April 3, 2010

Comfort Food for Thought

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:57 pm by Rohit

I’m willing to bet that the people in the AMS are actually really smart. I’ll grant that they probably have grades that are better than mine. I’ll even accept that they might be more finely tuned to avoid racism and promote inclusivity than I am. But somewhere along the line, they made two major mistakes. One was the mistake of thinking that they could avoid stirring the pot of racial division if they made a quick little apology and went on about their day. The second major mistake was that they compromised an initiative that would have gotten food for people who can’t afford it. I am referring to the sumo suit party. For those of you who don’t know, (and must clearly by living under a rock) the AMS was throwing a charity event for a food bank that included large plastic and foam sumo suits for students to play in. The people in the AMS had thought about this event and planned it very carefully, the food bank would get donations, people would be happy to give, and at the end of the night everyone would feel a little better knowing that charity was done. Oh how I wish it was so.

The AMS considered what it planned to do with sumo suits a racist endeavour. “We can’t compromise inclusivity! We’re not a clique of insiders that doesn’t like to involve others, we’re the AMS!” Instantly, an apology was written and the rest is history. The story ended up running in the National Post, Globe and Mail, and Vancouver Sun. It was a national embarrassment, and Queen’s is going to need to bounce back from it. I don’t know if the sumo suits were racist. I think that if they were, it is offensive to students of Japanese origin to effectively tell them that they can’t demand an apology. The agency to stand and ask for rights is essential to being granted them, lest a student government become the nanny of so many racialized students. If they weren’t racist, and merely a fun way to raise money and food for a food bank, which, by the way, would be used more by racialized people than others, (hunger or racism, which causes more direct harm?) then we’ve stepped too far and forgotten the broader goal in university to spread knowledge to anyone willing to listen. We forgot to feed the hungry.

The reputation of Queen’s University continues to be harmed by actions like these, and as a racialized person, I just wish my degree still meant what it would have 25 years ago. Perhaps it’s time we moved on and stopped dividing people on race at Queen’s. We’re capable of producing the best minds of our generation, let’s not waste that ability because we didn’t know when to move on and treat people as equals rather than as victims and oppressors. Does racism exist at Queen’s? Absolutely. Are we going to solve the problem by antagonizing people who really don’t wish harm on anyone because of race? Never. Let’s remember that on a campus where racial slurs have been yelled and hate crimes have been committed, an abundance of inflatable polyurethane is not our first priority.

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November 17, 2009

Harper’s Visit to India

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:15 pm by Rohit

Being a part of the Indo-Canadian diaspora, I’ve remained closely attached to politics in the subcontinent even while I spend my life here in Canada. If that wasn’t enough, I’m taking history and political science here at Queen’s, making Canadian politics a big deal for me. And so, this recent visit to India by the Canadian Prime Minister has been an interesting story in the news for me. However, I don’t know how much of this newest visit is about policy and how much is about trying to appeal to the Indian vote in Canada. The Canadian Sikh’s especially are a very active political group in Canada, and the current PM of India belongs to the Sikh community. Harper’s visit has included visiting Hindu temples that have been replicated in Canada, the Sikh Golden Temple (the holiest site in Sikhism), Jewish sites that were attacked in Mumbai by terrorists, and laying a wreath on Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial site. This was very much a calculated political decision. With his Bollywood dance routines and crooning to the Beatles, this PM has tried to make himself a more relaxed and “real” person rather than a cold, distanced politician. I remain skeptical of his actions and whether or not he’s sincere. With the many Indian voters in the 905 area, a demographic the CPC is making inroads with and desperately needs to succeed in getting a majority government, it is certainly a smart political decision. However, this doesn’t mean that his recent visit has no policy implications. I’m glad to see the PMs of both states realizing that terrorism is a fundamental issue that needs to be resolved for both countries. India and Canada can unite in the war against terror, not only because they share interests, but because the overarching values of liberal democracy and individual liberty are part of both states. India wants to see democracy succeed because it needs the entire region to develop. Canada wants to see democracy because it lessens danger.

It’s difficult to say how this will play out with Indians in Canada, but it certainly seems like a smart move in the battle for the 905 region.

August 5, 2009

Why I Support Israel

Posted in Politics at 4:09 pm by Rohit

It would be horribly presumptuous of me to say that there is a solution to the conflict in the Middle East and that I have some sort of authority or plan to implement that solution. The decisions made by various actors in the region will shape the outcome of the conflict, and I hope with every passing second that we are nearing a state of peace.

However, I strongly believe that one side in this conflict does not want to achieve peace. Instead, it explicitly states that its intent is to destroy Israel. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of Palestinians and Israelis who can probably agree on a two state solution, or at the very least agree there should be one. However, far too many Palestinians, and not a small number of Israelis, see the entire game as zero-sum. This is a falsehood, and since only governments can speak for the state, let’s focus on those rather than those on the fringes of society.

The Israeli state asks that it be allowed to exist alongside a Palestinian state, and until recently the Palestinians did not approach negotiations with the same goals in mind. The current situation, where the West Bank under Fatah has been working towards peace is exactly the situation we’re looking for. (FYI, I think it’s Israel that needs to dismantle settlements in the West Bank now and Israelis need to take the next step towards peace in the West Bank.) In Gaza, however, we find a problem. A democratically elected government that explicitly states its intent to destroy Israel and harbors terrorists who consistently attempt to undermine the existence of Israel. Whenever we hear about villages being bombed, it’s important to remember that those villages hold people who aim to directly destroy Israel, and the IDF works to make sure that innocent lives are not lost by dropping leaflets and using often surgical strikes when bombs would be more effective.

Some might argue that Israel itself is committing atrocities and conducting an ongoing form of violence by existing as a state in the Palestinian homeland. This is the kind of thinking that creates war. When the Balfour Declaration was signed and Israel declared itself a state in 1948 from the partial remnants of the British territory of Palestine that was captured from the Ottomans, every surrounding Arab country declared war on Israel. Somehow, the Israelis survived. From then on, Israel became a legitimate state. Why? Any country that fights a civil war for independence and wins becomes a legitimate state. Just as much as USA as it exists is a legitimate country, Israel stands as one too. The conflict will never be resolved until both sides agree on the other’s right to exist.

It also currently accords the same democratic rights to citizens regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Granted, the right of return isn’t accorded to non-Jews, but once non-Jews become Israeli citizens, they are just as legitimate and stand as equal as Jews before Israeli laws. The areas Israel has withdrawn from, known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are where the horrid screams of pain and violence echo endlessly. A zealous vendetta against Israelis exists, to the point where schools, hospitals, mosques, and private residences are used as bases from which rockets are launched. Israeli strikes are announced well in advance, and where civilians should be moved to safety, more are brought in so that the death toll rises. Hamas understands it can’t win a legal war, and so it fights in the arena of public opinion, the tragedy is that it wins more than it loses despite its grotesque actions.

So why do I support Israel? Because it relentlessly pursues peace when a state in a comparable position of threat would behave recklessly against its belligerents and would neglect civil liberties. Israel does neither, in fact, it often acts against its best interests in order to be a responsible liberal-democracy.

Love in the Time of Facebook

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:32 pm by Rohit

* This post was carried over from a previous blog

It’s a crazy world out there. Used to be you would meet a nice girl some place, mention maybe grabbing a coffee, get her email or phone number, and begin the whole dating process. From there on in, based on how things were going you’d either end things or see her more, then eventually end up in a relationship. I feel like that entire process has died and we’ve been left with a new era where the privacy to have an organic and natural relationship that people can grow into has died with Facebook.

If you start seeing someone casually, you’re left with pictures, wall posts, messages, and comments that are anything but private. One date is instantly news, even when it’s a casual drink or coffee. Crushes photos are stalked, friends are creeped, comments are read, and most importantly, the “relationship status” is viewed. This might be the single most troublesome aspect of facebook as it relates to dating.

When things are going well and you’re happy, there’s pressure to define a relationship. It used to be that people found out by themselves when two people started calling each other their boyfriend or girlfriend and it just “felt right”. These days, that kind of thing is made incredibly public with the click of a mouse. Where a relationship would grow normally, there comes pressure to define it. You can try to just be friends who are seeing each other, but  it’s hard because facebook is incredibly public, and when your wall is adorned with posts by a single person, or you are photographed together all the time, it leads to speculation. That speculation creates questions like “are you two together?” (Note: This might be part of a greater social trend, everyone wants to be a celebrity these days. Rockband, Facebook, Twitter, geez, where does it end!”

But the relationship status is the worst of it. Aside from forcing definitions, it stands as a clear statement of commitment. That in and of itself is not really an issue. If you’ve spoken with your significant other and want to declare to the whole world that you’re together, then by all means go ahead. But on the other hand, public declarations of love that people can see by looking at your profile seem very serious. These days if you meet someone, checking out their facebook page is almost guaranteed. It makes knowing that someone is in a relationship very public and instantly available knowledge. That kind of public commitment used to be more subtle and less invasive. We also run into problems when the relationship ends! It can catch you off guard when one member ends the relationship and the other is left with a status that still holds on to the remnants of what once was. It can be horribly embarrassing to have breakups and makeups made into fodder for the rumor mill almost instantly.

As if the relationship status wasn’t enough, people claim their love and mark their territory in other ways on facebook. Constantly posting on someone’s wall, taking pictures together and tagging them in it, making comments on posts, and generally “acting” like a couple are the cyber way of holding hands or cuddling. It makes it pretty obvious that you’re together, which is bad when you want to stay on the market and be in a casual relationship.

All of this, of course, is entirely pointless if you’ve talked to your significant other and decided that you want the whole world to know that you’re together. In that case, cheers! Facebook has made it public that you are now in a happy relationship and enjoying it.