“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.