With friends like David Cameron …

15808680-Smiley-Emoticons-Face-Vector-Cunning-Expression-Stock-Vector-emoticon“I do hope that, as friends who have gone through so much together since those darkest of times, we can move on from this painful legacy and continue to build for the future.” There’s an aspect of David Cameron’s cunning statement that nobody is talking about. It’s the arrogant presumption of friendship.

Unlike so many foreign words that have sneaked into the English language, the word ‘friend’ is hard-core Anglo-Saxon. That’s the name of both the language and the people who lived in Britain from about the 5th century. They migrated from continental Europe and their culture and language were adopted by the natives.

The word ‘friend’ is ‘heartical’. It’s not high-sounding. It’s neither Greek nor Latin. It comes directly from Old English ‘freond’ and goes all the way back to the German roots of the Anglo-Saxon language. According to the Online Eytmology Dictionary, it means “one attached to another by feelings of personal regard and preference”.

How the backside we get to be ‘friends’ with David Cameron? A man who has no regard for us, and whose preference is to disregard the prolonged consequences of our enforced attachment! Cameron’s deceptive use of ‘friends’ is a confidence trick. Like the MoBay scammers, the British prime minister is hoping to con us into dropping our guard.

BAIT AND SWITCH

All confidence tricks share the same basic elements. The trickster understands human nature. S/he knows many of us are gullible, believing we deserve to get something for nothing. The trickster pretends to give us something to win our confidence. We fall for it. When the bigger bait is set, we grab it – hook, line and sinker. And that’s when the switch is made and we lose everything.

free-cheeseSo here’s Cameron’s con. He shares our pain. It’s part of his legacy, too. All the same, he doesn’t need to acknowledge who caused that pain. And it all took place in the Dark Ages when, presumably, no one was keeping track of who caused how much pain. Nor who profited from that pain. This is the 21st century. We’re friends now. So let’s just move on. “Those darkest of times” are over. It’s a simple as that. As for reparation, forget it!

David Cameron would like us to believe we’re on the same team. And it’s a friendly match. We’re really Britons and, of course, Britons never, never, never shall be slaves. Again. The Queen of England is our head of state; we’re part of the British Commonwealth.

And our court of last resort is still the Privy Council. By the way, ‘privy’, as adjective, means ‘private’. But as noun, it means ‘latrine’. Since private business was done in the outhouse, it came to be known as a privy. And that’s where we’re outsourcing justice!

We used to play cricket but now cricket plays us. We speak English, sort of. But even the British are now learning Chinese, the language of the new global empire. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the UK last week to discuss multibillion-pound nuclear power deals. David Cameron took him to a pub for fish and chips. They should have had a curry. It’s the new national dish of England. That’s what happens when the British empire’s colonial subjects come ‘home’ to roost.

NOT A RED CENT!

At Emancipation, the principle of reparation was established. But here’s the scam. Reparation was paid to the plantation owners for the loss of their ‘property’. Human beings, who were reduced to ‘livestock’ in accounting ledgers, received not a red cent to make a new start as free citizens! The British Government paid a total of £20 million in compensation to plantation owners for the loss of enslaved labour. That sum was one quarter of the national Budget!

Scam-AlertApproximately half of the money stayed in Britain. Researchers at University College London are engaged in a project that has been tracking where this money went. They note, “Despite the popular enthusiasm for abolition, slave owners had no compunction in seeking compensation – apparently totally unembarrassed by this property that had been widely constructed by abolitionists as a ‘stain on the nation’.”

One of the most shameful aspects of the reparation enterprise was the requirement that emancipated Africans should pay compensation to plantation owners for their freedom. That’s what the ‘Apprenticeship Period’ was all about. It was just another scam to force black people to continue working for nothing. Why would you need to become a ‘prentice’ to keep on working for backra?

Our friend, David Cameron, wants to con us into forgetting all of this history. But the “painful legacy” of “those darkest of times” persists. The repercussions are long-lasting. In order for us to “build for the future”, the British government must make restitution for crimes against humanity. In his heart of hearts, Cameron must know that friends don’t enslave friends. Friends don’t colonise friends. Friends don’t scam friends.

In his satirical song, ‘Reparation’, Vybz Kartel declares, “Dem call it scam/ Mi call it reparation.” I think Adidja Palmer very well understands that reparation isn’t about fantasies of wealth and power: “Every ghetto yute fi a live like Tony Montana/ Presidential like Barack Obama.” Reparation for enslavement is a far grander enterprise than mere scamming. But it does demand the unmasking of those who feel entitled to scam us.

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Disaster Capitalism in New Orleans

hurricane-katrina“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Those were the damning words of Richard Baker, Republican US representative of Louisiana from 1987 to 2008, in response to the disastrous consequences of Hurricane Katrina. With representatives like that, you don’t need enemies.

As the son of a Methodist minister, Baker probably knew the famous words of that Christian hymn written in 1773 by the English poet, William Cowper:

“God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea

And rides upon the storm.”

Even for a politician, it was a callous proposition: to see Hurricane Katrina as God’s mysterious way of riding upon the storm, efficiently cleaning up public housing in New Orleans! No questions asked about those swept away as God performed his wondrous work. It was all divinely ordained.

In 1748, the English clergyman and poet John Newton wrote another very popular hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton later collaborated with Cowper in composing Christian hymns. But, first, he traded in enslaved Africans. Wikipedia tells the story of “Amazing Grace”: “In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. Whilst his boat was being repaired in Lough Swilly, he wrote the first verse of his world famous song.”

Newton’s “spiritual conversion” did not make him immediately abandon his career in human trafficking. He carried on for another five years or so. I suppose God, in his mysterious mercy, had not yet performed the wonderful work of converting Newton from his profitable career. Sometimes, like God, his servants need to plant their footsteps in the sea and ride upon the storm until the right season. Newton eventually turned to the study of theology and was ordained in the Church of England in 1774.

MICHELLE OBAMA’S QUESTION

Ironically, “Amazing Grace” has been completely taken to heart by African-Americans, with no misgivings about its origin. The song is now a dubious ‘traditional’ spiritual. In a defining moment of his political career, when Barack Obama came out unquestionably as African-American, he performed this song in his eulogy at the funeral of the Rev Clementa Pinckey.

In a July 7, 2015 ABC news report on ‘The Story Behind President Obama Singing ‘Amazing Grace’ at Charleston Funeral’, his wife, Michelle, is quoted, asking a sceptical question: “Why on earth would that fit it in?” Obama responded in this way: “I think if I sing, the church will sing with me.” He was right. But Michelle was also right to wonder how “Amazing Grace” could possibly console a congregation battered by racial violence.

http://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/06/26/obama-sings-amazing-grace-during-pinckney-eulogy-sot-nr.cnn/video/playlists/obama-pinckney/

The idea of ‘God’ and the promise of ‘grace’ are often used in mysterious ways to justify acceptance of injustice on Earth, with the expectation of reparations in the hereafter:

“Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far

and Grace will lead me home.”

Grace was not able to save the nine church members who were gunned down in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church; nor the hundreds of African-Americans who lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina. Grace has not led back home to New Orleans almost 100,000 exiled African-Americans. Parts of the city, especially the 9th Ward, still look like a ghost town. It’s as if the hurricane hit this season, not a decade ago.

TEK BAD TINGS MEK JOKE

Last month, I went to New Orleans to speak at a conference, “Community Uprising: Katrina, Resilience, Resistance & Culture After 10 Years”, hosted by the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies. President and CEO, Dr Denese Shervington, a psychiatrist from Jamaica, asked me to address the role of culture as a source of resistance to oppression, with reference to reggae and dancehall.

I talked about Bob Marley’s vision of reggae as a drumbeat, “playing a rhythm resisting against the system.”  I looked at the origins of the limbo dance in the horrific conditions of the Middle Passage. I cited the proverb, “tek bad tings mek joke”, which highlights one of our survival strategies for coping with disaster. And I used Lovindeer’s “Wild Gilbert” to illustrate the point.

But I concluded with the warning that laughter cannot be the only response to oppression. We can take a joke only so far. And too far! We must also take political action to transform dehumanising institutions. And that is what is still needed in New Orleans for full recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

imagesThe African-American community has been gutted by the disaster. Many homeowners have had to sell out. Annual property taxes have moved from $800/$900 to $4,000/$5,000. New Orleans is rapidly being ‘gentrified’, thanks to Hurricane Katrina. God cleaned up public housing, historically occupied by African-Americans. The divinely favoured are reaping the spoils. The way is clear for them to move in.

The Canadian political activist Naomi Klein wrote the book on disaster capitalism: The Shock Doctrine. Communities in a state of shock after disaster – natural, man-made or divine – are vulnerable to economic exploitation. Disaster capitalism moves in and private companies take over. Resistance is futile. No God to perform wonders and save the wretched? That’s no laughing matter.

Dem Think Obama Easy!

UnknownTwo spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

Mi no know wa di Republican dem a go do wid Obama. Dem meet dem match. Look how long dem a nyam up demself over im. Obama a president fi more an six year. An it burn dem. Dem can’t mek up dem mind fi dis cease an seckle. Di mad one dem a stick out seh Obama no born a Merica. Dem force im fi ha fi show dem im birth cerfiticket. An all now, some a dem still no satisfy.

Unknown-4Obama naa pay dem bad mind. Im dis a gwaan do weh im ha fi do. One a di big ting im do a fi gi poor people health insurance! White, black, brown. An di bad breed Republican dem a fight im down. Dem just no waan spend no money pon health insurance fi everybody. All when it work out cheaper than fi pay fi poor people go a emergency room. It look like dem Republican never hear seh prevent better than cure.

Not fi mention wa Obama a do fi di whole heap a people dem weh no got no paper fi gi dem leave an licence fi tan eena Merica! Bout 11 million a dem dis a bob an weave. Ascorden to Obama plan, dem deh people can turn citizen ef dem prove seh dem a no criminal. Dem ha fi pay tax, dem ha fi wait an go a di back a di line, an dem ha fi learn English. Di Republican dem waan run dem outa di country. No matter seh some a dem a pikni weh di deh fi di whole a dem life.

An no figet how Obama did sort out di car company dem when autoclaps tek dem! Obama know seh im couldn’t mek dem deh company crash. Too much smaddy woulda no a no work. Im put nuff govament money in a GM an Chrysler. Sixty-two billion dollar! An a so di company dem ketch up back demself. An a di said same way Obama deal wid di bank dem weh did out fi shut down. But im never spend no govament money pon dat. Im get private company fi put een fi dem owna money.

CUBA AN MERIKA MEK UP

One a di biggest ting Obama do a fi mek Merika gree back wid Cuba. Wat no happen eena 53 year happen eena one day. Obama dis seh a time fi done di foolishness. It no serve no purpose fi cut off Cuba. Berlin Wall bruck down an Soviet Union mash up. Di Cold War done, done, done. Mi know seh dat a no di whole a di story. Plenty politics di deh. Merica still a defend democracy an a fight down communism.

But Obama know seh yu ha fi think bout people, no so-so politics. Tings well hard fi poor people eena Cuba. From Soviet Union bruck up, Cuba a struggle. Venezuela did help dem out plenty-plenty. But all Venezuela eena trouble. Oil price a drop. An a di oil money Venezuela a depend pon fi run di country. So dem no have no money fi a gi Cuba.

A now money a go run eena Cuba! Politics or no politics. Nuff Merican tourist a go go deh. An nuff business a go open up. Di Republican dem must a swell up, ready fi buss. Mek dem gweh! Johncrow nyam out dem conscience. An Obama no done wid dem. Im a go gi dem nuff more headache before im time done. Im a go lef one hell of a legacy. Rispek due!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

Unknown-2Mi no nuo wa di Ripoblikan dem a go du wid Obama. Dem miit dem mach. Luk ou lang dem a nyam op demself uova im. Obama a prezident fi muor an siks ier. An it bon dem. Dem kyaahn mek op dem main fi dis siis an sekl. Di mad wan dem a stik out se Obama no baan a Merika. Dem fuors im fi ha fi shuo dem im bort sorfitikit. An aal nou, som a dem stil no satisfai.

Obama naa pie dem bad main. Im dis a gwaan du we im ha fi du. Wan a di big ting im du a fi gi puor piipl elt inshuorans! Wait, blak, broun. An di bad briid Ripoblikan dem a fait im dong. Dem jos no waahn spen no moni pan elt inshuorans fi evribadi. Aal wen it wok out chiipa dan fi pie fi puor piipl go a imorjensi ruum. It luk laik dem Ripoblikan neva ier se privent beta dan kyuur.

Nat fi menshan wa Obama a du fi di uol iip a piiipl dem we no gat no piepa fi gi dem liiv an laisn fi tan iina Merika! Bout 11 milyan a dem dis a bab an wiiv. Azkaadn tu Obama plan, dem de piipl kyan ton sitizn ef dem pruuv se dem a no kriminal. Dem a fi pie taks, dem a fi wiet an go a di bak a di lain, an dem a fi go laan Ingglish. Di Ripoblikan dem waan ron dem outa di konchri. No mata se som a dem a pikni we di de fi di uol a dem laif.

An no figet ou Obama did saat out di kyaar kompini dem wen aataklaps tek dem! Obama nuo se im kudn mek dem de kompini krash. Tu moch smadi wuda no a no wok. Im put nof govament moni iin a GM an Chrysler. Siksti tuu bilyan dala! An a so di kompini dem kech op bak demself. An a di sed siem wie Obama diil wid di bank dem we did out fi shet dong. Bot im neva spen no govament moni pan dat. Im get praivit kompini fi put iin fi dem uona moni.

KYUUBA AN MERIKA MEK OP

Unknown-3Wan a di bigis ting Obama du a fi mek Merika grii bak wid Kyuuba. Wat no apn iina fifti-chrii ier apn iina wan die. Obama dis se a taim fi don di fuulishnis. It no sorv no porpos fi kot aaf Kyuuba. Borlin Waal brok dong an Suoviyet Yuuniyan mash op. Di Kuol Waar don, don, don. Mi nuo se dat a no di uol a di tuori. Plenti palitiks di de. Merika stil a difen demokrasi an a fait dong komyunizm.

Bot Obama nuo se yu a fi tink bout piipl, no suoso palitiks. Tingz wel aad fi puor piipl iina Kyuuba. Fram Suoviyet Yuuniyan brok op, Kyuuba a chrogl. Venizwiela did elp dem out plenti-plenti. Bot aal Venizwiela iina chrobl. Ail prais a jrap. An a di ail moni Venizwiela a dipan pan fi ron di konchri. So dem no av no moni fi a gi Kyuuba.

A nou moni a go ron iina Kyuuba! Palitiks ar no palitiks. Nof Merikan tuuris a go go de. An nof bizniz a go opn op. Di Ripoblikan dem mos a swel op, redi fi bos. Mek dem gwe! Jangkro nyam out dem kanshens. An Obama no don wid dem. Im a go gi dem nof muor ediek bifuor im taim don. Im a go lef wan el af a legisi. Rispek juu!

ENGLISH TRANSLATION – OBAMA NO PUSHOVER

I don’t know what the Republicans are going to do about Obama. They’ve met their match. They just can’t get over it. Obama has been president for more than six years. And they’re so angry. They just can’t come to terms with it. The crazy ones insist that Obama wasn’t born in America. They’ve forced him to release his birth certificate. And even now, some of them still aren’t satisfied.

Unknown-1Obama isn’t taking them on. He’s just going along, doing what he has to do. One of the big things he’s done is to give poor people health insurance! White, black, brown. And the elitist Republicans are on the attack. They simply don’t want to pay for  universal health insurance.  Even when it’s cheaper, in the long run, than covering the high cost of emergency room treatment for the uninsured. It seem as if these Republican don’t know that to prevent is better than cure.

As for what Obama is doing for all those illegal immigrants!  About 11 million a them are just bobbing and weaving. According to Obama’s plan, these people can an become citizens if they can prove that they’re not criminals. They have to pay tax, they have to wait and go to the  back of the line, and they have to learn English. The Republicans want to herd them out of the country. It doesn’t matter that some of them are juveniles who have lived in the U.S. all their lives.

And don’t forget how Obama sorted out the crisis in the automobile industry! Obama knew he couldn’t allow the industry to crash. Too many jobs would be lost. He injected lots of federal funding in GM and Chrysler. Sixty-two billion dollars! And that’s how those companies recovered. And that’s exactly how Obama dealt with the collapse of the banking sector. But he didn’t use federal money for that.  It was private  investment.

CUBA AND AMERICA MAKE UP

ap89111001348_slide-73c82e0f3c6e88fb9ce68991028afa61120c5144-s6-c30One of the biggest things Obama has done is to start lifting the US embargo on Cuba. What didn’t happen in 53 years has happened in one day. Obama just decided it was time to end the folly.  It makes no sense to cut off Cuba. Berlin Wall has come down and Soviet Union has collapsed. The Cold War is over.  Finished.  Done.   I know that’s not the whole story.  There’s a lot of political intrigue.  The U.S. is still  defending democracy and denouncing communism.

But Obama knows that you have to think about people, not just politics. Things have been extremely difficult for poor people in Cuba. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba started to  struggle. Venezuela did give Cuba lots of financial assistance. But even Venezuela is in trouble. The price of oil has been falling and the Venezuelan economy is dependent on oil revenues. So the country can no longer support Cuba.

But now money will flow freely in Cuba! Politics or no politics. Lots of American tourists will visit. And many businesses will open up. The Republicans must be fit to be tied. Too bad for them! They have no conscience. And Obama isn’t done with them. He’s going to give them even more headaches before his term is up.  He’s going to leave a hell of a legacy. Respect due!

Obama’s American Nightmare

UnknownTHOSE CRAZY birthers who insist that Barack Obama is from a foreign country are not completely lunatic. The America of Obama’s youth is not the mainland United States (US). And it’s not mainstream. Hawaii, Obama’s state of birth, was not admitted into the union until 1959. That’s almost two centuries after the American declaration of independence from Britain, and only two years before Obama was born.

The most absurd ‘fact’ I’ve heard about Hawaii is that it has the highest racial minority population of any state in the union – 75 per cent, according to US census figures. How can the majority of people in Hawaii be counted as a minority? Only in the racist United States where whites consider themselves to be the definitive Americans! Forget about the indigenous people. White is the default race and all others are minority. That’s mainland racial politics. But in Hawaii, whites are the minority. That’s what the US census figures actually mean.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRAUMA

barackIn a 1999 essay for the Punahou Bulletin, published by his high school in Honolulu, Obama acknowledges the impact of the years he spent in his homeland: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered – to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect – became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

Obama’s Hawaiian ‘world view’ is fundamentally at odds with racial politics in mainstream America. Born to a black African father and a white American mother, Obama doesn’t easily fit into a box. He isn’t simply African-American. The hyphen does make a difference. Obama comes to mainland America as an outsider whose personal history does not include the African-American trauma of enslavement and all it entails. Despite Michelle, it is a struggle for Obama to claim the hyphen.

ingodwetrustAnd African-Americans are struggling to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, especially since he’s president of all America. Obama is a biracial, multicultural American who embodies many of the ideological contradictions that constitute the US. The unofficial national motto asserts unity: ‘E pluribus unum’ (‘out of many one’). But America is a divided society. Trusting in God seems to make no difference.

‘POST-RACIAL’ AMERICA

The cold-bloodied slaying of Trayvon Martin and the contested ruling that has freed his assailant have become yet another test case of the fundamental fairness of the US justice system. On all sides of the angry debate about what went wrong, there’s the shameful knowledge that race remains a provocative sign of both criminality and innocence in a supposedly ‘post-racial’ America.

bsr005President Obama has been caught in the crossfire. In a much-analysed speech two Fridays ago, he revealed his somewhat ambiguous identification with Trayvon Martin and, more broadly, African-American culture. This is how he began: “I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but, watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.”

That’s the first problem. Obama’s initial pronouncement on the judgment, appealing for “calm”, appears to be his instinctive reaction. The expansion of his thoughts comes a little bit too late. And it’s really just a little bit too little. Obama shouldn’t need to watch the debate in order to realise that, as president, it was his duty to make a much more nuanced and expansive statement on yet another American tragedy.

Trayvon Martin's parents in Washington DCAfter affirming the “grace and dignity” of Trayvon’s parents in response to the contested ruling that freed their son’s killer, Obama tried, yet again, to identify with the victim: “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago.

“And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognise that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

RACIAL PROFILING

strange-fruitIt is precisely this set of experiences and history that Obama does not own. This “set” is not in his DNA. And it’s not only African-Americans who are looking at the issue through the lens of a history that doesn’t go away. Euro-Americans have their own set of experiences and history – of lynching, for example – that influences how they view the death of Trayvon Martin. Furthermore, people of goodwill, of all races, are agitated about the killing and the judgment.

Obama gives three examples of racial profiling of African-American males. In each successive instance, he becomes more and more distant. The first example is “being followed when shopping in a department store”. Obama says, “That includes me”.

The next example is “walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars”. Obama says, “That happens to me”. Present tense. He quickly qualifies it, “at least, before I was a senator”. That’s a big leap away from racial profiling. Not to mention president.

Obama’s final example is “getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off”. Obama doesn’t even pretend that he’s had that experience: “That happens often”.

The race of the generic woman is unmarked. If she’s white, it’s fear of the predatory black man. If she’s black, it’s the same thing. But, in the latter case, it’s now black-on-black crime. Why don’t we ever talk about white-on-white crime? Because white is normative and black is pathological?

Picture1_000In his expanded thoughts, Obama does give some prescriptions for the disease of racial profiling. He pays particular attention to the dilemma of African-American males. But he cannot identify with them fully, no matter how hard he tries to be Trayvon. It’s the hyphen again. Obama inherited his mother’s American nightmare. But he also possesses distant dreams from his African father.

Canada’s Barefaced Multicultural Lie

Jason Kenney

Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney made a stunning announcement last Monday. Muslim women who wish to become Canadian citizens must uncover their faces in public at the moment of taking the oath of citizenship. In effect, Muslim women are being forced to abandon their religious beliefs in order to become good Canadians.

This is how Kenney justifies the new policy: “The citizenship oath is a quintessentially public act. It is a public declaration that you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and openly.” In a classic case of doublespeak, the immigration minister argues, “This is not simply a practical measure. It is a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality.”

But if Canadians do, in fact, value ‘openness’ and ‘equality’, shouldn’t Muslim women enjoy the freedom to openly practise their religion in peace? Even if this means claiming the right to cover the face! Why should Muslim women have to choose between their religion and the prospect of Canadian citizenship?

And who is the ‘our’ to whom Kenney appeals? The immigration minister seems to have decided that the Canadian family comes in only one model. And any ethnic or religious group that doesn’t look the part must be excluded. But is it reasonable for the minister to assume that all Canadians share a common identity and identical values?

In this day and age of global diversity, how can Canada’s immigration minister be so backward? Canada’s new policy on the citizenship oath appears to signal a retreat to the dark ages of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant fundamentalism.

Stewing in the melting pot

In the 1970s, as a student at the University of Toronto, I had ’nuff’ respect for Canadians because of the sophisticated way in which they viewed their complex society. The popular image of a mosaic was used to conjure up all the bits and pieces of the cultures of the world that make up the Canadian whole. It was a most attractive way to represent the distinctiveness of each tiny cultural element that contributed to the larger pattern.

By contrast, the symbol of the melting pot that’s been long used to describe cultural diversity in the United States (US) is far less appealing. All of the cultures (and races) in the pot are expected to melt down into one gooey mess. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work theory. In practice, some races never melt. They stubbornly resist mixing with certain kinds of people. The more they boil, the harder their hearts get.

These are the tough types who turn into crazy conspiracy theorists, like the ‘birthers’. There’s a hard core of deluded Americans who will never accept the fact that Barack Obama was born in the US and is qualified to be president. He is black and, therefore, has no business in the pot, let alone in the White House.

These true-blue American patriots conveniently forget that it is only the First Peoples of the continent who actually have natural rights of possession of the land. Everybody else in the melting pot is a foreigner; and a squatter. But ‘di worl no level, as jackass seh’.

Under the veil

Muslims at prayer in the Kingston mosque

Canada’s new policy will not affect most Jamaicans who wish to migrate to ‘The True North strong and free’. Muslims make up only a tiny percentage of our population. All the same, we should ‘tek sleep an mark death’. Tightening the noose around the necks of prospective citizens who look ‘foreign’ may be an omen of even more stringent immigration policies to come.

One of the excuses given for the new regulation is nothing but a veiled insult. Citizenship judges say they are not quite sure that women who wear the niqab are actually reciting the oath. Since the women’s mouths are covered, they could be speaking mumbo-jumbo, I suppose. But this non-issue could easily be resolved by allowing the use of a microphone. You don’t need to see someone’s face in order to hear his or her voice.

It strikes me that the underlying issue may be the oath itself: ‘I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her heirs and successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.’ Perhaps, at the root of the new policy is a profound fear that some new Canadians do not, in fact, bear true allegiance to Her Majesty. Their God takes priority over a mere earthly monarch.

Canada seems to be following the lead of France, which last April passed a law that prohibits covering the face in public. This intolerant law effectively puts under house arrest women who wish to wear the veil in public. Ironically, the law was supposedly designed to promote gender equity by emancipating Muslim women from restrictive traditional dress. Instead, the law is imprisoning these women in Western codes of conduct.

All across Europe – in Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands – conservative politicians are pushing for a ban on face coverings. But it’s not really about the veil. As Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, puts it: “The way the dress of a small number of women has been portrayed as a key problem requiring urgent discussion and legislation is a sad capitulation to the prejudices of the xenophobes.”

Fear of foreigners is the real issue. And the big question seems to be, ‘Who is entitled to be European?’ Or Canadian, for that matter. The image of Canada as a beautiful mosaic of multi-ethnic diversity is cracking up. It looks like it’s nothing but a ‘face card’.