Monday, March 22, 2010

Shame on Us, Quebec

This piece is a response to a Globe and Mail article concerning the recent niqab case that has surfaced in the news.


“I think it would be better if everybody could stay calm,” said Shaheen Ashraf of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women. “There is a fear factor in this province that doesn't do any good. But I don't know why a niqabi [a woman who wears a niqab] would come here and expect to live in comfort as the only person wearing it. Why would you come to a society where you know you will be shunned?”

- taken from article

I am deeply concerned with Mr. Ashraf’s comments on women who wear the niqab. As a member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, I am shocked that he could be as unforgiving of his own people as to ask the following of niqabis, “Why would you come to a society where you know you will be shunned?”

I would at least give Canadians more courtesy than that...

Overall, as a resident of Quebec, I am ashamed that this case has unfolded and of the nature it is acquiring. Whatever happened to our ideals of laissez-faire?! If it doesn’t hurt you, nor me, nor them, who cares. Remember Pierre Trudeau? He told us that the private affairs of individuals were not for us to judge in law and state. What could be more personal than an individual’s right to express their faith?

Canadians espouse themselves as being multicultural. As I write this, I am currently sitting overseas in Singapore where religious tolerance would put Quebec Canada to shame. And this is an authoritarian government we are speaking of...

Are the burqa, hijab, or niqab really symbols antithesis to Canadian culture, or democracy, or modernity? As rational people I think we could all agree that, at the very least, the best way to settle this cultural clash (for indeed, this is an issue of cultural bigotry) is not to go the French (France) way as this case seems to be, but to agree to disagree and let the women be!
If Muslim women choose to cover their bodies, so be it! If Canadian women choose to reveal cleavage, so be it! Let the women choose for themselves what is appropriate for their own bodies.

And as for what is appropriate for society at large, let time speak for itself in terms of what is wrong or right -- not uninformed individuals venting a moments ego. Do not force people to change simply out of caprice and ignorance. Remember-- ignorance is not a defence under reason.

It is in tolerating ‘others’ that we will bridge the bonds of social harmony. By disregarding or failing to understand the ‘other’ or to accept practices of the ‘other’ we breed hatred. French Canadians are all too good at this. Even though the Quite Revolution sought to break society free from a religious orthodox bound, a disconcerting social orthodoxy still seems to cling to much of those in the province.
Let it go.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This is Phnom Penh

I sit back and flip through pictures from three days of travel in Cambodia. It’s hard to believe that it was just three-- I am quickly reminded of suffering, poverty, war, desperation, and equally, hope, comfort, and happiness. These are the toils of humanity. The ups and down. And this is what we put each other through, day in and out.
How bizarre it is to be human.

Day 1:

The room is on stilts, hovering among twenty others over the river, a dirty brown. When the men take their prostitutes you can feel their movements from down the boardwalk. The unit rocks back and forth, threatening immanent collapse down into the water below.

It smells-- everywhere. People are too poor, or uneducated to worry about proper plumbing. Garbage litters the ground that children play, piss, and shower in. There are beggars-- all over.

Day one is reserved for the sites, and it begins early with a somber walk through S-21. Tuol Sleng is the infamous former-high school-turned-prison. It is a museum of a three year genocide. It is a memory of atrocities; a reminder of our darkest side.
In between the rows of prison cells and barbed wire walls I see blotches of dark red taint the tiles. I think of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge. How could they have done this?
There is a picture of Comrade Duch, chief torturer of S-21, where his eyes are scratched out and writing is scribbled across his face. I thought of the pain he caused others, especially whoever defaced him. And then I thought of the people’s faith. How could the Buddha expect us to offer compassion to a man such as himself?

We followed the prison with a walk through the nearby Killing Fields in the city’s outskirts. Hollowed out pieces of land dotted the field. These were the graves of prisoners who had been forced to dig their own beds.
Around the premises, on the other side of the fence, kids pressed their faces into the grills, hands outstretched past a barricade commemorating their own, begging. They had mastered the art. Cunning little bastards: they would grab your attention first by asking you to take pictures of them, or by asking your name, and then they would turn on their puppy eyes and stretch out their hands. I hesitated for a moment not wanting to be outplayed by 6 year olds. And then they begged for my water. And I thought, these bastards have every right to win.

The tuk-tuk ride back home seemed longer than usual. The seats were stiff and sticky. It was hot. The sun had heated the land and offered it no shelter. The grass was dying, not because it was the dry-season, but because everything else was dying. The Buddha taught us this a long time ago. He also taught us that life is suffering.

And yet, he also taught us that there is a way out. Back in the city, people walk the streets.

This is Phnom Penh.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Speak Good English Campaign

part of speech: noun
definition: English as it is spoken in Singapore; an English-based creole

If you have never had the honour of hearing a Singaporean speak, then you are truly missing out on one of the great wonders of the world. There is nothing quite like Singlish...

A few months ago, Nic sent me this amazingly hilarious youtube link that more or less lets you hear Singlish at its finest:

(2 minutes and 6 seconds later...)

I guess you wouldn't be too surprised now to hear that in 2000 the Singaporean Government came out with the Speak Good English Movement.

"The Speak Good English Movement is a nationwide movement to encourage Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is universally understood."

When I first heard of the Movement, I thought it was a joke.
Having been in Singapore for only a few weeks, I couldn't fathom why the government was trying to control their language-- It's bad enough they can't chew gum...
At that point, however, I didn't think there was anything odd about their speech. When I first started hearing Singlish, I simply shrugged it off as the speech of new immigrants.
But when I realized that it was there at the beach, in the clubs, and in the classroom I realized that Singlish really did exist, and it really was the unofficial National Language of Singaporeans.

I was nothing short of amazed.
How did the English language ever become so bastardized?
(And unfortunately, Singlish doesn't have the sex appeal of other bastardized tongues such as Trinidadian English.)

So, after a month of trying to re-learn my mother tongue, I started to fancy the idea of the Movement. Suddenly, English Pronunciation workshops seemed like a brilliant idea. And, Giving your citizens Skills for Reading Aloud? Definitely. Priority.

That was, until now...

By this point, I've had many conversations with locals in which they tell me about their identity-- or, lack there-of. What is Singapore? What is Singaporean culture? "What makes us, us?" They ask, wide-eyed and lips quivering.

Well, I can't completely answer that, but whatever it is, I know Singlish is part of it.

As much as Singlish hurts the ears and works the brain, it gives these people their own... thing, for lack of a better word. So, there's something about the idea of changing it that stricks a chord. It is in every way a rejection of something that is uniquely Singaporean. For a country that is looking to define itself, then, I say start by keeping the Singlish.

After a couple months of being here, I have to admit it's growing on me... slowly. And actually, I kinda think it's cute... .

So as of today, I'm For Singlish.