Stephen Harper recently had the opportunity of a life time. He was the first Prime Minister to speak in front of Israel’s parliament.
I make this post with great caution. I do so because the issue is one that is extremely controversial. Firstly, I’m disappointed in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inability to do the right thing. Canada has been looked at as a country that can help broker peace between Israel and Palestine. Instead he took the opportunity to make it clear who he, and more so his government supports. Telling the Israel people that “through fire and water, Canada will stand with you”. He also knocked critics of the Israeli government, by stating “those who call Israel an apartheid state are exercising a form of Anti-Semitism”.
Being disappointed in Mr. Harper did not surprise me. I’ve become accustom to being disappointed in my Prime Minister. What surprised me is that all three political parties in Canada held firm in their position that a boycott or criticism of Israel is a new version of anti-Semitism. Going so far as to say the rallies and protests held by students and activists over the treatment of the Palestinian people could cause those individuals to be labelled an anti-Semite.
Some students and political activists oppose Israel’s policies and laws surrounding the Palestinian people. A system that is in many ways is a two tiered system based on discrimination and segregation of race. Liberal Member of Parliament Mark Garneau said that, “comparing Israel to an apartheid is divisive”. He may be right, but it doesn’t mean the comparison is completely incorrect.
Talking about this might not be the most politically safe thing to talk about, in fact the relations between Israel and Palestine are extremely difficult to talk about. However, to lambaste students and activists as anti-Semites because they oppose a government is low brow. Caring about the treatment and living conditions of others does not make you a hateful person. These neo-conservative views attempt to polarize the issue, and put people in boxes. You either support Israel, or you hate Jewish people.
Anti-Semitic’s exist everywhere. They are irrelevant as we allow them to be. We shouldn’t care what racists and assholes think. Validating their views is the first mistake. The second mistake is using Anti-Semitism as a barrier to prevent reasonable and rational discussion about a countries laws. I wanted the leader of my country to leave Israel with a message of hope and possibility. No bridges were built, and opportunities were squandered.
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Photo © Deadspin
Chris Kluwe, former punter for the Minnesota Vikings released an article on the popular Sports News website Deadspin. The article is titled, “I was An NFL Player Until I was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot“. The name Chris Kluwe might ring a bell to some readers. He also wrote a letter to Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Maryland state delegate on the matter of same sex marriage. The article was titled, “They Won’t Magically Turn You Into A Lustful Cockmonster”.
The recent article is a detailed account of how Chris was unjustly let go of the Vikings based on performance; when he was actually performing consistently with his yearly averages. He mentions in the article that he was being told to sacrifice his own averages for the betterment of the team.
“Chris, we need you to kick it higher and shorter, because our coverage team sucks. We need to force fair catches as much as possible.” I complied, as I had always been taught to put the team before myself.” – Chris Kluwe
I admire Chris for some of what he has tried to do. It is never easy to put yourself out and do what you think is right, especially when it comes to controversial topics like gay marriage. I also respect the fact that Chris waited till The Vikings season was over to release the article. He obviously still cares deeply for his old team and teammates. I don’t disagree with a lot of Chris Kluwe’s politics, however I can understand why he cannot find a job in the NFL, and will likely never again.
“I can still hit the ball 45 yards outside the numbers with good hangtime, and at the tryouts I’ve had this year I’ve gotten praise from the scouts and personnel people on hand, but for whatever reason I cannot find a job.” – Chris Kluwe
It’s not about politics, it’s about behaviour. When a person becomes an outspoken critic of controversial topics it puts his or her employer in an awkward position, especially when they are a public figure. A person is an individual that has the right to express themselves freely, though they also put on a jersey and represent a city, and a team.
Chris Kluwe is a Public Relations nightmare. On his own account he is a “middle of the pack punter”. Punters aren’t top earners in the NFL, nor are they seen as playing a vital role as say a Quarterback, or a Linebacker. Chris Kluwe had baggage, too much for any team to take him on.
Chinese authorities would beg the differ, as they see Ai Weiwei as being one of the most dangerous men in their country. So much so that he has been illegally detained, assaulted by police, and put under constant surveillance. Not because he has made direct threats at the government or its citizens, instead because he has become a symbol for the struggle of human rights in China. Through all the governments coercion they haven’t changed Ai’s tune.
Currently Ai Weiwei has had his passport revoked and cannot leave the country. After being detained for 81 days in 2011 he was released, but with stipulations. During his detention Ai was interrogated daily about his online activities, and had guards by his side at all times – including when he slept and used the bathroom. Part of Ai’s “bail conditions” was that he was “prohibited from giving interviews about his detention, being active on social media, or traveling outside Beijing for one year” (Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry). Above is a link to the documentary entitled Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. I strongly recommend everyone watch this fantastic documentary.
Residents of Toronto and the General Toronto Area (GTA), will be lucky to know that Ai Weiwei’s exhibit According to What? is making it’s only Canadian stop at the AGO in Toronto on August 17th. The exhibit will run until October 27th. This gives residents a couple months to look at some very unique and politically driven pieces of contemporary art.
As the constant struggle for human rights is being waged in all countries, both democratic and undemocratic; I am often reminded of the stark difference between my country and China, and potentially some of the similarities. The main difference is that I have the freedom and right to oppose my government openly, without fear of reprisal. It’s that freedom that I am thankful for, as freedom of opinion and expression are at the core of liberty. This freedom does not always act as the barrier that prevents governments from violating personal freedoms and rights, as we are all too well aware of in North America. However, what it does do is hold governments accountable for their actions. This is why people such as Ai have turned to Twitter and Blogging as a means of holding their government accountable, as there is little to no other options. Ai most notably accused the government of having shoddy construction in the province of Sichuan, that lead to 5,212 students dying during an earthquake in 2008. The total loss of lives during the quake was around 90,000. The government refused to release the names of the students who were killed in the quake, stating that it was “confidential information”. Ai launched a citizens investigation to gather a list of the all the names of the students who had died. It was about transparency, and not allowing those children’s lives to be forgotten. Ai created an installation called Remembering, it was made out of nine-thousand children’s backpacks to help represent and remember the students that lost their lives.
The government of China fears social media to be the counter-balance to its oppressive laws and lack of concern for the rights of the individual. That fear drove the government to shut down Ai’s blog. The government of China also subverts any attempt made by any citizen to openly oppose the government, especially when talking about political reform. Anyone who engages in this act is seen as an enemy of the state and can be thrown into jail for extended periods of time. It is easy to oppose a government when there are rules and laws to protect you, but in China the risks are more serious – as are the consequences. It is common for people to go missing or end up in jail when they start vocalizing opinions that are contradictory to state policy.
“Freedom is a pretty strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart, and no one can take it away. Then, as an individual, you can be more powerful than a whole country.” – Ai Weiwei