Thursday, April 25, 2013

Belonging, Democracy and Muslims

Introduction: After the Boston marathon bombing, the head of the liberal party, a possible future prime minister, said some foolish things. A front page cartoon in the National Post newspaper shows (probably) the prime minister and his wife at a casket. The wife is weeping, the husband is turning around angrily. In the foreground the liberal would-be PM is saying, "Can we talk about root causes now, or have I come at a bad time?"

I decided this piece needed to be posted again.

Having enlarged my frame of community, I manage to feel happy and included.

Did I tell you I grew up poor? In the bush? In a space and time where no one was an immigrant and everyone was a member of the caucasian race? At 17 I moved out on my own, working part-time, and attended grade 12 in a high school in the nation's third largest city. The school was different and therefore not-as-good. I went from well water to chlorine water, from fresh air to tasting car exhaust. It was a lonely year, at first. It took a while before I belonged.

A Memory: I'm being driven by a classmate, Sam, past a manicured park and he is asking me which girl I am taking to the prom.

A Scenario: I could have resentfuly glanced right and thought,"Look at that stupid 'pool table' park. How are kids supposed to play imagination games there?" I could have glanced left and thought, "Who does this rich city snob think he is... with his car and his ski trips." I could have looked around and resented all those members of the mongolian race walking by... but since my school was half Chinese, I would have cut in half my chances for a date Saturday night! (The other half was Italian)

I answered, "Lorraine Chow."

He exploded, "Hey! She's really nice!"

Last I heard, the girl was doing social work, and the boy, Sam Sullivan, is now the mayor of Vancouver. He is Vancouver's mayor, and then again, Vancouver is his city. Exactly who belongs to whom? Easy: "Belonging" is a matter of attitude. It is a mental construct; we make it up.

Belonging is easiest for me in a democracy, even if I live alone, "a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made," because in a democracy I feel the most equality, liberty and hope... Meanwhile a trial is unfolding where a bunch of Canadian youths, of mostly high school and college age, stand accused of terrorism. It seems that most of them are not so much evil as innocent fools. Charges have been dropped on 7 of the 18 arrested. Upon being freed, let us hope they will go forth to be productive members—who belong—of society.


When the arrests were made, two years ago, two things stood out for me: An older man planned to chop off the prime minister's head with a sword, and some Muslim young women known to the accused, some of them married, were featured in the newspaper as "feeling marginalized" in Canada. The women had been exchanging e-mail about how they hate their fellow Canadians... Now, for a teenybopper goth to feel "alienation and isolation" (A and I) is normal, even charming, when seen from my older viewpoint; but for a housewife to feel this way, and to also have hatred, smacks of her not facing her adult responsibility.

I was 15 when my grade 10 English teacher, Mr. Wong, devoted an entire semester to poems and stories with the theme of "A and I." He even included song lyrics such as Sounds of Silence and I am a Rock. There is some comfort in just knowing that "A and I" is the default state of people. The girl who joins goth peers is taking a good first step. I dimly recall sitting with Lorraine while one of my favorite teachers, Mr. McCutcheon, spoke at graduation. Years later he became the principal. All I remember is the part where he said something like, "Remember when you first came to this school? It felt so cold; you felt so lost and lonely? Then you joined your first club. Suddenly the school was a warm friendly place. And so you found your school spirit."

A Daydream: A grown Muslim woman has joined a badminton club of mainly Sudanese ladies. Half the members are Muslim, half Christian. After she begins to belong she then feels free to ask a new friend, "But isn't it easier to have a habit of hatred? How can you girls get along when there is a civil war and deaths back home? The friend answers, "As Jesus said, 'let the dead bury the dead.' Here is our new home, here we are alive and thrive..." ... I suppose that as a person's inner conflicts are integrated it becomes easier to integrate into the concept of community.


Of course "joining a club" is only the tip of the ice berg. You could rattle off a dozen "non join-something" ways to belong, only to have an angry woman-child say, "Yes, but—" Then you could brainstorm a further score of ways to integrate only to get a score of "Yes, but—" in reply. Never mind. When the person is ready to take responsibility for herself then the "ways" will appear.

I wouldn't give a lady specific advice but I might spark a thought by saying, "I certainly don't dress like a "real member" of the mainstream culture, not when I wasn't raised middle class, not when I will attend a graduation without wearing a neck tie. However, having enlarged my frame of community, I manage to feel happy and included."

While responsibility is first and last an individual thing, the community can help. A Muslim congregation could help each other by directly discussing the topic of "Belonging" or, indirectly, by asking, "If raising our families in western civilization is a good thing, then why might that be so?" To quote from memory a line from writer David Gerrold, let us be "encouraging a nation that works for everyone with no one left out."

I am thinking of Muslims because of something the New York Police Department reported. They said that when those Canadian youths attended a Mosque (church) on a certain Sunday they all showed up wearing camouflage. They only made this mistake once. The police weren't surprised that they were so young and reckless. The surprise is that, according to police, not one member of the congregation informed any Canadian authorities. No one chatted with a beat cop, dropped in on their city alderman, climbed the stairs between the globes to see the desk sergeant... I could easily brainstorm ten more ways that were not attempted.


If "belonging" is a state of mind then "democracy" is too. Without this "state of mind" something like, say, "voting," is a mere shell, a hollow form holding nothing but air. In far off lands, because of hundreds of years of not knowing democracy, voters think that "having adult responsibility" belongs to the prince and his government. The government is "they" and the people live—or more precisely, exist—with "apathy," from the Greek a for "without" and path for "emotion" or, "spirit."

When having spirit—the word relates to breath—a person is inspired to breath in deeply and look around to take action. ("a" can also mean "onto") He aspires to ascend to great things, to belong. Having apathy is different: a persons' lungs deflate, shoulders sag, and he glances under his eyebrows towards city hall to say, "What's the use?" ("ex" can mean "out") As he exhales his sense of being a lively citizen exspires. Such little deaths are an everyday thing for commoners in lands without democracy. Better to exit such a landscape (exscape) and raise your children in Canada.

I suppose a girl-wife who remains stuck on the doorstep of adulthood will have her lungs only half full, her diaphram a tense frustrated knot. She'll relax once she accepts life and steps on through.

This month (April 2013) on the CBC I heard a good example of a good citizen here in Calgary. A man who disagrees with air conditioners being on the sides of house, in the little infill canyon, (not facing the backyard) researched the matter on his own, unpaid, as a volunteer—meaning: as a citizen. He looked into the history of agreements between the city and the housing companies, the UN report on air conditioning subsonics, and sucessful bylaws and practices in Australia, and talked to people here in town about whether the noise bothered them too. After all his effort, all his willingness to be responsible rather than a passive peasant, it is no wonder that our Muslim mayor is bringing the matter before city hall.

Here at home the government is us. With the spirited energy of belonging we all have the right to see files at city hall, talk to our bureaucrats and talk to our aldermen. We have the right to think and research and compare our findings with others. Our Right, checked by common sense, is balanced by our Responsibility to act, especially when a bunch of men suddenly come to church in camouflage. Maybe "democracy," too, is a topic for a congregation.

Apathy follows giving up—I don't give up on democracy and Canada; I don't give up on congregations and individuals—they will surprise you. At my platoon's 10 year reunion a red headed former corporal, whom I remembered as a bigot, smiled broadly to report to us that he had a wife who had come here from Hong Kong at age six. Another surprise: A stern graying Chinese father, patriarchal and traditional, told his daughter something that really touched her. She was grown up and was just starting her own business. He said that as a young man he had come here to the "Gold Mountain" (America) so that his daughters could have equal rights.

So now school spirit days are replaced by community spirit. One man's Canada is the excited crowds at ice hockey games, another man feels awe at solitary trout fishing, and my own energy is boosted every time I get a nice surprise... When Sam and I were teens an influx began of people from the state of Punjab. Today Sam is nurturing his sense of belonging by learning the Punjabi spoken by so many loyal Vancouverites. He has already learned to speak fluent Cantonese and Italian. Should I drop in on Sam? No, "Mayor Sullivan" is too busy doing good.

God bless us, every one.

Sean Crawford

during Calgary stampede
shouting "Yee-haw!" together
Summer.28,  2008

update: for Oct. 3 2009 the newspaper reported, "Member of 'Toronto 18' sentenced to seven years."


~This time around, 2013, the Muslims are not so silent; the Calgary Sun did a sidebar showing the Muslims were against holy war, and that it was a Muslim who tipped off the police.

Here's what Founding Editor Peter Worthington said in the Calgary Sun on page 26 for April 25:
"There has been one significant development in the continuing "war against Terrorism" that until recently has been alarmingly absent: Muslims are increasingly standing up and opposing terrorism that is being done in their name.
Where once there was silence at Islamist or jihadist exremism, more and more ordinary and influential Muslims are registering their opposition.
Silence in the Muslim community was in part through intimidation—fear of militant reprisals. The media and politicians were similarly silent, wary of demonstrations and even violent acts if they dared criticize.
That, too, is fading, as clearly there is little in the way of resentment or blame directed at ordinary Muslims."

~The father was in Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong.

Random ideas of ways to belong to a city: take a walking tour, get interested in local industry, dig in to local history, dance, volunteer, share a kind word with the butcher and baker, watch local TV and read a local newspaper, sing, attend a mosque and community center ...these are all actions...

How to get out of wearing a tie: Wear a dark suit along with a pin stripe business shirt with a keyhole chinese collar.

For more on extremists see my Wizards, Extremists and Truth essay, of June 2011.

For democracy as a goal see my Goals and 300 (the film) essay, of March 2013

More Greek: (my rough translation)

the root word path = emotion or spirit

the prefix a = without, ...the suffix y = characterized by or pertaining to

the prefix sym = together, ...the suffix ic or etic = characterized by or pertaining to

the prefix tele = at a distance

the prefix em = with ... (an old Star Trek show was called The Empath)

No comments:

Post a Comment