Thursday, October 2, 2014

Insults and Gaining Peace

…This blog is at the intersection of everyday life and citizenship. Today I will look at some bills in my everyday wallet, and then go to young citizens. …

I have to laugh. I don’t think the British are deliberately trying to insult people from “America,” their term for the United States. Yet the fact remains that out of all the nations affluent enough to send tourists to the United Kingdom, of all the nations affluent enough to have socialized medicine, only one does not believe in the theory of evolution. I’ll give you a hint: It’s the one, the only one, that does not have Medicare for the people: The good old U.S. of A. So the Britons could have easily known they would be specifically insulting their cousins across the pond.

Imagine a poor U.S. citizen happily touring the infidel antiquities of the British Museum and then going next door into the impressive Museum of Natural History. The average Yankee, who may not use the words “flora and fauna” in everyday life, must be struck when he enters the huge foyer and sees a huge diplodocus skeleton, a skeleton too huge to get into his camera frame. Climbing up, up the pillars are a carved multitude of monkeys. Insulting? It gets worse.

Go to the second floor balcony and not far from a cross section of a millennia(s) old sequoia is a tribute to the fellow, Huxley, who stuck up for Darwin, by various actions, including winning a debate with a senior church official. The churchman asked Huxley whether it was his grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that had the monkeys. Huxley’s riposte was masterful… Further down the balcony stands an ape and an exhibit about Darwin explaining a little about how his house and garden is a valued, respected museum site. Valued and respected? Anyone from Tennessee must wince. It gets worse.

Check your pocket change in London and you may find a recent coin that, I was told, featured Darwin face to face with an ape. I haven’t seen it myself, but I have seen the current ten-pound note featuring a pretty hummingbird against yellow flowers, (on the Galapagos Islands?) a distant tall ship, (the Beagle?) and the visage of Charles Darwin, over his signature and the dates 1809-1852.

Incidentally, the five pound note features Elizabeth Fry 1780-1845 and a picture that includes women and children. Ms. Fry—and there is a branch of her society here in Calgary, near the old planetarium—believed in assisting female prisoners. The twenty pound note features Adam Smith 1723-1790. It shows an impressionistic factory and his words: The division of labour in pin manufacturing: (and the great increase in the quantity of work that results) Would a right wing fundamentalist businessman, after seeing Charles Darwin, be appeased at seeing Adam Smith? I haven’t a clue.

A Roman Catholic from Columbia who earned his Ph. D in the British Isles told me the Brits are very empirical. Sounds true.

I can imagine a “right-thinking” God-fearing U.S. citizen reading this essay of mine in hard copy: He would go “Harrumph!” and rustle the page. Or laugh. Or both. And since my previous post, and my next one, has nothing directly to do with religion, he would easily read my next piece too. Seriously, he would.

It’s as if having freedom of speech has toughened the Americans. They can read something and not freak out, not foam at the mouth or go mad, and then they can move on. Isn’t that nice? Unfortunately, everything I read in the newspaper about Arabs indicates they are not so blessed with toughness. They are, it seems, more like children on the playground, unable to process anything novel or insulting.

I guess we have an advantage over Arabs because we live in a culture where people read more and go to college more. There’s nothing like having typical student discussions in the dorm, or at a student club, to toughen a person up, and free the mind. I remember a graduate of the U.S. naval college, Annapolis, speculating in his fiction just three years after the Second World War: Maybe future officer cadets would be encouraged to critically discuss everything from motherhood and apple pie to the queen. This was in Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein. His viewpoint character, as a freshman, is initially quite distressed at the student conversations. Such talks are intended to free up the minds of the cadets so that, as older officers, they wouldn’t be as hidebound as the idiots of “Phase One of the First Global War” (WW I)

I suppose Arab culture lingers among growing Arab youth in North America, even into college. When I attended the U of Calgary I encountered two troubling signs of such culture. Just as the toughest union leaders were the ones in the past who had to use violence, and just as the toughest homosexuals, the ones who achieved “freedom of assembly” through the Stonewall riots, were not the gays passing for straight, and not the gays with a limp wrist, but were the especially oppressed drag queens, so too, I said, were today’s toughest feminists the females oppressed in the middle east. I said it was documented, but a female Muslim classmate didn’t want to hear it.

Another university Muslim student, a young Indo-Asian woman in my toastmasters (speech) club during the NATO peacemaking in Yugoslavia, said they were “bombing my people.” She didn’t realize NATO was bombing Serbians, and defending Muslims. Of course, many students back then didn’t know which side was which, just as they once didn’t know Iraq from Iran, but still, how could she say something like that out loud without first checking the facts? Only by coming from a culture of victimhood. My next speech pointed out how students who send their jets to bomb Serbians in order to defend Muslims have a duty to get informed, to feel collective guilt and responsibility. Rather like the Germans after the Second World War, come to think of it.

How could Arab students in North America gain their peace of mind? I have an idea: When I was a student, and I had to do a book report (with attention to narrative and discourse) on an autobiography of a person with a disability, I chose to do my report on a book by the quadriplegic cartoonist, Callahan. You may have seen his cartoons in Playboy magazine. He draws using his mouth. His disability, I told my classmates, is alcoholism… because that is what is on his mind, not his wheelchair, and that is what he would talk about if you knew him. In fact, he would probably be attending meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous every week—much more often than meetings for disability rights. Classmates were horrified at my “error.” So, I front of them, I put up my hand and told my department head my interpretation. She agreed. She added something: Those of us with university degrees in medicine and psychology have been far, far less effective in curing alcoholism than nonprofessionals in AA.

The lesson is obvious: Although I’m proud to be an educated middle-aged man, I must confess I would be far less effective in toughening up an Arab student than would a peer, a young fellow-Muslim going through the same “life changes.” On campus, the word “gain” in “gain peace of mind” implies effort. In theory, one could attend university having only frivolous conversations, but where’s the education in that?

"Life" changes? Sure. If you want easy, train to fix radio sets. University education is hard.  It’s different. I remember a professor of physics, addressing new students, saying he hoped they all had at least one cherished belief they would give up before finishing university. Yes. As the poet said, “You can’t go home again.” If a student doesn’t change then he or she is just not paying attention.

God bless excited young students; I almost wish I were young again, among you.

Sean Crawford

No footnotes today, except to say I have made no links: I encourage student readers to use their library, and the rest of us to use Google.
Update from the next day: In this morning's (Friday) Calgary Herald newspaper, the main editorial (the paper always has more than one, all by committee, not by an individual) is titled Speak the Truth subtitled It's a mistake to deflect attention away from Islamist extremists.
A new handbook has come out "...produced by the Islamic Social Services Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and other groups." The handbook, United Against Terrorism, "...urges police officers and experts in the intelligence community to avoid linking Islam with radicalization…"

Besides wanting police to avoid certain words and "linkages," the producers define Jihad as an Arabic term meaning "striving, struggling and exertion in the path of good,"… But according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary Jihad is "a holy war undertaken by Muslims for the propagation or defence of Islam."

My above opinion that Muslims, or at least Arabs, believe in victimhood is only reinforced by this. Because: It's as if they see their victimhood as being so strong it justifies their not having integrity.

Update from the weekend Saturday October 4 Calgary Herald p. 21 column by Editorial Page Editor Licia Corbella.
My Question: Is it fair to expect a visa student here from Arabia to switch to a university academic culture, with discussions, while he is here, even though back in his culture there is not freedom of thought or speech? (You can legally be killed for changing religions, questioning religion, or talking about cute boys)
My Answer: Yes… culture is important, but not more sacred than academic culture, or the constitution.

The danger of overly respecting foreign cultures is great. There was a report on abuse out of Britain. Corbella writes, "So, how could such widespread and well-known sexual exploitation of children, over so many years, take place without authorities stepping in to arrest the rapists and protect the children? The report is very blunt. Political correctness is largely to blame"

The state-commissioned report by Professor Alexis Jay states "our conservative estimate is that approximately 1,400 children were sexually exploited over the full Inquiry period." (gang raped and trafficked)
The report: "By far the majority of perpetrators were described as "Asian"  by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue."

The report: "Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear directions from their managers not to do so."

Corbella writes that this could happen in Canada too. Regarding three Canadian teens killed by their parents and  brother, Corbella writes, "Evidence showed that Zainab, Sahar and Geeti told at least one dozen crisis workers on numerous occasions, including teachers, social workers, police officers and counsellors, that they were being beaten, were denied their freedom and that they feared they would be killed simply for wearing western clothes, talking to boys and taking glamorous photos of themselves on their cellphones.

"Zainab ran way to women's shelter, Geeti pleaded with officials to place her in a foster home, and Sahar told a teacher that her brother, Hamed, attacked with scissors and that she had attempted suicide by consuming large number of pills.

"These were teens in extreme crisis, but instead of being protected, the girls were interviewed in front of their parents, which caused them to recant everything they told officials previously.

Corbella quotes a Toronto social worker, Homa Arjomand: "But as social workers, we are trained to be culturally sensitive. But that is so wrong. We have start caring more about helping the victims of abuse rather than protecting their culture."

So my answer remains: Yes, never be afraid to discuss culture and human rights with a student.

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