Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Arab Awakening and Shifting Oil Sands: Obama's Georgetown Speech; "Ethical Oil"; Canada's Bible Belt

From Le Monde Diplomatique English Edition, in larger format here.

US President Barack Obama's Wednesday March 30, 2011 speech at Georgetown University on US energy policy, particularly regarding oil, has stimulated a number of commentaries and articles, all the more so in Canada, one of the potential beneficiaries. It is particularly newsworthy since Canada has just begun its federal election campaigning and will elect its new government and Prime Minister on May 2, 2011. The current minority government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party, stands to benefit most from promises of more Canadian oil exports to the US. Most of Canada's oil production is in the Province of Alberta, from whence the Prime Minister and his most trusted advisers and Cabinet Ministers hail.

Alberta is arguably the country's most conservative province. It is socially, economically, and politically conservative. The province has the "freest economy" in Canada, and the second freest of all the states and provinces of the US and Canada, in other words the least regulation, the most free market principles applied. It has a new and growing Wildrose Alliance Party, created by conservatives who wanted a more right-wing and populist alternative to the provincial Conservative Party. Highly libertarian and socially conservative it has been compared to the American Tea Party.

At one level, this need for a more conservative Conservative party is hard to imagine as the province was long governed by the extremely conservative Premier Ralph Klein of the right-wing of the Progressive Conservative Party--sort of a Canadian Newt Gingrich. who out-Newted the Newt in the 90's. On the other hand, the Wildrose Alliance Party grew from a perceived shift toward a more moderate conservatism both federally and provincially--both perceived instances of moderation required by minority governments at the provincial and federal levels.

Alberta is also the buckle of Canada's Bible Belt which stretches along the southern border of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and into some areas of British Columbia. Southern Alberta is perhaps the largest and best known stronghold of a Christian conservatism that dates to settlement by Hutterites and Mennonites, among others, seeking the freedom to pursue a more conservative religion than easily tolerated elsewhere. It is home to the Social Credit Party which was based in Christian conservatism, as was the Reform Party which dissolved into the current Conservative Party of Canada. Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was on the right wing of the Reform Party before the merger.

The University of Calgary in the province's largest city, at the southern pole of the Calgary-Edmonton urban corridor, has an extremely conservative social sciences faculty, including its departments of economics, and of political sciences, whence Stephen Harper received his MA in Economics, and made the relationships which staff his advisory panels and his Cabinet. After George W Bush left office, the only place in Canada that he and his political allies (Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld) were invited to speak was the University of Calgary.

The Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, are a very large source of bitumen,
which can be upgraded to synthetic crude oil.

Edmonton, in the north, is the hub of oil energy production in the province and the country, as it sits on the traditional oil field region, but Calgary is the seat of political power and economic power as the provinces largest city. Canada's "oil sands" are also located in the north, so the balance of economic power may also eventually further shift to Edmonton, which is the provincial capital.

I readily admit I know next to nothing about oil and its extraction, commodification, distribution, etc, except that it is important in the world economy, and hence geo-politics; and, that Canada has major reserves, some of them in the form of "tar sands", "oil sands"; or, for connoisseurs, "bituminous sands".

Recently, I have heard or read headlines about "ethical oil" and the cleanliness of the "tar sands" (the name I first learned, and prefer for its imagery) without paying much attention. It did seem to be a response to criticism that the process of extraction of oil from its sands was causing massive pollution and killing of wildlife.

Only very recently did every expert's and pundit's suddenly spouting "ethical oil" (pun intended) make greater sense. No longer a seeming contrivance, even an oxymoron, or at least a personification of oil and its morality, "ethical oil" now makes sense as a propaganda tool for the government--one handed to them by a pundit as far right and Albertan as they are. Indeed, being a journalist, and "conservative activist", Ezra Levant boldly goes where no elected politician would dare--at least not overtly.

While I was aware of much of Levant's ideology and actions, reviewing the entry on Wikipedia makes him stand out as something of a caricature. No wonder he has been featured on Glenn Beck's program. What continues to be salient from my perspective is his Islamophobia, and his antipathy to all social programs and to Human Rights.

I learned of him first as the only Canadian editor to publish the Danish Cartoons (with the exception of one university newspaper which was blocked from distribution by the university administration). The day he was called to testify at the provincial Human Rights Commission after complaints by Muslim groups, he published them again.

Levant has also been found guilty of libel against a Human Rights Commissioner for writings on his blog, and ordered to retract the posts and pay a fine of $25,000 CDN. He has a number of libel suits pending against him, many from other conservative bloggers, and George Soros forced an apology from Sun Media because of Levant's libelous writings about him in their news papers.

Sun Media is starting a news channel in Canada, dubbed by critics "Faux News North", and Levant will host a nightly talk show when it starts up.

Despite government and company reassurances and failures to disclose, along with supposed clean ups, environmentalists and the media have documented large numbers of birds killing in "tailings ponds", ponds of water heavily contaminated with oil, that form after the extraction process used to drawn synthetic crude from bitumenous sands.

Perhaps Obama has been convinced by the eco-ethics of Canada's bituminous sands. It would make his case better for those on the left of his party. On the other hand, they and Obama are probably well aware of all the "unfortunate incidents" and dying wildlife which prompt one to favour "tar sands" as an appellation.

Most significantly, in my opinion, is where Obama gave this speech, when, and the topic of "Energy and Security". Georgetown University, home to the Kennedy Center of Government, is a liberal bastion and think tank as well as a highly respected academic centre. Obama's speech followed on the initiatives to help oust Gaddafi and the implications of that for the region and for oil prices. Oil energy in the US is heavily tied both to the economy and foreign policy. There is no doubt that Western, and particularly US, support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East are predicated on the ability of these dictators to keep the oil flowing at a reasonable cost. When they won't or don't they are vilified, and subjected to regime change.

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The Arab Awakening with its attendant risks of democratically elected Arab governments wanting to re-adjust oil relationships and prices, is viewed with apprehension for that reason. Better the dictator you know than the democracy you can't so easily control. Or, as the off quoted saying goes, "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch"--attributed to various members of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration including the President, regarding Latin American dictators, banana republics, and Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza García specifically.

"Remember Nasser with his nationalization!", might well be a rallying cry for Western governments, as evidenced by the longlasting support for Mubarak--until it was not only an embarrassment but a failed position. One cites the Egyptian Revolution not only because of its currency, but also because the US would prefer to forget Mossadegh, and how replacing him with the Shah eventually led to Khomeini. The impact on the rest of the region, including major oil producer Saudi Arabia, as a result of the Irani Islamist Revolution in 1979 has been far reaching and pervasive of the social structures across the region and international geo-politics towards it.

The following 2 articles address the implications of Obama's speech for Canada and internationally. The 3rd is an interesting review of how regime change in the Middle East whether endogenous or imposed from without is not good for oil--at least not from a Western perspective.

President Barack Obama speaks March 30, 2011, about America's energy at Georgetown University in Washington. | NYT

Obama says Canada a partner in U.S. plans to make itself less dependent on oil
WASHINGTON— The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2011 3:50PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2011 5:39PM EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama called Wednesday for a one-third reduction in American oil imports by 2025, describing Canada as one of his country’s energy partners as he tackled an issue that has dogged the United States since the 1970s.

“We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” Mr. Obama said in a speech delivered as a cascade of uprisings in the Arab world wreak havoc on global energy prices and prices at the gas pumps.

“It is time to do what we can to secure our energy future. … We will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy.”

The president added he knows the U.S. will still need foreign oil, giving a nod to America’s friends in the Western Hemisphere, including Canada.

“I set this goal knowing that imported oil will remain an important part of our energy portfolio for quite some time,” he said.

“And when it comes to the oil we import from other nations, we can partner with neighbours like Canada, Mexico and Brazil, which recently discovered significant new oil reserves, and with whom we can share American technology and know-how.”

One Canadian oil industry official called that remark encouraging.

“The very specific mention of Canada makes absolutely clear that the president views Canada as part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Tom Huffaker, the vice-president of policy and the environment for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

He added: “Even if the U.S. is largely successful in achieving its goals, we still believe there is still going to be a very good market for growing exports of Canadian oil to the United States.”

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach agreed, saying Mr. Obama’s tip of the hat to Canada “makes me feel good.”

“It’s good news, of course, recognizing that Alberta is a very stable supplier of oil … it has a huge proven oil reserve, and without the kind of investment that the Americans have been putting into countries in the Middle East.”

Canada and Mexico are America’s biggest suppliers of oil, providing almost 75 per cent of the energy source to the U.S. At a White House background briefing earlier this week, a senior official was asked to clarify what Obama’s oil objectives meant to his North American neighbours.

“On the international side … the goal is to secure access to reliable energy sources. And that means oil from a diversified set of countries,” the official said.

Many Democrats concerned about climate change, however – most notably congressman Henry Waxman of California – have expressed serious misgivings about Alberta’s oil sands. They’ve branded it “dirty oil” because mining the oil sands requires more energy than conventional oil operations, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental groups have warned that as the planet continues to heat up, it’s foolhardy for the U.S. to continue being reliant on the world’s most carbon-intensive fuel, even if it’s coming from America’s friendly neighbour to the north.

The State Department is currently deciding whether to approve Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport Alberta oil sands crude through the Midwest to Texas.

A decision on the pipeline isn’t expected until the fall, but environmental groups and some Democrats have been urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put the brakes on the pipeline, arguing vital aquifers in several agriculture-dependent states will be made vulnerable.

In his remarks at Georgetown University, Mr. Obama also emphasized the need for Americans to shift to cleaner fuel sources like natural gas and renewable biofuels.

Of nuclear power, currently at the centre of controversy again as tsunami-stricken Japan deals with an ongoing nuclear crisis, he said: “We can’t simply take it off the table.”

The president wants Americans to be using non-oil energy sources for 80 per cent of their electricity use by the year 2035. He stressed the need to tap “one critical, renewable resource …American ingenuity.”

“Meeting this new goal of cutting our oil dependence depends largely on two things: finding and producing more oil at home, and reducing our dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency,” he said.

Republicans, meantime, are eager to embrace Canadian oil. Mr. Obama’s speech came on the eve of a hearing being held Thursday in the House of Representatives, now controlled by Republicans, entitled: “Rising Oil Prices and Dependence on Hostile Regimes: The Urgent Case for Canadian Oil.”

Republicans have been assailing the Obama administration for months on energy, accusing officials of dawdling in issuing permits for new offshore drilling sites in the aftermath of last summer's devastating Gulf of Mexico oil spill and failing to lift a moratorium on new deep-water development quickly enough.

In his speech, Mr. Obama said his administration is expediting drilling permits for companies that meet safety standards and has recently given the green light to seven deep-water projects.

“Any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we’ve ‘shut down’ oil production might make for a useful political sound bite, but it doesn’t track with reality,” he said.

Republicans were particularly irked, however, by Mr. Obama’s remarks in Latin America last week that he wanted the U.S. to be a “major customer” for the mammoth new oil reserves Brazil recently discovered off its coast.

“The problem isn’t that we need to look elsewhere for our energy,” Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, said Wednesday.

“The problem is that Democrats don’t want us to use the energy we have. It’s enough to make you wonder whether anybody in the White House has driven by a gas station lately.”

As has been the case since former president Richard Nixon grappled with the “energy crisis” that hogged headlines in the 1970s, OPEC – the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, comprised mostly of Arab and North African nations – is being largely blamed for the latest surge in gas prices.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that OPEC stands to make a record-breaking $1- trillion (U.S.) in export revenues this year if crude oil prices remain above $100 a barrel amid the unrest in the Arab world.

The Canadian Press


Obama targets cuts in U.S. oil imports
OTTAWA— From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2011 3:10PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011 7:12AM EDT

President Barack Obama wants to slash U.S. oil imports by a third in the next decade, a commitment that would shrink Canada’s only existing market for crude exports.

But Western Canadian oil producers can take some comfort in the fact that Mr. Obama has singled out his northern neighbour as a secure and reliable source of crude. By doing so, the President signalled that even as the United States tries to reduce its appetite for oil from the Middle East or Venezuela, it will rely on growing production from Canada’s oil sands.

Canadian oil producers are confident they can increase exports to the United States, even if demand continues to drop, by taking a larger slice of a smaller pie. They expect declining production from Mexico and Venezuela, and a shift among Middle East producers to supply the growing Asian market.

In a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, Mr. Obama also promised to work with Congress to provide new incentives to increase natural gas consumption in both the transportation and power sectors. That is good news for North American gas producers who face depressed prices due to a glut of production from prolific new shale gas plays.

The President said his country remains far too dependent on oil, and on imported crude in particular. He warned global crude prices will likely remain high as demand from emerging economies outstrip new production.

As a result, he set a goal of reducing U.S. crude imports by a third – or more than 3.6 million barrels per day – from 2008 levels by 2025.

“I set this goal knowing that we’re still going to have to import some oil,” he said. “And when it comes to the oil we import from other nations, obviously we've got to look at neighbours like Canada and Mexico that are stable and steady and reliable sources.”

While Mr. Obama said the United States needs to boost its own oil production to reduce the dependency on oil imports, he emphasized the need for greater fuel efficiency, as well as efforts to expand the use of biofuels, natural gas-powered vehicles and electric cars.

Financial markets reacted to Mr. Obama's endorsement of increased natural gas consumption by bidding up shares of companies in the sector. Canada's largest gas producer, Encana Corp., (ECA-T33.750.060.18%) climbed 1 per cent to $33.69 in Toronto, while U.S.-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK-N33.90-0.43-1.25%) rose 3 per cent to $34.33 (U.S.) on the New York Stock Exchange, where the natural gas index was up 1.23 per cent.

Mr. Obama faces challenges to his energy strategy from Republicans in Congress, who want an all-out effort to boost U.S. oil production but oppose new fuel-efficiency standards and would eliminate spending aimed at commercializing advanced biofuel technology and electric cars.

In fact, the United States has reduced its reliance on imported oil from 60 per cent of its fuel consumption in 2005 to just under half of total demand last year. That reduction was the result of lower overall oil demand, increased domestic crude production and the growing market share for ethanol and other biofuels.

Mr. Obama did not mention specific plans to boost Canadian exports to the United States, including TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline that would deliver oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The U.S. State Department is scheduled to release a new environmental impact statement next month, and then conclude the approvals process toward the end of this year.

Industry officials were encouraged that he acknowledged the role of Canada in meeting U.S. oil demand, and hope that indicates administration support for new pipelines like the Keystone XL.

“The President, by singling out Canada and a couple of others as countries that provide reliable supply, made pretty clear that Washington and the President view Canada as part of the solution rather than part of the problem,” said Tom Huffaker, vice-president for policy and environment at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary.

But environmental groups say TransCanada’s project is not needed because there is plenty of spare capacity in the existing pipeline network. And they believe the President is determined to reduce reliance on oil, no matter what the source.

“He set the goal of cutting oil imports from all foreign sources by a third – that includes Canada,” said Elizabeth Shope, an advocate at Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group.

“Canada is our leading source of oil imports and while that’s not likely to change any time soon, this speech shouldn’t be misconstrued as an endorsement of any specific project or product.”


Jeff Rubin
Regime change not bullish for oil production in Middle East
Special to Globe and Mail Update
Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 6:01AM EDT

If the Western military intervention in Libya is really being driven by oil, maybe it’s time to think again. History says regime change is never bullish for oil production in the Middle East and even less so for oil exports.

Iran and Iraq, two of the larger producers in the region, are cases in point.

While no one misses the Shah’s regime, Iran and the rest of the world still miss the oil production and the oil exports his regime once produced. At the height of the Shah’s power, Iran was pumping out six million barrels a day. Today, 32 years after the Iranian revolution sent Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his cronies packing, Iran barely produces four million barrels a day.

Exports have fallen even more than production. During the Shah’s reign, Iran consumed less than a million barrels a day, leaving over five million barrels for daily export. Today, thanks to decades of massive fuel price subsidies, domestic oil consumption has almost doubled, leaving only two million barrels a day for export- or 40% of the export volumes prior to the Iranian revolution.

Iraq’s experience should give Western allies no more confidence in their Libyan mission than the Iranian one. Prior to the invasion of Kuwait and the trade sanctions it triggered, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq produced around three million barrels a day in the late-1980s. Since then, oil production has never been close to that level.

When the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy confidently predicted the country would be throwing its arms open to foreign investment and the oil sector would be producing over four million barrels per day by 2010. Instead, the Sunni insurgency broke out and a whole lot of pipelines (and people) started getting blown up. Oil production plunged, and it has taken almost a decade to get production back to pre-invasion two and a half million pace.

What will happen in Libya is still anyone’s guess. Will a defeated Muammar Gadhafi try to blow up the oil fields like Saddam Hussein did on his forced retreat from Kuwait? Will oil production and oil installations simply collapse as collateral damage in a protracted civil war that partitions the country? Or will a new regime take over and prove to be as dysfunctional as its predecessor or less inclined to develop the country’s oil reserves? Whatever happens, both the Iranian and Iraqi experience suggest a post –Gadhafi Libya will produce less, not more, oil.

Of course, maybe the missing 1.3 million barrels of oil exports from the country have nothing to do with why we are in Libya. Maybe it is just a humanitarian mission after all. But if protecting defenseless populations from Middle Eastern dictators is what this is all about, why aren’t we intervening in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria as well?


Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Posts:
Why the West (the US) Cares So Much About Egypt: Part I The Suez Canal (Oil)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Islam and Beauty Pageants: An Issue of Religion, Culture, Personal Freedom, Collective Responsibility; a Non-Issue; Other?

Stefania Fernández, Miss Venezuela, crowned Miss Universe, 2009

Beauty pageants are controversial among feminists, the general population, and for corporate sponsors. Nonetheless, they continue to draw positive attention, and form part of the aspirations for a diverse group of women. I have known 2 contestants, both very bright teenagers headed to university and professional careers (one did an LLB then worked as an executive; the other probably went to med school like her Dad had). A family friend, who was more trying to turn her complexes about her height making her unmarriageable into a positive, also competed in her early 20's before heading off to her career as a Mrs.

Ximena Navarette, Miss Mexico, crowned Miss Universe 2010 
by Stefania Fernández, Miss Universe 2009 (Foto: EFE)

For Muslim women in the West, participation in a beauty pageant may be more of a cross-cultural, interfaith (mis-)adventure than for others. In Muslim majority countries, or countries with a substantial Muslim minority the whole issue of a national pageant that conforms to international pageant expectations and rules may be fraught. The same is true for other conservative cultures and the more conservative among their religious groups.

Miss Universe contestants model swimwear after being selected in the final fifteen during the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Mexico's Jimena Navarrete was crowned Miss Universe in an upset victory that stunned a pageant world which had predicted a winner to emerge from Ireland, Venezuela or the United States.
Photograph by: MARK RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images

While diverse pageants interpret beauty and how to prove it in different ways, including culturally and religiously acceptable cover, there is no doubt that the main international competitions and the local and national pageants which lead up to them require a swimsuit competition. While some of the swimsuits are more modest than the standard bikini, even a one-piece involves cleavage, bare legs to the top of the thigh, and a molded fit to the bodice. Although, the aspiring contestant's suggestion of a sarong would perhaps cover a little more, there would still be outlines and bare limbs showing.

The following article from the BBC raises some of the issues, including those about acculturation, personal choices, and cultural and religious norms.

Shanna Bukhari wants to be the first Muslim to represent the UK in Miss Universe

Muslim model defends Miss Universe contest bid
By Anthony Baxter
Newsbeat reporter
Page last updated at 00:15 GMT, Tuesday, 29 March 2011 01:15 UK

A model bidding to become the first Muslim to represent the UK in the world final of Miss Universe has been defending her decision to enter.

Shanna Bukhari, who is 24 and lives in Manchester, said she's been sent racist and abusive messages since making it to the beauty contest's UK final.

She believes Muslims in the UK should be allowed to have a western lifestyle.

But Muslim groups have accused her of disrespecting Islam.

Shanna was born in Blackburn and she became a full-time model after finishing her degree.

'Swimwear round'

She said it's her dream to be crowned Miss Universe but has been told she's going against her religion.

"[I get] comments like, 'You're not a Muslim because you're doing this' and it's like, this competition does not make me a bad Muslim at all.

"So it does hurt me to think that people are thinking like that," she said.

One of the main reasons some Muslims are angry is that Shanna would have to appear in swimwear in one round of the competition.

Mohammed Shafiq is from the Ramadhan Foundation, a group that works with young Muslims in the UK. He's against Shanna taking part.

"Islam is very clear that a woman should dress modestly and we do not believe that parading yourself in a bikini is appropriate," he said.

We are clear that we find what she's doing distasteful - lots of women find these competitions degrading.
"We are clear that we find what she's doing distasteful. Lots of women find these [competitions] degrading."
Mohammed Shafiq
Ramadhan Foundation
He said he accepts the right for Muslim women to wear whatever they choose, but that those living in a western country should still be respectful of Islam.

"We celebrate individual freedom but to suggest that someone who is opposed to something she's doing needs to move off to another country is quite offensive," he continued.

Shanna said most people do support her, including her family in Pakistan and that she won't be wearing a bikini but a one-piece and a sarong.

'Really jealous'

But her older sister Sameera admitted some of the abusive comments have worried her.

"Is it going to be bricks and stones next when she's walking out on the street? People thinking, 'Oh look at her, she's a Pakistani and she's entering this competition'."

If Shanna wins the UK final on 1 May, she'll be the first ever Muslim to represent Britain in the grand final in Brazil later this year.

"People are attacking me, using religion as a tool, but is it really religion?

"Or are you really jealous of a girl coming forward and not allowing anyone to dictate to her?

"There are people out there who want to control women," Shanna said.

Meanwhile, other young Muslims have told Newsbeat that being allowed to live a Western lifestyle in the UK is a big issue.

Rayan Jawad, 27, said: "This is a discussion that goes on all the time.

"She's doing pretty much what any girl would love to do who's been brought up here."

Rumena Begum, 18 said: "It goes against our morals and our religion.

"But it's her life - she can do whatever she wants really."

The Miss Universe beauty contest was first held in 1952.

The title is held by the Mexican contestant Ximena Navarrete.


Muslim girl's Miss Universe bid: Your views
By Anthony Baxter
Newsbeat reporter
Page last updated at 00:15 GMT, Tuesday, 29 March 2011 01:15 UK

Newsbeat has spoken to young Muslims about a British model's bid to be the first Muslim to represent the UK in Miss Universe.

Shanna Bukhari, who is 24 and lives in Manchester, says she's been sent racist and abusive messages since making it to the beauty contest's UK final.

She believes Muslims in the UK should be allowed to have a western lifestyle.

But Muslim groups say she is disrespecting Islam.

Ashrafi Zaman, 18

It's what girls want to do, model.

I wouldn't want other people looking at what I'm wearing and my skin.

Rumena Begum, 18

Sometimes I want to become Miss Universe too.

But it goes against our morals and our religion.

Our family would tell us off, and it's just me myself, I wouldn't do it.

It's her life, she can do whatever she wants, really.

I don't think she should listen to other people.

Abdel Marik, 21

Myself being a Muslim I don't really see the problem with it.

As long as she doesn't go against anything that's fundamental to our religious beliefs, it's okay.

But I personally think it's important for women to dress modestly and it's mainly because of how men act.

It's down to personal choice, and that's what Islam is all about and no one should really enforce anything against that.

Rayan Jawad, 27

This is a discussion that goes on all the time.

It goes on in every mosque, in every household and every community centre.

It all boils down to the same thing - in the West, it's absolutely fine to do that.

It's not a symbol of what older people from the east would see as inappropriate.

She's doing pretty much what any girl would love to do who's been brought up here.


Have you/ someone you know participated in a beauty pageant?
What was your/ that person's experience like?
Would you want a woman family member to participate in a beauty pageant?
Why? Why not?
Is a one piece bathing suit with a sarong sufficient cover for a Muslim pageant participant?
Can there be such a thing as an Islamic beauty pageant?
Whose beauty pageant life is it anyway?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Miss Universe contestants model swimwear as they dance during the Miss Universe 2010 Pageant final at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on August 23, 2010. Mexico's Jimena Navarrete was crowned Miss Universe in an upset victory that stunned a pageant world which had predicted a winner to emerge from Ireland, Venezuela or the United States.
Photograph by: MARK RALSTON, AFP/Getty Images

*Unfortunately, no suitable one piece bathing suit with sarong photos were available, so the bikinis of the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant were used to illustrate this post instead ;)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Trouble with Referring to Tribes in the Rhetoric of Current "MENA Protests"

From Al Jazeera English's Spotlight on a "Region in Turmoil".
The world’s attention has been focused on a handful of countries - Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya - since the first popular protests broke out in Tunisia in December. But nearly a dozen countries in the region have seen political unrest, and the protest movement shows no signs of stopping. Below is a summary of the demonstrations so far, and links to our coverage. You can also click a country on the map above for more information.

There are many rhetorical problems with the discourse on current MENA demonstrations/ protests/ uprisings/ revolts/ rebellions/ revolutions. One is what to call them which in itself may reveal bias; another is to lump all countries together, or use one as a template for all others. Just as the ~20-25 MENA countries are distinct while sharing commonalities, the discontent of their populaces and how that is manifested and why is distinct.

Among the rhetorical devices that I have found disturbing is the use of the words "tribe", "tribal", "family, clan, and tribe", particularly by Western commentators. Many toss these words into a report or an "analysis" with an obviously superficial understanding of the situation, but to give their commentary an air of socio-anthropological depth. Others use them with a cautionary tone, a tacit warning that these are mysterious age old rivalries that are erupting in contemporary technological form.

While there may be validity to signaling the tribal impact in some of the conflicts, too often this is done without nuance, and in order to dismiss the conflict, the demands of the opponents to the regime, or to justify non-intervention in humanitarian crimes as concerning only the tribal factions, or "sectarian rivals" involved. Invariably there are underlying assumptions that tribes are always warring, always self-contained, and that tribal customs and social and political structures are uniformly undesirable.

Most egregious, in my mind, is that Western pundits buy into, or know that the use of the word "tribe" in Western culture is most often pejorative, invoking primitiveness, hostility, and internal repressiveness. On this account, tribes are backward and immutable--whether featured in cowboy films or Anthropology 101. Young, educated, technologically savvy, progressive city dwellers do not figure in this portrait.

The young PhD professor of engineering couldn't possibly also be a leading member of his ruling family's tribe. A friend is. In an instance of supreme irony, when we, friends and medical staff, were trying to reach him--because his wife, who was based in Canada, was in intensive care after losing their 32 week old fetus to eclampsia--instead of being in his university office in the national university in their country's capital city, he was off in the bush for an annual tribal ceremony.

I include the article below as being a particularly offensive instance of this use of the metaphor of "tribes" in commenting on current events in MENA countries. I find it offensive because Thomas Friedman has been interviewed and held in high regard on the topic of these events by Western journalists, and his articles cited. At the same time, he is widely ridiculed by Arab commentators. He is a good enough a journalist to sound credible to those with little or superficial knowledge. This article, like much of his commentary, is full of half truths, combined in a pseudo-logic to justify a position.

For the record, "my Libyans", who are educated, city dwellers, on scholarship abroad, are proud of their tribal origins, their city and regional identifications, and their national identity. When I commented, long before the current uprisings, on the distinct regions, historically, culturally, and geographically, that comprise Libya--Tripolitania, Fezzan, and Cyrenaica--they were quick to assert that the country now has a national identity that holds beyond these distinctions, tribal issues, or the Leader.

Thomas L. Friedman
(Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Tribes With Flags
Published: March 22, 2011

David Kirkpatrick, the Cairo bureau chief for The Times, wrote an article from Libya on Monday that posed the key question, not only about Libya but about all the new revolutions brewing in the Arab world: “The question has hovered over the Libyan uprising from the moment the first tank commander defected to join his cousins protesting in the streets of Benghazi: Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?”

This is the question because there are two kinds of states in the Middle East: “real countries” with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran); and those that might be called “tribes with flags,” or more artificial states with boundaries drawn in sharp straight lines by pens of colonial powers that have trapped inside their borders myriad tribes and sects who not only never volunteered to live together but have never fully melded into a unified family of citizens. They are Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The tribes and sects that make up these more artificial states have long been held together by the iron fist of colonial powers, kings or military dictators. They have no real “citizens” in the modern sense. Democratic rotations in power are impossible because each tribe lives by the motto “rule or die” — either my tribe or sect is in power or we’re dead.

It is no accident that the Mideast democracy rebellions began in three of the real countries — Iran, Egypt and Tunisia — where the populations are modern, with big homogenous majorities that put nation before sect or tribe and have enough mutual trust to come together like a family: “everyone against dad.” But as these revolutions have spread to the more tribal/sectarian societies, it becomes difficult to discern where the quest for democracy stops and the desire that “my tribe take over from your tribe” begins.

In Bahrain, a Sunni minority, 30 percent of the population, rules over a Shiite majority. There are many Bahraini Sunnis and Shiites — so-called sushis, fused by inter-marriage — who carry modern political identities and would accept a true democracy. But there are many other Bahrainis who see life there as a zero-sum sectarian war, including hard-liners in the ruling al-Khalifa family, who have no intention of risking the future of Bahraini Sunnis under majority-Shiite rule. That is why the guns came out there very early. It was rule or die. Iraq teaches what it takes to democratize a big tribalized Arab country once the iron-fisted leader is removed (in that case by us). It takes billions of dollars, 150,000 U.S. soldiers to referee, myriad casualties, a civil war where both sides have to test each other’s power and then a wrenching process, which we midwifed, of Iraqi sects and tribes writing their own constitution defining how to live together without an iron fist.

Enabling Iraqis to write their own social contract is the most important thing America did. It was, in fact, the most important liberal experiment in modern Arab history because it showed that even tribes with flags can, possibly, transition through sectarianism into a modern democracy. But it is still just a hope. Iraqis still have not given us the definitive answer to their key question: Is Iraq the way Iraq is because Saddam was the way Saddam was or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq is the way Iraq is: a tribalized society? All the other Arab states now hosting rebellions — Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Libya — are Iraq-like civil-wars-in-waiting. Some may get lucky and their army may play the role of the guiding hand to democracy, but don’t bet on it.

In other words, Libya is just the front-end of a series of moral and strategic dilemmas we are going to face as these Arab uprisings proceed through the tribes with flags. I want to cut President Obama some slack. This is complicated, and I respect the president’s desire to prevent a mass killing in Libya.

But we need to be more cautious. What made the Egyptian democracy movement so powerful was that they owned it. The Egyptian youth suffered hundreds of casualties in their fight for freedom. And we should be doubly cautious of intervening in places that could fall apart in our hands, à la Iraq, especially when we do not know, à la Libya, who the opposition groups really are — democracy movements led by tribes or tribes exploiting the language of democracy?

Finally, sadly, we can’t afford it. We have got to get to work on our own country. If the president is ready to take some big, hard, urgent, decisions, shouldn’t they be first about nation-building in America, not in Libya? Shouldn’t he first be forging a real energy policy that weakens all the Qaddafis and a budget policy that secures the American dream for another generation? Once those are in place, I will follow the president “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” 

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 23, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition.


Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Banners from Al Jazeera English In Depth coverage country by country

Saturday, March 26, 2011

NATO to Head Enforcement of No-Fly Zone Over Libya; Canadian to Head the NATO Mission in Libya

Doctors working at a local hospital join other protestors calling for a no fly zone over Libya during a rally at a square by the sea side of the eastern Libyan rebel-held town of Benghazi. Times of Malta

While there is debate about the no-fly zone over Libya, including concerns that it will be ineffective, make matters worse, or open the way for neo-colonization, it seems to me that Libyans wanted it; and, it was a necessary step in preventing the mass murder of Libyans by Gaddafi. As soon as, in an early speech, he called his own people animalistic names, and made a distinction between his people who all love him and these other subhumans which are not part of "the people", the warning signals for genocide were set off in my head.

I was glad to see the no-fly zone and concommittent measures pass in the UN Security Council--even if that seemed overdue. I am also happy that there is international rather than US control, again, overdue. This gives more credibility to the mission and relieves internal and external pressure on the US. It is understandable that Turkey wouldn't want to be the only Muslim country involved. It is also welcome that other Arab countries are engaging militarily: Qatar and the UAE. Their involvement undermines Gaddafi's propaganda about Western neo-colonialism, though no doubt he has an endless font of propaganda about who--except himself--is corrupted.

Both NPR and CNN have provided useful Q & A's on the recent shift in command of the no-fly zone.

A map of the locations of coalition forces in the Libya conflict. Credit: Kevin Beesley; Stephanie d'Otreppe (NPR)

Q&A: Next Steps For NATO In Libya
March 25, 2011

The allied bombing campaign launched last Saturday in Libya has been led by U.S. forces, with significant support coming from the British and the French, along with several other partners.

But now it appears NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is an alliance between the U.S., Canada and 26 European nations — will be in charge.

"We have agreed, along with our NATO allies, to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over Libya to NATO," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday.

NATO won't take control of the entire mission immediately. A complete transition is expected to take several days.

"Until NATO takes over the entire mission, you're also going to see U.S. warplanes – F-15s and F-16s – also taking part in this," NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman said on Morning Edition Friday.

But the decision to put NATO in charge may be a boon politically to the Obama administration, which has not wanted to be seen as acting unilaterally.

To understand what this change in leadership means, NPR spoke with Stephen Flanagan, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is a Washington-based think tank. Flanagan previously held senior positions both on the National Security Council and at the State Department.

How did this change in leadership come about?

Flanagan: It appears that an agreement was brokered late yesterday. They are basically saying that NATO has agreed to take over command and control of the entire operation.

On Tuesday, there was an agreement that NATO would oversee the arms embargo. Then there was the issue of taking over the no-fly zone last night. There will be a few days of implementation of that.

But it looks like there was an agreement that NATO would take over other areas, including protection of civilians and civilian areas. That was surprising because the Turks were anxious about that issue. I suspect the Turks will push to say you can only target people going after civilians directly.

Will NATO be able to coordinate all the countries involved?

Utilizing NATO command-and-control arrangements makes eminent sense. The NATO command structure has a proven track record in organizing such complex multinational operations.

This will be NATO-led mission with consultation of all partners. Qatar and the Omanis have already put forces forward. I don't see any reason why NATO, as it has with Afghanistan, can't fold partners into its planning.

Why does this change matter?

I think it matters in terms of operational coherence. There was definitely some coordination already. Everything I hear is that the U.S., French and British militaries have been working hand-in-glove and there's been a great deal of comfort in having U.S. commanders in the lead.

But this will provide some coherence. They'll share data on what they're all finding.

The other thing is that there is now multinational political oversight. The Turks and the Germans, who have been anxious about doing this, can say now that they have some political oversight, that this is not a rogue operation.

Does this help the Obama administration?

It helps because it grants the mission greater legitimacy. It's a coherent and effective organization, NATO, taking control of this. While the U.S. will still be a major part of this, it doesn't have the Made in the U.S.A. face on this.

It seems like a few days ago, there was concern that making this a NATO operation would make it seem like a Western war against a Muslim state.

That's still a concern, but there's the question of whether you can give this a broader veneer of support. A lot of these countries, including the Arab countries, recognize that NATO has a record, as well as the ability to draw on the unique capabilities of the United States. There's some political check on exercise of this power, the U.S. military power.

I think this provides a helpful framework that can be reassuring. It shows we're not acting alone; it's not the U.S. trying to save every country. We're not doing this alone, this is not open ended. We're working with the international community to develop a plan to transition to a broader coalition of countries.

There have been reports that British ground troops are operating in Libya. Do you expect to see ground troops used by the coalition?

The one thing you don't have is forward air controllers. Certainly a number of the militaries have special forces, or special-force-like units, that can be inserted into the territory. Obviously, it could be a little bit risky. But given that we don't have an organized military force that we are supporting, you might want some forces on the ground to get the precision military striking that all these countries want.

What happens next? How long do you expect this operation to last?

The way the whole operation now is set up, it has to result in capitulation of the [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi regime. The notion is that with just enough pressure this ragtag group will somehow be able to maintain control of the east, but I think it's going to be difficult to have an overt equipping of these forces in Libya.

If the bombing campaign goes on for another week or so and there's not a real diminution of Libyan attacks, people are going to begin to say how much of our national military treasure are we going to spend here.

There will be pressure to have some kind of result.

Exactly. [French Foreign Minister Alain] Juppe is saying it might take weeks. I think they're hoping that Gadhafi will be looking for an exit strategy.


NATO is set to take control of enforcing the U.N.-backed no-fly zone over Libya from the U.S.

Q&A: NATO's command of the no-fly zone
By Thair Shaikh, CNN

(CNN) -- NATO is set to take command of the U.N.-backed no-fly zone over Libya, seizing control from the U.S., which was keen to hand over the reins.
Under an agreement reached Thursday NATO forces will be able to close Libyan air space to all flights except humanitarian ones and will be able to use force in self-defense.

The agreement follows days of political infighting among the coalition, with Turkey and the Arab League expressing strong reservations about a NATO-led force.

Arab League support was crucial for the passage of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, passed on March 17, and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was keen to emphasize that the mission was not European-dominated.

"It is a broad international effort in which we will include partners from the region that have pledged to contribute to this protection of civilians in Libya," Rasmussen said in a written statement.

When will the transition take place?

The U.S. is keen to take a supporting role in the operations as soon as possible, and NATO should be in control by Sunday or Monday, according to NATO officials.

White House press secretary Jay Carney promised Thursday afternoon that U.S. military forces will be shifting to a "support and assist" role in the international coalition within a matter of days.
The United States is engaged in a "time-limited, scope-limited" action, Carney said.

Will NATO take control of the entire operation?

No. Not to begin with at least. The Libyan mission will initially have two parts -- NATO will be responsible for enforcing the no-fly zone and arms blockade, and the U.S.-led coalition that launched the mission will still be handling other military duties needed to defend civilians.

However, NATO could take on a wider responsibility, with ambassadors expected to discuss a plan which would see NATO in charge of all military aspects of the action against Libya.

"We are considering whether NATO should take on a broader responsibility in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution. But that decision has not been made yet," a NATO spokesman said Thursday.

CNN's Paula Newton says: "Whether NATO will assume the role of protecting civilians on the ground -- as mandated by a United Nations Security Council resolution -- remains at issue. The operational heart of the mission could hinge on if and when to intervene with airstrikes when civilians appear to be at risk.

"A decision on what NATO officials are calling 'no-fly plus' could come as early as Sunday after a meeting of NATO ambassadors."

Why is the U.S. so keen to hand over control?

There are a number of reasons according to analysts -- the potential financial burden and the fears of a public backlash at home, especially if the operation extends over a long period of time and is expensive.
"From the beginning it was always on the cards that the U.S. would come in early with its (military) specialty and then hand over control. Uncle Sam is quite entitled to step back," says Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at

"Libya is on the fringes of Europe, and the reality is that you can't expect the U.S. to pay for Europe's defense. The U.S. is under all kinds of pressure... the U.S. defense budget is sucking $712 billion from the economy every year. It is also facing pressure over its presence in Afghanistan."

Barak Seener, a Middle East research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, says: "The Obama administration may seek to back out of the no-fly zone, placing the onus on Britain and France... domestically there will be increased condemnations for the open-ended costly nature of the no-fly zone."

Is there a chain of command in place?

Rasmussen said NATO would use the mission's already established chain of command for enforcing the no-fly zone. The NATO supreme commander, an American, would be in charge, but the mission would be under NATO control, Rasmussen noted.

What about intelligence sharing?

CNN's Paula Newton says this should not be a problem. "They've gone through this before. Any structures in place will continue."

Is the new command structure likely to work?

"It is hard to imagine any other organization taking control, there is really no alternative (to NATO) in the absence of the U.S.," says David Hartwell, senior Middle East and North Africa expert at London-based defense analyst Jane's.

The U.S. aerial involvement will ease once NATO assumes full operational control of the no-fly zone, officials say.

"It makes sense however, I imagine the U.S. will still be providing most of the air power," adds Hartwell.

What part will Muslim countries play in the new structure?

The United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that it will send 12 aircraft in the coming days to help patrol and enforce the United Nations-mandated no-fly zone. And Turkey, once reluctant of military operations, agreed to the use of an air base in Izmir.

Other Muslim nations participating in the Libya mission include Qatar, which will begin flying planes this weekend, and Jordan, which has agreed to provide humanitarian support.

Is Gadhafi still a target?

No major political leader has yet openly called for the targeting of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, although UK Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama have said they want Gadhafi to go.

There are divisions about the nature of the military operation in Libya because the U.N. Security Council resolution is too ambiguous, say experts.

"I think the fact that there is some flexibility, some ambiguity in the resolution has created the impression that it can mean many things to many people... tensions remain," says Hartwell.

I find it an interesting development that  a Canadian general has been named to head the NATO mission, even before he was appointed to NATO forces. Much has been made in the media of US forces not being willing to act under anyone else's command; and, about French President Nicholas Sarkozy thinking he and his military designate should be in charge. In a way, a Canadian is a compromise solution between the US and Europe; a French Canadian a more European seeming one; and, the US is more familiar with working alongside Canadians, and trains many senior ranking Canadian officers, like Lt-General Bouchard. Now let's hope everyone learns to say Lieutenant as "Leftenant" not "Lootenant".

The task force overseeing the Libya operation will be led by Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard. (Photo: France Huard, Canadian Forces)

Canadian general to run NATO's Libya command
(AFP) – 12 hours ago

BRUSSELS — NATO has named three-star Canadian general, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, to run NATO's Libya operations, enforcing a UN-mandated no-fly zone and arms embargo, an alliance official said Friday.

Bouchard will also take command of the entire military campaign to protect civilians from troops loyal to Moamer Kadhafi when and if the 28-member alliance takes the reins of the entire Libya campaign from a US-led coalition.

The coalition launched by Britain, France and the United States kicked off its campaign six days ago but Washington, along with several members of the alliance, is anxious to see NATO take the helm as soon as possible.

Reluctance to engage in strikes by NATO's sole Muslim member, Turkey, as well as concerns over the political leadership of the campaign voiced by France, have held up the transfer of command.
After days of fraught talks that Thursday produced a NATO agreement to enforce the no-fly zone while refraining from offensive action, ambassadors of the alliance are expected to meet again on Sunday to try to reach a decision on whether to assume leadershsip of all operations.
Based at NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, the Libya campaign has been codenamed "Operation Unified Protector".

In Ottawa earlier, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Canada was awaiting the nomination of the Naples-based officer to the force.


Quebec general to head NATO Libyan mission
veteran officer; A 'yet to be fully defined' operation


A Canadian will be taking charge of the NATO mission in Libya - a "yet to be fully defined" mission - Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Friday.

The appointment of Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard as commander of NATO forces in Libya came a day after an agreement was struck for countries in the military alliance to assume control of enforcing the no-fly zone in Libya as part of the United Nation-backed mission.

This operation, which was in its sixth day on Friday, has the stated aim of protecting citizens supporting the ouster of leader Moammar Gadhafi from being attacked by the Libyan air force.

Bouchard is a native of Chicoutimi.

He had been deputy commander of NATO's joint forces command, based in Naples, Italy.

He's been a member of the Canadian Forces since 1974 and graduated as a helicopter pilot in 1976.

He has worked at key posts within Norad operations and has served at U.S. military bases on several occasions. He was awarded the United States Legion of Merit in 2004.

Bouchard also holds a number of academic credentials, including having completed a national and international security program for senior executives at Harvard University.

He also holds a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Manitoba.

At a press briefing on Canada's operations in Libya Friday, MacKay said the appointment of Bouchard to this key role is a testament to the respect Canada's military has around the world.

"I think the decision to have Bouchard take a leadership position here is something that is an international recognition of the role that Canada plays in the world," he said.

"Let me just underscore, I could not be more proud of the work being done on behalf of our country by the men and women in uniform."

But as Bouchard steps into this new role, MacKay said questions remain as to what exactly NATO's mission will be in Libya.

"(Bouchard) will be a commander of the NATO operations - the yet to be fully defined NATO operations. This is evolving still, but the clear indication now is that NATO will assume full responsibility for both the maritime and aerial components (of the mission in Libya)."

MacKay said the UNbacked coalition and NATO forces were, for the time being, operating "concurrently" in Libya.

MacKay said NATO partners are in talks concerning a "no-fly-zone-plus" mission in Libya. Western leaders have expressed a reluctance to extend its military operations to include ground forces.

But NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said Friday the alliance would decide "in coming days" whether to broaden its role, which could include ground strikes to protect civilians.


From upper left: Conservative Stephen Harper, Liberal Michael Ignatieff, NDP Jack Layton, Green Party Elizabeth May--each party leader is in contention for Prime Minister and each party hoping for a majority government. The only parties to ever lead Canada federally have been the Conservatives and the Liberals. 

Notably missing from the composite above is Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, a federal party whose goal it is to achieve independence from Canada for Quebec--because in Canada we treat our seditionists right, and use tax payer money from across the country to help them in their goals. Previously the Bloc Québécois has been the official opposition party, with all the privileges that entails, including the special residence in Ottawa reserved for the family of the leader of the opposition, then Lucien Bouchard, and his American wife, and their children who said phewy to the idea of another referendum on separation.

Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy raises a key issue about Canada's imminent federal election, and does so in a humorous manner.

Canada to lead Libya mission. But who leads Canada?
Posted By Joshua Keating Friday, March 25, 2011 - 3:16 PM

Two big Canada stories in the international news today, which -- sorry, Canadian friends -- is two more than normal. First:

"Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Lt Gen Charles Bouchard, deputy commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, has been designated head of the alliance's military campaign in Libya.

Bouchard, a former combat helicopter pilot, will work with his naval and air component commands to enforce both the no-fly zone and the civilian-protection mission in Libya."


"Angry opposition parties brought down Canada's Conservative government on Friday, setting the scene for an early May election that polls indicate the Conservatives will win.

Legislators voted 156-145 in the House of Commons to defeat the minority government."
In case you're wondering, Canada's military involvement in Libya -- consisting, so far, of six fighter planes, a frigate, and 140 support personnel -- had nothing to do with Harper's latest troubles. The operation is relatively popular in Canada and the vote was prompted by allegations that the government concealed the cost of a spending program from parliament.

Harper's conservatives are actually likely to hold on to power in May, but even if they fall, it shouldn't have much effect on the Libya mission. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is a staunch and longtime advocate for humanitarian intervention who supports the no-fly zone.


Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Earth Hour March 26, 2011

Earth Hour (not to be confused with the April Earth Day)--when people and institutions around the world cut the electricity for one hour to indicate support for the environment--is occurring this year on March 26 between 8:30 and 9:30pm. It has already begun in nations like New Zealand and Australia.

Though largely symbolic in terms of energy use, the hour is a good way to remind oneself of the importance of energy conservation year round, and what it would be like to live with regularly scheduled blackouts, as happens in some countries, or at certain times in countries, as in Japan after the tsunami and the nuclear power crisis.

This year there is some evidence of greater participation after the reminders over the year of natural disasters, Haiti's Earthquake, the Pakistani floods, Japan's tsunami. However, I have seen less mention of it, and while Saudi news services have carried small items about the corporations that are participating there doesn't seem to be the popular coverage there was last year in anticipation of the hour.

The official Earth Hour site puts even more emphasis on going beyond the hour, than previously. As usual it has a lot of information, including videos on the importance of Earth Hour, the environment, and how to celebrate the one and conserve the other. The following banners are of interest:

How will you/ have you celebrated Earth Hour?
How much attention is devoted to Earth Hour where you are?
Are you a candles or flashlight household?
Does using a computer on battery and WiFi count?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Post
Earth Hour: Australia Started It in 2007; 121 Countries Including Saudi Participate in 2010

Friday, March 25, 2011

Raising or Being a Child Cross-Culturally: Some Challenges

While I haven't read the book above, the interview with the author Rupinder Gill, copied below, raises a number of issues common to raising children in a cross-cultural environment, primarily as an immigrant, but also as an expat, including the children of students on long scholarships abroad, as is often the case for Saudis on scholarship in the West. Similarly, though focusing on the experience of being an Indian in a small city described as "predominantly white", and the only Indian family in their area, the interview describes experiences that are common cross-culturally, particularly when a family from a more conservative culture lives in the midst of a more liberal one, and where there is not a broader ethnic community to provide the much needed childhood socialization and compensatory activities.

The article focuses on the role of the parents in preventing their children from joining the normal activities of their classmates. It does not address the issues of acceptance, tolerance for difference or racism of the host community. Rupinder Gill grew up in a small city that is not only "predominantly white" but predominantly Anglo-German for generations, surrounded by similar villages, towns, and cities. The roots of the regional community are in the conservatism of United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution; German-speaking Pennsylvania Dutch; German immigrants pre-WWI and post WWII. Though the name of the city was changed from Berlin to Kitchener in WWI, it was still possible in the late 20th century to live in the area in German only. Now, there is a rapid growth in immigration from diverse backgrounds, unfortunately accompanied by a growing, thankfully still a small minority and fringe, group of neo-Nazi white supremicists.

The interview also does not address fully how newcomers often become more conservative themselves, clinging to "back home", "the old country", "over there" in ways that fail to recognize the evolution and modernization that happens in their country of origin, or had already happened before they arrived overseas from a small, conservative, isolated community within their own culture. At the same time, they may have serious misunderstandings of what the host culture is doing, fed by television, film, misinformation, and rumour.

Once when I was training in adolescent psychiatry, a Filipino father said to me, "It may be normal in your culture for teenagers to stay in the mall until 5am, but in our culture it is not". I informed him that it was not normal, and in fact his daughter was involved with the wrong type of teenagers, and the only people in that mall at that hour were gangs--which is why the police have youth police service stations right in certain malls.

More recently, a Pakistani graduate student was telling me why he had moved his family to a neighbourhood with a high enough Pakistani population that he could safely send his children to the local public school, where they would not be influenced by mainstream Canadian culture. He probably only told me that much because previously I had added "Insha 'allah" to the end of one of his sentences, when he obviously suppressed it; and, on another occasion told him it was good for him to go to communal prayers and gain support from his fellow Pakistani Muslims.

I also recently treated a tall, willowy, naturally blond university student who had immigrated from Eastern Europe with her family as a tween. Her parents wanted her in a Roman Catholic school, to keep her on the right path. She was mercilessly bullied for years by short, dark, Portuguese girls who made up the majority of the senior public (junior high) and high schools she attended. She had been treated for depression since about age 15, and I was seeing her for the same diagnosis.

Though these examples are from more recent waves of immigration, similar stories are told by older immigrants...of being the only Ukrainian, or the only Chinese, in a small town, or of being part of an ethnic community on the fringes of mainstream society. The vast majority of people survive the normal childhood and adolescent challenges well, and vow not to do the same to their children. However, as the comments on the article indicate, there are often residual negative feelings and memories.

The interview does address well the feelings of isolation, having missed out on some aspects of childhood, and the impact on adult development. Part of this is normal childhood and adolescent development, as not all parents let their children do all things going on in the community, even the seemingly more sedate ones. All parents do seem to have mastered the "I don't care what x does, I am not x's mother/father", "If x's parents want to let him/her be a hoodlum/slut that doesn't mean I will let you", and "Under my roof, you will..." rebuttals to all cogent, if tearful, arguments for why one should stay out later, go horseback riding, wear strappy shoes, stop piano lessons, get a motorcycle licence,...whateva'!

Most adults learn to reconcile childhood dreams and expections with adult realities. It is necessary to give up some, yet most can be transformed into realistic goals. Some of the challenges of being the odd child looking on can be mitigated by parental and family involvement in more mainstream activities, finding a like minded group, asking trusted neighbours to explain necessary rights of passage like Hallowe'en, sleepovers, etc. Adolescents also need parents to set appropriate limits so that they can roll their eyes, shake their heads, and say genuinely, plaintively, victim-like, "I want to, but my parents would KILL me", about things they don't really want to do. It saves one's adolescent face.

Photo of the author Rupinder Gill during the interview 
(Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Rupinder Gill grew up ‘on the outside looking Indian’
From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Mar. 24, 2011 4:26PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Mar. 24, 2011 7:06PM EDT

If nothing else, Rupinder Gill’s childhood Who’s the Boss? and Full House marathons taught her what kids in North America do. What were normal activities for her classmates – swimming lessons, sleepovers, going to Disney World – were remote fantasies for Ms. Gill, who was raised by strict Indian parents in the middle of predominantly white Kitchener, Ont.

When she turned 30, she vowed to make up for lost time. She went camping, learned to swim and made a better-late-than-never pilgrimage to the Magic Kingdom. However, as she recounts in On the Outside Looking Indian: How My Second Childhood Changed my Life, when she took a second swing at childhood she also made adjustments to her adult life – including quitting a comfortable but unfulfilling job as a publicist.

She discussed her reclaimed childhood and new-found perspective with The Globe and Mail.

What were the biggest things you felt you were missing out on as a child?

I think the social interaction was a big thing. Especially in high school, it becomes very obvious who does not go out. On the Monday they’d all talk about what they were doing and I’d have so many excuses – the main one was a cousin’s birthday. Once, one of my friends said that they were going to get a calendar and write all my cousins’ birthdays in and see if they’d match up the next year. And they wouldn’t. That was the worst. I thought I was covering it and people weren’t noticing it. I’d just sit silently when they talked about what they’d done.

You talk a lot about how you didn’t have any Indian friends growing up. Do you think that would’ve made a difference to the sense that you were being deprived?

Absolutely. I really do wish I’d had that. I feel like they’re the only other people who can understand. Had I had another Indian friend, I’d have been allowed to go to her house and I would’ve been allowed to then have the sleepover. We would’ve done stuff. I would’ve had a more rounded social life. And the other people were just white. They were going to “corrupt” me.

When you went to New York you ended up meeting your first Indian friend there. What did that change for you?

I’m realizing that I need more perspective as an adult on my culture because so much of my ideas are from kind of, I guess, trying to have nothing to do with it as a kid because it was the reason I couldn’t go out. It was kind of embarrassing because my parents were different. As an adult, I want to have my own relationship with it. I plan to go by myself in the next year to India, which really does scare me a bit.

You had these bigger goals, like learning how to swim, but you also had a couple of things left over from childhood – things that are very kid-centric, like going to Disney World, having sleepovers. Tell me about that, trying to do these things at 30.

I’m really happy I learned how to swim. But some of the things, I had to realize you can’t really relive those. Like when my sister and I went to Disney World we really did stand out. Every other kid was dressed either as Buzz Lightyear or one of the princesses, in these elaborate costumes, and going to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo salon to get their hair done. And we were just these women who were there squeezing onto a Dumbo trying to have this experience. It’s a beautiful place and I’m happy I saw it, but I think that sometimes you have to get over things.

You know, as much as I felt somewhat deprived of my childhood, I’m a lot luckier than a lot of kids were. I’m sure a lot of kids have much bigger lists and had actually tough lives. I didn’t have a tough life. I feel like Disney World really made me realize that. The sleepovers – same thing. I looked and there were these women who were 30-plus. You know, it’s not junk food time any more when you’re over 30, so we’d all ordered from Fresh (a Toronto vegetarian restaurant) these vegan meals. Enough’s enough. I will leave that one as a “not done.”

Were there any goals or dreams that you pursued where you thought, “Even if I’m not enjoying this as much as I want to, I need to stick to it,” because you’d almost bigged it up so much?

Oh yeah. I wondered if as a kid I would’ve just been like, “Okay, thanks” after lesson one. In a way I do see why my parents didn’t sign us up for everything. When they did sign my brother up for things, we were sweltering in the sun in August and he would be so bored at the soccer and not wanting to be there. I made myself stick out everything for at least the length of the lessons and whatnot to give it a go.

When it comes to things you didn’t do as a kid, you had culture and parents to explain some of that. But what do you think was holding you back as an adult from the bigger goals related to your career?

I think you just paint a picture of your life as a kid that’s so simplistic, and then you think: “By this age I’ll have done this. I’ll have a big house at 32.” Then you move to Toronto, and those things aren’t going to happen and so you sort of set a more realistic set of goals for yourself. I started asking myself, too, how important those things were instead of some of the bigger goals. For me, doing something that’s actually fulfilling to me matters a lot more than a lot of other things. As much as I was adjusting those goals from the things I wanted to do when I was a kid – like realizing Disney World’s not important – I was readjusting my goals as an adult too. I’m more go-with-the-flow instead of the general Indian way of pre-planning your life on a graph and then inputting it into the computer and living this life that’s so strategically done.

You say that’s a very anti-Indian way of thinking. You talk about how this idea of pursuing your dreams was very, in some ways, selfish. Did you feel guilt about how your parents would see all of this?

There’s no excuse to quit your job if you’re an Indian. When I was a kid I wondered, “Why couldn’t I do these things?” And then I realized how hard it must have been for my parents with four kids and being new to the country themselves, struggling to make ends meet, and then five kids eventually. Never once in their lives would they be able to pause and say, “Is this the life I want? Is there anything more I want? Is there something I should be doing?” It is indulgent that I have the luxury of doing that when my parents never did.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


What are your impressions from the interview?
What rings true for you?
What doesn't?
The book is a personal, humorous look at acting 13 when one is 30, to compensate for a missed childhood. Any stories in a similar vein you would like to share?
Other thoughts, comments, impressions, experiences?

Image accompanying a humorous article in the National Post by Rupinder Gill, recounting her adult learn to swim adventures. On a serious note, drowning statistics in Canada have risen dramatically, particularly due to an influx of immigrants with no experience of swimming and aquatic activities. As a land of lakes, rivers, streams, and ice that can be unstable or melting, swimming lessons which include aquatic safety are imperative. The Royal Life Saving Society of Canada, and the Canadian Red Cross are designing lessons tailored to different immigrant communities, including teaching mothers in their own language, as a safety measure for adults and children.


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