Where is our critical sense in Canada? Some words of wisdom from Roula Azar-Douglas (out of Lebanon)

Where is our critical sense in Canada? Some words of wisdom from Roula Azar-Douglas (out of Lebanon)

1. Bambi’s introduction:

As Bambi always did since her childhood, she reads ALL the news by ALL journalists to develop her own ideas about what is happening. She reads news analyses by authors she does not agree with, even before reading those she would agree with. This is what Bambi has learned to do during, and after, civil war in her birth country. This is what she will always do, especially in times of what seems like increased thought police, in our (supposedly still) free country. This is what allows her to build an understanding of matters or to challenge her own ideas.   

2. Mr. Richard Martineau’s story:

One Canadian journalist I happen to read sometimes is Mr. Richard Martineau from the Journal de Montréal. Yesterday, I read that some readers, likely *triggered* by one of his articles are now circulating a petition asking for his resignation. In other simpler terms: Censoring him.

Bambi will not get into the details of Mr. Martineau’s controversial article because this is not the point of this post. His paper is entitled “They speak in the name of whom?” and seems to focus on society’s relationship with identity groups/margins.

His paper starts with the following: They speak in the name of the people they are supposed to represent in as much as I speak for white heterosexual men of 58 years old in Verdun. You know why? Because “THE women” does not exist. There are only women (meaning no single type). Same for THE blacks, THE Muslims, THE old” («ils parlent autant au nom des gens qu’ils sont censés représenter que je parle au nom des hommes blancs hétérosexuels de 58 ans nés à Verdun. Savez-vous pourquoi? Parce que LES femmes n’existent pas. Il y a seulement DES femmes. Idem pour LES Noirs, LES musulmans, LES vieux, etc…»). (https://www.journaldemontreal.com/2019/08/18/ils-parlent-au-nom-de-qui).

Mr. Martineau’s article ends by telling the story of his gay friend who does not agree with the label that they wish to stick on him: LGBTQ+: “they want to put us all in the same basket. But, me, I am a man who have sex with men. I find talk of non-gendered or pansexual people ridiculous. Their struggle is not mine. How can we defend diversity when speaking in one voice?” («on nous met tous dans le même panier. Or, moi, je suis un homme qui couche avec des hommes. Les affaires de personnes non genrées ou pansexuelles, je trouve ça ridicule. Leur combat n’est pas le mien. Comment peut-on défendre la diversité en parlant d’une même voix?»).

Why are we trying to silence Mr. Martineau? Why can’t people accept that people have the right to their opinion, even if it differs from theirs? People are free to (fully?) agree or disagree with society’s “orthodoxies”. Why can’t we accept that some people (like the journalist’s gay friend) do not recognize themselves in defined groups?

I will give a different example to illustrate my point. Sometimes, Bambi is being asked if she is “Christian Lebanese” (many think she is Muslim because she is Arab). She sometimes replies: I am Lebanese. Yes, I happen to be Christian (although I could have been Muslim, Jewish or whatever else). Why? Because I refuse to see myself only through a spiritual lens or, worse, through a religious-based identity-lens. I have faith in my heart, but this is a personal matter. This is just one aspect of whom I am; it is no one’s business. I am Canadian period. I am Lebanese period. This is how I see myself. I also happen to be a Quebecer. I am also a proud New Brunswicker for over 11 years now (after having lived in/enjoyed Ontario too).

For me, a country is larger than us. It is above us all. As Gibran Khalil Gibran wrote in the Garden of the Prophet in 1934: “Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation“. This beautiful quote was meant for Lebanon. Sadly, it now applies to Canada more than ever… Extreme views on any issue, including multiculturalism, can easily become a dogma or political orthodoxy. This is especially the case if we do not allow ourselves to question this vision, which has merits up to a certain point. However, beyond that point, it may lend itself to a tragic reality like the one denounced by Gibran (in the Middle East, some identify with their religious fragments or *tribes* more than their country). This is a possible risk even in Canada or in any place (no one is immune), especially if we do not have a high enough opinion of our nation/civilization/ourselves anymore.  

To come back to Martineau’s article, and as well said by Bambi’s own sister, Ms. Roula Azar-Douglas who investigates equality between men and women. Please hang on to the rest of this post to get to know her ?: “Each woman is unique. Same for men, they are diverse too”.

3. Mr. Mathieu Bock-Côté:

As explained by Mr. Mathieu Bock-Côté (https://www.journaldemontreal.com/2019/08/24/au-nom-de-la-tolerance), our society’s obsession with (group) identities can become illogical: What does a person with a black skin born in Cuba have in common with someone whose parents where raised in Congo? Why do we insist on putting people in groups? Why do we forget about the role of culture in all this?

Some insist on seeing one group as the marginalized or victims. Other see another group as the mean offenders… But who did not go trough adversity through his/her lifetime, in one way or in another, at one point or another? In her personal life, Bambi refuses to play the victim game. Bambi has too much dignity to play this game and hopefully enough compassion in order not to fall into the trap of becoming an abuser (power trip of some sort). Instead, Bambi prefers to either change or leave a situation or to modify her own mindset.  

In the case of censorship against Mr. Martineau (or against anyone else), the so-called fight for tolerance turned into an absurd intolerance, calling for a form of professional or public killing… ironically “in the name of tolerance”, like in the title of Mr. Bock-Côté’s article cited above. We may or we may not agree with a journalist. Why can’t we tolerate his/her different opinion?

One must add that Mr. Mathieu Bock-Côté knows what he is talking about. He has ironically published a book entitled the *Empire of the politically correct*. Because of that, we also tried to silence him a few months ago. Many public figures in Québec came to defend him, including other journalists (bravo) and even Mr. François Legault, the Premier of Québec. For me, it is particularly alarming when this suffocating political correctness is also being observed in a province/culture where citizens are known to be more direct in their communication style (than the rest of Canada). Quebecers usually speak their mind and allow others to do so.

4. Mr. Steve Fortin:

Related to Martineau’s saga, I enjoyed reading an article by his colleague Mr. Steve Fortin, denouncing this censorship. Mr. Fortin often does not agree with Mr. Martineau. Yet, he defended his right to freedom of expression (https://www.journaldequebec.com/2019/08/21/les-censeurs). I think of Mr. Fortin even more highly now. In Bambi’s humble opinion, this is how it is supposed to be in a so-called free country. Everyone has the right to the expression of his/her opinion. This is the least. We should all refuse to see others being silenced in front of our eyes.

5. Ms. Roula Azar-Douglas’ wisdom:

As promised above, I would like to introduce now some wise words by Roula Azar-Douglas, Bambi’s own sister (I hope you are still reading to discover her ?). Azar-Douglas is a journalist, writer, and a researcher (she is a PhD candidate in Human Sciences, namely in Information Sciences). She was recently interviewed in Lebanon and what a clever interview (the questions as well as the deep yet direct/simple answers)! The interviewer is a journalist (Ms. Hasna Bou Harfouche) who chose some excerpts from Azar-Douglas’ latest novel entitled “Le jour où le soleil ne s’est pas levé” (The day the sun did not rise). In this interview, Douglas shared her reflections on multiple identities and life/death issues.

Here is one of the citations from Azar-Douglas’s book chosen by the interviewer (the original French precedes Bambi’s free and hopefully not too bad translation):

«Chacun de nous est l’enfant de ses propres expériences, de son vécu, de cet avant que l’autre ne connait pas. Et il n’est pas toujours facile de se montrer à nu et de se débarrasser des carapaces construites au fil des années»     

Original quote by Roula Azar-Douglas

Each one of us is the child of his/her experiences, of the lived experience, of this earlier past that the other does not know. And it is not always easy to get naked and to get rid of the (protective) shells built over the years.

My translation, Roula Azar-Douglas

The interviewer’s last question to Roula Azar-Douglas was: “As a researcher on the equality between men and women, what is your message to the oriental [she means Middle Eastern] man and woman”?

Azar-Douglas replied as follows:

“This is a tough question because when I think of the oriental woman, I wonder who she is? There is no single type of an oriental woman. I am an oriental woman. You (pointing to the journalist) are an oriental woman. All the women who are watching us are oriental, whether they are married or single, with children or not, veiled or not. So, with our diversity all of us as oriental women, I will try to find a message for this group of women who are different from one another. This message would be what my life experiences have taught me. It would be perhaps in contradiction with what we have been taught as children, that loving oneself is selfish (versus being altruistic). I will tell the oriental woman to love herself. Loving oneself is the first step to be able to love the other. Loving oneself is the first step to defend our rights or to get our rights. I will tell all these ladies, with all their diversity, even including those who do not agree with me on some topics: Love yourself and work on your own convictions to get what you want.

To the oriental men who are also diverse, I will give a joint message to men and women. Again, this is not a lesson because I do not have any answer. I am a human being who think about matters and try to offer pieces of answers here and there. I will tell him or tell them all work on your critical thinking. Do not have pre-prepared answers to issues or circumstances in the country. Do not take for granted what someone else has told about how things should be. Think for yourself, according to your rational thinking and convictions, using your own brains”.

Azar-Douglas also talked about the important economic role of women in society, etc. (here is the entire interview in Arabic: http://bit.do/e5x4B).

Roula Azar-Douglas’ published two beautiful novels (the first one, entitled «Chez nous c’était le silence» addressed the issue of domestic violence and the last one is a tragic yet beautiful story about death/dying, which is filled with life, love, and hope. This latter novel is now a finalist in a French-competition called Prix Hors Concours. It was recently chosen, among international books, to be taught to students in French high schools that participate in in the Prix Hors Concours competition (comparative literature).

Roula, to you as my sister, Bambi will allow herself now to insert a personal note here: I so much enjoyed beginning my day watching your interview. Bambi is proud of her eldest sister, “ma grande”, as I like to tease you ?. I miss you and I miss Rania, my other talented sister. Yes, I may be biased by family love… but I know how to recognize talent, even in closer ones.

6. Bambi’s conclusion:

Bambi admires Roula Azar-Douglas’ talent in reaching out to BOTH women and men. No wonder why she is highly respected by all, nationally and internationally.

She lives in a society where patriarchy (truly still) exists, despite Lebanon’s modernity in many ways (this is why when I hear the word patriarchy in Canada, I smile to myself ?).

Sadly, she is also geographically not that far from where there is a *real* “rape culture”, a term also still widely used by many Canadian contemporary feminists. I am referring to ISIS practices in Syria or Iraq… Mind you, there are also executions committed against gay people in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan. Where are our Canadian activists, including those readers who ganged up against Mr. Martineau, to also defend their rights to life!?

Despite all this, Roula Azar-Douglas is a courageous and smart journalist/activist. She has depth, nuance, and subtlety in all the languages she communicates in. She is a feminist in the true sense.

She advocates for women’s rights without putting men down or turning them off. On the contrary, she extends hands, building bridges and friendly allies in a genuine way.

In Bambi’s mind, most men only want the best for their daughters, sisters, mothers, spouses, friends, etc. They aspire for a just equality too, in their own ways.

Together, everyone can make the world a better place for all!

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