A big post of apology

09 Jul 2014

To anybody who sees or reads (or encounters) this blog:

First of all, I would only like to say that I apologise for not having posted anything here, not even of the least value, in this blog for a long period of time.

This isn’t meant to indicate that this blog is closing, there are no plans for that. It’s just that I cannot make the excuse that other bloggers have the right to make which is “busy lives.” On the other hand, weeks that should’ve been spent writing – blogposts, short stories, articles – as well as similarly important things to do for summer like job employment have been spent instead in countless times visiting FB and Twitter, reading and accumulating much stuff both interesting and not; the only important literary activity I’ve done this hot season are poems designed for open mics in literary events.

I actually have a lineup of blogposts here, it’s just that I haven’t done much with them. So I can only hope that God and time will still be available for me to help do those blogspots, articles, and short stories. To God be the Glory!

Sincerely,

Idrian

 

 


Multiculturalism and Canadian identity

20 Aug 2013

Something that has been delayed in issuing here for too long: my latest Other Press article, from last month’s issue, about multiculturalism in this country. Hope you like it.


“Just a good place to live”

01 Jul 2013

So said Donald Creighton in an interview with Charles Taylor for the latter’s 1982 book Radical Tories. Though I can’t answer on behalf of all recent immigrants to this country, not even those from my country of origin, I can do say that this phrase best describes my impression of Canada upon arrival – and I think, by extension, of other recent immigrants as well.

What was my impression of Canada? I remember reading a holiday destination guide back home where the section on Canada occupied a single page; it mostly emphasized nature spots in its pictures and destination choices. My mom thought, and still thinks, of Canada as a better place than the United States in terms of its healthcare system and the politeness/respectfulness of its people, and I share the same opinions as well. We thought of Canada as a better place than the United States, not in terms of comparing one country’s greatness with another’s, but on how better Canada is on internal things. We saw Canada as better than the United States in terms of healthcare than on military strength or international influence.

This is the impression that my family still has about this country, and the same can be said as well for other immigrants, especially those from poorer countries. For us, Canada is a land of opportunity, a place where we can do those things and achieve those goals that we’ll never do and achieve had we remained in our homelands. This is a country where one can feel secure, that no one will just barge in on their doors or fire bullets into their houses with impunity. In terms of corruption, Canada is still better compared to the countries where many of us come from. Politically, Canada is enviously stable. Economically, we see it as a First World economy. In societal terms, Canada is populated by people who are, for the most part, respectful, disciplined, polite and tolerant of each other. This country’s tenet of multiculturalism is an envy of the world, an example for countries torn by ethnic and religious strife.

This country is indeed a paradise for us.

Not until some time later did I begin learning more about this country beyond those rosy impressions. From the media and school, I started to learn about the Canada one will never know from the immigration agency’s brochures. True, it is well-off compared to other countries, but it isn’t a reason to rest on maple wreaths. More so than in previous years, Canada has experienced stress and conflict on a variety of areas. Economically, the country still continues to rely on natural resource exports as mainstay of its economy, despite all those “knowledge economy” proclamations – retail exists side by side with oil & natural gas development and export. Politically, scandals & other affairs have gotten worse on all three levels. Then there’s also the social and ethnic tension between the well-off and not, “visible minorities” and those who’ve been here for centuries. And let’s not forget the condition of the Aboriginal peoples.

I also learned about the history of Canada, that there are many interpretations of it and each has it own implications for this country. There are those who tell the Canadian story as a gradual process of independence from Britain and friendship with the US. There are others who talk about the neglected and suppressed voices of this story from minorities of various backgrounds. Then there are those who talk of Canada as an attempt at creating a different society from the US, the opposite of the liberal individualist Union. Each interpretation has its implications about the fate of Canada, the nature of its society and the degree of its independence globally. The story that guarantees the sovereignty and common well-being of Canada must be maintained.

Still, most of us – recent immigrants and those living for generations – see Canada as “a good place to live.” We never think of this country on grand terms, that it can be more than a country of politeness, respectfulness and gentleness. Someday, that day will come, but when, nobody knows.


The spring continues…

11 Jun 2013

Courtesy of The Telegraph

There is no need to include links here to describe the mainstream agreement on the so-called “Arab Spring”. Almost ever commentator agrees that it has become a failure. Rather than bringing the promised brighter future of “freedom, justice and dignity,” it has only led to increased, unnecessary chaos that was never present under the previous authoritarian rulers, the rise of Islamist parties and social, ethnic and religious divisions in the affected countries. There are the descriptions of those heady events as an insidious plot by Western powers and the Gulf states (mostly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which is the base for Al-Jazeera which broadcasted the events to the wider world and is seen by many as a tool by the country to exercise its foreign policy around the region, even “causing” the Arab Spring) to overthrow its enemies on that region (I’m not sure if you can apply that argument as a cause for the overthrows of the relatively pro-Western, conservative rulers of Tunisia and Egypt), or that those countries weren’t prepared for revolution and democracy. It’s as if all of those events, those sacrifices were for nothing, that it was better under the previous rulers where there was at least a presence of order, security and stability (the same argument used by the overthrown or yet-to-be overthrown rulers), never mind the political fossilisation, corruption and state oppression.

Such arguments and descriptions about those events are wrong.

Those arguments are mistaken on two aspects, and it is also in these two aspects that it can be proven that the Arab Uprisings have not been a failure, but are continuing.

First, it has been taken for granted by commentators that these uprisings ended, or end, with the overthrow of the regime.Such a claim is mistaken on the belief that the simple overthrow of the dictator and his cohorts is enough to call it a revolution and automatically bring change. That would be equal to describing the French Revolution as the simple overthrow and beheading of Louis XVI, or the overthrow of the Tsar and the Provisional Government as the Russian Revolution. True, many if not most of the protesters thought the overthrow of their masters was sufficient to bring change, but anyone taking the long-term view of things knows that revolutions don’t end with the simple overthrow of the previous regime. As the French and Russian Revolutions themselves tell us, they also include the long-term, excruciating and unstable implementation of those ideals that propelled and fueled the revolution. The riots, armed confrontations, and political conflicts that are happening in the aftermath of those downfalls, or in the middle of civil wars, are in fact the continuation and extension of the revolutions.

The uprisings didn’t end with the overthrow or continuing efforts to overthrow the Ben Alis and Mubaraks of the Middle East and North Africa, but continue with the efforts of civil groups, political parties, ethnic and religious minorities – virtually everybody involved in these events – to effect change not just in the governments of their countries but also in the economic, social and cultural spheres. This isn’t just about electing presidents and representatives, but also about addressing economic disparities and sociocultural marginalisation. The manifestation of previously unnoticed divisions in these countries is indeed a stressful and dangerous but also necessary manifestation, akin to describing the causes of the disease before giving the cure.

It’s also true that each group with a stake in these events is trying to direct the events in their favour. While such actions can be selfish and stray from the original ideals of the uprisings, every group involved – including those we wish weren’t involved – is important and therefore their views must be taken into account in the goal of a better society as the product of the uprisings.

Second, about the so-called Islamist rise.If not outright sabotage of the revolution, the rise of Islamist politics in the aftermath of the overthrows is often described as due to the strong grassroots connections and lower-class affiliations of these groups. This would mean that the original revolutionaries who launched the uprisings in the name of “freedom, dignity, justice” were young, middle-class people disconnected from the poor majority who are the key factor in the political fate of these uprisings. The minority civil revolutionaries will be marginalised while the majority Islamist elements will benefit. In short, the revolutionaries unwittingly orchestrated the Islamist rise to power. They should have built a solid grassroots foundation for their ideals before launching their uprising.

These arguments only help in marginalising the original principles of the revolutions, as if they don’t matter. As for the civil revolutionary disconnect with the masses, what about the evidence of the youth majority in these countries? And even if many of these youth are Brotherhood members, it could only mean that reformist ideals are possible in the MB, with the dominant conservative elements preventing such reformism.

What is important here is the maintenance and pursuit of the ideals that launched the revolutions. While the Islamists benefit from their grassroots connections, the role of the civil revolutionaries in launching the uprising must not, and would never, be forgotten. They also benefit from their youth, newness and dynamism. Such abilities can be assets in the ongoing campaign of pursuit of freedom and dignity.

The struggle to attain a better tomorrow for the countries affected by the Arab Uprisings continues. The recent protests in Turkey only emphasize that this is also a much wider struggle. To dampen the necessity of this struggle under the banners of realism and cause-effect only helps in increasing cynicism and blunting any desire for change in situations where they are needed. Rather than despair, continued support for the Arab Uprisings, in the pursuit of their original ideals, must be continued.


About this dominion

12 Apr 2013

Courtesy of shutterstock.com

The last Other Press article I have for this season deals with Canadian identity, what it was in the past, and what it may be in the future. Hope this furthers discussion about Canadian nationalism in such a globalising age as this.


It’s not just the Indigenous people

15 Mar 2013

Courtesy of Canada.com

A forum on Aboriginal issues was held late February at Douglas College, in support of Idle No More. Flavoured on the sidelines by bannock and cheese slices, the forum featured old and new activists involved in the Indigenous movement. The unchanging Aboriginal issues were discussed on the forum. They included infringements on First Nations concerns brought by the federal government’s omnibus bills, the past-and-present colonial relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian government, and current issues faced by Aboriginal individuals and families. Moderated group conversations after the panel talk discussed each attendee’s own feelings and opinions about the stories and issues said by the panel. By the end of the event, it seemed that most of the individuals present agreed on the necessity of solving the Aboriginal problem, and that this won’t come through government or settler paternalism but through self-made actions by Aboriginal peoples themselves. Self-determination, in their own words. It was a triumphant and jubilant night for those involved.

Since I failed to ask everybody on that auditorium whether they shared my opinions, once can only speak for oneself. In divergence from the wide agreement among the auditorium population, unanswered questions held me back from joining the euphoria. While the issues discussed were important, the nature of those issues in relation to the larger, outside context prevented me from fully accepting their cause.

The group discussion I joined involved each of us saying two words we took from what the panel said. Most of those “two words” were sympathetic and supportive of the Indigenous movement. My two words were “understanding” and “distance.” “Understanding” in that many of the issues discussed were reasonable and the injustices done against Aboriginal peoples really unjust, and “distance” in that certain questions made me skeptical from full support. It’s doubtless that injustices were done against Indigenous peoples in this country. Musqueam elder Larry Grant talked about his family’s expulsion from present-day Sapperton to make way for a military base. The youngest panellist mentioned a sister’s death in the hands of Indo-Canadian youths at night due to wearing Idle No More apparel. Stories of the colonial relationship between First Nations and European settlers and governments were told: displacement of First Nations from their traditional lands, attempts at destruction of their identity through assimilation, and the consequence of all these tragedies in everyday Indigenous life. Threats of the omnibus bills on traditional life and the environment were also said by the panel. But it didn’t end with sighs of passive hopelessness. Idle No More was bannered as a historical moment of Indigenous peoples rising up to fight for their rights. All the guests displayed confidence, insisting that now is the time Indigenous peoples take back what was stolen from them.

Yet some of the things said and shown during the event bothered me. The emphasis on “colonialism” and the dominated situation of Indigenous peoples, despite proclamations of triumph, made me think of this as solely an Indigenous matter, concerning First Nations alone. Why does it matter and how does this relate to us non-Indigenous persons? Does the emphasis on Aboriginal self-determination mean the original inhabitants will kick the settlers out of the land someday? One of the panellists who appeared at the group discussion talked of Indigenous history as a way to prevent a myopic view of Indigenous people, and putting ourselves in their shoes to better understand their situation – the answers weren’t satisfying. The question here is how does this Aboriginal movement fit in the bigger Canadian situation. Being an Indigenous-centred affair runs the risk of neglecting the other parts of the national population. It could be that this movement forms one part of the wider Canadian movement against erosion of public welfare by moneyed interests, but that has yet to be seen.

Perhaps there is nothing bad with an Aboriginal-centred movement. They have taken the extra mile to accommodate non-Indigenous peoples and help them understand what the movement is about. The event itself was targeted at newer immigrant communities in BC. The important question here is its relation to the wider Canadian movement for the national good.


The dilemma with Stalin

15 Mar 2013

Stalin looks at you…and smiles. Wonder what he could be thinking. Photo courtesy of solovki.ca

During this year’s 70th anniversary celebration of the pivotal Battle of Stalingrad, regional legislators voted to revert the city’s name, now Volgograd, to its wartime name a few times each year for war-related commemorations. In addition, the speaker of the Russian upper house promoted the idea of a city referendum on returning the name permanently. A very small personal observation on the Internet showed that most residents would prefer the money involved in such a name change be spent preferably on road repair. National opinions on this proposal are split along political lines, with Communists and pro-government forces supporting the reversion while liberals and human-rights advocates opposing it. This divided response to the idea shows Stalin’s equally divided legacy on the landscape he once ruled, the man remembered as either saviour of the motherland or cruel tyrant. It also makes us reflect on the phenomenon of people who left both good and bad in their historical legacies, and the complex and painful process of dealing with them.

Examples of mixed legacies abound around us, especially with political leaders. They range from Park Chung-hee’s responsibility for both South Korea’s political repression and economic prosperity to Castro’s guarantee of Cuban independence and social equality as well as its authoritarianism. Non-political examples are also present, like Wagner’s and Heidegger’s important contributions to music and philosophy, respectively, and their connection to Nazism. Even Hitler can be seen as a divisive figure if one is to account his contributions to Germany’s economic recovery before the war, which historians have given all sorts of explanations in an effort to dampen the importance of those contributions. This is one way this dilemma’s resolved – lessen the importance and give various explanations for the person’s positive achievements. This includes something basic as dismissing the positive contribution completely, saying “he did bring internal order, but his mistakes were greater,” or more elaborate as stating those reasons why that contribution is negligible, such as attributing the good events to external forces. The proponents of this view cannot believe or accept that a villain can contribute a good thing to the surrounding society, therefore the evil aspects of the person must be strongly emphasised and any contrary evidence to that characterisation must be either suppressed or clarified to the detriment of the person.

The other way to deal with the mixed legacy is naturally to emphasise the good part. This differs little from the character-bashing mentioned earlier. In this case, the historical figure’s positive contribution is highlighted while the negative aspect is mostly forgotten. In the Cuban case, Castro’s reputation of anti-US resistance has been acclaimed by progressives here in North America, Western Europe and elsewhere – without mention how this same resistance is responsible for the current state of Cuban democracy. Here in Canada, Trudeau’s legacy of civil rights and constitutional patriation are widely praised, without thinking how his ideas differed from the majority of Quebecois he claimed to represent. While such forgetful celebration of positive legacies is common for popularly-elected politicians, this is more dangerous for those otherwise seen as dictators. The risk of “whitewashing” the person’s image to the detriment of forgetting the darker aspect, thus endangering future generations, must be remembered when depicting the dictator as nice guy.

In fact, none of these approaches fully deal with the complexity brought by mixed historical legacies. They tend to emphasise one side while conveniently neglecting the other, and this happens even among experts careful in their objectivity. Complete disinterest in the legacy is no better, as it only lets the problem fester further. Perhaps one method in dealing with this dilemma is one based on three concepts: general moral principles, the role of the people, and human complexity. Does the legacy conform to principles widely recognised as morally good? What are the people’s contributions in dealing with their condition? How much of human nature is seen in that legacy? An approach that doesn’t seek balance but the complexity, morality and dignity of human life can be a way to deal with these confused legacies around us.