Sunday, December 28, 2008

Anti-extremist strategy in Lebanon


You may be interested in this end-of-the-year article, Beirut seems to have upper hand against extremists, from Lebanon's Daily Star. And more on Lebanese domestic politics from the Washington Post, here.

Image:
a prosperous street in downtown Beirut.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saladin's hummus?


A couple of weeks ago, a correspondent on MEDIEV-L sent the rest of us a link to this article from the Guardian, which discusses the efforts of the state of Lebanon to prevent Israel from claiming hummus and tabouleh as its own, when by all rights they should be knowledge this traditional dishes of Lebanon. Does this mean that they only want Lebanese produced hummus to be labeled as such? Where would that leave Canadian hummus? (Which is likely produced from Lebanese recipes.)

The article also mentions a legend that Saladin, the famous Muslim leader of the 12th century, invented hummus. Now that's what I call ridiculous. Some man invented hummus? I assert with complete confidence that the dish was invented by two women working together, probably grandmother and granddaughter, some time well before the first wall was raised around Jericho. Where they were when they did it, I'm not saying.

Image: A Greek version of hummus with tahini, just to complicate things.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The state of Canada

In the summer of 2006, when Lebanon was being bombed by Israel, those who could get out, did. Among them were a large number of Canadian citizens of Lebanese background. I sat beside some on the plane across the Atlantic -- as I was returning from Latvia at the time. This experience increased my anger with the Prime Minister's lack of concern about this illegal and inhumane bombing campaign and its effect on people he is responsible for and to.

Imagine my astonishment, then, when I was exposed on my return to loud complaints about these refugees when some of them -- I heard -- complained about the lack of response of their government to their urgent plight. It was strongly implied by some people that these were not real Canadians just holders of "passports of convenience." Others expressed the sentiment of "what do you expect, going to live in such a dangerous place?"

As an immigrant myself married to another immigrant, my perspective is quite a bit different, as you can imagine. That incident opens a whole raft load of issues; but at the moment I'd like to raise just one. What kind of country, I ask, is it that does not have a significant number of its citizens living and working elsewhere?

I don't really have to answer that question, because Canada is not an isolated country of that sort. Today, in the lead up to Canada Day on the first, the Globe and Mail is running a series of articles on the state of Canada and its place in the world. It is quite an amazing article and I recommend that you read it all. I will be back Monday for more. Today's installment, by Michael Valpy, has a lot to say about this issue of what makes a real Canadian. Not everyone will agree with this perspective, but it corresponds to many aspects of my own experience.

Here's what caught my eye in the article, with particular passages of importance bolded:
... Canada ... has arrived at multiculturalism Mark II and a generation of new adults who have moved decisively beyond nationalism to embrace a kind of transcendent planetary supranationalism. We are becoming the land of global citizens, by all accounts galloping out ahead of other advanced democracies.

It appears to be occurring within a broad consensus.

University of Montreal political philosopher Daniel Marc Weinstock, who studies globalizing cultures, says there is little evidence to suggest it is causing Canada problems. A recent Environics poll found nearly 70 per cent of respondents thought it was a positive thing for Canada's image that three million Canadians live outside the country.

Canadians comprise 10 per cent of the population of Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, more live as immigrant transnationals: maintaining a cultural and even physical presence in both Canada and the countries that they, or their families, may have left years earlier.

A huge majority of young Canadians - as well as a majority of all adult-age cohorts - say they want to live, study or work abroad, according to the same Environics poll done earlier this year.

Forty per cent of Canadians say they donate money to international charities. Twenty per cent say they send remittances to overseas relatives. An increasing portion of Canada's international trade comprises Canadian Diaspora entrepreneurs doing commerce with their original homelands.

I know that some Canadians, including friends of mine, will be ticked off by the notion of 10% of Hong Kong being "Canadian." "Passports of convenience" indeed! But the story is more complicated than one might imagine:

Queen's University geographer Audrey Kobayashi has studied what are now in some cases three generations of families who have moved back and forth between Hong Kong and Canada, for education, for business, for periods of residence.

They speak with Canadian accents - Prof. Kobayashi talks of being in Hong Kong business offices and hearing nothing but Canadian accents. They have deep emotional feelings for the land, a pride in Canada's public institutions, an engagement in Canadian affairs. Rooted in Canada, but from time to time living elsewhere.

I won't excerpt any more, but I will refer you to two other stories concerning former Chilean refugee Luz Bascunan and second-generation Indo-Canadian Radha Rajagopalan. Ms. Bascunan's story really speaks to me. I didn't come to Canada as a refugee, but I did come for a very specific purpose, to attend the best graduate program in medieval history in North America, and I thought I'd be leaving when that purpose was accomplished. When I was done, however, I found that I'd acquired a family, a family, I'll point out, which was divided between Canada and Latvia. I was living this version of the Canadian dream -- or at least the Canadian reality. (I think Canada's better at realities than dreams.)

I will end this piece by saying something about my own experience Nipissing University. The consensus of world outreach referred to in the article is evident here. The vast majority of our students come from Ontario, many of them from small places in the country or the suburbs. When they come to Nipissing University, the place seems quite diverse to them. I lived in Toronto for 13 years, and I have different standards of what counts as diverse, but I'm happy for these students, especially since they are happy about the diversity! And a great many of them want more: they are taking the opportunity to travel to other countries for study and then making a great success of it. University is supposed to be a gateway to the greater world and I'm glad we are fulfilling our function.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Middle East at the end of 2007


For any of my readers who might be interesting in summaries of what the Middle East is actually like at the moment -- since just following the headlines, whether or not they are honestly composed, is not very helpful -- I have two recommendations.

The first is from Juan Cole, who posts on Informed Comment a count-down list of Top 10 Challenges Facing the US in the Middle East, 2008. Though formally composed as recommendations to Americans, the analysis is less US-centric that most US political discussions, which focus on "the horserace," i.e., which American political actor is ahead in which media-defined race. Cole actually discusses what foreigners want.

For Iraq, I recommend the last few entries from the blog Inside Iraq by the Iraqi correspondents of the US McClatchy news service. There is a tiny bit of good news, but my non-expert impression is that the civil war is about half over and I have no idea how it will end up.

Image: "The grim world of Warhammer." If only great big hammers were the worst we had to worry about!

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