Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Warm Fall Weather

It has been a lovely fall here in Ottawa. Besides the glorious colours associated with this season -- the reds and oranges have been stunning -- the weather has been warm and above all, bright and sunny. But this isn't a post about the weather. A few of my friends have referred to the weather as a sure sign of "Indian Summer", a term that very commonly refers to warm fall weather in Canada and apparently in the U.S.

There are a few historical reasons generally referenced for this usage, but the most common refers to the perceived deceitfulness of indigenous peoples towards Europeans. In other words, the phrase belongs in the same family of terms such as "Indian giver," which is based on this dubious duplicity. Therefore, in this usage, "Indian summer" would be a "deceitful and treacherous" imitation of summer, which appears to be a return of warmer weather but is really a relatively short-lived "lie" giving way to the "truth" of the usual cold and unpleasant conditions.

My point is not simply to debunk this usage or to list the many ways in which it is terribly inept. Instead, I'm writing this because when I hear people use the term "Indian Summer" I have a sudden jolt of pain run through my body and I thought I'd share why. Can we think of other terms that would suitably replace said term without relying on colonial frameworks? I trust with a little imagination we can...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Canadian Elections VI

After much discussion with friends, I decided to vote last Tuesday. And I didn't write in a protest vote, but I voted for NDP candidate Paul Dewar, as I had suggested I would in my last two posts (IV & V). Dewar ended up winning in my Ottawa Centre riding, so it became the first time I voted for a winner.

On d-day I just couldn't bring myself to casting a protest vote, or as I had been considering beforehand (I, II & III), not voting at all. There's something about the strength of the call to duty that proved much too compelling, the guilt lay heavy on my shoulders and in the pit of my stomach come election day, and the option of not participating at all was long gone.

My thoughts about the electoral system and the state's role in maintaining inequalities have in no way disappeared. But given my inability to express a clear alternative to voting, or at the very least, a politically consistent version, I decided I'd vote until I could better articulate this position.

I suppose this sets me up with a new research project. A long term project no doubt. This may just lead me to vote some more or maybe not, but either way, the feeling in my stomach when I did vote was unsettled at best.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Canadian Elections V

Election day is tomorrow and I stepped down from my job as a Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) this past weekend. Luckily Elections Canada has a contingency plan when it comes to people flaking out, so they found a replacement rather quickly.

As I've been explaining in my previous posts (I, II, III, IV), I've been working out my position vis-a-vis voting in the next election. This lengthy deliberation has now brought me back to a familiar place and a newer, protest-based place.

The first place is the one that would see me vote for a social democratic option, probably the winning candidate in my Ottawa Centre riding. While I have done so in the past, some fundamental part of me has been trying to articulate my critique of the Canadian voting system and the Canadian liberal-capitalist state through various means, including by not voting at all or registering a protest vote, which brings me to option two.

This second position sees me voting on election day but registering my protest by writing it out on the back of the official ballot. I have been reflecting on what precisely I would write and after talking with my friend who has seen this year's ballots, I'd say there's ample space to write something in.

However, all of this deliberation and participation in debates and discussions about electoral politics has me thinking about casting my ballot for the NDP candidate. Not so much because I've become totally convinced about the importance or perhaps usefulness of voting, though that is without a doubt a key consideration, but more so because I'm a closet political junkie who keeps track of polls and riding-by-riding analysis and all the other stuff that makes the election a hyper-text. Oh, and the other thing worth mentioning is that a good friend of mine who lives out-of-town but can't vote suggested rather kindly, no guilt intended, that I cast a vote for her. All very reasonable...

So then, I won't officially decide what to do until I walk up the hill to the polls tomorrow afternoon, but I'll make sure to fill you in. And stay tuned for my post-election round-up and commentary. There are few things I enjoy doing more than watching election coverage. Anybody up for watching the U.S. election coverage with me in a few weeks?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Canadian Elections IV

As I've been outlining in my previous posts (I, II, III), I'm deliberating on whether or not I'll be voting this election. Without totally re-hashing the reasons why I'm even having this debate with myself and others, suffice to say that part of my reasoning has been to enter into discussion about some of the inequities embedded in not only the electoral system (e.g., first-past-the-post, no party that fully represents my views, colonial heritage, etc), but also in Canadian society more generally.

However, as these discussions with my friends have progressed, both in support of and against my loosely-articulated position, I've begun to shift my own opinion. While I'm not entirely surprised, as I mentioned previously I've been here before, I'm leaning towards a new resolution to the problematic.

First, I've decided to step down as Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) in my Ottawa Centre riding. I won't get paid for the three-hour training session I went to, but besides being uncomfortable with upholding some of the regulations (e.g., citizens-only, no face coverings, etc), I'd rather spend 15 hours of my time working on my own work than working for Elections Canada. And, if I give up my spot it'll open a spot for someone else who might need the money more than I do. So, while being a DRO was to be a central plank in my expanded election coverage, I'll be taking it all in from another vantage point.

Second, according to all polls and even progressive voting sites, my riding is a safe NDP riding. MP Paul Dewar is poised to win again. Good for him and the NDP, in fact, I like living in an NDP riding. Knowing this and the way the first-past-the-post system works, my vote will be relatively worthless in terms of electing someone, even though it is kind of fun to vote for a winner for a change.

Because of this, I feel free to play with a couple ideas to operationalize my protest beyond writing about it here and chatting about it with friends. The first idea arrived on my lap via two friends, both of whom record their protest by writing it on the back of the ballot on election day. I'm seriously considering this option, given my general resistance to voting and the fact that the NDP, the only party I'd vote for anyways, will win my riding. Having been trained as a DRO, I know that DRO's must record why a ballot was rejected in the official poll book. So then, this option allows me to participate and protest at the same time.

The next option has come to my attention through facebook. There's a vote-swapping group that allows, say, someone living in Ottawa Centre willing to vote Green swap their vote with someone, say, in Oshawa, where the NDP lost to the Conservatives by 500 votes last time around. So, I vote Green for Jessica in Oshawa and she votes NDP for me there. Pretty straight-forward, though it probably works better when it's a NDP-Liberal swap, since the Greens only have a chance of winning in a handful of ridings in Canada. But there's no way I'm voting Liberal.

The other options are a) not to vote at all and record my protests in the ways I already have been and will continue to in the work I do or b) to vote NDP straight-up. But, as I've been suggesting, at this moment in time right now, I'm leaning towards writing in a protest vote or vote-swapping, primarily because it's innovative and it strikes me as a different kind of protest.

So then, I'll be back soon with more reflections.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Canadian Elections III

As I outlined in my previous posts on the subject (I & II), I have a new job as a Deputy Returning Officer in my Ottawa Centre riding. I went to the three-hour training session Monday morning, where I found out about the details of my job and even some of the mysterious inner workings of the Canadian electoral system. Spoiled ballots, rejected ballots, scrutineers, poll clerks, screens, deflections, oaths, and the difference between swearing and affirming.

Funny enough, despite my previous lack of enthusiasm for voting, or shall I say, my skepticism in the avowed benevolence of the State system, I'm leaning more towards voting than at any other time during this election cycle, mostly because the guilt of not voting is weighing heavily on me. I think it may have something to do with wanting to counter or respond to the trespasses done in my name. Before I hop onto any voting bandwagon though, there are a few key points sitting rather uncomfortably in the pit of my stomach.

Since my original post, I've had a number of conversations with friends about the importance of voting. A couple dear friends are steadfastly not voting, one choosing to write in her reasons why on the ballot itself, which basically amounts to a non-counted rejected ballot, the other staying at home to protest the state's inaction when it comes to a number of burning social issues, notably the result of War on Terror-like policies and laws on certain racialized groups. However, it seems the majority opinion is that voting for a social democratic party is voting for the betterment of our society, in other words, a more just society. To be clear, I've never doubted that a NDP government would make things better for a larger proportion of the population, economically, socially, etc. In fact, as I stated before, I have voted for the NDP before.

But, if we accept that certain governments will make things better for more people, let's say through universal child care or human rights legislation, how do we explain that for many groups living in Canada very little has changed in the course of the 140 years since Confederation? My question to those who are so keen to vote is how do we account for this discrepancy? Do we not risk participating in a system, one that rewards those who participate as being 'good' and 'ideal' citizens doing their proper duty, that in fact further solidifies inequalities in society?

Where does this idea that the government will do better for those most in need come from? I have received a flurry of emails and group invites urging me to vote, just vote for anybody but the Harper Conservatives. To be honest, I don't really see the difference between the Harper bunch or the Liberals, the only two parties with a chance of forming a government. Remember how the Liberals gutted most of the limited social programs that existed in the early 1990s? Thanks a lot Jean Chrétien, now sometimes nostalgically remembered as a socially-aware, if not casually inept, beacon of reason and fair-play.

The liberal, capitalist nation-state exists and has existed to marginalize, exploit, and manage certain groups of people (indigenous peoples, 'immigrants', people of colour, etc). After all, the Canadian version of the state is premised on the disavowal of indigenous sovereignty. In other words, our so-called freedom is premised on indigenous unfreedom. It is no small wonder that many indigenous nations/peoples refuse to participate in Canadian elections.

It's also no coincidence that such marginalization and exploitation occurs across national boundaries in eerily similar ways. Voting is meant to provide the mass of citizens, however this privileged group of people is selected in a given national community, the opportunity to enact citizenship, however inequitably citizenship is determined.

Besides the clear inequalities manifest in status, region, age, and many other notable social factors in the make-up of the electoral system, all tipped to the dominant race, gender and class hierarchies, election season brings on a number of platitudes about voting as a civic duty. My training session was chalk-full of such liberal doctrine.

What I'd like to suggest is that true change is not going to occur because of the benevolence of the state. This has never happened, the state after all has helped and continues to help constitute inequalities. It does not mitigate against inequalities, this is a central fallacy of liberal political theories. This is why those who vote with the hopes of making things better for a larger group of people will continue to be disappointed. It's a no sum game. Getting more water from your prison guard is something significant and no doubt needed, but it won't get you out of prison.

I think political action needs to continuously occur in relation to the state and its nefarious structures, after all, they continue to exert an extreme amount of pressure on certain groups of people, but I also think it's key to develop ideas and communities that have little to do with the state and its many structures. To articulate a vision of society that radically de-centers the state and builds capacity within various communities in society.

One important question then, becomes whether one can do this while at the same time voting, keeping an eye on the prize, a stateless, radically devolutionary society where groups of people form communities of affinity and organize their politics accordingly. Since I don't see this anywhere on the horizon, voting for a social democratic party like the NDP might just seem reasonable, after all, water when someone needs it is better than no water at all. Reasonable yes, if I can only get around the fact that the Canadian state and what it represents have been the harbinger of terror in the lives of so many people here and abroad. If only I can get around that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Canadian Elections II

Some of you may have read my recent post about the upcoming Canadian Elections. At the fear of sounding bloody repetitive, I'll say only that in the post I articulate a very brief and general argument about why I'm thinking of NOT voting in the upcoming elections.

After this post, I went to a lovely dinner at my friend Tracey's place and she urged me to express my opinion, one she clearly didn't share, with the group. This basically led to a fairly heated debate about the importance of voting in a liberal democracy, one I won't get into here.

In any case, a few days after the debate, my friend Lindsey forwarded an Elections Canada online job application to a few of us, urging us to sign up and come see who actually votes on election day. I bit, and next thing you know I'm a Deputy Returning Officer in my Ottawa Centre riding. This basically means that I need to supervise an election site on election day for 14 hours, making sure everything goes smoothly and then overseeing the ballot count at the end of the evening. I have a three hour training session tomorrow morning, and then presumably I get to be an elections manager.

Not bad for someone who might not even vote. But what I will do is write about my training experience and then my experience being a DRO for all of you. Think of me as a correspondent gone to cover the inner-workings and corruptions of the liberal-capitalist elections system in Canada.

Stay tuned!

Counterpoints: Edward Said's Legacy

Click here for full schedule in pdf format.

Counterpoints: Edward Said's Legacy
October 31 to November 2, 2008

University of Ottawa and Carleton University

This bilingual English/French colloquium celebrates the works of one of the world's most compelling intellectuals, the Palestinian-American thinker Edward Said (November 1st 1935- September 23rd 2003), author of Orientalism, Culture and Imperialism, and Out of Place among other famous books.

The colloquium revolves around the theme of "Counterpoint," extensively used by Said as the interplay of diverse ideas and various "discrepant" cultural experiences. As Said writes in Culture and Imperialism: "As we look back at the cultural archive, we begin to reread it not univocally but contrapuntally, with a simultaneous awareness both of the metropolitan history that is narrated and of those other histories against which (and together with which) the dominating discourse acts." Following Said's legacy, this colloquium envisions a polyphonic, interdisciplinary engagement from fields as broad as comparative literature, sociology, anthropology, history, postcolonial studies, Diaspora studies, musicology, and political science with a special focus on Middle Eastern politics.

FRIDAY 31 OCTOBER 2008, 6:00 pm.

Desmarais Building - Room 1160


John Osborne
Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Carleton University
George Lang
Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa


Followed by the screening of the movie
Knowledge is the Beginning
Directed by Paul Smaczny
(English and Arabic with English subtitles, 90 minutes)

Reception will follow

Photo from Knowledge is the Beginning

University of Ottawa, Desmarais Building

8:30 Registration

9:00 Coffee and breakfast

9:30 – 11:00 Session I

Panel 1: Edward Said en Théorie (Desmarais – 1120)
Moderator: May Telmissany (University of Ottawa)
Discussant: Rachad Antonius (UQAM)

Cameron Bushnell (Clemson University), The Underlying Terrain of Said’s
Jeff Sacks (University of California - Riverside), Disappearance.
Kathleen Gyssels (Antwerp University), Saïd Among the Caribbeans: V.S. Naipaul, Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon.
David Austin (The Alfie Roberts Institute, Montreal), Edward Said and the Caribbean Exile Tradition.

11:00 – 12:30 Session II

Panel 2: Discourse and Subjectivity (Desmarais – 1120)
Moderator: Daiva Stasiulis (Carleton University)

Prasad Pannian (Avvaiyar Govt. College for Women), Edward Said and the Politics of Subjectivity.
Ali Shehzad Zaidi (SUNY-Canton), The Notion of Discourse in Said’s Orientalism and Foucault’s History of Sex.
Stefan Hoffmann (University of Berlin), Said's Incomplete Discursive Constructivism.
Zainab Amery (Carleton University), Legitimizing Orientalism. The War on Terror and the Construction of the Enemy Other.

Panel 3: Teaching Orientalism (Desmarais – 1130)
Moderator: Carl Davila (SUNY – Brockport)

Carl Davila (SUNY-Brockport), Teaching Said: Culture Discourse Meets Culture Critique.
Michael Fickess (SUNY-Brockport), ‘America was founded to destroy Islam’: A Genealogy of Misguided Patriotic Fervor in ‘Post-9/11’ America.
Alexander Morgan (SUNY-Brockport), Violence and Seduction: Orientalist Imagery in Digital Role-Playing Games.
Catherine Snyder (SUNY-Brockport), Framing Torture: Photographs of Lynching and Abu Ghraib.

12:30 – 1:30 Lunch Break

1:30 – 3:00 Plenary Session
(Desmarais – 1120)

University of British Columbia
Introduced by Marc Brosseau
(Chair of the Department of Geography, University of Ottawa)

3:00 – 3:15 Coffee break

3:15 – 4:45 Session III

Panel 4: Visual Cultures and Contrapuntal Representations of Otherness
(Desmarais – 1120)
Moderator: Dorit Naaman (Queen’s University)

Selma Zecevic (York University), Gruss aus Sarajevo: ‘Moorish’ Buildings and Fragmented Memories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Adel Iskandar (Georgetown University) & Aliaa Dakroury (Carleton University), Towards A Theory of Humanism in the Arab Cinema: The Intellectual Influence of Edward Said on Youssef Chahin’s Cinema.
Walid El Khachab (York University), The Veils of Otherness: Cinema and the Contrapuntal Salome.
Jessica Anne Pinto (Carleton University), Covering Dowry Violence: American Media and the Orientalization of Gendered Violence.

Panel 5: The Geo-Politics of Power (Desmarais – 1130)
Moderator: Simon Dalby (Carleton University)

Christiane Wilke (Carleton University), Legal Orientalism, Counterpoints and Silences: Discourses of Legality after German Unification.
Fiona Mackenzie (Carleton University), Taking Said Elsewhere: Community, Property and Nature in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.
Omar Dewachi (Harvard University), Terra incognita: Epidemics, Technology and the Medical Imaginative Geography during the British Mandate in Iraq.
Samer Abboud (Susquehanna University), Reclaiming ‘the global’ and ‘the
political’: Edward Said and International Relations.

Carleton University

8:30 Conference shuttle from the Novotel to Carleton University

9:00 Coffee and breakfast

9:30 – 11:00 Session I

Panel 1: Literature and Beginnings (Dunton Tower - 2203)
Moderator: Nahla Abdo (Carleton University)

Brenda Vellion (Carleton University), Poetry Reading from Mahmoud Darwish. Homage to Edward Said.
Dorit Naaman (Queen’s University), From Beginnings to Culture and Imperialism.
Badea Warwar (York University), Said, Poststructuralism, and the Question of (his) Beginnings.
Himani Bannerji (York University), Two Faces of Postcolonialism: Modernism, Postmodernism in Theoretical and Political Projects of Edward Said and Dipesh Chakrabarty.

11:00 – 12:30 Session II

Panel 2: On Exile and Border Crossings (Dunton Tower - 2203)
Moderator: Justin Paulson (Carleton University)

Smadar Lavie (Macalester College), South/South Feminist Coalitions and The Art of Staying Put: Crossing the Palestine/Israel Border with Gloria Anzaldua.
Mark Ayyash (York University), Edward Said, Writing in Exile.
Jason Mohaghegh (Northeastern Illinois University), Exile and the Post-Human: Literary and Existential Trajectories of the Outside.
Sobhi al-Zobaidi (Simon Fraser University), Digital Nomads, between Homepages and Homelands: Or, Meeting Edward Said in the Future.

Panel 3: Contrapuntal Readings (Dunton Tower - 2017)
Moderator: Christiane Wilke (Carleton University)

Cristina Perissinotto (University of Ottawa), Orientalizing Manuscripts: the
Relatione delle feste di Costantinopoli between Damnatio and Laudatio.
Irina Mihalache (Carleton University), Narratives of the Postcolonial Dish: The Project of Authenticity in North African Restaurants in Paris.
Lisa Brenner (Drew University in Madison), Like Poetry Without Words: The Galilee Multicultural Theatre.

12:30 – 1:30 Lunch Break (Senate room, Robertson – 608)

1:30 – 3:00 Plenary Session
(Senate Room, Robertson - 608)

Columbia University
Introduced by Blair Rutherford
(Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University)

3:15 – 4:45 Session III

Panel 4: Neo-Orientalism and the Cultural Politics of Representation (Dunton Tower- 2203)
Moderator: Erica See (University of Ottawa)

Chris Richardson (University of Western Ontario), Orientalism at Home: The Case of “Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood.”
Shelina Kassam (OISE/ University of Toronto), How to be a Good Muslim 101: Creating Idealized Muslims on Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Zahra F. Rasul (OISE/ University of Toronto), Racism in the Name of Feminism: Gendered Orientalisms, Cultural Politics, and Western Feminism post 9/11.
May Alhassen (Columbia University), Planting Olive Trees, Zaatar Seeds, and Hip-Hop Beats: The Reclamation of History, National Consciousness, and Humanity Through Narratives as Cultural Art Forms.

Panel 5: Orientalist Knowledge (Dunton Tower - 2017)
Moderator: Cristina Perissinotto (University of Ottawa)

Artur Lozano Méndez (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), Techno-Orientalism: Reiteration, Change, Diversification.
Jalal Dehzani (Carleton University), Ontological Crisis of Orientalist Knowledge and Misunderstanding Kurdistan.
Bernhard Leistle (Carleton University), Ethnography, Possession and Otherness in Morocco.
Ning Du (Carleton University), The Many Faces of Confucianism: Shadows of Self and Other in Modern Knowledge Production of the Past.

Closing Words: Nahla Abdo (Carleton University)