Friday, November 19, 2010

Multiculturalism in Canada: Mayor Nenshi debates Tarek Fatah on Al Jazeera English

Just yesterday, recently-elected Mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi (for those unfamiliar, the first ever Muslim mayor elected to lead a major North American city) and so-called "secular muslim" activist Tarek Fatah, who is a well known critic of Canada's multiculturalism policies, engaged in a debate on Al Jazeera English's Riz Khan Show. The premise of the debate was "With Islamophobia on the rise in the US and Europe, has Canada set a different example by electing that country's first ever Muslim mayor?"

I think that Nenshi has successfully exposed Tarek Fatah for the idiot that he is. It doesn't take long for one to clearly see that Fatah truly isn't a very smart man, and that when put up against an individual who is well versed in the realities regarding Multiculturalism in Canada and the circumstances of Muslim-Canadians in particular, he has no choice but to continue throwing out as much alarmist rhetoric as possible to pursue what I see as nothing less than an anti-Canada smear campaign in the name of self-promotion. Fatah has been able to build a considerable base of followers on the political right, precisely because he says exactly what they want to hear.

Not only has Fatah, as Mayor Nenshi correctly pointed out, made a career out of making things seem worse than they actually are, but he brings up alarming and unusual isolated incidents, and even goes so far as to distort facts (just to point out one example, Africville--the district of Halifax in which Tarek Fatah claims that Black-Canadians continue to live segregated from the rest of society, was evicted in the 1960s, and the Government of Nova Scotia has officially apologized for its existence and the untimely eviction, which involved moving the entire population out of their homes (in garbage trucks, no less) to make way for the construction of a suspension bridge. If you plan on visiting the province, there is an exhibit about it on display in the Black Heritage Centre in Preston, NS).

Fatah is right on one thing: Nenshi won the election because he was the best man for the job. He is one of the most competent politicians I have seen come out of this country in a long time. Not only that, but he speaks French, used to work for the United Nations, was a debating champion with Ezra Levant (lol), and holds a degree in Government from Harvard University. His campaign, which used the internet and social networking to mobilize an impressive voter turnout for municipal elections, and got unusually large segments of young people and visible minorities out to vote, is reminiscent of another, much more well-known, politician. Looking to the future, I have high hopes for him.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Knowing How to Say NO

“Why can we not say no to our men?  We African women need to learn from Western women how to say no.”  

          This was part of a dialogue I had with a Botswana woman during a government sponsored event – a candle-lit vigil to remember those who have perished from AIDS.  I was invited to speak about youth and HIV/AIDS, in particular the efforts to prevent HIV transmission.  The highest prevalence of HIV infected persons exists in sub-Saharan Africa, with Botswana being the 2nd highest country in the world, percentage-wise, after Swaziland.  There are numerous strategies in place in Botswana to mitigate the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Naturally, the primary focus is on educating people about the disease.  This strategy has been put in place by the major Western donors, including ACHAP (Bill and Melinda Gates foundation) and USAID (United States Agency for International Development).   

            But with prevalence rates increasing, many of us are left wondering why.  Why are they increasing with all the education initiatives in place?  Education is simply not enough.  There are deep rooted sociological, psychological and behavioural factors at play.  And while I fully support empowerment through education, there is more that we are missing in our efforts to end the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Botswana's goal is to end all new infections by 2016, an ambitious goal to say the least.  

Then I think back to the conversation I had with this Botswana woman.  Now I have had many such conversations with women in Botswana, but this particular conversation made me reflect upon was the power of ‘no’.  In a sense the word itself is often seen in a negative light, as a refusal.  However, in North America, we women are afforded the choice of saying no to a man.  Not that this always occurs, but we can use it in light of making choices.  It’s my right to say no:  I know it and I believe it.  This does not guarantee that it will be respected, but I still know how to say ‘no’.  In Botswana, things are not so simple.  A woman saying ‘no’ challenges the deep-rooted patriarchal system that exists at all levels of social and inter-personal interactions.  

It was Botswana women themselves that told me they did not know how to say no.  Now Botswana is not the only place in this world where patriarchy prevails, but it is one country I can speak about given my experience working there.  Saying no to sex denies a man his right to pleasure, and for many women, it goes against the ‘duty’ of satisfying a man.  This touches on cultural norms, values and behaviours that are so entrenched in society that they are hard to break.  Changing them will take time.  We cannot assume education can be the instant fix.  Education about the severity of the disease, how it is transmitted and the protective measures one can take to prevent infection is the start but by no means the quick or ultimate solution.       

If a man does not want to wear a condom, we can’t make him.”  

 This was another common thing I would hear in conversations with women.  The same problem would apply to women wearing the female condom…if a man refuses to have sex with her wearing it, then what? In Botswana, a woman's right to say ‘no’ to unsafe sex is not recognized or normalized. 

 A woman’s ability to say ‘no’ is only one component in HIV/AIDS prevention.  It is easy to argue that educated women can make more informed choices.  I agree to an extent. But, what would you say if I told you these conversations were with the educated elite in Botswana?  These women were government officials!    

Priya Saibel works as a consultant on International Development and is completing her M.A. in Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Conflict of Extremes?

In case it was lost on anyone following the flotilla crisis between Israel and the activists, one of the dead activists was a dual U.S.-Turkish citizen. As I compare Turkish reactions to its citizens being killed to that of the lack of U.S. reaction, I start to wonder: is this conflict one of extremes, in which any nuance in allegiance is impossible?

In other words, does the dead citizen in this case renege his citizenship to one country based on his political views and actions towards a foreign third-party country?

The dead activists in this case was 19 years old and was born in the U.S., lived there as a child, and moved to Turkey years ago. But for anyone ready to pounce on the intuitive logic that this young man could barely be considered a U.S. citizen - due to his a) lack of allegiance to one of the U.S.'s best friends, and b) the small amount of years he actual lived in the U.S. - I would counsel to think twice before embarking on such a slippery line of reasoning. Let us remember that a) this citizen's other country (Turkey) is also considered one of America's 'best friends' in the region, and b) the current American President, none other than Barack Obama, spent the majority of his youth living abroad.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's Russia Time

Watching the rumble that took place in the Ukrainian Parliament this week evokes an interesting image; Russian officials sitting around a table toasting each other with Vodka to go along fresh caviar fished straight out of the Black Sea.

Asides from being a stereotypical parody of Russians, I don't think the underlying logic of the image is that far off the mark.

If we were to look back at the past eight years of Russian-American relations, it would be difficult to label them as anything other than 'prickly'.

The post-9/11 rapprochement between Washington and Moscow was a short-lived affair. It was truly a 'marriage of convenience'. Both the Russians and the Americans had an interest in facing Islamic-inspired and nationalist militants - the U.S. in Afghanistan and the Russians in Chechnya. But that is about as far as their strategic interests converged.

Very quickly, geopolitical realities came back with a vengeance. Russian national power began reconsolidating itself around the emergence of Vladimir Putin on the national stage in 2000 - a nationalist ex-KGB director with a life-long network of friends and allies in Russia's security services. Around the same time, the rapid rise of oil prices beginning in 2002 and reaching a record US$147 a barrel in July 2008 resulted in a more confident and wealthy Russia. The windfall from oil and gas rapidly expanded Russia's state coffers and brought about a renewed sense of economic and political assertiveness.

The U.S. was heavily invested by this point in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had an increasingly thorny Iranian nuclear issue to deal with. This made the U.S. vulnerable - both Washington and Moscow recognized this. To keep the Russians occupied away from the Afghan and Iraqi theatres of operation, the Americans successfully supported anti-Russian politicians and pro-Western movements through the 'colour revolutions' which began in Georgia 2003, moved to Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Looking to consolidate these geopolitical gains in Eastern Europe, Washington pushed to install anti-missile capabilities in Poland and the Czech Republic - using the Iranian threat, which the Russians never bought for one second, as smokescreen. Washington also pushed for expansion of NATO into Ukraine and Georgia, in the face of heavy French and German opposition.

So, in light of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 (which Russia handily won), the return of a pro-Kremlin party to power in Ukraine in February 2010, and the recent events in Kyrgyzstan, the push-and-pull of American-Russian competition is clearly laid out. Advantage Washington for the first half of the first decade of the 21st century; advantage Kremlin in the second.

I wouldn't call this the return of a new Cold War. Just geopolitics as usual.

Photo from Peter Schrank - The Economist

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The mother of all fear-mongering ads

Check out this ad. I actually saw it on CNN this morning and couldn't believe my eyes so I decided to share with everyone - happy watching!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Be (mainstream) political, be happy?

Politics is associated with alot of things; change, corruption, power, debate, violence, protest, ballots, democracy, authoritarianism...but happiness?

According to this new research, being political is not only good for the polity of which you are part, but also good for you.

A major caveat though; activists whose political activities put them at personal risk of arrest, injury, or worse, do not seem to reap the 'happiness' dividend - read and find out why.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is a reverse brain drain looming ?

An interesting read on immigration trends in the U.S.; and I suspect most other Western nations. I found the concluding line particularly catchy and on the ball:
"What is clear is that a big shift is underway. China and India will no longer be farm teams for the scientific Big Leagues in America."