Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hockey night in Jerusalem

Back in the days before cable television, Ottawa was an unusual place on a Saturday night.

Just far enough from each of Canada's intensely rival non-capitals, sport fans had a choice between watching the Montréal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs on CBC's Hockey Night in Laurentia because neither game was blacked out in the Ottawa area.

An even more remarkable opportunity arose on those rare Saturday nights when the two giants played each other.

Riveting and highly partisan play-by-play was available from announcers René Lecavalier in French for Montreal or Foster Hewitt in English for Toronto, delivered over separate broadcast feeds. They were nonetheless based on a single on-ice reality, emanating from a single venue.

That profound lesson in unified field theory lies at the root of much Canadian impatience with unilingual North America's failure to fathom 'Other'. Multilinguals can generally pound each other to a pulp during a debate, or a debacle, yet sincerely share a joke afterwards. As I have discussed in previous posts, however, can you imagine holding a genuine world championship in health-care, or baseball, based on alternate narratives coming from Washington and Havana?

Then there is Jerusalem.

Talk about two communities who cannot abide each other's narrative.

What is the proper role of the intellectual in society if not to constantly observe the playing field, analyse our varying narratives and either trace our roots back to the common source, or provide a third way... preferably forward?

Isn't that the philosophical basis of freedom? One, you are stuck. Two, is a dilemma. Choice, begins at three.

For the moment, intellectual debate in Washington has stopped at one, while Tel Aviv is in a state of perpetual oscillation.

That leaves new, innovative, choiceful options on so many global issues more likely to come from Mumbai, Shanghai, Rio ... or Iqaluit.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Muslims - Missing the Point

The western democracies are finally beginning to discuss whether they can tolerate the more controversial characteristics of certain immigrant cultures.

In France, the debate has centered on whether Muslim kids can wear a scarf in school. In Switzerland, on whether the sets for Heidi and the Sound of Music should be contaminated with minarets. In Holland, on whether cartoonists may caricature religious leaders. In Canada, the province of Québéc has launched a wrenching series of public debates over what constitutes ‘reasonable accommodation’. Nearly every other receiving jurisdiction is at least confused over whether complete face coverings (niqab, burqa) should be tolerated in public.

Concurrently, but seemingly not in response, thoughtful elements of the so-called ‘Muslim world’ are immersed in debate over the Theory of Evolution. They are avoiding, remarkably, the most significant issue facing them this century. Idolatry. The very root of thought itself.

This much deeper question precedes any debate over freedom of expression.

Almost as troubling, the West and the Muslim diaspora within it offer precious little encouragement or alternative. Enthralled with the Greco-Roman hairsplittings of secular and constitutional law, Ayan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch press, Irshad Manji, countless American pundits, Jewish academics, and even the Roman Catholic Church have been fooled into framing the debate as a concern over free speech. The United States refer to it self-referentially as First Amendment rights.

They are all missing the point.

Free speech might indeed appear in the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but among Abraham’s children, limits on free speech are not addressed until the second Commandment. The First Commandment deals with an a priori and much more fundamental fallacy: the inherent trap in symbolic thought itself!

Contemporary fundamentalists stand in breach of that First Commandment. They think it forbids drawing cartoons of Muhammad or Jesus. It actually only advises against deifying such images after they have been drawn. The outrageous idolatry at the root of Islamists threatening to assassinate Dutch cartoonists isn’t in their believing the Dutch cartoons insulted the Prophet, it is in allowing that a cartoon, or any other any image, could depict the divine in the first place!

The sin of idolatry is being repeated in the minds of those fundamentalists as surely as among the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai / Jabal Musa. Moses smashed the tablets in frustration at this truly original sin. Jesus mocked and derided the pretentions of Pharisaic posturing rooted in this same confusion of symbol with what it represents. It is time for Twenty-First Century Muslims to do the same homework.

Until representatives of the three traditions claiming roots in the Middle East renew their common understanding of the First Commandment, they will remain incapable of reasonably accommodating their differing descriptions of the approach to that common, sacred, and primordial presence they respectively call Christ, Allah, or JWH.

Free speech does play a role in this. It's just not the main issue. As one brave managing editor of Al Jazeera put it recently, "how can any community aspire to the democratic principle of free speech so long as we are forbidden to argue with our fathers?"

Meanwhile, personally, despite the most Canadian of reasonable accomodations, there are two aspects of immigrant practices that I can’t bring myself to consider as human, religious, cultural, or civil ... rights.

They are female genital mutilation and the refusal to show one’s face during legal, 21st century civil transactions that inherently require facial display as the appropriate level of biometric authentication of identity.

Soeur Marie-Hélène de l'Assomption CND wore a veil every day of her life and it didn't interfere one iota with her teaching us to conjugate the verb accommoder in the imperfect subjunctive just minutes before we donned our balaclavas to play outdoor hockey at 24 below.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Obama's First Pitch

American baseball has begun another pampered journey towards its self-styled world series this fall. It will be hard enough doing so against the fanfare of a genuine world event like this summer's 2010 World Cup of Football (soccer), but it must gall honest American sportsmen even more that the real championship of baseball finished in the wee hours a week ago Monday, in Cuba!

In the tenth inning of the seventh game, Havana beat Santa Clara in a nail-biter. It was a terrific series, played against the backdrop of fundamental cowardice in sponsored American media who dared not cover it for fear their fans might learn the truth: that the best Cuban teams would clean the clocks of what American and Canadian fans pay through the nose for: a second class product.

That's the real secret behind the spiteful Helms-Burton embargo. The best teams in Cuba would win North America's so-called 'World Series' hands down. A Cuban second string already thumped the Baltimore Orioles 12 - 6 at Camden Yahds in 1999 and MLB hasn't had the guts to risk another such comeuppance since.

The latest evidence came in a March 31st article on the eve of this year's magnificent Cuban final, when McClatchy-Tribune News reporter Kevin Baxter, drawing on files from the Associated Press (AP), didn't even mention the series! All he could blather about was how many Cuban players 'defect' during international tournaments.

He was quick to vaunt the $30.25 million Cincinnati paid for pitcher Aroldis Chapman this January even though Chapman was no star in Cuba and had posted losing averages in two of his four seasons in the Cuban league. Same thing goes for most of the other so-called defectors.

And therein lies the lie.

North-American sport media only ever mention the defectors. Where is the coverage of the 95% of first string players that remain in Cuba and, more importantly by far, where is the coverage of Cuba's teams, not just a few individuals?

The truth is that stories about individual players leaving Cuba for the US are spun to look like migrations towards a superior brand of baseball. They are not. They are the understandable attempts of a few journeymen players in the Cuban league trying to escape dead end careers and poverty. No mention is made of the fact that superior players remain in Cuba, that the defectors would far prefer to live and play in Cuba themselves given a reasonable economy, and that the only reason for their poverty is the vindictive and hateful spite of Helms-Burton.

President Obama, you have a tough decision to make. Lift the embargo and the elite of Cuban baseball will opt to stay at home, play at home, and repeatedly win any genuine world series in which you dare let them play.