Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unethical oil

Today, "cog in the Conservative machine" Alykhan Velshi relaunched his website "ethical oil", with a series of ridiculous posters. Based on Ezra Levant's tar sands book by the same name, the posters take aim at "the world's bastards" (Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan). As Velshi argues "When you’re filling up the tank, I think you’re indirectly funding them and their pet projects." The "ethical oil" argument counterposes "foreign oil" with Canada's tar sands--claiming that the latter promotes the environment, human rights, peace and democracy. Below are alternative posters to expose the myth of "ethical oil" and argue that a green economy free of the tar sands is the only viable future for the planet and its people.


Counterposing tar sands oil with other oil is a false dichotomy. The oil economy in general is leading the world to catastrophic climate change, and the tar sands is accelerating this process. According to Greenpeace,
"The tar sands cover an area of land the size of England, which has been divided up and leased to the world’s biggest oil companies...The tar sands use more water every day than a city of two million people and consume enough natural gas to heat six million Canadian homes. Until the oil boom, the tar sands were too expensive to be economically viable. But our global addiction to oil has us scraping the bottom of the barrel. The tar sands generate 40 million tonnes of CO2 per year, more than all the cars in Canada combined...As the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, the tar sands are the main reason Canada continues to block meaningful global climate regulations. The Canadian government ignores the warnings of the scientific community by aiming for abysmal targets that will leave us at nearly double the science-based target that we need to meet to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 C and avoid catastrophic climate change."

The claim that tar sands promotes indigenous rights has been exposed by indigenous people themselves, who are leading the fight against tar sands. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network,
"Indigenous peoples (known as First Nations) in Canada are taking the lead to stop the largest industrial project on Mother Earth: the Tar Sands Gigaproject...The cultural heritage, land, ecosystems and human health of First Nation communities including the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay Cree Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and the Metis, are being sacrificed for oil money in what has been termed a “slow industrial genocide”. Infrastructure projects linked to the tar sands expansion such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, threaten First Nation communities in British Columbia, Canada and American Indian communities throughout the United States. Community resistance is growing and Indigenous peoples throughout North America have mounted substantive challenges to tar sands expansion."

The actions of the Harper government make the false dichotomy of "conflict oil" vs "ethical oil" obvious. As opposition Harper wanted Canada to join the oil war in Iraq, and as Prime Minister has persecuted US Iraq War resisters (with Velshi an eager participant) for trying to be ethical soldiers refusing to fight for conflict oil. While promoting the tar sands, Harper has extended the oil war in Afghanistan three times, already once extended his oil war in Libya (where NATO intervention is designed to undermine the Arab spring that threatens to overthrow all the Western-backed "bastards"), and plans on wasting billions on oil-dependent fighter jets to participate in further conflicts over foreign oil.


The claim that tar sands production supports worker's rights ignores the experience of workers themselves. Last year a tar sands workers was fired for blogging about the conditions at Fort McMurray:
"We have options for bagged lunches to take to work that includes stale vegetables that are sometimes unwashed (and occasionally are rotten/slimy), green fruit, sandwiches so high in salt it would terrify you, and a selection of donuts/cookies/cupcakes that would make Tim Horton's pale in comparison...All the vents are connected together so that if one person gets sick you are almost guaranteed to get it as well, the only answer is to stuff your vents with towels and live with stuffy stale air. It is not uncommon to have dozens of people ill, and there are occasional outbreaks of flu or cold that can affect hundreds at a time...There is no viable complaint procedure, no responsible person to notify of low quality or dangerous conditions, as camp patrons we are almost entirely helpless and at the whim of these people and they know it. This only reinforces the general resentment (or forced acceptance) of these conditions."

The simplistic and racist dichotomy between inherent Western democracy and inherent Middle East dictatorship ignores Western arms sales to dictatorships, Western political support for dictators (from Paul Martin's support for Libyan dictator Muamaar Gaddafi, to Harper's support for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak), and Western oil companies profiting from dictatorships (like Canada's Suncor operating in Libya and Syria, as well the tar sands). Meanwhile the Harper government has ignored majority support for a green economy, highlighted last year by Greenpeace's banner drop from Parliament. According to a poll last year,
"over 70 percent of Canadians support redirecting of military spending toward efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the idea of a World Climate and Justice Tribunal to judge and penalize countries and corporations whose actions have contributed climate change. Over 80 percent of Canadians believe the Canadian government should invest in “green jobs” and transition programmes for workers and communities negatively affected by a shift off of fossil fuels."
Despite attempts to greenwash the tar sands, the majority of people support a truly green economy--and movements uniting indigenous groups, environmentalists, the labour movement and the anti-war movement are working to bring for this democratic and green future to life. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Myths and facts about the Muslim prayer space

There’s growing hysteria against the prayer space for Muslim students at the Valley Park Middle School in Toronto. It’s claimed that it gives special treatment to Muslims, undermines public education and imposes sexism on society, and that we should support a supposedly broad-based multifaith coalition that opposes it. But this is based on a series of myths.

MYTH: the prayer space gives special treatment to Muslims and undermines secularism
FACT: the prayer spaces promotes secularism by providing equal access to public education
According to Toronto District School Board Education (TDSB) Director Chris Spence: “As a public school board, we have a responsibility and an obligation to accommodate faith needs.” With its weekends and vacations, the school calendar already accommodates students who pray on Saturday or Sunday, and those who observe Easter and Christmas. Furthermore, as Omar Qayum, a TDSB teacher pointed out,
“At my school we have Christian invocations every year during our Remembrance Day assemblies and during the Christmas holidays through carols- nobody complains! Furthermore, some schools partake in Hanukah, Diwali and Kwanza to honour their Jewish, Hindu and African-American students.”
The prayer space for Muslim students ensures that they are not excluded and forced to choose between their education and their faith. Rather than demanding the canceling of Friday classes or having Muslim students miss class, the Friday prayer space ensures no disruption to non-Muslim students while promoting access to education for Muslim students. This is the essence of secularism: equal access to public services irrespective of religion.
Banning prayer spaces undermines this principle, and there’s a history of such discrimination towards Muslims. As an article in the Ottawa Citizen reminds us:
“It's the same as the flap about civil arbitration back in 2005. For more than a decade, the government of Ontario had a system that permitted Orthodox Christians and Jews to settle family disputes according to their faith's rules provided the outcome did not violate generally applicable laws and principles. Not controversial in the least. Then a handful of Muslims asked to do the same, there was a mighty backlash, and the government scrapped the whole system.”

MYTH: the prayer space undermines public education
FACT: opposition to the prayer space is scapegoating Muslims for government cuts
The Toronto Sun claimed, that “the taxpayers are funding religious schools after all. Or at least one that we know of. If it’s not stopped now who knows where this will end up or how much it will cost.”
Firstly, taxpayers are not funding a separate Muslim prayer space, it is happening in the existing school cafeteria, organized and paid for by the local Muslim community. Secondly, we know of many religious schools that receive public funding: Catholic schools, which segregate boys and girls not only in separate prayer spaces but in separate schools.
Most importantly, the erosion of quality public education is not because of accommodation to religious minorities. Prayer spaces have not reduced education budgets and extra-curricular activities, or increased class sizes, budget cuts have. It’s no coincidence that minorities are being scapegoated in times of economic crisis and austerity measures. Britain’s conservative government is imposing massive cuts to jobs and services, including the tripling of university tuition. At the same time it’s blaming “multiculturalism” and giving confidence to extremist groups like the English Defense League who target Muslims.

MYTH: the prayer space is imposing segregation on education and society
FACT: Muslims are being scapegoated for segretation that pervades society and all its institutions
The hysteria against the prayer space gives the impression that girls and women would be liberated were it not for an optional weekly half hour Muslim prayer at one school. But segregation of the sexes exists in all religions—including the segregation of menstruating women in some orthodox Jewish communities. As Aisha Sherazi, a formal principal wrote recently, “Growing up in a Hindu family, men and women always sat separately…It is up to the Muslim community to have a debate about whether they want to have mixed prayer or not.” But the islamophobic campaign against the prayer space does not open up space for this debate, it closes it.
Furthermore the campaign suggests segregation is isolated to Muslim prayer space. But throughout society women face segregation—in pay, reproductive choice, media images that shame their bodies, and levels of violence. Campaigns in Western countries against Muslims are scapegoating them for these far broader forms of segregation, while denying that Muslim women have any agency in their own lives. In France where less than 25% of MPs are women, the government has claimed to liberate women by banning those who wear niqab from public space.
In Canada the federal Harper government refuses to investigate missing and murdered Aboriginal women, purged funding from women’s groups, imposed a maternal health plan that denies reproductive choice, and told women's groups to "shut the fuck up". As women are segregated into lower socio-economic status, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's massive proposal of cuts will disproportionately hurt those who rely on city services--from bus routes to dental care. Why aren’t the groups up in arms over prayer space organizing protests against these policies of segregation affecting far broader population?

MYTH: a broad multi-faith coalition opposes the prayer space
FACT:  a small number of fringe groups with a history of Islamophobia oppose the prayer space
Far from being a large multi-faith opposition, the main organized opposition to the prayer space are fringe political groups with a history of Islamophobia: the Jewish Defense League (an extremist Zionist group), the Christian Heritage Party (a fringe right-wing party that calls for a moratorium on immigration from Muslim countries, and that opposes women’s choice), the Canadian Hindu Advocacy (a Hindu nationalist group whose spokesperson claimed that Islamic civilization had contributed “less to human advancement than a pack of donkeys”) and the Muslim Canadian Congress (a small group whose spokeperson Tarek Fatah has become a media darling for supporting campaigns against religious accommodation for Muslims).
It’s obvious that what unites these groups is not their love of public education or their commitment to women’s rights, but their Islamophobia. Despite their fringe numbers and beliefs, the media has helped them spark a hysterical reaction against an optional weekly half hour of prayer that doesn’t interfere with non-Muslims and which allow Muslim students to better integrate into public school—but which like all religions and most of society has some form of segregation. These groups are trying to import the politics of David Cameron and the English Defense League, paying lip service to women’s rights and public education as an excuse to whip up Islamophobia, providing a scapegoat to economic crisis and austerity.

The bombs in Afghanistan have landed in Norway

A decade of Islamophobia to justify the war in Afghanistan is now spreading violence to the West. Right-wing Islamophobe Anders Behring Breivik has killed 91 people in Norway, through the explosion of a bomb near the Prime Minister's building and a shooting spree in a youth camp organized by the Workers’ Youth League.
     The initial response by international media was to blame Muslims. But when the alleged perpetrator turned out to be a blond-hair, blue-eyed Norwegian Christian nationalist, some are now denying there’s any context whatsoever for the killing. As a Norwegian official said, "It seems it's not Islamic-terror related. This seems like a madman's work." 
     But Breiviks was not driven by "madness", he was driven by right-wing Islamophobic politics. From 1997 to 2007 he was a member of the xenophobic "Progress Party". Since that time police chief Sveinung Sponheim describe his internet postings as having “some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views”, and others have pointed out his an admirer of prominent anti-Muslim individuals and organizations like Geert Wilders and the English Defense League.

     Islamophobia existed well before the terror attacks of 9/11. After the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 (orchestrated by Gulf War veteran and right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh), the media blamed Muslims, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee documented death threats against Muslims and vandalism of mosques. But for the past decade there has been a surge in Islamophobia to scapegoat populations at home and justify wars abroad.
     The Western countries with Islamophobic policies overlaps with those occupying Afghanistan: from the US (which incarcerated Muslims without trial in Guantanamo Bay), to Canada (which has rounded up Muslim men and pressured them to admit to terrorism, while Muslim Canadians have been abandoned abroad, and media have amplified fringe-group campaigns against prayer spaces), to France (which is banning girls who wear hijab from school, and women who wear niqab from public space), to Norway.
     The website Islamophobia-watch has documented anti-Muslim racism around the world, which in Norway includes:

-2006: the Directorate for Primary and Secondary Education of Norway banned girls and women wearing niqab form school
 -2007: anti-immigration politicians in Bergen threatened to use pigs feet to chase praying Muslims out of a public square.
-2009: the Norwegian government tried to ban female police officers from wearing the hijab
-April 2011: attempts were made to set up a Norwegian Defense League—modeled on the English Defense League--with a demonstration was called against the “Islamic occupation of Noway”. While only 10-15 Islamophobes turned up, up to 1000 people attended a counter-demonstration
-May 2011: a school in Bergen had to be evacuated when a national newspaper received a message threatening “A massacre at Gimle school Bergen. Everyone that stands in the way will die, especially Muslims”

     But police have refused to see Islamophobia as a threat. “It’s surprising, because the Norwegian police have long said that the right wing extremist community was under control,” said Hegghammer, of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.
     As Martin Luther King famously said:
demo against the Norwegian Defense League, April 2011

“The bombs in Vietnam explode at home. They destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America. If we reversed investments and gave the armed forces the anti-poverty budget, the generals could be forgiven if they walked off the battlefield in disgust. Poverty, urban problems and social progress generally are ignored when the guns of war become a national obsession.”

     The horrific crimes of Anders Behring Breivik have exposed the consequences of war and Islamophobia, which are intensifying in the economic crisis. To counter this we must follow the words of King: 

"Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism."