Tuesday 14 March 2017

Learning Unlimited Session Ten: The Politics of Hope during the Obama and Trudeau eras

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
     —President –Elect Barack Obama, November 4, 2008e

"If you cannot see the potential in people around you, it’s impossible to rouse them to great things.”
Justin Trudeau, Common Ground

“Obama’ s presidency is a model of what pragmatic and liberal Americans ought to believe in, how they can achieve it, and a standard around which they can rally in the dark years that lie ahead.”

Jonathan Chait, Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied his Critics and Created a Legacy that will Prevail, 2017

"Whether you have approved of the Obama presidency as a matter of policy or not, it is impossible to argue that Obama was not a man of principle. Whether you agree with individual decisions or the content of his rhetoric, it is impossible to argue that he did not conduct himself with dignity and respect and that he did not lead the country with those values as a guiding light.

I have not always agreed with the president’s positions or tactics, and this feels normal to me. Freethinking people are bound to disagree occasionally, even if a vast majority of their values align."

Charles Blow, New York Times, January 11, 2017

Canada admitted 321,000 immigrants in the year to June 2016, nearly 1% of its population; typically 80% of them will become citizens. It is contemplating an increase to 450,000 by 2021. A fifth of Canada’s population is foreign-born, nearly twice the share in America.

The warmth of the welcome is as striking as the scale of the intake. Immigrants are encouraged to keep their cultures. Winnipeg’s public schools have classes taught in Spanish and Ukrainian as well as French and Cree. Its Central Mosque is a few blocks down Ellice Avenue from the Hindu Society of Manitoba. The Juliana Pizza & Restaurant serves its “Greek/Jamaican food” just a bit farther on.
Canada’s openness is not new, but it is suddenly getting global attention. It is a happy contrast to what is happening in other rich countries, where anger about immigration helped bring about Britain’s vote for Brexit, Donald Trump’s nomination and the rise of populist parties across Europe. And it has an appealing new face: Justin Trudeau celebrates his first anniversary as prime minister on November 4th. Mr Trudeau comes from Canada’s establishment—he is the son of a former prime minister—but is not despised for it. A former high-school teacher and snowboarding instructor, his cheeriness played a large part in the Liberal Party’s victory over Stephen Harper, a dour Conservative who had governed Canada for almost ten years."
October, 29, 2016, “Canada the Last Liberals”

Canadians, who have demonstrated courage, creativity or leadership, and the better angels of our nature
Irshad Manji
Muslims Must Admit We Have A Problem. June 7, 6

[Mr. Pierre Trudeau] basically said national unity must be founded in one’s own confidence in one’s individual identity and from that you can begin to engage with others about their assumptions and attitudes and aspirations. We don’t have that kind of multiculturalism today, in my view. What we have is more a fear of engaging based very much on feeling intimidated that I’m going to say something wrong or that somebody is going to be offended. The assumption is made routinely that multiculturalism and diversity are the same thing. And I’d argue that they’re not at all the same thing. Diversity is more than your skin colour or my gender or someone else’s religion. Diversity also means differences of thought, of points of view, of opinions. Different points of view will naturally offend different people. I would argue that offence is the price of honest diversity.

Where is the line between offending someone in a way you think is constructive and then going to the point of discrimination?

We should educate the next generation to liberate their thinking and to express it in a way like this: “I’ve got a question for you. … Now, I’m asking, not assuming” and then launch in to the question. Or, “I realize that what I’m about to ask you could come off as uncomfortable so please know that you’re totally entitled to ask me anything, too.” Here’s the thing: I’m engaging with you because I see you as my equal, I see you as my peer. If I’m avoiding asking you searching questions, then, frankly, implicitly, I’m treating you like a child, because I think you’re somehow going to melt under the spotlight of my scrutiny. To me, that is not respect, that is disrespect.

Since your first book came out, have you seen an evolution in the way people respond to your views?

Absolutely. I have seen that people who would otherwise want to hurl vitriol or abuse, not only has that diminished, but better still, it’s been replaced – not with silence, but with more people now piping up and saying that we ask these questions. People get tired of constantly fighting you. Last year, I did an hour-long debate on Al-Jazeera International about whether there is indeed trouble with Islam today. Naturally the usual hate mail came in – and more love bombs came in. But here’s the real point: not a single death threat.
From a Globe and Mail interview March 7, 2014

Omar Khadr

From a review by John Doyle in the Globe and Mail, "You aren't informed on Omar Khadr until you see this film," December 2, 2015

"Omar Khadr: Out of the Shadows is a shorter version of the film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival as Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr. It has also played at other festivals and won awards. Directed by Patrick Reed, the co-director is Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, who wrote the book Guantanamo’s Child.

The doc has formidable restraint, very carefully presenting views about Khadr, his actions and his treatment in Guantanamo and by the Harper government. In the middle is Khadr himself. Once seen and heard, he is not the elusive figure on whom so many people projected so much. He’s just there, talking, remembering. This is when you can reach for a valid judgment.

We hardly need reminding, but the facts of his case are relevant. He was a grade-school kid when his father moved the family to Afghanistan. When the United States and others invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he was convicted of murder for throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Army medic. Then came a decade at Guantanamo, torture and interrogation, and eventual transfer to a Canadian maximum-security prison in 2012, later to a medium-security prison. He was released on bail earlier this year.

In the doc, we first see a lot of the news coverage about his release. The point is to underline the controversy that has surrounded Khadr for so very long. Then we hear Khadr say, “Each person is capable of doing great harm or great good.” And someone else shouts, “He is a murderer, he is a terrorist!”

His lawyer, Dennis Edney, a colourful character worth meeting, says on the day of his client’s possible release, “I have a lot of trepidation.

“It’s not only Omar Khadr that gets released. I need to be released.” Edney’s wife cries, overcome by her husband’s words. “This has been one long haul,” she says.
Asked what he has to say to then-prime minister Stephen Harper Dennis Edney says, bluntly, “Mr. Harper is a bigot. He wants to prove he’s tough on crime, so who does he pick on? A 15-year-old boy.” Khadr himself says of Harper, “I’m going to have to disappoint him. I’m better than the person he thinks I am.”

The prisoner’s status as a 15-year-old then becomes the focus. We are taken carefully through the events in Afghanistan that led to the battle and his arrest, both from Khadr’s perspective and that of an American officer who was there. The officer, too, breaks down. He’s thinking about the comrades he lost.

The torture and interrogation in Guantanamo is described. Vividly, and be warned, you can be disturbed by it. A fellow prisoner says, “He looked like an autopsy had been performed on him while he was alive.”

The interviews with Khadr himself are unnerving. The calmness. The acknowledgment that, under the calm, there is something haunting him: “It’s gonna take some time to ease up. One of those days, I’m just going to crawl under the bed and cry my eyes out.”

Yes, there is a positivity in Khadr’s outlook, which is utterly remarkable. That is, in part, down to him, his slow coming to terms with what happened to him and others. But the documentary suggests that an extraordinary role was played by Edney, whose advocacy was unstinting. He is now a father-like figure to Khadr. It is up to viewers to discern Khadr’s true feelings. But it does seem that he is fully, terribly aware of what he did when he was, essentially, a child soldier. Now, as an adult, it is the promise of a peaceful life that anchors him.

On his release months ago, as we see and hear in the doc, Edney said to reporters, “Omar Khadr is not going to have a lengthy conversation with you. He has never been out. He has never smelled the fresh air or seen the trees. I am going to go slow with him. But he needs to address the Canadian public.”

Here he does, and now, when you watch this, you can have an informed opinion."

the to great things.”

"Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip and an advocate for First Nations people, was honoured at the Assembly of First Nations gathering Tuesday for his work highlighting the impact of residential schools.

Downie's most recent project, Secret Path, tells the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont. An excerpt of the documentary film was played for the chiefs assembled in Gatineau, Que.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde presented the visibly emotional Downie with an eagle feather — a gift from the creator above — and he was given a Lakota spirit name, Wicapi Omani, which can be roughly translated as "Man who walks among the stars."
Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia Regional Chief Morley Googoo said Downie was a living embodiment of the push to reconcile relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

An emotional Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watched as Downie was showered with song and wrapped in a "star blanket."

"Soon, in a few days, a couple of weeks, there's 150 years that Canada wants to celebrate, and I will personally then celebrate the birth of our country, celebrate the next 150 years. It will take 150 years or seven generations to heal the wound of the residential school," Downie said after receiving the blanket.

"To become a country, and truly call ourselves Canada, it means we must become one. We must walk down a path of reconciliation from now on. Together, and forever. This is the first day of forever: the greatest day of my life, the greatest day of all of our lives. Thank you."

Chiefs from across the country brought presents to Downie, but were asked to not present them to him personally due to health concerns as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer."

Divided, Canada stands to lose what makes it great
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Oct. 16, 2015
(A selection from a talk given by Nenshi)

"Let it be said: Such failures to become the Canada we hope for aren’t only recent. Far from it. After all, we are the nation that turned back Indian Sikh refugees on the ship Komagata Maru in 1914, the nation of the Chinese head tax, the nation of Japanese internment camps and the “None is too many” policy. We are the nation of provincial eugenics programs and generations of residential schools.
These, sadly, are also our origin stories. Many of us feel a deep, dark discomfort when confronted with them. The truth is not easy. It wasn’t easy for the victims of residential schools to tell their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it wasn’t easy for Canadians to bear witness to those truths. But it is important that we did then, and that we are doing so with the dark truths we see now.

The real answer to crafting the Canada we aspire to build lies in engaging muscularly with both the past and the future. It means undertaking a thousand simple acts of service and a million tiny acts of heroism. It means acting at the community level: on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, and in our schools. It means refusing to accept the politics of fear.

And then it means exporting the very best of Canada, that ideal and real Canada, to the rest of the world. Yes, I’m naive to believe we still have something special to share. In my city, we have a program, 3 Things for Calgary, that challenges every citizen to take at least three actions, large or small, using their own passions and resources, to make their community better. Let us start 3 Things for Canada and dare each other to take actions that will build our local, national, and global communities with our true, aspirational Canadian values.

One final story. I had the chance a couple of years ago to visit a school in Calgary on its 100th anniversary. It’s called Connaught School, named after the Duke of Connaught – the governor-general of Canada, a son of Queen Victoria. Because it is right downtown, Connaught School is often the first point of arrival for newcomers. In all, 240 students are enrolled; they come from 61 countries and speak 42 languages at home.

I chatted with some of those kids and their parents. Many of the things I heard were horrible: stories of war, of poverty, of degradation. I heard stories of violence so horrific I could not imagine one human being doing that to another, let alone in front of a child.
Then I looked out at those kids, sitting on the floor in the gym, wearing their matching T-shirts. And I looked at their parents, in hijabs and kanga cloth, in Tim Hortons uniforms and bus-driver caps, in designer suits and pumps.

All at once, I knew something to be true above all else. Regardless of what these kids had been through, of how little they have or had, of what wrath some vengeful God had visited on them and their families, they’d had one burst of extraordinary good fortune – they ended up in Canada, in Calgary, at the Connaught School. They ended up in a community that wants them to succeed, that has a stake in them – that cares about them, and will make sure they don’t fail."

And I knew that those kids would have a chance to live great lives. That’s the promise of Canada.
Adapted from an address given at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s 13th LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium, in Stratford, Ont. in September.

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