanistan for the right reasons. Thing is, we don’t know what those reasons really are. Protecting Afghanis? Destroying the uneducated, narrow-minded hillbillies known as the Taliban? Defending oil interests? War on Terrorism?

More pointedly comes the issue of Official Government Ceremonies here in Canada. War ceremonies here take on a distinctly nationalistic flavour that likes of which help promote blind obedience to military policies of today. After all, in the logic of an Official Government Ceremony on Remembrance Day, if you’re against a war, you’re against the soldiers too. You’re not giving someone a proper remembrance, as it were, if you criticize a government’s handling of a war no one has a clear reason why we’re fighting. That’s the logic of a Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony: there’s no room for dialogue, no reasons to question our government’s policies.

Of course, that’s not all. Instead of remembering all of our world’s veterans, we stubborningly cling to old, outdated historical alliances when referencing past wars here. There’s still a culture here in Canada of ignoring and demonizing the so-called bad guys during war. Did all the soldiers fighting for Germany in the Great War deserve this demonization? Why is it so hard for people, even 90 years later, to come to terms with how war made victims of everyone?

And finally, comes the Big One: defending the values we hold dear. This is true. Sometimes. But if we ever want to evolve in terms of international relations, we must take a greater honesty in terms of examining our past and casting a critical eye on Canada’s history and not turn every war into a life-or-death struggle for democracy. Some wars have been about defending the values of democracy and freedom. Some have not. But the point is moot – we’re talking about the veterans here, not the nations.

Far be it from me to call any of this political pandering – I may be cynical sometimes, but I’m not nihilistic. Still, it’s interesting, how our governments and corporations work on the issue of Remembrance Day. After all, the Canadian government has to be quite knowledgeable when it comes to what happens when a bunch of veterans get pissed off when someone dares question the Official History of Canadian War. Veterans and seniors are a very powerful voting bloc in Canada, after all.

The point of this polemic, though, comes back to what this day is all about: the soldiers.

I can recall, back in 2002, an article I wrote for Diatribe on war films and their evolution on screen. At the end, I wrote about how more contemporary war films are showing us what war is really about: fighting for each other and not for country. The concept of fighting for “freedom” or your country, especially in this day and age, seems like a foreign topic. While I can’t claim to know what it is like on the battlefield, nor do I want to, I do know what happens when people, united in a common bond (which isn’t always a country), are forced into a tense situation and have to unite together. It’s horrifying and galvanizing at the same time. When someone dies in that group, I can only imagine a piece of that group dies too.

That’s what this day should be about, not corporations pushing product or governments using the day as a political tool. It’s about the soldiers from across the world, not just Canada. It’s about the idea you’re doing something that involves organized mass killing of people and what that does to a person’s psyche. It’s about understanding the true nature of war – it’s not glorious, it’s not sane or even Saving Private Ryan. And it’s certainly not about values or nations in every case.

At the end of the day, I can’t imagine soldiers wanting glory above simple recognition. They’d just want you to remember what they did. No pomp. No circumstance.

Just remember them and them alone.

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AN APOLOGY

One thing that I’ve learned over these past two tough years is learning to let some things go. I say “some” because, unfortunately, I’m still not quite there in terms of being the most forgiving person.

Sometimes, in the process of learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes and regrets, you forget how your actions are affecting other people. While you’re trying to learn to defend yourself more, stand up for yourself and being confident in your actions, it means you can sometimes push that assertiveness too far. You forget there’s limits to what’s tolerable. More to the point, you also need to learn that you have to pick your battles and not target people who don’t deserve it.

I’ve done that with a few people as of late. I won’t mention them on here, as this is a public blog and there’s no need to bring them in on this without their permission.

But needless to say, I’ve been a dick to a few people recently. My need to be assertive and resolute in my positions has mestatisized into outright aggression in verbal conflicts as of late. What I’m saying is: I’ve been fighting bad fights with the wrong people. I allowed my own ego to take precedence over a few people’s feelings. And I’m truly sorry about that.

Therefore, I’m saying I’m sorry. I was in the wrong. I hope you can accept my apology.