Archive for October, 2005

Questions of Racism

It’s interesting and rather coincidental that in the same week as Rosa Parks died and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad called for Israel to be wiped off the map, the “Kashechewan problem” blew up in the Canadian government’s face.

While the mainstream media was quick to point out Ahmedinejad’s racism and Rosa Parks’s contribution against it, there was no mention of the “r word” when it came to Kashechewan.

The fact that Natives have been brutally oppressed, have had their culture and identity stolen from them, and have been overall mistreated for several generations apparently has nothing to do with the “r word.”

As inane and remarkably stupid as Ahmedinejad’s comments are, at least he’s honest. He doesn’t like Israel.

The Jim Crow laws were bluntly racist and didn’t mask their discrimination with flowery words.

In Canada, though, the governments speak of “prioritizing the Indian issue” and moving ahead and this and that and that and this, but they do jack. They talk a good game but their actions are racist to the core.

The problems that face Kashechewan and countless other communities like it right across the country are nothing less than products of racism.

It’s about time someone owned up to that.

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Serendipity Strikes Yet Again

Today I was on campus downtown (for reasons I won’t specify) and had to be there for quite some time. At about 9:15 am I was walking into the ASSU office when I say my buddy Zain Shafiq (of Association of Political Science Students Vice-Presidential fame) walking to his office (which is in the same hall but is about six times smaller).

I wondered why Zain was on campus on a Saturday (nevermind the fact that he lives about fifteen minutes away by walk anyway) and he wondered the same. I found out that apparently there was a something called a UofT Day where high school students came and got information on many of the various programs offered by the University. Since I had a lot of time to burn I decided I’d join Zain, and help the APSS guy out.

So we got the University College, and I think we actually trekked back to Sidney Smith at least a couple of times to pick stuff up to jazz up the Political Science department’s booth. We also got t-shirts for UofT Day (which look a lot like this picture). I, of course, wasn’t really representing a department (and ASSU always decides not to participate in this) so I just kind of got it for no reason.

After helping Zain set up the Political Science booth I went around introducing myself to pretty much every booth I got a shot at (considering I was competing with high school students, who kept turning around and asking me about whatever program’s booth I happened to be at). But I think I managed well, during the lulls, to meet a lot of new people. (I also managed to advise some students on how to get into medical school, pharmacy and law — that was predictable. Consider that I was really advising a guy’s mother — they were brown — rather than the guy himself about medical school; and when I tried to address the guy directly, his mother kept jumping back in..)

I met departmental administrators, department faculty, and students in departments (graduate and undergraduate). Many of the undergraduate students were actually members of various course unions (just like Zain). Many faces I knew, many others I didn’t.

What I didn’t like was the fact that they divided the “Arts” from the “Sciences” (the former in the West Hall and the latter in the East Hall). It’s bad enough that most university students don’t have the word “inter-disciplinary” in their vocabularies, but that kind of segregation isn’t helping anything. (It was nevertheless funny to find Fine Arts, Architecture and Music in the Science section). I think they should mix up the booths even more so people don’t all simply rush to ask how to get into medical school, but are confronted by — say Philosophy — on their way over to the Human Biology table. Something might catch someone’s eyes by mistake, and it wouldn’t hurt to help along serendipity.

I’ve concluded that whenever the university holds an event like this in the future, I ought to go and crash it, just like I did this one. It’s a great way to meet new students and university personnel; and, of course, to hand out my business cards (on which I have to write my name myself, because ASSU only has generic “Executive Member” cards).

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Essays, Procrastination and Student Representation

Today I actually finished writing an essay the day before it is due. This, of course, is in contrast to my usual practice of finishing the essay the day it is due, typically a couple of hours before I have to hand it in (to allow for transit) or a couple of minutes (if I’m finishing it at school).

I also walked around and reacquainted myself with some people I met while campaigning for the ASSU Referendum, and I met some new people as well. One girl thought I was running for something, she couldn’t wrap her head around why someone in a position like mine would actually go around talking to people unless it had some kind of “benefit.” I had to explain to her that I was doing this because I like it, and because I think it’s a valuable part of my job as a student representative.

It’s sad when students view their representatives with that kind of suspicion, and I’ve complained in the past about the kind of elitism that results from student government. When candidates are running for a position they’ll go around introducing themselves to everyone and taking the time out to chat with them, but as soon as they’re elected they cram into their offices and remain aloof from the typical student (other than at events or seminars that they’re organizing).

In my case I get to interact with students every day when I do my office hours, and I give them the tests and advice and whatnot that they ask for. But I rarely take the time to meet them outside of the office, sticking to myself or with the friend or acquaintance that I happen to be with.

I’m going to try and change that, and I think every student representative should.

How can you purport to represent students if you don’t have to wait in one of the long lines that forms to buy a Metropass, but rather bypass it because of your position? How can you relate to the students if you use your position for discounts on certain things?

It’s a difficult balance between student representation and getting something back for being a representative. In my case, I don’t get paid a cent. But I do get access to photocopiers and computers and printers. It’s difficult for me, then, to relate to a student who has to type up her essay at Robarts and pay 5 cents or whatever the price may be per page off a crappy printer and then run off to hand it in. I have the opportunity to type it up in the comfort of the office, get it printed and stapled and then run over to hand it in.

I also get free ASSU t-shirts. And sometimes from SAC, too.

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Paying Attention In Class

From today’s (or, well, yesterday’s) POL320 lecture: Professor Carens.

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Of Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tears and Politics

In December of 2004, in the aftermath of the South-East Asian tsunami, I wrote a piece on the fact that every day, tens of thousands of people die from hunger and malnutrition; yet we barely spare our constant attention on that. However, when something such as the South-East Asian tsunami strikes, it catches our attention and evokes a quick and substantial response.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really haven’t felt as overwhelming a response to the earthquake in South Asia as the tsunami. A lot of people seem to agree (but I stand to be corrected).

I’m trying to place why this is the case — at least, here in the West, and particularly, Canada. (In the Muslim world, the earthquake happened to strike at the beginning of the month of Ramadhan, and judging simply from the MSA‘s response at UofT, it seems that Muslims are giving heartily. Since I’m not there, I don’t know what the response is like.)

Apparently, this earthquake isn’t as Hollywood, or maybe it’s because not enough Western tourists had their vacations upset, or perhaps it’s not right after Christmas and no one feels as guilty, or maybe people are tired of giving for tsunamis and hurricanes, or maybe no one really cares about the Kashmiris anyway.

I’m also trying to grasp why my own emotional response has been so shallow. Usually I’m deeply affected by human suffering (scroll down and see how much I cry). I’m not sure if I’ve become callous or what, but this earthquake really hasn’t moved me to tears yet — and that scares me.

Moreover, I’ve learned more about the political aspects of human and natural disasters. And I have to revise my statement that “every five days, 120,000 people die from hunger — it doesn’t take American bombs … to do it.”

Imagine if India and Pakistan had invested more in their people, their infrastructure, their buildings, their hospitals, their social services and so on, instead of investing so heavily in armed forces and military research and development: Not only would the magnitude of this disaster be lessened in terms of reaching areas and not having shoddy buildings fall, but the utter poverty that many of these people were already subject to would definitely have been reduced.

This is a classic example of the guns and butter paradigm. Eisenhower said it well:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

Moreover, not all bombs are the type that are dropped from airplanes. The world economy is designed in such a way that it delivers vast profits to the Northern countries (essentially “the West”) by more or less robbing the Southern countries — Africa is a notable example. The causes are complex but rooted in the structure of this world economic order. These policies often lead to the very famines and mass starvations that we see (such as in Niger), and the ones we don’t see. These are not simply “American bombs,” per se, because other wealthy countries participate in this debauchery as well (America certainly leads the charge).

Ultimately the point remains that we don’t do anything about anything. Whether it be bringing about a responsible resolution to the “thousand years” of war that the countries we come from are often set to fight or to the economic policies of the wealthy nations that we have adopted, we do little. We continue to live our lives of complacency, caught up in our busy days and busy ways.

We cannot control natural disasters, but we can prepare for them. We can prevent economic disasters and bring about justice to the way things are done.

We see the news and realize something bad is happening and put some money in a box and hope it will go away. But it never does and it never will. It will keep coming back until we bring about a change to the way things are done and the ways of those who purport to lead us. We have to effect a paradigmatic shift.

… it’s like the elders told me:
No one person can do everything, but everyone can do something.

– “One (Remix),” Immortal Technique

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