The Saudi human rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider and her colleague Fawzia Al-Oyouni, who have fought for such causes as the right of women in her country to drive, have been sentenced to 10-months in prison along with a two-year travel ban forbidding them from leaving the country. Their case should be of particular interest to Canadians because their supposed offense was trying to help an Canadian woman Nathalie Morin, who has repeatedly complained about being trapped in abusive marriage in Saudi Arabia.
They were accused of kidnapping and trying to help Nathalie Morin, a Canadian woman married to a Saudi, flee the country in June 2011. Morin, who has said her husband locks her in the house and is abusive, has been trying for eight years to leave Saudi Arabia with her three children. (There’s a so-far-unsuccessful campaign, spearheaded by her mother, to get the Canadian government to intervene.) Al-Huwaider says they were responding to a frantic text message from Morin, who said her husband had gone away for a week and left her locked in the house without enough food or drinkable water. When they arrived at the house with groceries, they were arrested.
Both the Morin case and the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case are clear examples of human rights transcending national borders. The group Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) has been doing excellent activism on these cases, pressing the Canadian government to stand up for human rights. Here is the MPV statement on the Morin case and here is their comments on the Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni case. Both statements contain a helpful list of government officials to contact. The Pollitt column should also be read in full, as an extremely valuable background report. I’m writing to Thomas MacDonald, Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, about these cases, and would encourage readers of this blog to do the same.
I feel bad going after Ezra Levant. He’s so goofy that his antics are sort of endearing, like the mischief-making of a not-very-bright ten year old boy. But still “Sideshow Ezra” does get to publish in national newspapers and there might be some people out there even dimmer than he is who take him as a sage.
The eagle-eyes at The Mark have noted a jaw-dropping anomaly in Levant’s writing. Last Tuesday, Levant called for the murder of a private citizen who has not been convicted of any crime, asking “Why isn’t Julian Assange dead yet?” Criticized for this, Levant responded on Friday that that Assange has no right to claim free speech because certain types of speech are rightly considered criminal. His examples? “There is a minor element of expression involved in spying and hacking. But the same could be said for forging a signature on a cheque, or writing a death threat on a piece of paper. No-one would reasonably characterize those as acts of free speech — the speech part is incidental to the crime involved in each.” (Italics added, of course).
But [Ron] Unz does not stop there. He goes on to report that nearly 20 percent of the Harvard College student body is Asian-American, and 25 percent to 33 percent is Jewish, though Asian-Americans make up only 3 percent of the U.S. population and Jewish-Americans even less than 3 percent. Thus, 50 percent of Harvard’s student body is drawn from about 5 percent of the U.S. population!
When one adds foreign students, students from our tiny WASP elite and children of graduates, what emerges is a Harvard student body where non-Jewish whites — 75 percent of the U.S. population — get just 25 percent of the slots. Talk about underrepresentation! Now we know who really gets the shaft at Harvard — white Christians.
In Canada, by contrast, a race-blind university admissions process isn’t leading to the underrepresentation of minorities. On the contrary, the normal Canadian university practice of admission based on academic achievement has resulted in the over-representation of non-whites on campus. A 2005 Statistics Canada study found that 54% of visible minority Canadians aged 24 to 26 reported having attended university, versus just 38% of the non-visible minority population…..
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the U of T faculty of law. It’s the most competitive law school in Canada, drawing the best students from across the country. While I was there, a group of students began calling on the school to become more diverse and representative in hiring and admissions. Five years ago, to see if their complaints jibed with reality, I flipped through the school’s online student directory.
A quick eyeballing suggested that the complaining students were probably right about the lack of racial representativeness — though not quite as they had imagined. For example, the student body appeared to be as much as one-third Jewish, making Jews hugely overrepresented relative to their tiny percentage of the Canadian population. Visible minorities were 16% of the Canadian population in 2005, but seemed to account for a higher proportion of U of T law students. And non-Jewish whites, who make up more than 80% of the Canadian population, looked to be less than 50% of the law school’s student body.
There’s diminishing return, I recognize, in minutely critiquing every article produced by the “‘Too Asian?’” controversy. Tony Keller, the former managing editor of Maclean’s has written a very sprightly but wrong-headed article for the National Post on the issue. It takes a slightly different angle to the issue than that of Maclean’s, but not totally different. The problems I have with Keller are largely the problems I’ve already outlined, on several occasions, against Maclean’s (briefly, some very facile stereotyping, an unwillingness to look at the role of class, and also an unawareness that the type of program students are in influences what type of social life they have). Since I’ve already made these points, I’ll not re-iterate them.
There are a few quirky things in Keller’s article that rubbed me the wrong way: to float the idea that whites are underrepresented in elite programs, Keller comes up with the curious phrase “non-Jewish whites.” Now, as any historian will recognize, the whiteness of Jews is a historically contingent phenomenon: but since roughly the Second World War, it’s been commonplace in North America to accord the privilege of whiteness to Jews. Outside the far right, this is a widely shared consensus. So I don’t think it’s worthwhile to start talking about “non-Jewish whites.”
Over on the CBC radio program Q, I was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi about Maclean’s “Too Asian” article. You can listen to the show here.
Interestingly, Maclean’s was asked if they wanted to appear on the show and debate the issue. They not only declined the request, they refused to make a statement on this matter. This adds to my general sadness on this topic: if Maclean’s wanted to raise such a provocative topic, they should have the courage of their convictions and argue it out with their critics. But it seems like Maclean’s wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to get attention for publishing something that angers people, but when objection are raised they duck out of engagement with the issue and act like their being unfairly singled out for criticism.
I’ve been very critical of Maclean’s in the past and expect to be so again in the future, but I would be amiss and unfair if I didn’t note the magazine houses the two best analysts of Canadian politics, Andew Coyne and Paul Wells. I was particularly taken with Coyne’s recent analysis of Canadian conservativism in the age of Harper as a politics of pure expediency, a politics for the sake of politics:
Stephen Harper’s Tories can run $56-billion deficits, raise spending to all-time record levels, and grease every Conservative riding with layers of pork; they can abandon Afghanistan, coddle Quebec, and adopt the NDP approach to foreign investment; and still there exists in people’s minds another Conservative party, somewhere, for whom these policies are anathema.
I suppose it’s possible these other Conservatives exist in theory, as a kind of Platonic ideal form. And so the principles commonly ascribed to them may also be said to exist, as abstractions. But if they never actually act on them, of what real-world significance are they? How is it meaningful to talk about them?
This gets at something real about Harper, his genuine lack of any fixed principles. There have been very few public figures quite as soulless as Harper.
Maclean’s magazine has raised the issue of whether Canadian universities are too Asian. (The link is to website that preserved the original version of the article, which has since been scrubbed and replaced by a slightly less offensive piece by Maclean’s). In a fit of irritation, I wrote a response in the National Post asking if Maclean’s is too white (I’m almost tempted to say too Whyte). My article can be read here.
The Great War ended 92 years ago today. I reflect on Canada’s experience in the war in a review I did for The Walrus of Tim Cook’s new book The Madman and the Butcher. The review can be read here.
My Walrus review was tightly constricted by space to 600 words, so I’ll take the opportunity to add a few extra thoughts.
Cook’s book (and his earlier works) represents both the strengths and weaknesses of English Canadian historiography about the Great War. The strength of this literature is that the way it has exhaustively combed through the archives to recreate the experiences of Canadians who fought in the war. Given the nature of the evidence available, there is a slight imbalance towards the experience of officers but in recent decades historians like Cook have also been paying more attention the experiences of enlisted men. What these books give us, at their best, is a deeply textured and specific phenomenology of the war as it was lived through day by day.
I have an essay about G. A. Cohen in the June issue of the Literary Review of Canada. Here’s the opening paragraph:
Gerald Allan Cohen was a product of the lost world of Canadian communism. His working-class parents were Jewish Marxists who toiled in Montreal’s garment trade. In 1945, When Cohen was four years old, they enrolled him in the Morris Winchevsky School. Morning classes were taught in English and covered conventional topics. But in the afternoon the language of instruction switched to Yiddish, and the lessons included the history of class struggle. One day in 1952 Quebec’s Red Squad raided the school, hoping to find communist literature. The political innocence of Cohen and his classmates was preserved by a quick-thinking teacher who put on a happy voice and clapped her hands as the police arrived: “Children, the Board of Health is inspecting the school and you can all go home early.” Cohen and the other delighted students ran outside, unaware they had McCarthyism to thank for their freedom.