Tag Archives: bigotry

That LGBT Thing & Writing Guidelines

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Benson Kua, Wikimedia

This post probably won’t be what you think it is. It’s about writing and my submission guidelines for Alice Unbound but it’s about more than that. The above letters refer to people of various gender preferences or identities. It’s also called QUILTBAG, for ease of remembering the letters in the acronym.

It is very common to now see a statement in submission guidelines that states something like: “Submissions from the QUILTBAG community are accepted/encouraged/not discriminated against.” The words vary but the intent is the same: inclusion. That’s the basis, though I’m not sure of the full evolution of this in terms of writing.

As some point in the past, someone or some people felt there was a prejudice against  gay or lesbian people or those identifying with any other version of gender identity. I’m going to state this here first, though I’m sure to offend someone. I’m an egalitarian. I believe in equal rights and the same treatment for all people. Now I’ve judged and juried several writing competitions and awards, edited some magazines/zines and a couple of anthologies. And even before I did any of these things I was a reader. Never did I choose to read a person because of their color, their gender or who they liked to have sex with. In fact, the latter especially is none of my business. I read because I liked the story and I went back to the same author because I liked their style.

As an editor and juror, I read for great stories first. I may know by a person’s name whether they’re female or male, but not necessarily. I don’t know if they’re a person of color or if they’re gay and asexual, or bi-curious, or bi, or gender fluid. And really, as far as I’m concerned, it does not matter. I’ve never submitted a story and said, hey, I’m a white girl whose Italian mother was ostracized by my father’s Scandinavian family, and I’m bisexual but only like black guys and white women. (Some of this statement is true and some is fiction, but again, it doesn’t matter. Some of that statement could be valid in submission, if the magazine only published Italian writers, or people of color. And likewise, the anthology I’m editing must have Canadian or residents of Canada as writers.) It is nobody’s business and has absolutely nothing to do with my writing. I also would feel uncomfortable stating any of this while submitting to an anthology/magazine, because I want my story to be chosen on its merit; not who I know, who I bed or how I identify.

Now, I’m not saying that there has been no prejudice. There probably has been in some cases or some areas. I just have lived in a bubble and don’t know about it overall but I don’t know every magazine out there. But an editor reading relatively unknowns from different geographies isn’t going to know these things about a person, unless that person is already known to them, or tells them. So where does this prevalence for guidelines saying “LGBT welcome” come from? I’m not sure. Some is general gender awareness and the rise of equality for gay and lesbian rights, and then more awareness of other gender identities/preferences. It’s only natural that it would get tagged into something as powerful as writing. And in the speculative genre, some might say that there has been a predominance of white Amerocentric characters, while at the same time, and long ago, speculative fiction was one of the first places where strong female characters and other types of sexual relationships were explored, even if it was once white men only writing them (and Samuel Delaney). Robert Heinlein was a product of his times but he was exploring identity and genders in his own way decades ago. Spec fiction has always been open to pushing boundaries. And yes, some female writers started out with male names to stop any prejudice against women.

This blog piece has evolved from comments on a thread where I posted the guidelines and someone said, why list this LGBQT stuff? At the same time, another person said editors were lazy for posting this and should solicit people directly. So let’s address that aspect.

If I have open submissions and the anthology is not invitational, then to solicit specifically from a transgendered person, or a gay person means I’m giving preferential treatment over other people. It’s an open submission and I’m an egalitarian. Second, editors don’t always have time to solicit this person and that. I’d have to start researching writers I know of, as opposed to those just starting out where there would be little to research, to find out who is gender fluid, transgender, asexual, bi, gay, lesbian, etc. to solicit a story from each of them. And I’m sure to leave someone out and cause more ill feeling. And then what about the hetero people, or cisgender? By being equal and fair, I list the guidelines so anyone can submit. Just send great stories.

Well then, why are you encouraging QUILTBAG in your guidelines? Because, if you don’t these days, someone is sure to attack you as being prejudiced. And in Canada, many small presses receive grant funding from provinces and the federal gov’t. Those governing bodies also require fair and equal attention to all types of writers. The statement is pretty much standard. So, if anyone of color or whatever gender identity feels like they might be ostracized or blacklisted, this tells them that they are not. And again, I’m really not going to know 99% of people’s gender identities or preferences.

Lion and unicorn, Alice, Through the Looking Glass

Lion or unicorn, or girl, you’re welcome to submit to Alice Unbound. Sir John Tenniel illustration.

In the end, as I’ve said before, I read for good stories. I don’t even read the submission letters first, and I don’t care who you have sex with. And please, don’t tell me. I don’t need to know. It’s none of my business and I will not reject or buy your story because you are any of the above. However, sometimes for those grants, if the publisher says, yes we had three transgendered writers, then that might help with more grant funding. Exile Editions actually has authors sign (voluntarily) a form that discloses if they are a minority of any type, but it doesn’t affect my selection.

And to those who decided to call editors lazy, try being an editor first before you make that statement. To close this post, I’ll state again, I’m an egalitarian. I don’t care who you are, or how you identify. I care that I have the best stories to emulate the premise for Alice Unbound.

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Alberta Politics: Does the Wild Rose Have Bigger Thorns

I grew up in Alberta in a dyed true blue Conservative family. We voted Conservative, we thought Conservative. Like religion, we followed our parents. My brother, the eldest, was a young Conservative and became a member of parliament and minister under Peter Lougheed. He was considered a red Tory, a more liberal thinking Conservative. Alberta was so Conservative that Albertans could barely even recognize that other parties existed. I like to refer to Alberta politics and the way people vote as the lemmings of Alberta; they’ll follow their leader unthinkingly into water or the abyss.

politics, Wid Rose party, Progressive Conservative party, Alberta, Alison Redford

Alison Redford, leader of the Progressive Conservatives. Image from vollman.blogspot.com

After high school I went to art college and I guess you can say that artists are rarely conservative thinkers. Art is often about challenging boundaries, whether one’s own or society’s. Nice and pretty art has its place but it doesn’t say much. Art is often political. Just ask those who have been incarcerated over time for their writing or paintings or performances. But that’s another post.

Alberta’s politics run to the Conservative party both provincially and federally. They’re predictable. BC is not. We’re known as a swing province. If we’re not happy, we’ll vote the other way but for a long time we’ve been a more liberal or left wing province. That’s why the Liberals under Gordon Campbell came into power, because they pretended to be Liberals when they were as conservative as Alberta’s Klein government or more. In fact, I always suspected that Klein and Campbell were political bed buddies. Campbell certainly looked at what Klein did, then streamlined it and ignored the people. Christy Clark, who has not yet been voted in by the populace, is more of a Liberal but who knows by how much. BC might be a Liberal province but it’s been a combination on the federal level. And there is no guarantee we will stay that way and hardly likely. We’ve been NDP, Social Credit and Liberal. We’re more link monkeys on the vine, swinging this way and that.

Wild Rose party, politics, Alberta. right wing parties, Conservatives, Danielle Smith

But back to the lemmings next door. In my family, as disillusionment grew and politics shifted my family all moved away from being Conservative. Like the province I live in I have voted Conservative, Liberal and NDP. My other family members vote different ways and even my once fully entrenched Tory brother had to finally declare he was becoming Liberal. Why? Because Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative party has become dictatorial and so far right wing that homophobia and religious ideals are coloring the politics, and unlike the US, Canadians don’t like to mix church and state. Harper barely hides it but as I’ve said, if you’re not white and not Christian and something happens to you in another country, you’re going to be SOL for government intervention. Harper hails from Alberta, rare in itself for a prime minister.

We call Alberta Little Texas, known for oil, cattle ranching and rednecks. The KKK has a stronghold there. It’s part of the Bible Belt, a strip that runs into the US and known for ultra-conservatism, right wing, religious views. But Alberta does have pockets of other…somewhat. In a way it was surprising to see the rise of the Wildrose Alliance to challenge the Conservative party’s 40-year rule. I didn’t pay a lot of attention but when the media said the Wildrose was right of the Conservatives a friend asked, “What, is it Attila the Hun?” There is something right of this? Wow. But then Alberta was the birthplace of the federal Reform party (or Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance party as they were known until it was pointed out it spelled CCRAP) which was a right wing answer to the federal Conservatives. The Reform party was absorbed back into the Conservative party and that’s when Harper and his ilk gained power. There have been accusations that the Wildrose party emulates attitudes that were found in the Reform party, such as homophobia, racism and narrow views about the rights of a woman to her own body.

Is it the truth? I suppose at least partially. It’s definitely what the media picked up on in the campaign that saw Alison Redford’s Conservatives back in power. But the Wildrose party did get seats and the polls predicted they’d win. Maybe the lemmings were frightened by change or maybe they feared Attila over Caesar but the Wildrose was definitely a thorn in Redford’s side. I guess from my perspective, (obviously biased and no longer immersed in that province’s politics) the biggest surprise is that such a conservative province actually has two female leaders.

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Clitoridectomy Performance in Poor Taste

racism, clitoridectomy, sexual abuse, female circumcision, controversy

A lot of controversy over this horrific image at a Swedish art show. Picture via: Frihetssmedjan

When a friend posted a picture of a bunch of laughing women cutting into a cake shaped like the caricatured torso of a black woman I was shocked, and like many others, saying WTF? The artist of this piece Makode Aj Linde in Sweden does various performances and art that look at racial stereotyping. The “cake” actually has the artist’s head sticking through, where he is done up in blackface. Swedish Minister or Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was asked to cut into the genitals to enact a clitoridectomy. The artist screamed and shrieked as this was done, with the rather gory, red cake interior revealed.

I thought this was only a torso but there are vestigial arms across the ponderous breasts. The artist’s head is done up in black face with a large cartoonish mouth. Many of the pictures show people laughing, taking pictures and eating the cake. The articles were somewhat biased with titles like “nig*ger cake,” “racist cake” and Lena as a  “self-confessed ‘anti-racist.'” The backlash was incredible and ironic since Liljeroth had been invited by the Swedish Art Organisation to speak about artistic freedom and the right to be provocative. Linde’s piece was definitely provocative but if I was an art critic I’d say it didn’t quite come off the way he was expecting.

On first glance we have three affronts: a doubly racist cake with the black person laying there, the black face upon the head, and then the mutilated cake torso smacking of outright cannibalism. On second glance we have people partying and eating the cake, disturbing considering the focal point. As I delved deeper I found a video that showed the artist screaming as the cake is cut. Several friends who viewed this changed their opinions from one of outraged effrontery to admiration because they were chilled by what they saw.

racial stereotyping, female genital mutilation, racist  cake, black person

Little Black Sambo is another racial stereotype: the big lips, white eyes and the watermelon.

As a provocative piece Aj Linde’s piece excelled. It definitely has provoked people to call for the Swedish minister’s resignation. It has outragedthe Association of African Swedes. Did it bring attention to the brutal act of genital mutilation? Yes, it did that too. But that seems secondary to the rest and was in all senses poor taste. Maybe there is no other truly effective way. I could see the human torso cake perhaps at a Hallowe’en party but as a means to highlight female mutilation, it could have stopped before people started eating the cake. What was the point of that? There are some stereotypes of Africans being cannibals and putting people in stewpots, but did that come across? And maybe most disturbing of all is that everyone overall seems to ignore the horrificness of such a cake and just party it up.

Is the laughter nervousness at being confronted with the uncomfortable thought of female genital mutilation? Is it a sign of people oblivious to events outside their purview? Is it a sign of blatant racism? Is it a sign of numbness to all the horrors in the world today? Is it narrow mindedness (if it’s not about me, it’s not important)? Maybe it’s all of these. It certainly is disturbing to me. For anyone who wants another look at female circumcision in terms of fiction, read Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, which might have been one of the first widely read accounts of such a practice.

Was this performance piece successful in what Aj Linde hoped to get across? All I can think is that in some ways, yes it was, though I think it misfired. I think a piece that mimicked the circumcisions with the screaming would have worked without the cake, but maybe the promise of a tasty confection drew everyone in at the end. If nothing else, this certainly did support an artist’s right to provoke.

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Flip Spagnoli

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Are Hallowe’en Costumes Racist?

Hallowe'en, costumes, racism, culture

STAR's campaign against racism

If you’re on Facebook you might have seen this picture all ready, circulating all over and many jumping on the politically correct bandwagon and saying, don’t do this. Don’t be insensitive. It was a poster done by STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) out of Ohio.

I’ll probably get shot over what I’m going to say here. I’m very much against racism and bigotry but I believe this is a case of mixing apples and oranges. First let’s look at Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, when it was believed that the veils between the worlds thinned and that ghosts and creatures of the underworld walked the night. It was a time when the world grew dark, lands were bereft of food and animals slaughtered for the winter larders. Back far enough, primitive peoples probably wondered if the sun would come back, if they had offended it somehow. That’s why there were always festivals of light on the winter solstice, when the longest night arrived and then the days grew longer. No one knew if it was gods or not.

Hallowe’en’s Celtic name is Samhain (sow-en) and as time went by it became a time to dress children in costumes; scary creatures, ghosts, goblins, skeletons and other things that go bump in the night. It evolved to other costumes but there is a long and complex history of Hallowe’en, with trick or treating, guising, asouling or in costume. Masquerades have existed for centuries.

So dressing up is part of Hallowe’en and has been so for a long time. Now the pictures above have a child of (I’m presuming) African-American, Japanese, Mexican and Arab ethnic groups. They each hold up a picture of a cartoon or a person in costume and it says “This is not who I am and it is not okay.” The top says We’re a culture, not a costume.” And indeed all cultures are very complex.

costume, Halloween, stereotyping, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Dutch regional costumes...is this racist?

This campaign was started to stop racial stereotyping, which is a good thing and all airports and police should really pay heed to that. Now the Arab costume has the guy wearing a bomb, as a terrorist I suppose. That is extremely in poor taste, just as dressing like the World Trade Center with a plane flying into you would be. So that costume needs to be tossed. The other pictures have a guy on a donkey, and a Geisha girl. They are indeed stereotypes. They are of earlier eras when in fact there were some people who dressed this way. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t unusual, it was the way it was. They were part of the culture of the time. Just as wearing a dress with a white linen apron, a cap with tips out and wooden shoes was a traditional Dutch costume. Stereotypes start as types.

I doubt there are few people who would put on a costume of a sailor, or a turbaned Maharajah, or of a witch (image from here) and presume that is the way people dress now and that all of a race are like this. Yes, I add witch because branches of neopaganism (Wicca) have members called witches. While there might be a few pagans who get upset at the stereotypical green-skinned witch dressed in black with a wart on her nose as a costume, most will keep a level head and understand that people don’t see them this way.

witch, costume, racism, racial stereotyping

Creative Commons: Is wearing this witch mask racism or bigotry?

I think we need to understand that dressing up in a costume from cultural history (whether a Hawaiian hula dancer, an Aztec king, a French prince, a Viking, a Chinese Mandarin…) does not mean we presume that all people of a particular race look or dress this way. It is part of history and traditional dress used in various festivals to this day imitate those costumes of long ago. Of the four pictures above, the terrorist one is wrong, the other two are historical aspects of a culture, and the last one is what in terms of racism? A person should not be bitten by a vampire? Is it racial stereotyping of vampires or black people because vampires only go after them? I don’t think I understand that one and would it be better or the same if a white person was being bitten? Dressing as a member of the Ku Klux Klan would be very tasteless and downright dangerous in some ares, though it would indeed be scary.

So what is right and wrong here? Hallowe’en does not say to treat all costumed people as bigots or racists, nor does it support racism. It doesn’t emulate racial stereotyping. It does let a person dress up. If First Nations went as a cowboy, and a white person as an Indian, would that be wrong, or just having fun with stereotypes of old?

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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The massacre in Norway is in some ways not new. Unfortunately, it’s a common enough scenario; yet another example of the endemic problem of judgment, racism or bigotry that infects this planet. Granted, there are people of unstable or extreme personality types such as narcissists who believe only they matter, or sociopaths who don’t really care about anything but their own gratification. I don’t know the statistics but I’m betting half of all massacres, multiple murders and suicide pacts are from unstable personalities. Religious temperament is probably responsible for the other half.

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Creative Commons: co_exist_by_c3b4

If we rule out that all religious beliefs make you a little crazy or that racism is only practiced by nutjobs, then we have to believe that people have extreme views and sane minds. But what’s at the basis of all the bigotry and hate crimes?

It’s a belief that someone is “other.” I am green and you are purple. Therefore you are different, not like me, maybe an alien and I can’t trust you. Or: You believe the flying spaghetti monster is god and I believe in Cthulhu. Therefore you are evil and should be shot down for spreading spaghetti monster worship, which is wrong. This I believe.

These examples are all about judgment and belief. A belief that I am better, my way of seeing the world is right and yours is wrong for some reason. I believe I am more favored by god but somehow you’re not or bringing in the wrong god. But what does it offend? Our sensibilities?

I may not like you walking around and showing your plumber’s crack. I may believe your religion of wearing orange cones on your head is goofy. I might see you eating cucumbers as a sign of true evil or that when you sing you are opening a hole to the world of darkness. But no matter what I BELIEVE, what really matters is, are you hurting me?

I mean tangible hurt, not some imagined slight to your soul or psyche. To me this is what it all gets down to and what we should remember. I might not like it, but is it hurting me or do I still have my freedom of movement and thought? I believe, like or worship this. Does it hurt anyone? No. Then I can do it. I can marry the rock in my garden, make sweet love to a chocolate croissant or worship the almighty slug. I might be seen as deranged but I’m not dangerous.

So everyone needs to take a deep breath and in that moment of judgment and hate boiling up in your guts, just step back and ask: Is he/she hurting anyone? If not. Then leave them alone to live their lives as they please. After all, it’s what you would want people to give you.

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Women: Neither Poison Nor Possession

I’m getting extremely tired and pissed off with women getting blamed for a helluva lot. In fact it’s almost enough to turn me into a rabid feminazi. The only problem is that I’m an egalitarian and I don’t believe one race or gender or religion should get special rights over another.

Creative Commons "Her Eyes" by Ranoush (flickr)

With that in mind, women are not your property. They don’t belong to you, or me or any man or any religion. They belong to themselves. On a good day we’re called the fairer sex. On a bad day we’re called the weaker sex and taken advantage of, raped, murdered, abused, locked away and chastised, to name a few. I’d like to think we live in a world where women are treated equally and get equal pay for equal work. Unfortunately that would only be a microcosm and even in Vancouver women are raped and murdered, or considered the chattels of men.

Here are just a few ways in which women have not yet been accorded equality as human beings:

  • Honor killings–rarely do you hear of the man being killed but it does happen in conjunction with the woman’s death and seems specific to certain cultures (but I’m not a cultural anthropologist). The woman is interested in someone not of her station and the family, usually the father or brothers kill her to avenge the wrongs to their honor. What BS that is. Honor is what you make it and you’re responsible for your own not for anyone else’s.
  • Adultery–like the famous Ashtiani case in Iran, which isn’t exactly treating many of their people fairly, women get charged with adultery in certain countries where they will be stoned or likewise killed for their indiscretion. Again, rarely do you ever hear of the man being called to task whether he’s the one married or the one with a married woman. Regardless of such draconian measures it’s always the woman’s fault and she suffers the brunt. Adultery takes two as does sex. In these countries a woman rarely can even say she was raped because the men have more rights and say she was loose or cheating, not matter what they did to her.
  • Female circumcision–don’t get me wrong, women are also responsible for this because they’ve bought into this dominance over women and castrating them so they get no enjoyment from sex. Because gosh, yet again it’s only men who get to be the ones sowing their wild oats all over the place.
  • Murder–it’s such a large category, from such monsters like Picton preying on women to a man who kills his wife because she’s leaving him, as if she ever belonged to him, as if murder ever makes sense for such an offense should she even have just been a bitch. If we killed every bitch and bastard out there, we certainly wouldn’t be worried about overpopulating the earth.
  • Seductress–she dressed like she was asking for it. She deserved it the way she was dressed. This of course puts the judging of women’s fashion into the eyes of the beholder and one person’s acceptable clothing (think Amish) is not another’s. This presumes an attitude based on clothing that can be completely false.
  • Hiding, cloistering or veiling women–Yeah we hear about the burkah and the naqib and women locked away where only their men can see them. But I ask as always, why don’t the men have to veil themselves. It’s no affront to whatever god a person worships. It’s a way for a man to control or own a woman, and be jealous enough he wants to covet her. I don’t care what any woman says; at heart is a gender different treating them like their poison or possession.
  • Poison–a woman’s period is filthy and bad and of the underworld. She taints things. I went to some Native (First Nations/Indian) healing circles through one year. Women who had a period had to wrap their lower extremities in a blanket because their energy would “ground out” the energy of the eagle feather. If it’s that powerful, can’t it be used to loft things higher too? And sweats; a man could go in, in just shorts. A woman had to wear something down to the ground (in some sweats their arms must be covered to the wrist too) because they might entice men. These sweats were 3-feet high, black as pitch and hotter than hell. No one is thinking of touching anyone let alone themselves. Yet again, the onus was on the woman to hide herself but the men could be half naked.

Eve’s lot in life wasn’t being weaker or inferior. What it was, was having to bear the brunt for the fact men can’t control themselves and are animals to women. Do I believe this? Not really. But it’s what’s put out there, if you lift the veil.

Again, I am an egalitarian and I think each person should be judged on their own merits, not their skin color, gender or religion. All of any group isn’t bad or good or evil or stupid or whatever. I love men but not the stupid, bigoted, racist, misogynist ones. The list above is by no means complete but I’m seriously getting pissed off hearing over and over how women are the ones who suffer the worst for crimes of the male or for just being female. It’s up to each of us to stand up against this sort of attitude.

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Bigotry and the Dumbing Down of the US

The US continues to perpetuate the stereotype that Americans are stupid. There is always a truth in a stereotype. While I know many intelligent Americans I wonder at the great gobbets of them who have such a bigoted and kneejerk reaction as to stop using their faculties for reasoning, deduction and fairness. No political system is perfect and really, democracy only works with 100 people or less (in my opinion) before its edges get a little rough.

Nine years after 9/11 and the stupidity seems to be mounting, not lessening. Certain small-minded, fear-laden people are equating the building of a mosque near ground zero with terrorism and other silly notions. They’ve used such rabid comments even in their Republican and Tea Party campaigns. What comments? Oh, let’s see, equating a Muslim to a terrorist, showing a picture of a nearly stereotypical turban-wearing man as a terrorist, calling candidates of Lebanese descent (and Christian) as being Arab. The amount of ignorance, fear mongering and bigotry is astounding.

Now, not all republicans are bad, or so right wing that they can only see sideways, but this attitude that everyone of the Muslim faith is a jihadist terrorist is outright ridiculous and dangerous. Why dangerous? Well if someone kept calling me a terrorist or some other nasty phrase when I was not I would tend to be less forgiving of anything they did and maybe just maybe would decide that if I was already branded then I may as well play the part.  The best way to show the idiocy of such allegations and get sense into the thickening skulls of such people is to give a comparison. If all terrorists are Muslim and therefore all Muslims are terrorists, then all Klu Klux Klan members are Christian and all Christians are KKK. And what is KKK but a terrorist group too? Well, you say, that’s only KKK and they’re a freakish group but not the same as terrorists. Still, the overt labeling is dangerous and inaccurate.

If a man has an obsession with eating pickles and then kills someone, is it because of the pickles or the man? If someone reads a murder mystery and decides to commit a crime that might just resemble that story, is it the story’s fault or the person’s. Responsibility and choices lie with the individual and very few groups all think the same. I talk specifically of religious groups. There are orthodox and non-orthodox, liberal and conservative aspects to most religious paths, as well as branches and branches. Look at Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Muslim faiths. There are many varieties on the theme.

The mosque in New York would be like mosques everywhere else. They have not said that the mosque’s agenda is to teach terrorism and it’s retarded (how can you tell that this makes me angry) to believe that’s the mandate. I know several Muslims who are quiet about their faith, like many Christians or Jews. Here’s another question: should a religion move into another country and plant its religion doing missionary work and pushing its faith on the people who have other traditions. Think of all those early Christian missionaries and the ones today, going all over the world to do “good works” but in the process trying to convert people. In the past that conversion was often accompanied my abuse and murder.

I’m not that astounded that people are so biased as to not see clearly and whine about the mosque in New York. But I am astounded at some of the campaigns going around with outright racism and bigotry in their messages. Like you can run a country on denouncing terrorists and prejudicing people against those who are innocent. Can anyone say Hitler? I don’t expect any American to read this who thinks there should be no mosque at ground zero. What would be best of all would be a temple/church/altar of every faith in a circle at ground zero. Now that would show that perhaps the faiths can come together and let everyone be, in peace.

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My Religion’s Better Than Yours

Religion, ain’t it grand? Everyone can use it to feel righteous, superior and special. In fact, people can use it to preach tolerance, yet in the same breath turn around and show bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

Nine years after September 11 and what have we learned? Place the blame elsewhere and stoke the fires under the fetid brew of religious intolerance. I speak of some Qu’ran burning putz in the US and the masses of protesters screaming against a mosque being built near ground zero in New York.

The masses, as has been shown again and again, are mostly ignorant, easily swayed and influenced by hype. If there is a complete intelligence amongst them, they hide it in the mob mentality. Notice I don’t say the Christian masses or the Hindu masses or any specific religion, because a mass of people (as opposed to the Catholic mass) is just that; not necessarily an unthinking organism but a lower thinking one.

The problem with religion is that it’s open to interpretation, interpretations of interpretations, offshoots, branches, sects and other views of the same religion, let alone all the different religions out there. Take just one, even Buddhism, and you have moderates, those who are orthodox or who adhere to the most stringent rules, and those who are liberal. One extreme end holds the fundamentalists. It makes no difference if this is Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam or one of the host of many religious practices. Fundamentalists are sometimes raised in the tradition but just as often (if not moreso) they are brought to this view as adults.

Fundamentalists are often recognized as being stringent and unbending, narrow-minded, and resistant to truth and facts. They like going on tirades, performing highly dramatic proclamations and at the worst, killing people in the name of their religion. A fundamentalist, whether a Taoist (Are there fundamentalist Taoists? Probably),  a Wiccan or some other religion is annoying at best and downright threatening to life and liberty at worst.

Who is a fundamentalist? The Taliban subjugating men and women, the Holy Roman Empire feeding Christians to lions, the Spanish Inquisition toasting witches, and southern Baptists burning religious texts. This is only a small sampling of pointing the finger at another group and ostracizing them for their beliefs. Sometimes this religious prejudice has been wholly one group against another and that’s not necessarily fundamentalism (really, the Roman Empire was a state religion and not fundamental beyond that) as it is the tenets and interpretations of the era and culture, such as various pogroms against the Jews in Medieval Europe. But fundamentalists will loudly proclaim the right and might of their belief system, then put their hands over their ears so they do not hear anything which would make them doubt. And they just as loudly denounce everyone else of not being on the “one true faith.”

Most religions preach love, compassion and turning the other cheek but it seems it doesn’t run to your neighbor if they are of a different ilk. It’s okay to tell your wives to stay home and raise babies if you’re a fundamentalist Christian but it’s not okay if you’re a fundamentalist Muslim and tell your wife to wear the hijab.  It’s okay to guilt trip people into being of a particular faith but then not let homosexuals into your church. It’s okay to convert by the gun or the sword because that will really give you more believers but it will only be lip service. Oh and do I even have to mention that should you start burning, breaking or otherwise destroying one group’s symbols of faith, that that won’t make them go away but will have them in your face. But if it’s war you want, in your religious peace, then it’s war you’ll get.

I’m not sure when the world is going to grow up. I have little faith it will be anytime soon as religious superstition, suspicion and intolerance seem to be on the rise. And people, no matter their faith, should be willing to listen to another person’s belief system. If they’re threatened, then they’re already insecure in their beliefs. If they change to another path, so what? Spirituality is always an individual journey and coercing or forcing people is not the way to spirit and belief.

Blaming all people of one faith for what some men did of dubious and most likely fundamentalist beliefs is the same as saying half of the species (say, women) is inferior to the other half. It’s the same as saying, Joe killed someone; therefore all of humanity should be punished. It’s the same as saying, my great grandfather raped someone so all the men in my family line are rapists (and this is a what-if and not indicative of my family). It’s the same as saying all Christians are good and all Muslims are bad. Switch the nouns and names around and it will sound as ludicrous.

Anyone who supports such wholesale bigotry should not be surprised when vengeance is wreaked upon them by the group they denounce. Look at the individual and do not use that wide brush to paint all of any group with it. There are evil Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists (Burma/Myanmar is run by Buddhists), pagans, agnostics, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. all over the world. And there are many more people of all faiths and none who are compassionate, charitable, giving and willing to let each person live, as long as they do not damage or subjugate another person in any way.

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I Don’t Get Religious Coverings

I should title this “I don’t get religious head coverings” but in essence it applies to any covering. Now I imagine this post will probably get me in the bad books of a lot of religions, but let’s just say I’m not against a religious covering in one religion or necessarily all religions. I’ve actually put off writing this for a long time, not out of fear but because I thought I should educate myself more. But there are a lot of religions and no matter how much I read I’m likely to miss some crucial element somewhere. And like every layperson out there I have questions that probably only a scholar could answer.

So, let me frame my confusion with this statement: I am an egalitarian. I expect and believe that everyone should be given an equal opportunity, whether in jobs, lifestyle or religion and that one group is not made to do differently than another because of gender or race. I have a huge problem with any religion that allows priests/clerics/spiritual leaders to be of only one gender. And there are many. Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism. There are sects in these religions that often allow for female leaders but overall, the pope can only be a man, the Dalai Lama (only one sect of Buddhism) is always a man, Jewish and Muslim leaders/holy men seem to only be men. Hinduism does seem to be one religion that has no leader over others though different sects might worship a female god or a male one. Paganism likewise has both male and female priests but again there are sects that are male or female exclusive.

But when it gets down to the clothing and the headgear I ask why does one person wear it over the other and how does this treat all human beings as equal? Jewish men wear the yarmulke/kippah (as well as the pope and other ranks in Catholicism), Sikh men wear the turban, Tuareg men wear the veil/turban but the women don’t. Muslim women wear the burka or veil, but the men don’t. Catholic nuns (some of them wear the wimple) but the men don’t though they wear a mitre or kippah on their heads. Why?

At one time in all these cultures’ histories, their robes were the style of the time. Then the religion became codified and traditionalized, setting like cement in time and never more to have the clothing change. Why do Christian priests wear cassocks and the nuns wear wimples: because it was the style when the church finally gained its true strength. Clothing wasn’t part of the religion and then it was. And suddenly, what was cultural dress became symbolism for faith. I can understand a faith that says your hair or head needs to be covered under the eyes of God (or whatever) but then it shouldn’t be a veil for women or a turban for men while the other gender gets to wear nothing or little. I also wonder why, if God created us, in all these religions, why he should want us to then hide? Shouldn’t we shine with the glory of his/her creation?

I’ve attended Native/First Nation sweats where a man could go in, in shorts but a woman had to be covered from neck to ankle and to wrist. Why? Because  a woman might be enticing? So, does that mean a semi-nude man isn’t enticing and why is it the woman’s responsibility for a man’s reaction? To me that says that men are animals, wild and uncontrollable and if that’s the case, they should not be in charge of anything, should they? The sweat was pitch black and so hot you didn’t want to touch yourself let alone anyone else and the farthest thing on anyone’s mind was sex. But still the women had to carry the brunt of this bigotry.

So why is a woman made to wear a burka or cover her hair? Why doesn’t a man have to do the same? Is a woman’s hair too beautiful and God is jealous? Are men going to turn into ravening, covetous animals? Shouldn’t they be chained and hobbled then? Is a man’s hair too boring to be enticing? How is it fair in any religion where a god or gods treats one half of his/her creations better or worse over the other? That already sets up a hierarchy of favoritism just based on gender. Not very good grounds for believing if you’re the underdog in the religion.

It is not the belief or faith, or tenets of the religion itself, where the pursuit is spiritual enlightenment that bothers me. It is the strictures and restrictions on only certain groups within the religion (or those outside of it) that disturb me greatly. Albeit, in all these religions, and the ones I haven’t mentioned there are sects, and a range of tolerance from acceptability to fundamental condemnation, and I use the word fundamental with all its horrid connotations. Fundamentalism in any religion is a sign of intolerance and fear, without a willingness to believe that people are different. But people should be able to choose, not be shamed, guilt-tripped or subjugated into the role of religious unworthy in their belief system.

If a religion requires a robe or a headcovering, then make it the same for everyone, not of two different levels depending on whether you’re blessed or only slightly blessed. I would find it hard to follow/convert to any spiritual belief where my god already saw me as a lesser being than my fellow believers. I’m waiting for someone to enlighten me.

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Why Canada is Racist

It’s a shameful fact that I’d like to see less of, that Canada is racist. I’m lucky enough to have been raised without racism. I don’t understand it. But then some of it is subtle. It’s not always about the color of a person’s skin but a person being other, not one of us. Outsiders need not apply.

Canada’s own interior racism (or should I say racial profiling) includes the interment camps for people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Those people were uprooted for fear that because of their original nationality, even if they were born here, that they would betray Canada to Japan. Guilty by association, and in fact guilty even if innocent. These people lost homes and livelihoods and many of them never regained their properties. Vancouver’s Japantown is nonexistent these days.

Even older than that was of course the treatment of various First Nations bands (once called Indians and called Native Americans in the US). Many people were corralled onto reservations. While BC’s west coast fared better and many bands had fur and trade deals with early settlers and the Hudson’s Bay there were still many infringements on the culture including the nefarious residential schools. In some cases, First Nations people were punished if they used their own language, did their own rituals or anything else that represented their culture. They were also physically, emotionally and sexually abused. As well, many people were uprooted from where they lived and in the case of some Inuit, promised all sorts of things to move farther North to protect Canada’s sovereignty, where life was extremely hard and isolating.

We could say that these are issues of the past but the truth is no country is completely free of racism and bigotry. Canada still has many issues with First Nations where they are treated as second class citizens and live in appalling conditions. People of color (whether Native or black or…) are still arrested or harassed more frequently by some police departments. Prostitutes are still treated as if their lives don’t matter. After Willie Picton’s rampage and disturbing murders of so many street workers over the years and the lackadaisical attitude of the police in searching for these missing women (some who were First Nations on top of that), at least some police departments pay more attention now.

So you could say we’re trying to improve. And I would like to think on an individual level that most people are decent and treat people equally. It’s how I was raised. I never called someone a name because of the color of their skin or their race. I’ve dated men of all colors. I have what I call a soft racist friend. She works with and gets along with people of color and other races but she would never think of dating one.

It is something that everyone as an individual must be constantly aware of and try to curb. We can all fall into an “us and them” mentality and it’s insidious and dangerous. But we could say that our country at least has a human rights policy and upholds international standards of protecting the rights of the individual and helping those who are subjugated whether children, women, racial minorities, religious groups or any persecuted group. You could say that about a country but Canada is sliding a slippery slope toward a dictatorial regime.

I can’t yet draw comparisons to Hitler’s Germany and his persecution and murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. (Yes, those three groups were targeted.) But if Steven Harper’s nearly totalitarian clutch on his ministers continues and his blatant disregard for the rights of Canadians continues, I won’t be far off.

Canada is hiding its face in shame over the issues of the following people and their problems. Suaad Mohamad was stuck in Kenya for three months when she went to visit her mother and was accused of being an impostor by Canadian consular officials.  Anab Issa took her autistic son Abdihakim Mohamed to Kenya to see if it would help him. He was not allowed to return and Issa was told that he wasn’t her son. Sound familiar? Then there was Abousfian Abdelrazik stuck in Sudan after being accused of being an Al Qaeda confidante of some sort. Cleared of charges by CSIS and the government, still Harper’s Conservatives would not let the man back in the country. Abdelrazik jumped numerous hoops but lived at the Canadian embassy and was in limbo for years, denied time and again his passport.

Debra Martin was jailed in Mexico, accidentally embroiled in her boss’s dealings. She was the cook I believe. When media finally got involved Canada sent a private jet for her release. Omar Khadr, the only person of a western nation and the only Canadian, still resides in Guantanamo and Harper and his henchmen are challenging yet another court ruling that they are infringing on Khadr’s rights.

Worse than that, they’re taking on the nightmarish doublespeak of 1984 and censoring such words as “child soldier,” “gender equality” and “international humanitarian law.” What’s next? Women are just incubation machines? Our elected members of parliament will not be allowed to say Khadr was a child soldier. What happens if they say this? Are they shipped of to a gulag or Guantanamo and never heard from again. Sure, governments change laws but it seems the Canadian government is changing the law to get their way. They’re doing it on the sly and they’re doing it against those they consider “other.” And they are setting a dangerous precedent toward bigotry and racism.

And what do all of these people have in common? They were Canadian citizens who went abroad and were abandoned by their government. What do all of these people except Deb Martin have in common? They’re brown skinned, with foreign sounding names and probably most of them are Muslim. Why do we even know about many of them? Because the media had to start pointing out what the government wasn’t doing. What does this say about the Canadian government? They’re willing to abandon you if you go abroad and you’re not white with a last name like Smith or White. I could be okay should I fall afoul in another country but I’m a woman and the government could be changing wording so that instead of saying “woman” we will soon say “second class citizen.” I certainly have faith in their racism and bigotry but not in them protecting humanitarian rights.

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