Qatar the Scapegoat

Countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia cut ties with Qatar. The official reason was that this country supports terrorism. There are some who support Islamic terrorism more such as Saudi Arabia but no sanctions have been made against them. Of course, nothing was done against them because Qatar is a convenient scapegoat.

Egypt’s Actions Against Qatar

One of the ways Egypt is punishing Qatar is by blocking some of their news websites such as Al Jazeera and Huffington Post Arabic. Qatar did play a role in terrorism in Egypt by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood during the mandate of Mohammad Morsi. Historically, Saudi Arabia caused more

Flag of Qatar
Flag of Qatar

terrorism and crime in Egypt than Qatar. Saudi Arabia has financed the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, in the 1980s, Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia brought back to their home country Salafism, which increased its influence in the Brotherhood and throughout Egypt. If Saudi Arabia plays a bigger role in terrorism, then why isn’t Egypt imposing sanctions upon them?

Let’s not forget that Egypt and Saudi Arabia haven’t resolved their dispute over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir. Egypt also got some funding from the Saudis to build a new capital, a new and modern extension to Cairo. Escalating such a conflict would be risky.

But that’s not all. The United States and Saudi Arabia are allies. Donald Trump has been in touch with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt for a variety of issues: restoring United States-Egypt relations, the situation of Christians… Egypt would harm its relationship with the United States should its conflict with Saudi Arabia get worse.

What’s in It for Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia also gains something by imposing sanctions on Qatar. In Saudi Arabia’s conflict with Houthis in Yemen, Qatar supports the Houthis, a politico-religious Shiite Muslim group. In the Middle East, Iran tends to support Shiite armed groups. Saudi Arabia has been enemies with Iranian Shiites

Flag of Egypt
Flag of Egypt

because Shiism is an illegitimate form of Islam according to Wahhabism. This belief has no religious basis: it was simply an excuse to give Saudi Arabia a reason to raid Iranian caravans in the 19th and 20th centuries. Weakening Houthi supporters reduces thus the presence of Iran, their enemy, in the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia avoids sanctions by finding what the countries of the region have in common against its enemy. Granted, Qatar did play a role in Islamic terrorism but it is such a convenient scapegoat. These sanctions have more to do with punishing a Saudi enemy than curbing ISIS. Might makes right. Rather, wealth makes right.

Flag of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi Arabia

Native Comeback

Native peoples in Canada are portrayed as tragedies in the media. We get one story about the residential schools, one story about missing women, another story about how their cultural traditions are being destroyed… It seems as though they are bound for misery.

Not at all. Some communities are blooming. Native youths are resisting. Elderly Aboriginals are smiling at them.

Flag_of_the_Iroquois_Confederacy.svg
Flag of the Iroquois confederacy which the Mohawk nation is part of.

Background of the Native Cultural Resistance

I am going to an event by COOP Le Milieu called “Indigenous Knowledge Sharing: First Nations and Tibetans.” I look around and see the tables on which colourful beads, jewellery, drawings and shawls for sale are displayed. I also find on a table the business card of an organization called Native Montreal. How exciting! They offer Aboriginal language classes; I’m fascinated by language revival and preservation projects. I ask if there is an exhibitor representing Native Montreal and I’m introduced to an elderly Mohawk woman:

“I’m not from Native Montreal but I’ll answer your questions the best I can.”

Beverly (not her real name) is a Mohawk elder, a former teacher, a former judge and has worked in the correctional system. She is from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

“Yes, there are plenty of Aboriginal language revival projects. When I was a child in school, there was none of that,” said Beverly. “In school, I was taught I was a savage.”

In Beverly’s youth, Canadian schools taught that Aboriginals were essentially barbarians and needed to be civilized through adopting western European culture. This colonial policy was especially enforced in residential schools. Her testimony reminded me that of a white French-Canadian politician I know from Oka-Kanesatake, another Mohawk region. He told me that when he was in elementary school, the teachers used to say: “If you want to know what devils look like and how they act, just look at Mohawks”.

Beverly also talks about how such a colonial mentality damage Native men.

“You know, when I used to work in the correctional system, I worked with a lot of Native men. I taught them how to be Native men and that being Native doesn’t make them essentially bad people.”

The Situation of the Mohawk Language and Customs in Kahnawake

I have heard of elementary schools and high schools that teach Mohawk but Beverly tells me about a school in Kahnawake that has a Mohawk language immersion program. She also says that on Fridays, the students and the staff of this school, both Mohawks and non-Mohawks, wear traditional Mohawk clothing. She could barely hide the delight on her face. Also, signs in Kahnawake are in English and Mohawk. Beverly tells a story about how bilingual signs could confuse people.

“When I was a judge in charge of solving traffic-related cases, a man contested a ticket he got for burning three stop signs in a row. I told him:

’–Did you drive by three stop signs without stopping?

–Yes but they were test signs.

–What do you mean? They were regulation size, they were visible, they said stop…

Mohawk_stop_sign
The confusing Mohawk stop sign. Source: Wikicommons.

–They also read “Testan.’”

“Testan” in Mohawk means “Stop.”

Hope for the future

Beverly is optimistic about the future: “The Montreal mayor, Denis Coderre, recognized Montreal, our original hunting grounds, as being originally Aboriginal land. This gives me hope that we can someday get our land back. Well, we can’t get it back because they [descendant of European colonizers] destroyed it and made it ugly. We can at least hope to get a say in our home country.”

Aboriginal communities are getting back on their feet; that is the story we should be hearing more often.

Copts and Muslims of Egypt: What ISIS can’t Divide

On the first day of Ramadan 2017, ISIS attacked three buses carrying Coptic (native Egyptian Christians) children on a field trip to Saint-Samuel’s monastery near Minya.

ISIS killed children on a field trip. How tough and manly of you, ISIS. God is surely impressed with your devotion and bravery. Your mothers must be so proud of you. Here, you deserve a (poisoned) biscuit.

It’s a pattern: ISIS attacks Copts; many women and children die; social media is flooded with messages of grief, anger and criticism of Christians and Islam; politicians express formally their sincere condolences; and the pattern repeats itself. There have been tensions between Egypt’s Christians and

graffiti_cross_crescent_Egypt
This graffiti from the Arab spring shows the solidarity between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. The cross has been defaced, probably by a Muslim extremist. Photo taken in 2012 in Maadi, Egypt by Mark Homsany

Muslims since the Middle Ages but they are united. It’s been so since at least since the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s not surprising to see Christians and Muslims protecting each other while praying and shouting, “Christians! Muslims! All united!*” during the Arab Spring. Pharaonism, a form of Egyptian nationalism, began in the 20th century. It stresses that Egyptians are not Arabs but descendants of the Ancient Egyptians and part of a larger Mediterranean civilization. It also emphasizes the importance of the Nile and the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, Egyptians of all creeds and ancestry relate to each other on the basis of their love for their country and history. The unity between Christians and Muslims is reflected in the lyrics of Sayed Darwish. He was a composer, a revolutionary, the father of modern Egyptian music, and the author of Egypt’s national anthem. He sang lyrics which were a call to unity against the British such as “Love your neighbour before loving your own existence/What is a Christian, what is a Muslim? A Jew? What are you talking about?/Those are just words, we’re all born from the same ancestors.”** This same song and others by Sayed Darwish were sung by protesters in the streets during the Arab spring.

If then, Egyptian society is so united, why is there tension between Christians and Muslims? Wahhabism, the movement that influences Muslim extremist groups from the Muslim Brotherhood to ISIS, turns Christians and Muslims against each other. According to Wahhabism, anything that differs from its version of Islam harms society. Around New Year’s Day in 2011, Hosni Mubarak’s government

graffiti_flag_1919
This graffiti from the Arab spring mimics the Egyptian revolutionary flag of 1919. It reads in Arabic “Long live the crescent with the cross”. Photo taken by Mark Homsany in Maadi, Egypt, in 2012

hired Muslim extremists to bomb All Saints’ church in Alexandria. Mubarak’s government aimed to get Christians and Muslims to fight in an attempt to thwart the Arab spring. ISIS is attempting something similar to invade Egypt. They attack Christians on feast days and near symbolic monuments to make them too scared to worship and by the same token, make Egyptian Muslims live in fear. Is ISIS’s plan working?

Of course Egyptians are scared but they have been through over 2,000 years of foreign occupation and many decades of dictatorship. They can fight off another crisis. Terrorist attacks and injustice in Egypt have been bringing Christians and Muslims together more and that is proof ISIS cannot win. Terrorists, you’re in for a ride.

 

*They were saying literally “Muslims! Christians! One same hand!”(مسلمين مسيحيين يد واحدة)

**From “Rise, Egyptian!” (قوم يا مصري). Translation by Mark Homsany

 

Rant: Canadian History in Quebec Schools

Back when I was in school, Canadian history was one of these subjects no one rBoring Canadian history in Quebeceally studied hard for because unlike math and physics, it wasn’t a subject that determined in what program you could be accepted. I feel a widespread lack of interest in Canadian history in Quebec. Canadian Children’s introduction to their country’s history is in school and Quebec’s curriculum is probably why they think it’s so dull. Here’s why the Quebec history program is so boring:

 

Canadian history is depicted as a long, boring feud between the French and the English

Canadian history in Quebec is taught as the French’s struggle for cultural and national recognition against “les maudits anglais” (the damn English. English here refers to English-speaking Canadians). This struggle has been fought through some battles and a lot of paper signing. What were French-Canadians and English-Canadians doing else besides feuding with each other? How was society back then? How did both ethnic groups think? This narrative presents Canada as one-dimensional. History can’t come alive only through treatises and a limiting perspective.

French-Canadians and English-Canadians are not the only ethnic groups in Canada

Long before the French and the English arrived in Canada, there were various indigenous peoples. They seem to be a footnote in the school curriculum because after the first chapters, they are no longer mentioned as if they disappeared in thin air. Some French-Canadians have Irish surnames such as Bourque (French version of “Burke”) but barely anything is said about Irish migration during the Great Famine and the Fenian raids. When John A. MacDonald colonized the Prairies, he sent by train many immigrants from Eastern Europe there but little is said about them. He could send them by train because Chinese workers built the railroad. I can go on and on but listing various ethnic groups is not the point: there are many ethnic groups in Canada and they influenced its history.

Quebec Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

That’s right! Canada follows a federal system which gives each province many freedoms, among others, the freedom to have their own education curriculum. Quebec’s history program is so focused on Quebec that you almost forget there are other provinces and the United States to the south. The English-speaking provinces and the United States do have relations with Quebec. Since there is so much complaining about the English language, why not talk about the surrounding areas and how they influence Quebec?

Too Little Is Said About Immigration and Multiculturalism

If you live in a big Canadian city like Montreal, you’ve probably seen people who were neither French-Canadian nor English-Canadian. There have been waves of immigrations at least since the time of John A. MacDonald and immigrants is a recurring theme in Canadian media. Who are these immigrants? Why are they coming to Canada? Why are there waves of immigration? Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s multiculturalism is still shaping Canadian society. You would assume such an important part of Canadian history and society would be talked about in school but, nope, it isn’t.

A Curriculum that Dulls the Mind

My former university history professor said at the beginning of his course “To understand a country, you need to understand the politics. To understand the politics, you have to understand the history.” The school curriculum seems to be meant to keep Quebecers from understanding the country they live in. To make matters worse, this one-dimensional vision of Canadian history keeps Canadians from asking important questions such as “where are we going as a country and what should we do”? I guess school isn’t supposed to produce citizens who have serious thoughts about their country.

Agree? Please share your comments!