Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Continental Drift

Despite being what is for all intents and purposes a news blog, I’ve made a conscious decision not to be overly political or bang the war drums too much. You don’t have to be here long to realize my own political leanings tilt left, but I tend to stay away from the sort of sociopolitical criticism that so many others bloggers deal in, better than I ever could, preferring instead to inform while lampooning worthy targets. But something I saw earlier this afternoon pulled out the final block of my hard leftism, and all my delusions of radicalism collapsed like a game of Jenga. But to get to that story I need to tell you this one.

During last month’s unfortunate yet amusing altercation with He Who Shall Not Be Named, the adversary accused me of displaying “willful ignorance”. While I still maintain I was exhibiting a blithe disregard, the comment made me briefly consider how I view most of the teacup tempests that rally the campus rabblerousers into action, and why it is I no longer care. And I realized the reason I no longer care is because most of the causes celebre on campus miss the forest for the trees.

Continue reading this post.
Back in February I wrote a piece nobody read looking back on the Great Dress Code Controversy of ’06. In it I wrote that the true tragedy of the scandal was not that the UWSA or pub management implemented an inherently racist policy, but that they refused to acknowledge the policy had any racial element. They were baffled that anyone would see the policy as racist, and quickly heaped the blame on The Lance for blowing it out of proportion. They saw no fault in themselves because they defined racism in such limited terms: as long as they weren’t dropping n-bombs or hanging nooses from the rafters, they couldn’t be racist, as though those were the only parameters of prejudice.

To me, the issue isn’t that last year’s council was blowing things so magnificently, it’s that they didn’t realize they were doing it. I don’t care that the UWSA is predominantly white from year to year, I care about why so few minority students bother to run. I don’t care if there was a conflict of interest over the new UWSA website, I care about why most students want to keep their head down and attend classes and not be bothered. Is that willful ignorance, or a refusal to participate in the narrow-minded discourse the liberal activists present? I suppose the things I care about are harder to summarize on a placard.

My discontent with the left has been brewing since ’99, when I first puzzled over the protesters at the Seattle WTO Conference, most of whom didn’t seem to know why they were there in first place. Talk of vague notions of anarchy further discouraged me, mostly because the people espousing the revolution the loudest, never had any ideas on what to do next. Longtime readers of this blog know Heath and Potter’s The Rebel Sell was a sort of watershed for me, articulating all the things about the left and the counterculture that made me antsy [in brief: they’re all sound and fury; they continually undermine themselves by engaging in pissing matches of ‘who’s more radical’; and they perpetuate the culture they rail against as much if not more than the pathetic sheep they want so desperately to liberate].

But still I clung to my notions of liberalism: I believe in gay rights and a woman’s right to choose, separation of church and state, make love not war, all that. So I must be a liberal, right?

Then a column in the National Post turned me onto this. It’s an interview between CBC host [and uberactivist] Avi Lewis and Somali author/politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A former Muslim who became atheist following the 9/11 attacks, Hirsi Ali has become an outspoken critic of Islamic society and a supporter of America, positions that are hardly in vogue on the left, and have Lewis’ feathers ruffled from the start. He’s not about to let something as offensive as support for America get time on his show unchallenged [he says as much at the video’s start].

So he challenges, arguing that evangelicals in America are as condemnable as Islamic fundamentalists, and that the plight of Muslims harassed at airports are equivalent to the violence suffered by Muslim women under sharia law. And Hirsi Ali, calmly and eloquently, tears him apart. Some choice exchanges:

Lewis: You live in the United States of America. This is a country where evangelical Christianity has ascended to the highest ranks of power; where conservative social values drawn and justified by the Bible are imposed on people every single day.

Hirsi Ali: I think you’re exaggerating.

Lewis: They shoot abortion doctors in the United States of America. Homophobia is rampant.

Hirsi Ali: When abortion doctors in the United States were shot, the federal government reacted to it by going after the perpetrators, putting them on trial and jailing them. When in Iran, two men went after a woman and a man holding hands and shot them, they were acquitted by the Supreme Court. That is the core difference. Never confuse Islamic sharia and the Muslims who really mean it with those extremist Christians living in the United States. Extremist Christians…in any other Western society face the rule of law and are dealt with accordingly.

Lewis quickly changes the subject. You really should watch the whole clip, but I’ll give you one more gem.

Hirsi Ali: My point is not so much when the Democrats are in power everyone is happy or that when the Republicans are in office everything is bad. It’s that both Republicans and Democrats and the majority of Americans fortunately feel that they can run for office, they can get power---

Lewis: As long as you’re staggeringly rich, totally connected, in the pockets of your donors, you can do anything you want in America.

Hirsi Ali: In America you can come with nothing…and become very wealthy.

Lewis [laughing]: Is there a school where they teach you these American clichés?...I’m so upset that I’m losing my cards here. I can’t believe you just said that.

Hirsi Ali: …I read about democracy and I lived in countries that had no democracy…so I don’t find myself in the same luxury as you do. You grew up in freedom and you can spit on freedom, because you don’t know what it is not to have freedom.

I believe the kids call that PWNAGE.

Now Windsor, I agree, it does suck that Western, peaceful Muslims have to worry about getting held up at airport security or being put on terror watch lists, but to suggest that their plight holds a candle to the struggles of people on the other side of the world living in legitimate fear for their lives under the threat of real violence, is the sort of arrogance the liberal West typically deplores.

Lewis’ patronizing filled me with such anger, all my issues with hard liberalism crystallized into one shiny kernel, and I threw it away, gone, ghost.

If I’m no longer a liberal because I demand an alternative to mass-market consumer culture, instead of incessant saber-rattling, so be it.

If I’m no longer a liberal because I can simultaneously believe in democracy while condemning the imposition of it by force, oh well.

If I’m no longer a liberal because I’m a monotheist who disagrees with large portions of all forms of organized religion, c’est la vie.

And if I’m no longer a liberal because I no longer want to be affiliated with the Avi Lewises of the world, fine. Take my card, my devil sticks and my foot bag, I’m relinquishing my membership.

So who’s gonna be the first to tell me I’m spectacularly missing the point?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it WAS pwnage, wasn't it? so sweet.

anyways, welcome to the realm of rationality and moderation that defies simplistic political labels. it's comfortable and easy to call oneself a liberal or a conservative, but really much more fulfilling to simply focus on ideas, without having to check that they carry the little "kosher" labels of your party.

1:36 AM

Blogger The Trail said...

It's a weird sensation, finally feeling like a grown up in your own head.

Thanks for the welcome, and for the visit.

1:51 AM


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