Sunday, April 29, 2007


In his travels my grandfather told me he once encountered a man at an out-house who was dropping coins down the hole. My grandfather watched him drop nickels and dimes and quarters for some time. Finally my grandfather stopped him and asked why he was pouring so much money down the hole. The man explained to my grandfather that at first he'd been sitting on the stand when he accidentally dropped a penny into the hole. That not being worth the while to retrieve he decided to put enough money in to make the cost of getting his money back worth the trouble.

Most of us understand the concept of 'throwing good money after bad' without the need of a sparkling illustration. But obviously not all of us get it. Some don't make the leap from that to pursuing bad relationships, don't get the idea of doing something self-destructive and generally harmful, don't get over the myopia, the habit, or the pride that makes a wall we cannot penetrate. People do not have to be entirely stupid to miss the lesson involved, they just have to be unthinking and stubborn, they have to be to determined to continue regardless of the cost involved if that cost entails harm to the past that they think of as their lives. The following illustration is a little more up-scale, though the lesson is the same:

[T]he subject would continue to deliver higher and higher shocks in order to evader responsibility for shocks already given. Breaking off would require the subject to acknowledge, in effect, that everything done until the stopping point was bad, but continuing with the procedure can permit the subject to avoid any uncomfortable realization about the morality of his or her past performance.

Neil J. Kressel, Mass Hate.

Why are people Leftists? Most are normal and decent people, one must assume, who are simply stuck in an emotional investment they cannot stop paying into from fear of losing all they've invested so far. But there comes a point when the harm done by normal and decent people doing the same old thing is enough to disqualify them from normalcy and decency. There comes a point that doing the same thing, regardless of how it might have seemed in the 60s is now nothing more than sheer evil, and they are not good and caring-sharing, concerned and nice people any longer. There comes a time, and it has come long ago, that normal and decent people have to accept the wrong turn they've made, and they have to reorient their visions and pursue the different, regardless of the loss of the past. Tough. It's part of being a mature Human being. Those who cannot do that, who continue to cling to the corpse of Leftism, are becoming increasingly irrational and disgusting, are often on the border of evil. We need have no sympathy or concern for those who act on past faiths and assumptions. The Left is clearly evil, and those who cannot or will not accept it are doomed to continue to perdition. That in itself wouldn't matter at all but for the fact that the murder they encourage by their lack of courage is evil and must stop. The individual's idiocy, myopia, or pride is of no interest to anyone; but the mass of this evil is a threat to the world in general. There's nothing nice about it. People who are Leftists are, regardless of their naive assumptions about themselves and the delusions they hold dear, evil people who create murder regimes and slave nations. In spite of all the feel-good rhetoric and moralistic posturing these people indulge themselves in, they are increasingly and obviously more daily, evil people. Those who support Islam anywhere, by defending the so-called rights of Muslims, are evil. They are not civil libertarians, not defenders of free speech, not anti-racists, not democrats, not normal and decent people. They allow and encourage a primitive fascism that destroys the lives of Muslims, that destroys the world of our beautiful Modernity, that kills innocent people for the sake of a phony liberal pose of self-indulgence.

It's time to accept that the blinders of willful self-delusion have to come off; that people are not excused from morality and decency just because they find their self-indulgent moralisms make them feel superior to the masses. The arrival point is here and now. There is nowhere else to go. I leave this with a wonderful piece of writing by a British traveler who makes his solitary way in admirable ways, his conclusion this:

Full of turmoil of movement, I had suddenly run out of destinations. I was looking for something. But it was no use. There was nowhere further to go. I had run into the brick wall of arrival.

Stanley Stewart, In the Kingdom of Genghis Khan.

Honest people will accept that they have made mistakes and that to continue is wrong. Those people are welcome to join us on Thursday evening at the Vancouver Public Library from 7-9 p.m. to sit in the Covenant Zone in the Atrium outside Blenz coffee bar. We talk. We'd like to listen to you. Friend, you have arrived.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Beautiful day to be in Vancouver

What a day to be in Vancouver. Such glorious weather makes all the grey days and rain worthwhile.
Hope everyone is having as enjoyable a weekend as I am.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why so blue?

photo by rustyvalentine

As Tiberge reports, the results of the first round of the presidential election in France have dispirited leading figures in the Blue Revolution there. And yet they vow to keep fighting for a renewed national covenant in France, knowing that soon the people will have to face reality and choose either something like the Blue Revolution or national suicide.

We may have slightly more or less breathing room in Canada, but for how long Mark Steyn asks.

Steyn, in pointing to our demographic weakness, tells us little of how can we renew our national covenant and make it something immigrants will want to join, to become self-ruling Canadians, and not just subjects of some multicultural empire. It is our job to build this covenant by getting out in public and representing ourselves and our nation in such a way that people can see that any competent individual can take the lead in doing something others will find attractive and want to join, promoting appreciation of the shared sense of honour, integrity, and faith on which all good government depends.

These questions of what we can do to renew confidence in our culture and nation are on the agenda again this week, as every Thursday, at the Covenant Zone/Blue Scarf meeting in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library, central branch, 7-9pm, in front of Blenz Coffee. Please join us; look for the blue.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Cruelest Month

"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain...."1.

But wait! That's the wrong American, the wrong Englishman. It's the word of the wrong man.

No. In casting my mind's eye back to the mountains of my youth I see what I recall rightly: the poisoned madness of heavy metal miners choking in their cups, gasping and expiring in the smoke-filled darkness, nothing above and beyond but poverty and meanness of spirit. No escape but the rusted rungs of futility and despair and perhaps resignation. Disaster! I remember the ascent of the blackened bodies of the dead. In my mind I see the wasteland covered in corpses. Ah, my old home. Home sick, I call it.

Is it better now, friend? I don't think so. I think it's only different. I think the dead are dead and that the living fake it. There is caring, there is sharing, there is grief counseling.

We carry on, carry on our backs our burdens even to Jerusalem.

In my minds eye I see a boy grown walking up the hill and gazing into the sandstorm to see the sun shining on the city. Glory, glory, glory. Here two men, there a flaming car, and beyond a leg or so. O, Jerusalem! Who could imagine to go so far from the depths of the mountains to the heights of the Holy? I -- me -- I won't go back. I will not be buried with the living.

Some have climbed from a terrible darkness, and some of us will not be shoveled back. We might look around ourselves and see the carnage of our time and we might despair. I listen to that American, that Englishman, the right one:

"Among and beneath the rotten weeds and garbage of the old systems and abuses the new seed was being sown, but England saw no sign of the new crop...." 2.

I see the signs, having lived underground for many years and being sensitive to the nature of the darkness and its tremors. April, the season of resurrection, cruel.

Our own have risen from our deepest depths, and our own have fallen from our highest heights. Outside my window I see the gloom of the North, the fog and the cold gray mist. Deep inside there is the smoldering fire wherein my own are laid.

I won't go home again.

"The April sun was now well up in the sky, shedding its glorious rays on the teeming earth. Life was springing from her fertile womb, buds were bursting into leaf and the fields were quickening with fresh green grass. Everywhere seeds were swelling and lengthening, cracking open the lain in their upward thrust for warmth and light. The sap was rising in abundance with whispering voices, the germs of life were opening with a kiss. On and on, ever more insistently, his comrades were tapping, tapping, as though they too were rising through the ground. On this youthful morning, in the fiery rays of the sun, the whole country was alive with this sound. Men were springing up, a black avenging host was slowly germinating in the furrows, thrusting upwards for the harvests of future ages. And very soon their germination would crack the earth asunder." 3

We meet each Thursday evening from 7-9 p.m. in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library by the Blenz coffee bar. We sit in the Covenant Zone. Please join us.

1. T.S. Eliot, Selected Poems, "The Waste Land." London: Faber and Faber; rpt. 1990, p. 51.
2. Winston Churchill, The River War. London: Landsborough Publications ltd.; rpt. 1960, p. 88.
3. Emil Zola, Germinal. Trans. L.W. Tancock. London: Penguin; rpt. 1968, pp. 498-99.

Remembering the Armenian Genocide, part II

Tuesday night, I attended an event at St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church, here in Vancouver (see the photo in/and Charles' previous post), to mark the ninety-second anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide. After a brief service in the church, the participants moved to the adjoining hall to listen to speeches, some beautiful singing, and to watch a slide show with photographs depicting Armenian-Ottoman towns, institutions and peoples before the genocide, as well as victims of the genocide in various horrific states of life and death.

At the outset, two messages from local politicians were read. Bill Siksay, Member of Parliament for Burnaby-Douglas, sent a message expressing regret that he could not be present at the commemoration as in past years, due to obligations in Ottawa. Adrian Dix, a Vancouver member of the provincial legislature, sent a transcript of his remarks to the legislature, mentioning the "avalanche of evidence" for the murder of about 1.5 million people over eight years, from 1915-23, noting the "well-financed effort to deny the Armenia genocide", and claiming there was "no room for dissembling" in the fight against such inhumanity.

Two speakers were invited to address the meeting. Prof. Andre Gerolymatos of Simon Fraser University, a historian and the local media's go-to guy on matters pertaining the Balkans, terrorism, and the Middle East, spoke first, mentioning that he could not do justice to the Armenian genocide in the fifteen minutes allotted, let alone in a lifetime. Prof. Gerolymatos nonetheless displayed his skill in addressing the public and offering a number of suitable thoughts for the occasion.

On the question of why there was a genocide, Gerolymatos offered the view that as the Ottoman empire became a dying corpse at the end of the nineteenth century, its representatives wanted to drag others with it into the grave. At the same time, the Young Turks were inventing a somewhat artificial identity for a modern Turkey, one that seemed to require a transformation of the formerly multi-ethnic imperial state into something more homogeneous; though this, because it entailed genocide or its later denial, was a fatal mistake at the moment of birth that haunts the nation still.

Just why the Young Turks felt this way was not made clear, though Gerolymatos pointed out that Armenians were not the only group targeted for mass murder. 350, 000 Greeks living around the Black Sea were almost entirely eliminated, along with 275, 000 Syrian Christians. Thus one learned, though Gerolymatos did not discuss the point, that the genocide targeted Christian peoples in general. Just why this "religious cleansing" was necessary to the Ottomans, or to those anticipating a modern secular Turkish state, was not made clear. No one at the event mentioned Islam. The murderers were merely Ottomans or Turks.

Gerolymatos concluded by noting that a good part of Turkish identity is based on a lie, on denial of the genocide. This, he suggested, has been a tragedy for Turkey; he called genocide an act of inhumanity and stupidity. Until Turkey's denial is rectified, there can be no future for Turkey in the European Union.

The second speaker on the evening was the Armenian Catholic priest, Gabriel de Chadarevian, Chaplain of St. Mark's College, University of British Columbia, who accented the inherently Christian nature of Armenian identity. He told of growing up in Aleppo and Beirut, in a highly multilingual environment with an Armenian father, and Greek mother. While his childhood was marked by stories of the genocide, of heroic women throwing themselves and their babies off cliffs while making the sign of the cross, in order to avoid horrible rape and deaths at the hands of the Turks, it was not until university days - he first studied chemistry at the American University of Beirut - that he seriously began to study and learn the Armenian language and struggle to understand his Armenian identity that grew in tandem with violent feelings for the Turks. It was only when he studied to join the Dominican order and met a Turkish fellow student, who immediately asked him forgiveness for his people, that Father Gabriel felt freed from his resentment.

Father Gabriel highlighted two points: the power of forgiveness as key to the Christian, and hence Armenian, soul; and, the need for the world's big powers to put non-violent pressure on Turkey to recognize the genocide. We must fight with the weapons of truth which are incompatible with violence he said. While he stressed the importance of forgiveness in his personal journey, he did not explain how we can forgive a people or state that continues to commit the wrong which we would like to be able to forgive. Turkey continues to deny the genocide and has succeeded, through continuing persecution, in all but eliminating Christian life in that country. Father Gabriel concluded by suggesting we pray for the Turks.

The Armenian community of Vancouver is small. But it testifies to a fundamental fact of human society, the power of national identities to survive the rise and fall of empires. This small nation, founded when the Armenians converted to Christianity in the opening years of the fourth century of the Christian era, is, along with the Jewish and Ethiopian, one of humanity's oldest nations and high cultures. It has survived great hardships and maintains itself not only in Armenia but in diaspora around the world. Here in Vancouver, we may be on a remote edge of the Pacific Basin, as Dr. Gerolymatos noted, but we nonetheless find an Armenian community active in maintaining its identity, culture, and faith. The cultural vitality of nations, as opposed to the empires that hold disparate cultures together with a parasitic and syncretic ideology of state, was a theme the historian might have explored. Given the violence that attended the collapse of the Ottoman empire it is easy for us to imply that the multicultural empire (not that it was ever a peaceful utopia) was superior to what came after. Yet the power of Armenian national identity testifies in many ways to the superiority of nations (if not nation-states) as self-renewing cultural entities that can survive millennia, through good and bad. Such a sense of nationhood was surely, if not consciously, an attractive model for the Young Turks in attempting to construct a Turkish national identity out of the Ottoman empire. How can one nation get it right, and its historical "apprentice" get it so wrong? As Father Gabriel suggested, the key may well lie with Christianity.

At the beginning of the evening, the hundred-odd people in the hall cheerfully sung O'Canada, suggesting that it is possible to be simultaneously a proud member, if not citizen, of two strong nations. I did not have the impression that Canada is merely a state or multicultural empire to those who called on God to keep our land glorious and free. In renewing our Canadian national covenant, we can learn much from the experiences of one of the first nations to emerge as part of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the partnership of God and man.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

April 24: remembering the Armenian Genocide

A grey day for us in Vancouver today, perhaps the appropriate atmosphere for timely reflections upon the sad anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

Message from US President George Bush:
Each year on this day, we pause to remember the victims of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, when as many as 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, many of them victims of mass killings and forced exile.
I join my fellow Americans and Armenian people around the world in commemorating this tragedy and honoring the memory of the innocent lives that were taken. The world must never forget this painful chapter of its history.
All who cherish freedom and value the sanctity of human life look back on these horrific events in sorrow and disbelief. Many of those who survived were forced from their ancestral home and spread across the globe. Yet, in the midst of this terrible struggle, the world witnessed the indomitable spirit and character of the Armenian people. Many of the brave survivors came to America, where they have preserved a deep connection with their history and culture. Generations of Armenians in the United States have enriched our country and inspired us with their courage and conviction.
Today, we remember the past and also look forward to a brighter future. We commend the individuals in Armenia and Turkey who are working to normalize the relationship between their two countries. A sincere and open examination of the historic events of the late-Ottoman period is an essential part of this process. The United States supports and encourages those in both countries who are working to build a shared understanding of history as a basis for a more hopeful future.
We value the strong and vibrant ties between the United States and Armenia. Our Nation is grateful for Armenia's contributions to the war on terror, particularly for its efforts to help build a peaceful and democratic Iraq. The United States remains committed to working with Armenia and Azerbaijan to promote a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We are also working to promote democratic and economic reform in Armenia that will advance the cause of freedom and justice.
Laura and I express our deepest condolences to Armenian people around the world on this solemn day of remembrance. We stand together in our determination to build a more peaceful, more prosperous, and more just world.

This message carries a marked difference from the standard notes Bush has issued for this anniversary date on its previous occasions during his administration. This time he has far more detailed remarks on Turkey's possible change of heart regarding that nation's perpetual denial of history. I wonder if this increased focus has anything to do with subduing the controversial storm he caused last year by the dismissal of former ambassador to Armenia John Evans, fired for giving a speech where he refered to the Armenian Genocide, as a genocide, not the thesaurus-assisted dance around the truth that has characterized American policy on this issue for so long now. Evans' honesty went against current US policy, and so he was removed from his post. (The aftermath of the dismissal proved so tempestuous that the nominated replacement, Richard Hoagland, was never confirmed, leaving Armenia without any official ambassador whatsoever, as far as I know)

Hyelog (a site we recommend for news on Armenian-Turkish relations) provides a link to an article by Radio Free Europe's Armenian Service director Harry Tamrazian, on the glacier-like progress being made on the issue of Turkey's official recognition of their genocidal war on Armenians during World War I:

For the Armenian government, the fact that Turkey refuses to acknowledge the extent of the mass killings is disturbing. They still consider Turkey to be the biggest security threat for the country. Yerevan [the capital of Armenia] believes that that threat could be eliminated if Ankara recognizes the Armenian genocide.
There have been hopeful signs in Turkey in recent months. More and more Turkish intellectuals and academics have come forward to publicly challenge their government's stance on the issue, some calling for open debate. Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has been one of the most prominent and outspoken. He has said that over 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey and no one wants to talk about it. He was charged by the Turkish authorities for insulting Turkishness under Article 301 of the penal code, but the charges were subsequently dropped.
Many hoped that things would change after the killing of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Thousands of Turks took to the streets to express their anger, chanting 'We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians.' Many saw the outpouring of emotion as a sign that the reconciliation process had begun. But the Turkish government has not capitalized on that historic moment. Article 301, which makes it illegal to criticize Turkishness or the Turkish government, still remains on the books.

And so today we remember an historical injustice, in the shadow of another, ongoing one: denial of history chosen as the lesser of two evils, for political expediency.

[Photo of St-Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church in Vancouver, BC. ]

Monday, April 23, 2007

Political Islam is for Boys!

How a British jihadi saw the light:
Ed Hussain, once a proponent of radical Islam in London, tells how his time as a teacher in Saudi Arabia led him to turn against extremism.
I had never expected to see such naked poverty in Saudi Arabia.

At that moment it dawned on me that Britain, my home, had given refuge to thousands of black Africans from Somalia and Sudan: I had seen them in their droves in Whitechapel. They prayed, had their own mosques, were free and were given government housing.

Many Muslims enjoyed a better lifestyle in non-Muslim Britain than they did in Muslim Saudi Arabia. At that moment I longed to be home again.

All my talk of ummah seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical utopian slogans as one government, one ever expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal.
The students to whom I described life in modern multi-ethnic Britain could not comprehend that such a world of freedom, away from “normal” Saudi racism, could exist.

Racism was an integral part of Saudi society. My students often used the word “nigger” to describe black people. Even dark-skinned Arabs were considered inferior to their lighter-skinned cousins. I was living in the world’s most avowedly Muslim country, yet I found it anything but. I was appalled by the imposition of Wahhabism in the public realm, something I had implicitly sought as an Islamist.
I was repeatedly astounded at the stares Faye got from Saudi men and I from Saudi women.

Faye was not immodest in her dress. Out of respect for local custom, she wore the long black abaya and covered her hair in a black scarf. In all the years I had known my wife, never had I seen her appear so dull. Yet on two occasions she was accosted by passing Saudi youths from their cars. On another occasion a man pulled up beside our car and offered her his phone number.
We had heard stories of the abduction of women from taxis by sex-deprived Saudi youths. At a Saudi friend’s wedding at a luxurious hotel in Jeddah, women dared not step out of their hotel rooms and walk to the banqueting hall for fear of abduction by the bodyguards of a Saudi prince who also happened to be staying there.
Segregation of the sexes, made worse by the veil, had spawned a culture of pent-up sexual frustration that expressed itself in the unhealthiest ways.

Using Bluetooth technology on mobile phones, strangers sent pornographic clips to one another. Many of the clips were recordings of homosexual acts between Saudis and many featured young Saudis in orgies in Lebanon and Egypt. The obsession with sex in Saudi Arabia had reached worrying levels: rape and abuse of both sexes occurred frequently, some cases even reaching the usually censored national press.
My students told me about the day in March 2002 when the Muttawa [the religious police] had forbidden firefighters in Mecca from entering a blazing school building because the girls inside were not wearing veils. Consequently 15 young women burnt to death, but Wahhabism held its head high, claiming that God’s law had been maintained.

As a young Islamist, I organised events at college and in the local community that were strictly segregated and I believed in it. Living in Saudi Arabia, I could see the logical outcome of such segregation.
In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah I met young men with angry faces from Europe, students at various Wahhabi seminaries. They reminded me of my extremist days.

They were candid in discussing their frustrations with Saudi Arabia. The country was not sufficiently Islamic; it had strayed from the teachings of Wahhabism. They were firmly on the side of the monarchy and the clerics who supported it. Soon they were to return to the West, well versed in Arabic, fully indoctrinated by Wahhabism, to become imams in British mosques.
Sultan spoke fondly of his time in London, particularly his placement at Coutts as a trainee banker. We then moved on to the subject uppermost in my mind, the terrorist attacks on London. My host did not really seem to care. He expressed no real sympathy or shock, despite speaking so warmly of his time in London.

“I suppose they will say Bin Laden was behind the attacks. They blamed us for 9/11,” he said.

Keen to take him up on his comment, I asked him: “Based on your education in Saudi Arabian schools, do you think there is a connection between the form of Islam children are taught here and the action of 15 Saudi men on September 11?”

Without thinking, his immediate response was, ‘No. No, because Saudis were not behind 9/11. The plane hijackers were not Saudi men. One thousand two hundred and forty-six Jews were absent from work on that day and there is the proof that they, the Jews, were behind the killings. Not Saudis.”
Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in London another Saudi student raised his hand and asked: “Teacher, how can I go to London?”

“Much depends on your reason for going to Britain. Do you want to study or just be a tourist?”

“Teacher, I want to go London next month. I want bomb, big bomb in London, again. I want make jihad!”

“What?” I exclaimed. Another student raised both hands and shouted: “Me too! Me too!”

Other students applauded those who had just articulated what many of them were thinking. I was incandescent. In protest I walked out of the classroom to a chorus of jeering and catcalls.

My time in Saudi Arabia bolstered my conviction that an austere form of Islam (Wahhabism) married to a politicised Islam (Islamism) is wreaking havoc in the world. This anger-ridden ideology, an ideology I once advocated, is not only a threat to Islam and Muslims, but to the entire civilised world.
Still, that's no argument or alternative vision to contradict the widespread assumption that a politicised Islam is in fact orthodox Islam, i.e. that a political and violent Jihad constitutes the most obvious interpretation of the Islamic holy texts and the life of Mohammed, not to mention the later history of Islam, Sharia, etc. I would welcome a radical re-interpretation of Islam, as something non-political, but so far it does not seem to exist in any well-developed sense, and Ed Husain seems to be among a decided minority of converts from orthodox Islam who would define their "religion" in Western terms, in light of Christ's separation of church and state.

Now if only Ed Hussain can learn to see that Britain is, or was, a free society because it has been a particular kind of Judeo-Christian society and not just home to some vague ode to freedom and multi-ethnic accommodation.

Little Olde Englande, in which it was surely not uncommon to hear used the "n" word, often defined itself as a society of free men in contrast to the benighted masses of the "coloured" world. Among other things, this was arguably first a way of keeping their own big people in line, suggesting to would-be tyrants at home that they might be compared unfavorably with an Oriental Despot if they didn't recognize the Englishman's rights. And it has been just this legacy of an English society with a relatively large number of degrees of freedom, won as part of a contest to build a powerful nation (powerful because free) that could compete with and dominate other peoples, that has led to the Britain in which Ed Hussains can live in relative peace and freedom. Any chance he can come to appreciate the paradox and help displace Britain's present, self-immolating, fascination with White Guilt?

Now that the Brits have let in millions of "people of colour" and, more to the point, millions of people of the crescent, and other foreign beliefs, will they destroy their freedom in policing "multiculturalism" and the disorder that unassimilated populations, with quite different understandings of what is sacred, bring to the country? Or will the Ed Husains become a multitude that make the leap and embrace the freedom of the Englishman, defining themselves in contrast to the benighted masses of the non-free world who must either become more free and enter into productive competition in the global economy; or become dominated by those who can produce; or be simply left to prey on each other and cause periodic sacrificial conflict with the outside world?

Rejecting "political Islam" should lead one not only to a rejection of a utopian politics that dreams of the rise of some united Umma under a renascent Caliphate and Sharia. It should also lead to a new appreciation for the global order of nation-states maintaining their differences while competing in a single economic system. It should engender the lesson that only a nation that can respect its own particular cultural tradition for building covenants that unite the people, with all their various domestic minorities, against some external Other, can hope to expand the degrees of freedom that are possible within a national life. And only a society that is free and disciplined, internally, will become sufficiently transparent for outsiders to find reasonably predictable the means by which a society defines its foreign policies. We can only hope to survive the nuclear age if all societies that can make a bomb, and soon that will be everyone, become suitably free, transparent, and predictable, that we may mediate international conflicts (which always entail some domestic conflict over how the nation should present itself to Others) in a pragmatic, rational, fashion. Thus we must hope for many more Ed Husains teaching that political Islam is for overly excited, immature, boys. Either that, or we must continually bomb the barbarians back into the stone age, that they never get the big bomb. Which course is likely to keep us united and strong at home?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

French election vote breakdown

There was much uncertainty during the lead-up to today's presidential election in France; one could even be forgiven for indulging in a measured amount of optimism... was France waking up, shedding its flirtation with nihilist socialism?
Then this morning came the voting results to torpedo such positive daydreams. Reality is that France is in a lot of trouble.

The official website for France's Minister of the Interior lists the entire voting breakdown, candidate by candidate, department by department. Here is some overall voting data:

On the left:

Ségolène Royal, PS ("Parti Socialiste", Socialist Party): 9,402,797 (25.83%)
Oliver Besancenot, LCR ("Ligue communiste révolutionnaire", Revolutionary Communist League): 1, 494,446 (4.11%)
Marie-George Buffet, PCF ("Parti Communiste Francaise", French Communist Party): 705 487 (1.94%)
Dominique Voynet, "Les Verts" (Green Party): 570 240 (1.57%)
Arlette Laguiller, LO ("Lutte ouvrière", Worker's Struggle): 486 495 (1.34%)
José Bové: 479,125 (1.32%)
Gérard Schivardi, PT ("Parti des Travailleurs", Worker's Party): 123 305 (0.34%)

Out of the total 36 395 644 votes cast, left-leaning candidates totals come to 13,261,895, or 36.45% of the total vote.

On the right:

Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP ("Union pour un mouvement populaire", Union for a popular movement): 11 323 599 (31.11%)
Jean-Marie Le Pen, FN ("Front National", National Front): 3,824,258 (10.51%)
Philippe de Villiers, MPF ("Mouvement Pour La France", Movement for France): 815,789 (2.24%)
Frédéric Nihous, CPNT ("Chasse-Pêche-Nature-Traditions", Hunting-Fishing-Nature-Traditions): 420,097 (1.15%) (sounds libertarian, so I'm including them with the right-wing party totals until I'm advised otherwise)

Out of the total 36 395 644 votes cast, France's equivalent of conservative candidacies received 16,383,743 votes, or 45.01% of the total vote.

Now, I've left one candidate out of these calculations: the "third man" (you'd think that was his Party name, as the French media refer to this expression so frequently when citing him), François Bayrou, candidate for the UDF ("l'Union pour la démocratie française", Union for french democracy). Considered a "centrist" candidate, his platform seemed to lean much more to the left than the right. With a final tally of 6,750,006 votes, his supporters could swing the election in the second round. His 18.55% block is up for grabs, since Bayrou, in his consession speech, failed to recommend either Sarkozy or Royal.
Listening to the various consession speeches this morning streaming over the net, there seemed a common theme within each respective side of the political spectrum. Neither Le Pen or de Villiers made recommendations for their conservative supporters to vote for Sarkozy in the second round. Meanwhile the leftist candidates tended to be more strategic in their consession speeches, urging voters to choose Royal "with no illusions", but out of desperation to beat the "right".
I think it's a safe bet that the next election will probably not see another 84.6% turnout rate, as France's right of center voters may not feel there is sufficient difference between the remaining candidacies of Sarkozy and Royal. Still, while not the best of choices, there's still difference enough between the likely success of each candidate's taking the helm of the ship of state.
Let's hope that the center-right can accept Sarkozy as the lesser of two evils, and return to the polls in sufficient strength to save France from perpetual civil unrest, rapid economic decline, and Segolene Royal.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

France goes to the polls

France goes to the polls this sunday, to choose the next President of their nation.
I was trying to think of a way to frame a greeting to our French readers as they vote sunday in the first round of their Presidential Election, but I can't seem to come up with a turn of phrase that seems appropriate to the occasion.
"Good luck"? "Our condolences"? "I feel your pain"?
It probably sounds like a joke, I guess, but I am trying to be sincere. It's very hard to imagine any good to come out of this process; the only candidate that I felt would have shifted France back to a position of strength, Philippe de Villiers, has been consistently marginalized to the bottom of the list in poll after poll, seemingly unnoticed by his fellow citizens, despite the clear vision with which he identifies France's true problems and needs.

As we discussed at our meeting last week, over a third of the voters in these pre-election polls are declaring themselves "undecided", which makes the first round vote a gut call rather than a sure thing. Are they really undecided, though, or just ashamed to admit their intention to cast a vote for anti-American and anti-Israel Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen..?
I'm going to put the remaining scraps of my credibility on the line, and project Le Pen and gadfly François Bayrou as, respectively, the number one and number two winners in tomorrow's election. I think Sarkozy will come in a close third, with Segolene Royal a distant fourth.

I think Bayrou will end with most of Sego's socialist party's immigrant voting block, pushing him ahead of her, and pulling her behind Sarkozy. I think Sarkozy will lose much of his conservative support to Le Pen, who will be seen as more hardline on the law and order issues that plague the nation.

Then in the second round we will see history repeating itself, as France declares itself horrified at the news of Le Pen in the second round once more, and will hold their collective noses and raise Bayrou to the Presidency.

Which reminds me, maybe there can be some good to come out of this election, following the second round, after all:
French citizens won't have this gentleman in charge anymore....

What are Your election predictions?
UPDATE: I'm listening to election returns over France-Info, and so far my prediction isn't shaping up very well! First results are Sarkozy at 29%, Royal at 26%, Bayrou at 18%, with Le Pen at 10%.
UPDATE: Philippe de Villiers at 2%! That's even less than in his previous presidential campaign.
UPDATE: Le Pen is talking, he's disappointed in the people for choosing "the representatives of the system" in casting their votes for Sarkozy.
UPDATE: some interesting commentary on the "collapse" of the small parties, particularly on the left. Less than half of the total vote as compared to their numbers in the last election.
UPDATE: Televised Presidential debate between Sarkozy and Royal set for May 3. Based on the high electoral turnout (over 80%!) that debate will likely score very high ratings.

Deer visits city

Seems I wasn't the only one going out for a hike this saturday..!
Where I expected to meet people, I met a deer and her two fauns, and where I hoped to encounter wildlife I kept bumping in to other hikers.

True Heroism: doing what you have to do

A couple of years ago I was given a sobering definition of a "hero": "someone who does what they are supposed to do". The definition was offered in the context of idol worship, particularly in treating human beings as objects of veneration. Someone racing into a burning building in order to rescue a baby trapped within, the argument went, was merely doing what was expected of them; what else would they do, just sit around and let an innocent child be burned to death?? Of course they would rush in and risk their own life and limb: that was what you would be expected to do, since there was another innocent life at greater risk, one that the figure in this example might be in a position to assist, through their action.
As I say, that was a rather startling revelation for me, as I had always viewed heroism as doing something that you **didn't** need to do, but did anyway. Turning the tables like that, viewing heroism as a basic obligation, presented as the least that you should do, rather than the most one could offer... it was a new way for me to see myself and my world around me, one demanding a connection and commitment to others that I still struggle to live up to.

That struggle has been given new meaning to me again this morning. Reading the following account of the funeral of Professor Liviu Librescu, the 76-year old Holocaust survivor who sacrificed his life in the recent Virginia Tech massacre so that others may live, I was arrested in my tracks by seeing the professor's family striving to express similar sentiments of obligation and duty. From the Jerusalem Post: "I only did what I had to do":
The professor's other son, Arie, said his father had "always said to be strong." "Father, I believe that at this moment you're looking down on us from above and saying, what is all this crowing around? I only did what I had to do. From our childhood, you taught us to care for people, to work hard, to succeed, but you never taught us to be heroes. It is more theoretical a lesson than aerodynamics," he said. "A hero must have the right combination of certain attributes, and you had them."

The other family members offer sign after sign of the gratitude they feel for having had such a great man in their life. How difficult this must be for them, in a time such as this when they have been delt such a tremendous loss... so much is missing from their life, yet they persevere to find all that their lives have been given, instead:

Speaking at the ceremony, Librescu's son Joe lamented the questions he had never asked his father. "They're asking me today about your past, and I don't know what to tell them," he said. "I'm proud of you. I walk today with [my] head held high."
"Sometimes I didn't hear you, but my ears are now wide open to your legacy," he went on. "I'm doing my best, reaching to the moon - I know I can reach it because of you."
Librescu's wife, Marlena, mourned the loss of "not just a husband, but my best friend."
"I was blessed to be with him each day for 42 years - to learn from his wisdom, to receive his advice - and I thank you for giving me our two children. I'm now blessed to be with them," said Marlena.
"I ask forgiveness from you for every time I upset you. I hope you will protect your family from where you reside now," she said, adding, "I have only the good left from you.... May it go easy for you, my sweetheart."

Arie thanked family, friends and neighbors in Israel and around the world for all they had done for the family - and particularly for his mother - in their time of loss.
He added special thanks for "a righteous man, an organization, Chabad, someone who drove five hours to mother [the day of the shooting] and made sure the body would come to Israel as soon as possible."
Librescu was laid to rest in the Kfar Nahman cemetery in Ra'anana at approximately 12 p.m.

Surrounded by so much pain and so much loss, the family still strive to find good in their life:
According to Arie, his father "used every spare minute to do what he loved." Speaking of his father's teaching, Librescu said that "the courses in aerodynamics have ended. On the 16th of the month, you started a new career, teaching a new subject - heroism - [which] millions of students are learning."

We should all become students of the example of Professor Librescu. Not because we want to: because we **have to**, it is what we **should** be doing.
It is The Right Thing for a human being to do.

(HT to Boker Tov, Boulder, for highlighting this important story)

Friday, April 20, 2007

On living with Islam

Even if, as one opinion poll recently suggested, "only" twelve percent of Muslims in Canada will voice support (to a stranger) for violent forms of Jihad in this country, such as the alleged Toronto Jihadi campaign to blow up the Parliament buildings and behead PM Steven Harper, it is a yet very tiny fraction of Canadian Muslims who actively speak or campaign against all forms of violent Jihad and Sharia and denounce clerics who preach hatred of the West in various forms. Thus, allowing Muslims to immigrate to this country, or, once here, to preach a political and violent forms of Jihad, seems to be a recipe for requiring further and further investments in a security state, restricting everyone's freedom in order to protect people like Jawaad Faizi, a Muslim journalist in Toronto who was just beaten with a cricket bat and then told, by his kids' school principal, that the safety of his children could not be guaranteed and that they should be kept at home. The details are in this article reproduced at the Canadian Coalition for Democracies forum (for some reason the original CP story has apparently been removed from Canoe news where it first appeared):
TORONTO (CP) A Muslim journalist beaten with a cricket bat outside a Toronto-area home fears for his life after facing repeated death threats apparently because someone has deemed his writing to be anti-Islam.

Jawaad Faizi, a columnist for the weekly Urdu-language Pakistan Post based in New York, suffered cuts and bruises in the attack, which has alarmed his wife and three children and drew the condemnation Thursday of free-press advocates.
Faizi, 35, said the threats began after he wrote in January about a lecture at a Toronto-area mosque given by a Pakistani cleric, Muhammad Tahir Ul Qadri, leader of the international Islamic-based organization, Minhaj ul Quran.

Two weeks ago, Faizi wrote a critical column based on news reports from Pakistan about charismatic claims made by Ul Qadri, who often visits Canada, that he had inscribed the name of the prophet on the moon.

That sparked further telephone threats accusing him of apostasy, prompting Faizi and Post editor Amir Arain to complain on Monday to police, who advised them to be careful.

On Tuesday, just as he arrived at Arain's Mississauga, Ont., home, Faizi said two men attacked the vehicle. They smashed the windshield and windows, leaving him with cuts and bruises on his head and arm. They fled when he dialled 911 on his cellphone.

"It was very shocking to me," Faizi said. "They were saying so many bad things to me in Urdu and Punjabi."
Also, the family's two boys, aged 10 and five, and four-year-old daughter are staying home from school at the urging of the vice-principal.

"She advised me it would be safer for them to keep them at home," said Jawaad.
Meanwhile, Stephane Dion's Liberal party has nominated a decidely anti-Israel, anti-France, pro-Chomsky candidate, in an Edmonton-area riding, apparently showing that Mohammed Elmasry's support for Dion at last year's leadership convention was not an isolated incident and that the Liberal party is increasingly open to membership from orthodox, Jihad-supporting, Muslims (the candidate has a Muslim name and defends the Jihad against Israel).
So, what in future may we expect of a Canada that continues to open its doors to Muslim immigration (not bothering to distinguish between apostates and fanatics, perversely preferring instead to shun such talk of a religion-political ideology - for Islam is simultaneously both religion and politics - as a forbidden question of race or racism) and that won't likely discover the resolve to monitor and license the teaching in Mosques and Islamic centres in order to outlaw promotion of violent Jihad, Jew- and American-hatred, and promotion of a vision of Canada and Sharia that would require revolutionary transformation of the present Constitutional order? Do not expect to hear but a mere fraction of the number of Canadians condemning Israel (for Israel's not always perfect but generally admirable behaviour in the war it has been fighting for sixty years that it might survive in a land Islam claims entirely as its own) condemn things like Al-Qaeda in Iraq's kidnapping and purchase of children to be used as suicide bombers. Too many Canadians would rather keep relatively quiet than take shots at all manner of barbarism, and then defend their mute position in the name of multiculturalism. But all cultures are not equal. Some have a rather primitive relationship to the sacred and still practise human sacrifice. The defense of our freedom not to live in fear of political violence depends on all Canadians (for it takes only a small determined minority to make any policing largely ineffective) defending a rather particular, Western, relationship to the sacred, one that recognizes the inherent sacrality of every individual and his or her freedom to think for himself and to find new ways to covenant with the one God, to reject the idea that humanity has already received its final and full revelation into the nature of that we call God.

Now is the time when we must decide whether human sacrifice will become a Canadian value and whether the children of those who criticize or belittle pretending moon writers will be safe in their schools. Apparently, at present the answer is that their safety cannot be guaranteed. Talk to you MP about it, why don't you, and don't take any "multiculti" guilt trip in response for speaking your mind. Multiculturalism is an entirely incoherent ideology that has and can never really exist in a society that would rule itself. To rule ourselves we must first be something particular, a people commonly practising some shared form of political sacrality, or discipline, and not another. If you want to try to be all things to all people (pretending to allow, e.g., the coexistence of Jihad or Sharia and Constitutional democracy), only an emperor, Caliph, or Supreme Court, can truly rule, deciding on how to split the many differences, telling everyone what they can and cannot do. Accordingly, there is no reason for free, self-ruling Canadians to support or allow the immigration or teaching of those who support violent forms of Jihad here at home or around the world. Might we expect Stephane Dion and the Liberal party to be clear and consistent about where they stand on these matters, clear that Israel and Canada must defend themselves, and Western civilization as a whole, from a violent and imperious Jihad?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Covenant against evil

This week finds us dwelling on acts and omens of great evil around the world. But just because evil is always with us, and because there are no final solutions to it, we should not fall into the trap of thinking it is such a great mystery, that it is futile to attempt to understand it in hopes of temporary remedies. Here, for example, is a good definition of evil (Mark Gordon quotes the Orthodox priest, Fr. James Thornton):
…One may define evil as nothingness. Certainly evil never exits by itself but only inside of Goodness. Evil is a pure negation, a privation, a mutilation. But, though evil is a void of nothingness, it is a void which exists, which swallows and devours beings. It has no power to create, but its destructive power is enormous. Evil never ascends, it always descends. The very debasement of being that it produces is frightening. Evil is chaotic, it is a separation, a decomposition constantly in progress, a disorganization of the entire structure of being.
In other words, evil entails the loss of meaningful differences, or creative discriminations, under the force of a resentful mimesis, a burning desire to possess the things and status that some other possesses, to the point where one can no longer base one's sense of identity on a positive affirmation of what makes one different, but only on a negative resentment of those who seemingly alienate one from all that is sacred. When the nightmare of a constantly mimicing and frustrated desire reaches its evil climax, the only apparent "solution" is destruction of those people and their idols that alienate, that victimize, that remove us from what is our due and our right.

In what passes for our public and political life today, we witness an ethic of relativism and of victimary thinking in which an imperative to continually render all people equal in status rules. This entails, for our educational leaders, the deconstruction of meaningful differences, of status inequalities; and so the liberal "order" under which today's young people must try to find their way, often turns out to be a nightmare that sucks us down into nihilism, if the refusal of our desire for a solid sense of purpose and direction may even be figured as a downer. With a lack of ethical differentiations that define shared values and also the different places from which a symmetrical exchange of differences may be organized in shaping and contesting those values, with no particular hierarchy of values into which a young person might be initiated, or merely prepared for membership by the functionaries of our public "education" systems, the individual has to find his or her own ways to find values and ways of initiating himself into membership therein. Religion and good faith save some (not that religion alone solves for anyone the problems that can only be addressed by a political exchange among all stakeholders in a nation or civilization). But faced with such a daunting task, a fragile narcissism that easily takes offense, and just as easily proclaims the greatness of its owner, becomes the prevalent personality type.

Meanwhile, to take a humanities degree in the university - often on the naive presumption that one is there taught the best of what our culture has created and knows - one must today learn how to deny or deconstruct and criticize so much of the tradition by which Westerners formerly found value, meaning, and identity, and to get along in maternal classrooms where every child is special, where "it's all good". Odes to "critical thinking" ("hegemony" bashing) are substituted for real thinking.

So many us fall down in that world; and if we survive and go on, we may come to see how deeply we have become immersed in resentment's chaos and evil. Then, we should realize the need to renew the means by which we must collectively defer the next violent force, the resentment that is presently eroding what is left of the meanings and identities with which we hope to save ourselves, our sense of purpose in a political and ethical existence.

The means for renewing meaning and identity are the promise and the covenant, the two basic ways by which human beings exchange signs (which lays the ground to exchange things) and in so doing find new ways to signify, identify, value, an always re-forming network of exchange.

Every Thursday the Covenant Zone bloggers meet in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library, central branch, from 7-9 pm. Consider joining us and helping build up our network for the exchange of political signs, so that we may have a firmer grip on the values and identities that can save us from the seed of evil that is in each of us. We meet under the sign of the blue scarf.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Finding strength in unexpected places

I've written before on a custom in our part of British Columbia that moves me each time I see it, where friends and families sponsor small memorials to loved ones within our many parks, in the form of public benches.
In many quiet corners of our scenic parks, you may sit and read of how one special life touched another, and how that memory is being kept alive through gentle words of heartfelt sentiment.

An effective way to accept a painful personal loss is through an expression of gratitude for the time that such special people were in our lives. Memories can prove to be so valuable in getting us through our grief; acknowledging the gain helps mitigate the loss, recognizing how we've been loved can give the necessary strength to live on without the giver of that love. Sharing these signs of appreciation with the rest of us reminds us all how precious our blessings are, and to rejoice in them, while we can.
This little video shows a selection of these humble memorials from in and around Vancouver. I had trouble sleeping again the other night, troubled once more by thoughts about the tragedy at Virginia Tech. As the benches keep teaching me, it's better to channel your pain to productive ends, creating something that can be of service, hopefully, to others.

[I hope my fellow hikers will forgive my creative geography in placing the imagery in the video; I plead poetic license for the sake of dramatic effect..!]

Coastal Calm

I think I may found a new "favorite place" to hang out: Whytecliff Park, over by Horseshoe Bay. I had forgotten how gorgeous the coastal scenery was out there, and how calming the view can be on a nice day. Here's where I sat for a few chapters of the book I had brought along with me as a companion for that weekend afternoon.
It's such a blessing to have such beauty in one's "backyard" so to speak. To get out of the city, to get over to the North Shore, and to find these innumerable nooks and crannies that let you unwind and relax, inspired by the panorama nature serves you on a silver platter. The above view was one I stumbled upon walking back to the bus stop, wondering "what's down that path over there..?"

Here's a boulder that reminded me I'm not a teenager anymore. Seeing people clambering all over it like goats, my macho inner voice said "get over there and do the same". Yeesh, what a mistake that was. I fell all over the place, stumbling over rocks and slippery mud, hobbled the whole time by my fear of heights. Some goat! I didn't give up, though: I made it up and back, though upon return I made a few silent vows to get back into better shape.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Acting on Faith in the wake of Virginia Tech

After an evening spent catching up on the evil that occured at Virginia Tech yesterday morning, it felt strange and positively unsettling to see people smiling today. What is there to be happy about, in a bloody world drenched with such malevolence?
I slept a troubled sleep last night, as I was held captive by thoughts of other people in other beds, forced now to sleep alone, or caused to sleep without a child in their lives any more. What despair must they feel, what pain must they now know, suffering as they do from their tragedy. It affected me, as a stranger watching the tragedy unfold at my safe distance; what horror must it be for those so directly touched by it all?
While steeling myself up for the grinding day ahead, this morning I found one story out of the tragedy that I can hang on to, as a source of inspiration to get through the necessary day.

Here's a gentleman who is an incredible example to live up to. From the Jerusalem Post:

As Jews worldwide honored on Monday the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust, a 75-year-old survivor sacrificed his life to save his students in Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech College that left 32 dead and over two dozen wounded.
Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter, who had attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.
Several of Librescu's other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said the son, Joe.
"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."
Liviu Librescu, was respected in his field, his son said.
"His work was his life in a sense," said Joe. "That was a good place for him to practice his research."
The couple immigrated to Israel from Romania in 1978 and then moved to Virginia in 1986 for his sabbatical, but had stayed since then, Joe told Army Radio.
I learn two lessons from Professor Librescu.
First, comes the suggestion of the immense strength of character he must have possessed to have emerged from a nightmare like the Holocaust, in his early teen years, and gone on to start a family and build a successful career. I can’t imagine the horrors that he must have lived through, yet he still managed to keep faith in the human experience and the belief that life was worth living, and worth living well. All the survivors that have similarly gone on to live normal lives, full of love and new life, are equally heroic, and I fear comparing myself to their strength, sensing that I would fall far short of their perseverence. Still, by studying their example, the shortfall may not be as great, since they offer such inspiring role models. Their renewed commitment can teach us the strength to renew our own lives: who can claim to have suffered near as much, and can hold that suffering as an excuse to shirk obligations to live lives worth living? These survivors kept their faith: so should we.

Then comes the more immediate example during yesterday's shooting, as the professor used his body as the shield to save a future generation. He cannot have "known" whether trading his life for that of his students, sparing their families the grief now enveloping his own, that this sacrifice would prove worthwhile. He could not know that in any absolute sense; he engaged in an act of faith, that it shall be proven to be so.

It is much easier to lose faith than to keep it, much more common to forestall mustering up the strength to commit to an act of faith. Might it not be the ultimate challenge: exercising the delicate and ever-so-mysterious muscle by which we invoke our ability to see the unseen, the positive future yet to be, and march towards it.
From every angle we are assailed by reasons to give up on ourselves, and especially to abandon our fellow man. Yet are the Professor Librescus of the world really so rare? Isn’t it a test of our perception skills, to recognize just how many such heroes actually exist alongside us in our world today?
Tens upon tens of thousands of Canadians used themselves as shields to preserve our futures, in World War I and World War II, today thousands more serve in Afghanistan, fulfilling the same duty; they put their lives on the line, willing to sacrifice all and bring pain to their families, in exchange for their faith in us, fellow citizens, sharing as we do the experience of being human, being alive. Like Professor Librescu, they have faith that our future is worth preserving, at a great cost if need be. They don't "know" it, they hope it... they aspire to believe it, and act upon those beliefs.
It is up to us, now, to live up to our side of the bargain, by living lives worth living, dedicated to truth, justice, and beauty, through faith, family and fortune. The students whose lives he saved through his unselfish act of sacrifice have their obligations now revealed clearly to them, and it should be as clear to the rest of us that we are also in similar debt, carrying the same obligation. Ours may be more indirect, but no less real for it.

It is a hard choice to live a purposefully good life, surrounded as we all are by such purposeless evil; it is a continuing, physical act to do so… an act of faith, now today made all the more attainable thanks to the heroic example set by the noble sacrifice of Liviu Librescu.
May he rest in Peace, and may God bring comfort and Peace to his family.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Stephen Harper on anti-semitism

I'm not used to praising politicians, and feel a little awkward doing so, since I consider myself far more partisan to ideas rather than to parties. Yet I continue to be impressed with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to the point where I can actually imagine myself carrying a sign with his name on it, in support of his ongoing leadership... an unprecedented gesture, for me, for any politician, from any party.

Sunday he demonstrated what for me was an impressive moral consistency, through a powerful speech delivered at the annual Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Yom Hashoah, on Parliament Hill.
How many times in recent Canadian history has any politician, let alone a Prime Minister, been so clear in their stand for Israel, and the Good that should be associated with that nation and its people?

Here is Prime Minister Harper's full speech, from yesterday:

It has been said that lies become truth if they are repeated often enough.
That’s why truth is so precious. That’s why the truth must be repeated, over and over and over, to protect us from lies.
So let us plainly state the awful, incontrovertible truth that brings us here today: millions, including six million Jewish men, women, and children, were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
This genocide was so premeditated and grotesque in design, so monstrous and barbaric in scale, and so systematic and efficient in execution, that it stands alone in the annals of human evil.
To this day, the holocaust terrifies and mystifies. We cannot really understand the evil that consumed one the great nations of Europe. We cannot fully fathom why it was embraced by an ideology rooted in hatred. And we cannot truly comprehend the suffering of the people who perished in the madness. But we do understand that the attempted extermination of the Jewish people was a crime against all of humanity.
Our world is immeasurably poorer because of the Holocaust.
We will never know how many more Einstein’s, how many more Gershwin’s, Golda Meir’s, Leonard Cohen’s, or Mordecai Richler’s, might have enriched our world.
But we do know it must never, ever, happen again.
Unfortunately, in some countries, hatred of the Jews is still preached from religious pulpits and still proclaimed from political podiums.
There are still people who would perpetrate another holocaust if they could.
That’s why we must resist the error of viewing the Holocaust as a strictly historical event.
It’s not good enough for politicians to stand before you and say they remember and mourn what happened over six decades ago.
They must stand up to those who advocate the destruction of Israel and its people today.
And they must be unequivocal in their condemnation of anti-Semitic despots, terrorists and fanatics.
That is the only real way to honour the memory of those who were consumed by the Holocaust.
And the only way to ensure it never happens again.
Thank you.


[Sunday's] ceremony and moment of silence on Parliament Hill were organized by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. The commemoration concluded with a march to the Ottawa Congress Centre.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Vancouver Green Party candidate gleeful and conspiratorial over 9/11

Last night, I mentioned to my Covenant Zone colleagues that I had heard a radio interview with a Green Party candidate who made vague insinuations that 9/11 was not committed by Al Qaeda and who denied that Osama Bin Laden has ever taken credit for 9/11; he also claimed, in the few minutes I had to listen to the nonsense, that the name, "Al Qaeda" was a creation of the American government. When the interviewer quoted Bin Laden explaining how his group had come up with the name, the Green Party guy said, I am basing my comment on scholarly research: who are you going to believe, the Western scholarly tradition, or a foreigner? Well, given that our universities now employ people engaged in 9/11 conspiracy theorizing, who knows....

Anyway, here's more on this guy.

Faith and Anthropology

Gil Bailie has put up a quote from Romano Guardini that I, not a great believer in salvation through works, like much:
All around us we see activity, organization, operations of every possible type; but what directs them? An inwardness no longer really at home with itself which thinks, judges, acts from the surface, guided by mere intellect, utility, and the impulses of power, property and pleasure. An "interiority" too superficial to contact the truth lying at life's center, which no longer reaches the essential and everlasting, but remains somewhere just under the skin-level of the provisional and the fortuitous.

Before all else, then, man's depths must be reawakened. ... In a word, man must learn again to meditate and pray. ...

Therefore we must return to the essence of being and ask: What is the connection between a man's work and his life? ... What is obedience, and how is it related to freedom? What do health, sickness, death really signify? ... When may attraction claim the high name of love? What does the union of man and woman known as marriage mean (at present [1951!] something so seedy, so choked with weed, that few people seem to have any serious conception of it, although it is the bearer of all human existence)?
Now this is an argument for meditation on the purpose of our Being in history that comes to us from a Christian context, but it is not an argument whose truth is only negotiable by believing Christians; i.e. its truth, or lack, can be appreciated, limited, weighed, by anybody from within a secular anthropological and historical discussion of human nature. As I was telling Dag last night after our Covenant Zone meeting, I think our Western postmodernity will soon either collapse into ruins (because of its difficulties in motivating its members to reproduce themselves and their productive roles), or, more likely, it will turn away from its current nihilism, its materialism without much sense of purpose of what things and productive activity are for, towards a new kind of faith that combines a new kind of anthropology with more traditional religious positions, positions that will become somewhat re-positioned thanks to the new kind of anthropological and historical discussion that is emerging in the wake of (post) modernity's destruction of traditional cultures.

An example of this, again from a frankly Christian context, is provided by Mark Gordon's discussion of the Christian anthropology of Bailie and Rene Girard. Christianity, Gordon notes (and I would say this is true of Judeo-Christianity), is not simply one faith tradition among others, but a radically innovative attempt to interpret human nature and origins. And, as such, it is a claim on fundamental truth (truth about our specifically human origins and the purpose of human culture) that can and should be compared to others. This work of "anthropologizing" faith, and in turn of learning to put greater faith in our anthropology's original and ongoing purpose - a purpose that is both articulated (with more or less self-understanding) and evidenced by the history of societies' ways and means of representing their ethics - continues today. We find it not only in the high-minded discourse of the likes of Gil Bailie, but also in the more popular trenches of religious and political debate, as was made evident to me when I saw, a few days ago, the republication of an article "What Would Muhammad Say to Jesus?", by Mohamed Elmasry, head provocateur of the Canadian Islamic Congress, in whose newsletter the article originally appeared.

As soon as we are forced, by historical circumstances, to start comparing and contrasting two faith traditions put in close proximity, we either become close-minded dogmatists, or open-minded anthropologists, or some combination thereof. In his dogmatism, not only does Elmasry reveal a great ignorance of Christian theology and teaching, and of the anthropological truth behind trinitarian belief (the trinity is, among other things, a theory of human representation, a [Christian] means of symbolizing three basic ways people experience language or representation) but, I think, Elmasry also reveals a desire to engage Christianity in a larger debate about human nature that he thinks is the key to winning converts to Islam. In other words, I see him as a simple dogmatist with a small foot in the door of a larger anthropological wisdom.

To win this discussion, he will either have to hope there are a lot of lame brains out there who have already made up their minds that Christianity is a failed religion, and will show no interest in what it really teaches, or he will have to do a lot better in explaining how Islam can make a claim on fundamental truth regarding the co-emergence of (a name for) God and humanity at the origins of human culture, an explanation that can surpass that of Christian anthropologists like Gil Bailie and Rene Girard, or even that of a guy who comes up with a quick but pretty devastating inversion of Elmasry's article.


Not all beautiful girls are also great poets. The poem below is translated anonymously from a 1907 edition of an anthology of Italian writings. The girl who wrote it is, to my eye, extremely beautiful, though not a great poet. If her ambition in life was to write great poems, she blew it, and being dead she has no further opportunity to improve on her work. But the chances are good that her life was about far more than poetry, that she had a life satisfying in her loves and friendships and other experiences, a life of the journey through her privacy as it was. The poetry is the reward we have from her travels, ours to admire and to hold though she be gone to the dust.
I have ahead of me the works of four men who travelled: C.M. Doughty, Sir Richard Burton, Wilfred Thesiger, and T.E. Lawrence. Each of these men was in his particular way a traveller through the wastelands of the deserts of Arabia. Each man of them is dead, and each left something behind for us to hold. We can judge and compare ourselves to them, and we might come out favorably in so doing. I have travelled some of the same areas as the men above, and I certainly write famous poetry, as one will see by searching "Dag's Poetry Corner." Yes, I'm also beautiful. Regarding the state of Faith, there I have to wonder if I'm cheated.

Father of heaven! if by thy mercy's grace
A living branch I am of that true vine
Which spreads o'er all-- and would we did resign
Ourselves entire by faith to its embrace!
In me much drooping, Lord, thine eye will trace,
Caused by the shade of these rank leaves of mine,
Unless in season due thou dost refine
The humor gross, and quicken its dull pace.
So cleanse me that, abiding e'er with Thee,
I feed me hourly with the heavenly dew,
And with my falling tears refresh the root.
Thou saidst, and Thou art truth, thou'dst with me be;
Then willing come, that I may bear much fruit,
and worthy of the stock on which it grew.

Vittoria Colonna (April, 1490 - February 25, 1547)

Jules Joseph Lefebvre, "Diva Vittoria Colonna"

All writing is travelogue. Those who go no farther than the stoop go as far as those who fly to the moon and beyond if those who travel leave themselves for further gardens of the works of Man. Many never leave themselves at all regardless of where they go, and in that they miss the journey's point, clinging to the familiar and themselves in the hope of safety in the danger zone. To travel, one might rightly aim for point, purpose, and goal. One must accept the fate of failure and loss. There is a mystery, and one cannot know. Then ones time is done, and all that lays on the ground is bones and poetry perhaps to be found by another later, judged wanting in fineness. One goes on step by step.

A sad, yearning feeling always comes over me as soon as the first burst of joy on returning home have past. There further time flies amid ordinary life, the more this yearning grows, as if something unforgettable previous had been abandoned in the wilderness of Asia which could not be found in Europe... and exceptional bliss-- freedom-- which may be savage it is infringed by nothing, almost absolute.

Nikolai M. Prbhevalsky in Karl E. Myer and Shareen Blare Brysac, Tournament of Shadows.

We meet in our pubilicities each week at the library in Vancouver, Canada, a foreign place of local people living lives of privacy. We have a destination, one we hope to reach safe and sound and rejoicing in our arrival. All of us as different as Doughty and Burton and Thesiger and Lawrence we meet and we journey onward. We would ask you to join us on Thursday evening next at the Vancouver Public Library from 7-9:00 p.m. in the atrium outside Blenz coffee bar to chat and tell us of your travels and your plans. Take that step, friend. Show yourself some faith. Show yourself worthy of the stalk from which you grow.

"Full of turmoil of movement, I had suddenly run out of destinations. I was looking for something. But it was no use. There was nowhere further to go. I had run into the brick wall of arrival."

Stanley Stewart, In the Kingdom of Genghis Khan.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some Scenes of Vancouver from the 1920s and 30s

Thanks to Studying the past, we get a sense of the long roads that have brought us to our present place. Trapped in the blinking present, we can only ever know the past, and so those roads may seem to define a future course for our one-way trip, as if our road were now an arching arrow, taking us to our final place with geometric logic. But the road becoming arrow is really more like a river emptying into an uncharted sea whose tides and currents will push back and diffuse our rivers into the endless possibilities of the future. Meanwhile, in the delta, the people depend for life on the dependable long flowing river and on faith in the untold wealth and general benevolence of the ocean to come.

We, as the present, are the people of the delta, with the freedom to build roads and islands into the sea, to channel the future course of the river, if we have the courage to experiment in building these new islands, to create new centres of attention for the nation, islands that our fellows may or may not soon come down to join, creating more new centres, competent individuals taking it upon themselves to take a lead in representing the nation. But if we fear being told by established elites and interests that we have no right, no permit, to build, because our island might exclude someone or another, we will find that we have no choice but to remain on well-charted and -divided land, each is his or her own proper place. But this land is always at risk of eroding under the weight of ages, under the inertia and violence of massed resentments. If we fail to find new ways to go out from old piles in both political and economic freedom, to build again, each with equal rights but no special privileges, the river in time will wash us away and revert to a more primal course.

The Covenant Zone bloggers meet every Thursday in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm. We wear blue scarves. Join us in the political delta and discuss the future of the Canadian covenant that allows each of us, as humble ordinary members of the nation, to build new islands together, to welcome others, and negotiate our differences in freedom, and not in bondage to some guilt- or fear-mongering empire of liberalism, the dictatorship of relativism, the empire that would, if it could, rule over all tributaries, the empire that seeks to obscure the differences among our many rivers, and between rivers and seas, all in a magic aimed at confusing the purpose of freedom's builders and vainly pretending, with its over-bearing dams of taxation, regulation, and public relations, to be directing the proper shape and size of the roads and endless flows from past to future. Empires never hold together forever. Those who want to survive the coming flood need to start building islands, nations, now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Have Jews done better under Chistian or Moslem rule?

First off, I want to apologize to my co-bloggers for not having put much up lately. The last couple of days I have been sidetracked at other places, responding to other people's posts. I am, at heart, a denizen of comments sections, and less successful as a first-from-the-post blogger.

Anyway, the question referred to in the title to this post is of course the subject of a number of recent books and dubious arguments by luminaries such as Prof. Bernard Lewis. Wanting to clarify my own thoughts on the matter I attempted to reply to a reviewer, goodmusicman's comment at Goodmusicman was trying to condemn the work of Andrew Bostom and Bat Ye'Or. Unfortunately, I could not post my comment at Amazon under my nom de blog, without first purchasing products with a credit card under this name. So, I will post my lengthy comments here. The abstract reasoning of the argument will not constitute a writing style that appeals to everyone. It is an illustration of my own religious understanding and if it offends the religious or literary sense of readers, I can only hope you will take it in the spirit of an honest, if misguided, attempt at approximating truth. All clarifications and corrections on points of interpretation will be welcome.

Dear goodmusicman,

I think it rather unnuanced of you so strongly to criticize Bat Ye'Or for being anti-Islam, as if you too were not obviously defining yourself against an Other (Christianity), as we must all do to some extent if we are not to condemn ourselves to nihilism, and our own culture to stagnation and death.

Of course you're right that history is not linear (because it remains open-ended) or one-way, and that Jewish experience under Islam and under Christianity has varied according to place and time. While this fact politicizes the motivations behind any summary of the historical experiences, our political goal in criticizing one or another religious-political tradition may be a worthy one, e.g. to make possible a new international compact in the hope that certain politicized religions and certain states can change their ways, making their internal politics more transparent and open, so as to become more predictable and thus to live according to useful rules and procedures for minimizing conflict. In this respect, some cultures may have more work to do than others.

We inevitably do and should try to sum up things like a religion’s attitudes towards the Jews, or other cultural historical innovators, by mapping the general shape and range of experiences that a religion's founding revelations have so far permitted vis a vis other claimants on monotheist truth. Thus we may grasp how expansive, or profound, a founding revelation has been and when it has been a more or less proximate cause in shaping specific historical events and representations. No religion is endlessly mutable; the experiences it makes possible remain tethered to founding revelations and a religion must be challenged in fundamental ways if it seems unable to change to meet the evident needs for a new international compact.

Anyone disinterestedly studying the life and revelations of Mohamed, as recorded in the Islamic holy texts, cannot help but see a great resentment directed towards the non-believers. About half the verses in the Koran condemn the unbeliever in one way or another, as if Mohamed (or is it Allah?) were an unsuccessful religious promoter who became an active warrior marshaling troops, which of course he was. And, as Andrew Bostom notes in his review of Cohen, there are passages in the Islamic holy texts in which Jews, specifically, suffer dehumanization and violence. Now, in comparison, the New Testament also condemns the unbeliever, though not nearly to the same incessant extent as does the Koran, and in some respects it also specifically criticizes the Jews, though not without a good deal of ambiguity (e.g. Matthew 9:17) about what aspects, or how much, of Jewish life are being found insufficient by Christ, or simply incompatible with the new way Christ proposes.

A book like the Gospel of John can of course be read as Judeophobic, but it is not at all obvious to me, given the context of Jesus' personal struggle with his own Jewishness and its inevitable limits for one focused on redeeming sin (a proper Jew, whatever men’s worldly sins, will see himself working to remain among the righteous, and so the need for a redeemer of those who have come to see themselves as more fundamentally trapped in human sin is, perhaps, not well-anticipated within Judaism, or for that matter in Islam). In comparison to the New Testament's ambivalent positioning of Jews as both righteous and as sinners in need of redemption, The Koran and Sunna simply do not allow for the same kind of ambiguity about the place of the Jews, claiming that the Jews, under Satanic influences, have taken monotheism astray in willfully misrepresenting their original Mosaic revelation. (Christ only claims that Jews have forgotten some things Moses told them).

Muslim certainty about the true Koranic revelation has been both for better and for worse, from the point of view of Jewish experience under confident (ideologically, if not always spiritually) Muslims, in comparison to often anxious (and hence dangerous) Christians unsure whether their New Testament religion of redeeming sin truly transcends Old Testament Judaism, an uncertainty which has often entailed Christians resenting the surviving presence of the Jew. And yet, Muslim certainty about God's word, in comparison to Christian striving amidst the darkness of sin, might lead someone like Bat Ye'Or to resent one religion, or politics-religion, more than the other, simply in respect of its appeal to a Jewish sense of truth in respect for the incompleteness of our religious knowledge.

The righteous, monotheistic Jew, or a sensitive woman like Bat Ye'Or, experiences Islam and Christianity not just in terms of how either treats the Jews, but also how they treat their other faith competitors and humanity as a whole. While the New Testament has some condemnation of the unbeliever, it does not lay out a worldwide project akin to Jihad and this is reflected in the relatively pacific missionary traditions of Christianity and the Christian imperative to translate the Bible into vernacular tongues, to help create many nations and not just one Umma. (Compare, e.g., Islamic and Christian missions in India.) While Christians as secular agents of Western imperialism and racism have engaged in violence when expanding their civilization, the often violent Jihad, which still goes on all over the place, is promoted in the name of Allah and eternal truth, and is thus without any evident or merely plausible claim to promote a secular civilization or a particular nation in which all faiths may find some value.

In my reading, for what it's worth, there is really no comparison in the level of contempt held for the unbeliever in the Christian and Islamic texts. Nor, in respect to the founding revelations, can one make much of an argument for valuing similarly the ethics of Mohamed, the warrior for Allah, and the Christian contrast of a universal morality with a historically shifting, e.g. "Give unto Caesar", ethics, the contrast of a prophet of divine love in a fallen world. Does Mohammed's revelation, or Sharia law, even provide a basis to distinguish divine morality and worldly ethics? Surely Islam, in contrast to historicizing Christianity, is a throwback to the refusal of early religions to distinguish the two, to assertions that a specific and timeless ethical or ritual code for worldly organization is itself the proper realization of a divine will. But it is a throwback without the old pagan’s tolerance for other tribes having different rituals and ideas about the gods’ will.

To return to your point, sure the incredible antisemitism of today's Islamic world has not always been so fierce. And yes, there is a long history of Christian Judeophobia that became genocidal on several occasions. Yet the great similarity between Christianity and Judaism - for example their emphasis on a revelation unfolding in history as man covenants with God - must be considered. Might a Jew concerned with the monotheistic education of humanity as a whole not reasonably feel more confidence in a brother religion than in a more distant cousin, even if the brother's difficult intimacy and competitiveness poses greater threat to him of extreme violence than does the cousin’s more indifferent sense of superiority? Again, the problem with Christianity, from a Jewish perspective, is the Christian's potential obsession and uncertainty that his revelation really transcends Judaism, a Christian bad faith that makes the continuing presence of the Jew, i.e. the Jew's refusal to give up his faith, and any signs of Jewish worldly success, into a great scandal. That Islam has been, if not today, generally much less bothered by the Jewish question, proudly declaring that it has the final and complete revelation, is not necessarily a mark in Islam’s favor if intellectual and spiritual struggle to advance human self-understanding in history is one's chief concern. In comparison to Christendom, perhaps a Jew may sometimes be physically safer, but spiritually or intellectually poorer, under Islamic regimes. How is this taken into account in this debate? Or are we now too materialistic to bother with such perverse questions?

In any case, if safety is your thing, the fact of the matter is that even with all the history of Christian Judeophobia, it is perhaps only in one of the most Christian countries today, the USA (or is this a reality of the Anglosphere more generally?), that Jews can be seen as just normal people, just another ethnic or religious group. The Christian revelation, with its emphasis on maximizing human reciprocity, has finally been allowed, by some worldly interests and powers, to find a fuller realization in the creation of a free market society (that would not have been possible without the Christian revelation) in which Jews have often come to prosper. In the less historically ambitious Islamic world (less ambitious due to its belief that the final and complete revelation of the eternal truth has already been received), everyone, including the Jews, has been kept much more in their supposedly ordained place, and Islamic society as a whole has not evolved so much over the centuries.

Let's say you're a Jew who likes women, all women, not only Jewish women; should you prefer to live under and witness Islam-Sharia's (relatively pre-ordained) or Christianity's (more open) treatment of women? or must the general question, and its claim on wisdom, again dissolve before our respect for "nuance"? or is perhaps the call for “nuance” from so much of the (pseudo) intellectual left today really just a desire for an uncommitted nihilism?

The great majority of Islamic thinkers today, even many in the West, often seem incapable or unwilling to adapt to a global, free-market, modernity without a fight to restrain secular modernity in the name of Islam and Sharia. For all I know, liberals may yet succeed in modernizing Islam, i.e. protecting a secular multifaith order detached from privatized religion and protected from politicized religion (i.e. Orthodox Islam); but as yet there is a long way to go. On the other hand, musicman's argument that the modern separation of Church and State is a product of "the Enlightenment" and not a continuation of Christ's imperative to separate what is owed Caesar and what is owed God strikes me as historically and religiously misconceived in a number of ways. For example, I see the "Enlightenment" as having been an attempt, by intellectuals in declining nations, to understand and codify in secular terms the imperial, scientific, and mercantile success of Protestant countries like 17-18th century England that arose at the expense of once dominant powers like Catholic France, i.e. an attempt to codify the reason and faith behind already well-established Protestant and Gnostic movements within Christian civilization.

Should Jews look relatively favorably on an Islamic history of relative stability and order, even if it has entailed dhimmitude and everyone remaining stuck in medieval conditions? Since Christianity, and not merely “the Enlightenment”, has been the key to unfolding today’s secular modernity and freedoms, has Christianity - with all its difficult and sometimes deadly historical trials pitting, in more ways than one, a fallen humanity against a gospel of love – been obviously a disaster for the Jews?

To sum up: while, historically, many Moslems have not been as anxious as Christians to convert or eliminate the Jews (better, thinks many a Muslim ruler, to keep and tax the dhimmis, since they are often more productive or differently knowledgeable than Moslems), this has been according to the logic of a culture in which opportunities for growth, and an evolving and fuller human self-understanding, have been much more limited for everyone. And when this Islamic culture has had to come face-to-face with the modern world, we get the nightmare antisemitism of a country like Egypt today, a nightmare fostered by its leading universities and media. (And as for free and voluntary conversions, surely Jews have been more likely to find truth in Christianity than in Islam over the years.)

You, musicman, criticize the "unnuanced" position of Andrew Bostom. But yours is hardly more nuanced from the perspective of a Jew or Christian today seeking a sacred basis on which a new international compact may be formed. And to say that things could change tomorrow and life in, say, Arabia (if they let Jews in) may yet become more appealing for Jews than life in, say, today's Europe, is not a fair counter to those who wrongly imply that history is linear, one-way, and that we can know where it is going (e.g. West). We don't know where it is going, but the perspective of the present teaches us something more than could have been known in, say, the year 1200, about the possibilities inherent in a tradition of revelation. And in today's light of secular modernity, Islam seems always to have been destined to fall into a crisis greater even than the crisis of today’s Christian West. Given what we know today about the emergence of, and attitudes towards, free-market modernity, what kind of Jew can reasonably hope for a better future in a society predominantly Islamic rather than Christian? Jews writing history do us no service if their work works to obscure our safer bet, whatever the writer's professional motivations in an academic world full of a desire to express and expiate guilt for white Western historical success relative to those societies that have become immersed, sometimes unwillingly, in the West's claims to have discovered the ethical innovations that will advance humanity as a whole.