Monthly Archives: September 2010

Perspectives: The Extremism Cycle

This is my second article from my column in the McGill Tribune.

On his blog for the New Republic, the neo-liberal magazine he owns and edits, Marty Peretz recently wrote of American Muslims: “I wonder whether I need honour these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.” This shocking and seemingly racist line, which he later apologized for, is an example of how the always-difficult debate on the role of Islam in American culture has recently become even more difficult, and more uncomfortable.

One of his critics, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, argued that Peretz’s statement is reflective of “how venomous and debased the discourse about Islam has become.” That one sentence indeed did not help Peretz make his argument, which was otherwise well thought out.

In the blog post, Peretz argued that there has never been any serious condemnation by Muslims of the heinous actions of some of their co-religionists. He pointed out that when Muslims kill other Muslims in the Middle East and Africa, few Muslims publicly speak up in criticism.

Peretz was roundly criticized for his line, “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” for which he did not apologize. Peretz also wrote: “I want to believe that Muslims are traumatized by the unrelieved murders in Islamic lands … This intense epidemic of slaughter has been going on for nearly a decade and a half … without protest, without anything.” This is in contrast to when, for instance, the Israeli intelligence agency killed a Hamas operative in Dubai a few months ago, and the world was outraged and protested vehemently. There seems, to both Peretz and to me, to be a double standard at play here.

Kristof, who called Peretz’s statement racist, said the “suggestion that Muslims don’t value human life is … a slur.” But describing the sad state of affairs does not mean he is encouraging it. Peretz wasn’t making a racist comment, but simply noting the absence of free discourse and open dialogue in Muslim societies. If Muslims do disagree with the actions of their fellow Muslims, they seem to stay mostly quiet about it, whether out of fear or just ignorance.

My main problem with Peretz is that he tends to generalize. He writes that there has not been a “single demonstration aimed at Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and quite alien philosophies.” It is unacceptable for a prominent writer to generalize that all Muslims have the same views and loyalties. Throughout the article, he uses specific, cherry-picked examples to indicate that all Muslims act and think alike, which only reflects his ignorance about Muslims, and especially Muslim-American culture.

This generalization can have consequences beyond inaccurate reporting. Newsweek quoted a Taliban operative who argued that by virtue of the protests against the “mosque” near Ground Zero, “America is doing us a big favour. It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.”

The kind of extremism exhibited by the mosque’s opponents—and by Peretz at his worst—only supports the cause of Islamic extremists, and undermines those American Muslims who might otherwise be more confident in speaking out against their violent brethren.

Perspectives: A Plea for Diversity

This year I will be a columnist for my school paper, the McGill Tribune. Check out my first article below!

A Plea for Diversity

In my high school creative writing class, we were taught the difference between prose and verse. These two main literary techniques have very different purposes. Prose is considered the “straightforward” form of language, while verse can be complicated and harder to understand.

Since high school I’ve repeatedly returned to this difference and wondered how we can value such different ideas. Some people consider the point of prose to be clear, and the point of verse to be everything but. Works of the former are generally long; the latter short. Yet somehow, we spend days, months, even years debating the meaning of verse in poetry (Milton’s Paradise Lost and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland are two poems with hundreds of different interpretations) and spend an equal amount of time treasuring shorter, apparently “simpler” novels. Prose and verse each have their own distinctive merits.

When I first arrived here at McGill three years ago, the one thing that struck me was that there were so many different opinions and ideas I had never encountered before. My childhood bubble was gone. I entered the “real world,” nervous and excited to learn from other people. Some of that learning happened in my classrooms and conferences, but it also happened through interacting with students from all over the world, attending controversial General Assembly meetings, and reading the McGill newspapers.

Last year, I didn’t feel that I learned enough or experienced enough diversity at McGill. It seemed like everyone was saying basically the same thing, and frankly it was pretty boring. I spent a semester abroad in order to expose myself to more people and ideas, but it wasn’t as successful as planned. Although I valued my time abroad, my program consisted mainly of Americans with similar educations, backgrounds, and, most importantly, worldviews.

Entering my final year at McGill, I wonder what the class of 2011 has learned. Did all our opinions merge into one because we spent four important years of our lives together? Are we too afraid to express our real views? Or has apathy simply become the new norm? Where are the aggravated readers sending letters in rage to the Tribune? Where are my peers who helped me in the beginning to step out of my bubble?

When I found out I would be writing a column for the Tribune this year, I was excited by the thought of expressing my views-and representing some of yours-on issues we all care about. I want this column to provide a space for those hidden voices to be heard, for readers to be exposed to all kinds of views, whether or not I agree or disagree with them. We all deserve to be heard, and I want to hear your voices. I hope to provide you with some additional perspectives from which you might not ordinarily look at things. Agree or disagree with me-just find your perspective and share it.

A Prized Possession

This article was posted on the MASA Israel Blog on Sept 7th 2010.

When I made my decision to study abroad at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University, my home university, McGill, required me to attend a pre-departure lecture. At this lecture, they informed us of the basic protocol to arrange a study abroad program. Health tips, packing advice and room accommodations were all reinforced throughout the lecture. It was one thing, however, that stuck with me: You are embarking on a trip that not many students take, and that all students treasure. Keep a journal and record everything you do, see, learn and feel.

It sounds simple enough but it was only once I was actually in Israel that I realized how important this tip was. Even for a girl who loves writing, keeping a daily journal was difficult. I tried to record all the adventures and trips I went on, the people I met and attempted to evaluate my feelings. But time flies, as it always does, and as I settled into a routine, I wrote less often until I was writing weekly or monthly.

I may not have as many entries as I would like, but I do have something. I have an account of my journey and more importantly, of everything I learned. I have a story to tell and proof that my semester was valuable. When I meet future employers, I can easily look up the skills I used and the experiences I had and explain how they will benefit their organization. I studied in a foreign country for five months, met friends from all over the world and learned how to live with strangers – now my close friends. The ability to plant yourself in any situation, and feel comfortable, is a skill employers treasure. Proving I can master another language is also a great asset.

When I continue my studies, I have a record of the things I learned and the people I met along the way – people who will become important contacts in my future career and education. One of my professors told me to contact him if I need a reference for graduate school. Among many of his impressive jobs, he once worked in the Ministry of Finance and in financial companies in the US. Another professor told me to always keep in touch. A knowledgeable and well-respected person, who works in Israeli politics, is another great contact for me – a Political Science student. A friend of a friend who I met works at a top newspaper in Israel and offered to help me break into journalism in the future. While researching possible fall internships, I came across a great program in Montreal. It turned out the program has offices all around the world and one of them was in Israel. I met the coordinator for coffee to discuss my future possibilities.

Most importantly, when the memories fade, and years pass, and I ask myself did I really just see a six year old helping his two year old off the bus? Did those two old ladies really just physically fight for a seat on the bus? And is my bus really stopping right in the middle of a highway? I’ll have the blog posts and the journal that reminds me it happened.

Canadians clocking extreme work hours with little gain

This article was published in t.o. night newspaper on August 31 2010.

As Labour Day — the anniversary of the triumphs of the labour movement — approaches, the holiday reminds many Canadians that they do not have what the movement fought for: work-life balance.

A recent study conducted by Everest College found that 35% of Canadians clock 10 or more hours working and commuting each day. Albertans work the most, with 44% spending more than 10 hours per day away from home. B.C.’s residents, on the other hand, are true to their laid-back reputation with only 28% working long hours. Carol Stanford, president of Everest College’s north campus, says she is afraid extreme work hours will soon become “the new norm.”
“In Ontario, 38 per cent of people are working 10 hours or more including commute time, meaning they lack a proper work-life balance. The fear is that people will get stuck working these hours, without realizing they have other options.”
Everest College has developed a four-step plan called “Get a L.I.F.E.” to help Canadians better balance their work and personal lives. “The first step is for people to ‘Let go of their fears,’ ” said Stanford. “People are stuck in careers that are not rewarding and that they are not enjoying.” The second step is to “Investigate your options,” the third is to “Further your education” and the final step is to “Enjoy your new job and your new life.” “If you’re unhappy with your job, start asking questions and know your options. With Labour Day approaching, now is the perfect time,” says Stanford.
According to a study published by Canadian Social Trends, one third of Canadians identify themselves as workaholics, and these individuals have poorer health than those who do not identify as workaholics. The study also revealed that both self-identified workaholics and non-workaholics have the same job and financial satisfaction.
The Everest study also found that married people are more likely to put in longer hours than those who are single. “It’s a real problem because Canadians are putting pressure upon themselves to work longer hours and put in more ‘face time,’” says Stanford. “This is an old way of thinking. We should be working smarter, instead of worrying about working harder. These long hours are not really what people want, because it forces them to take time away from their families.”