Friday, October 29, 2010

A User’s Guide to the New Racism

Jairus Victor Grove
   Co-Editor, The Contemporary Condition

The past few weeks have been very educational. Bill O’Reilly insisted that all Muslims are responsible for 9/11 only to be told that he should ‘moderate’ his remarks. A Move On activist was slammed against a curb for questioning Rand Paul’s integrity. Tea Bagger Judson Philips is openly campaigning against a Democratic candidates Muslim faith, and one of John Boener’s fellow Ohio Republicans vociferously defended spending his weekends imitating a Nazi SS Trooper. The Tea Party more generally has continued its open hostility towards Americans and migrants that are not Anglo-Saxon and apparently, and is not aware or not in support of the First Amendment.

   So here is what I have learned so far. Judson has carefully explained that all Muslims are dangerous because the Qu’ran approves of killing infidels (apparently Judson did not read the part of the Bible that says people should be stoned for mixing crops or taking the Lord’s name in vain and most of all for worshiping other gods). O’Reilly made the same defense of his comments on The View, arguing that it was a violent religion and that his statement was an ‘indisputable fact.’ O’Reilly demanded of a flustered Joy and Whoopie “what religion were the 9/11 attackers then?” suggesting that if 9/11 attackers were Muslims ergo all Muslims attacked us on 9/11. Barbara Walters promptly admonished her colleagues and calmly told O’Reilly he needed to refer to them as extremist Muslims. In the entire discussion that followed no one thought to ask why such tempers were flying over a moderate Muslim community center (not a mosque) when the United States was negotiating a massive and unprecedented arms transfer to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is Osama Bin Ladin’s country of origin and a state that champions intolerant and violent interpretations of Islam.
But we have heard this all before. The Right’s racism is unfounded and irrational. No one reading this post will change their minds about Islam simply because I point out that the Jewish and Christian Bible has just as many demands for violent punishment and killing. So is this just the rehearsed Left response? The Right does something offensive, those of us on the Left notice and bemoan it? I don’t think so. Something has changed. The Right and the particularly loud figureheads of the Tea Baggers are not just being ‘politically incorrect.’ They represent a new racism.
For those of you that like to kick it old school, don’t worry. The old racism has not gone anywhere. It will continue to find its expression in the arbitrary enforcement of drug and gun laws, the increasingly privatized prison-industrial-complex, and neoliberal bootstrapping narratives that blame the underclass for their near permanent state of despair. What is different and worth thinking about more is why these same modes of structural violence are not sufficient or to put it another way, are not satisfying for the Tea Bagger’s demographic. Fear, anger, insecurity, are not new to various classes of white voters that have felt for decades that they have been left behind by the promise of American prosperity and ignored by mainstream politics. So is the fever pitch of violence and vocal expression of heretofore unspeakable racism simply the result of the recent economic decline? Is the recent economic decline the tipping point for the downward trend of wages for the last twenty-five years or is there something else adding affective fuel to the fire?
I would suggest that what is going on here is exacerbated or enabled by the ‘near enemy’ of the 2008 derivatives debacle. However there are other major operators in the mix of the ascendent and increasingly normative racism expressed by Judson Phillips and Bill O’Reilly. The evangelical-neoliberal resonance machine that seemed so badly beaten in the 2008 election was merely bruised not bowed. In fact the hostility against non-white immigrants, Muslims, gays, liberals, scientists, academics etc is all too familiar to those of us who closely watched the Palin rallies during the last Presidential election. Is history simply repeating itself? Is it back from the dead like some kind of seasonally appropriate zombie? 
   No. Something has changed. What was publicly retracted, muffled, cut out of broadcasts, expressed only in ‘misspoken’ words (think George Allen’s Macaca comment) has found a public legitimacy that has crossed the thin line between word and deed. The assault of Lauren Valle is not likely to be an aberration. In Bill O’Reilly’s words, “Muslims attacked us on 9/11.” As cynical as I was of Bush’s plea to Americans to distinguish between terrorism and Islam, I have come to miss those days. It is no longer necessary to apologize for that conflation. In Judson’s case it can be your campaign platform. The return of the evangelical-neoliberal resonance machine has left behind its compassionate conservative voice and found a new militancy. To borrow one of neoliberalism’s favorite words, there is a fresh crop of violent entrepreneurs that make O’Reilly seem ‘mainstream.’ Therefore the possibility of a Tea Bagger caucus in the House of Representatives is not just irritating, it is dangerous. It means an audience of like-minded Congresspeople that believe in war. The cultural wars of the 80s and 90s were at best a low intensity conflict in comparison. Newt Gingrich and William Bennett may have been a preview of part of this resonance machine’s agenda but that tactics are being taken to a whole new level.
There was an initial first response in me that chalked up the comments of Tea Baggers as gaffs and enjoyable gaffs. There was a satisfaction in seeing people say what I knew they were thinking. Growing up in Texas there was always a difference in what could be said in the locker room, in protected social engagements, at church or at home, and what could be said in public. It was unmannered or unrefined to be too open about your superiority. Racist jokes, slurs, violent depictions of difference were shared openly amongst ‘friends’ and shared again in glances and unspoken behavior elsewhere.
So isn’t this better? Once in the free market place of ideas won’t these ignorant rednecks simply be humiliated by the voices of democratic reason? I don’t think so. While ‘covert’ racism and hostility are certainly not good, the expanding comfort zone where these ideas can find expression is cause for worry - not an opportunity for more debate. When issues like the significance of gay suicide or the legitimacy of racism become ‘debatable’ we have already ceded too much ground.
These ideas are toxic to even the deepest pluralism because they begin from the premise and emotional commitment that pluralism is the enemy. These discussion are not brought to forums such as CNN or The View for reasoned debate or invitational discussion. They are a provocation of war to sort friends and enemies.
As noble and recently defeated Republican House member Bob Inglis discovered after condemning Glen Beck’s racist remarks against President Obama, breaking rank carries immediate party consequences, and therefore electoral consequences. In the case of Inglis it was not crossing party leadership that lead to his downfall but engaging one of the resonance machine’s most terrifying entrepreneurs. Beck began referring to Inglis as ‘African-American’ to signal to his viewers that Inglis was a race traitor. A conservative Republican and self-described ‘proud Southerner’ Inglis said he could ‘feel’ the racist vitriol during the primary that lead to his landslide defeat by Tea Bagger Trey Gowdy. A 71% victory for Gowdy in a primary against an incumbent of his own party is unusual to say the least. What changed in Inglis’ platform? Was he found with a dead girl or a live boy? No. His crime was not standing idly by while racism blossomed in his party.
The Tea Baggers are not interlocutors. I have coached competitive college and high school debate for over a decade and just about the only thing that cannot be debated is whether your opponent has the right to speak or participate. Once argument becomes a prelude, bait, for the recording of black lists and the identification of ‘high value targets,’ the cynicism has become terminal. Politics has given way to war.
Does this mean the electoral process is dead? That all that is left is to take to the streets? Absolutely not, but if violent racism and homophobia become acceptable topics of reasoned debate then public reason is little more than a thin veneer of manners soon to give way to something much darker. Every opportunity must be seized to prevent electoral success, but even that, while necessary, will not be sufficient. The Left needs to engender a new militancy of its own. It cannot merely mimic the exclusionary tactics of the Right, we cannot simply grab out apiece of the hate pie. More militant pluralists must intervene at every level of practice from faculty meetings, media outlets, and bar discussions to set the terms of what is sayable and what is not. 
There is also the ‘near enemy’ to attend to. People have reason to feel insecure and afraid. Economic justice cannot be the democratic agenda only when it is convenient. The market will not save us and while I am the first to insist on pluralizing connections with those who would struggle with us, those committed to the neoliberal order of growth and the cruel austerity measures that are imposed on the most vulnerable when that system fails are not part of that coalition. In fact rather than looking to the ‘generous’ wings of the democratic party we are more likely to find opportunities for coalitions amongst those religious folk who are alienated by the new fury of the resonance machine then amongst those who would rather tolerate fascism than give up on market based solutions. These are fragile times and we cannot wait for a market miracle to turn down the heat on the pressure cooker. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Christine O'Donnell and Jimmy McMillan Walk Into A Bar

Akim Reinhardt 
   Towson University

Christine O’Donnell is kind of like a knock-knock joke: the set-up doesn’t change, but there’s a seemingly endless variety of punch lines that can spring from it. Yesterday’s gaffe is the latest example. While debating in front of the faculty and students of a law school, no less, she became visibly flustered when her opponent pointed out that the 1st amendment stipulates “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” What’s sadly humorous is that the content of the 1st amendment to the United States Constitution seems to be news to a major party senatorial candidate just 2 weeks before the election. I say sadly humorous, because it’s not quite outright funny, like say the thought of her flying around town on a witch’s broomstick, or imagining her desperately trying to stave off the perils of masturbation. I mean, the recently departed Robert Byrd’s saliva stained grandstanding aside, I really do want all of our senators to have a reasonable familiarity with the Constitution. I don’t think that’s raising the bar of expectation too high.

   And then there is the new folk hero, born of the recent NY gubernatorial debate: Jimmy McMillan of The Rent Is 2 Damn High Party. The major candidates in that race are the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo (will Americans ever stop voting for famous families, be they Roosevelts, Kennedys, Bushes or Clintons?) and O’Donnell’s fellow Tea Partier, Carl Paladino, who, and I’m not kidding here, left the stage early so he could take a wiz. Seriously. But this debate, thankfully, was not closed off to everyone outside the established political duopoly. As the man who is claiming to have coined the term Demublicans and Repocrats (first in print last year, see the article I co-authored with Sociologist Heather Gautney of Fordham University entitled “The Imperial Coin” in Peace and Change), I really do think it is important that smaller political parties and independent candidates be allowed to legitimately participate in the political process, so much of which funnels through large media outlets.

   That brings us to Mr. McMillan, who joined Monsieurs Cuomo and Paladino and four other candidates on stage. That’s right, for this particular debate seven people shared a stage, ranging from the well informed and very serious Libertarian candidate Warren Redliche and Green candidate Howie Hawkins, all the way to Kristin Davis, former madame of the brothel where former Governor Elliot Spitzer became, well, a former governor (at least Ms. O’Donnell can take comfort in the fact that he wasn’t masturbating), whose main campaign tactic so far is making risque jokes.

   Mr. McMillan was somewhere in the middle, mixing serious issues with strange hair styling, talking about the problems of the economy while professing to be a karate expert, exuding a deadly serious tone as he subtly showed his Black Panther street cred by donning 2 black gloves. And to me he seems a lot like Christine O’Donnell.

What? What did you just say? Christine O’Donnell and Jimmy McMillan have something in common?

   Yes, I say, they do. And not in the obvious way, in the easy jokes people (including myself) make about them. Beyond the flaming bull’s eyes, they’re both speaking on behalf of people who feel like they’re on the outside looking in, whether it’s the overwhelmingly white Tea Party movement who loath many of the changes spinning around them, or the black permanent underclass that endures multi-generational poverty that no one else seems too broken up about. They have a lot in common because there are a lot of people in this country who are very, very unhappy with the status quo, who quite understandably believe that the two major parties represent that status quo, and who are looking for a voice to represent them. Chirstine O’Donnell and Jimmy McMillan are attempting to fill that void.
   Are either Christine O’Donnell or Jimmy McMillan the best qualified people to assume the political offices they’re seeking. Of course not. Not even close. Not by a long shot. I’m reasonably confident that almost any 18 year old high school valedictorian could do a much better job than either of them, truth be told. But do they deserve to be heard? You’d better believe it. Because they represent real people, citizens who are very pissed off. That O’Donnell has a major party candidacy and is now on the inside, while McMillan is a far off fringe candidate in a make-believe party who had only a few minutes in the spotlight, merely says something about the resources and successes of angry middle class whites as opposed to the resources and successes of angry lower class blacks.
   But what’s truly devastating is that even though both are the butt of jokes, and even though neither one of them has a real chance of winning their election, both of them are getting more attention than serious outsider candidates like Libertarian Redliche and Green Hawkins. Redliche and Hawkins are at extreme opposite ends of the political and economic spectrums, and you’d be pretty hard pressed to find anything they agree on. But I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that they agree on this: they’ve both studied the issues, they’re both dedicated to improving conditions for Americans, and neither one of them can get a fraction of the attention lavished on O’Donnell and now McMillan. Why? Because they’re both with small but serious parties that are currently marginalized yet represent potential threats to The Big Two, they’re both on the outside looking in, facing all the obstacles that the major parties throw in their way, and because neither one of them is willing to make themselves into the kind of a joke that the press loves because it helps them sell papers or TV and radio commercials or targeted website ads (Did you notice there are no ads here? There never will be). 

   And consequently, the real joke is on all of us.

More Akim Reinhardt at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chiarismo: Or, Luminosity in Dark Times

Davide Panagia
Trent University

This past summer’s “Il Chiarismo” (pronounced “Kiarismo”) exhibit in Milan, Italy (at Palazzo Reale; June 16 – September 5, 2010) presented the work of some of the principal figures of a painterly movement that lasted all of five years, between 1930 and 1935. The “Chiaristi” were mainly associated with Milan’s Brera Academy, one of Italy’s premiere fine arts institutes and also the home of one of Milan’s most extensive and stunning picture galleries. Curated by Elena Pontiggia, the exhibit brought into full view some of the more significant Chiarismo works, and especially those of the artist Francesco De Rochhi (1902-1978). 
But it’s not De Rocchi’s paintings that I want to discuss. While on the whole compelling, his works seem to me to remain trapped in a mannered romanticism that dreams of an escape from realism – but doesn’t quite make it. 
One painting at the exhibit, however, stood out amongst the other masterworks: “The Church of Fossacaprara” (“La Chiesa di Fossacaprara, 1934). 
   This work belongs to De Rocchi’s contemporary Goliardo Padova (1909-1979), a lesser-known figure of the Chiarismo movement. In contrast to De Rocchi’s works, Padova’s Chiarismo is realism all the way down – but it is a non-representational realism that plays with the tensions between light and line that are some of the basic elements of the medium of painting. 
Meaning “clearness” in the sense of “brightness” – but also (as we shall soon note) in the sense of “clearing” – the characteristics of Chiarismo lie in painting the luminosity of light through the use of attenuated colors so as to express “a fusion of light with form and color” as De Amicis, one critic of the period, describes it. Elena Pontiggia’s essay that accompanies the exhibit’s catalog recounts how the basic technique of Chiarismo is that of mimicking fresco murals by applying paint on a moist, white-washed canvas; humidity and white paint that were (and are) the characteristics of the city of Milan itself, surrounded as it often is by a moist but intense light due to Milan’s location at the foothills of the Alps and at the beginning of the great Po River valley that is the agricultural heartland of Italy. Another characteristic of Chiarismo that Pontiggia notes: the complete disappearance of mythological subjects that were the dominant themes of much Italian painting in the early part of the twentieth century, and the taking up of portraiture, landscape, and still life motifs in their stead. 
But as the Padova painting above makes evident, there is a third characteristic to Chiarismo that has remained impervious to critics and commentators alike: namely, the committed effort to elide or dissolve the boundedness of lines through the painting of luminosity. Here space and light collide and irradiate one another. Notice how Padova has to thicken his strokes in order to show that the church has columns that support it, that it is a structure that can actually stand up. Neo-classical painting would have given much more weight to the support of architectural structures than Padova’s Chiarismo ever does. This, because emphasizing support is no longer the objective of Padova’s paintings. Luminosity has no (needs no) support, though it projects a weightiness of its own. By this I mean that the clash between light and line characteristic of Padova’s Chiarismo period defeats the demand to anchor his figures or his structures in anything that looks and feels like a traditional grounding support. I might push the point further: his depiction of luminosity ultimately reduces the painted line to a barely visible trace: it is there, it is not overcome, but it is not central or primary either. 
Notice also the contrast between the smoothness of the church’s façade, the fluidity of the street and sky, and the almost flaccid but certainly frail erection that is the bell tower. It seems clearly detached from the church and as such loses all sense of support and structure. [Having visited that church several times, I can attest to the fact that this portrayal is entirely an invention of the artist.] Within Italian cityscape imaginaries, the bell tower has a long history of prominence as both grounding a city’s source of time and as an omen used to warn away evil spirits. Here, any pretense to structural magnanimity has been completely elided. 
Padova, I should add briefly, was also a member of the Brera Academy until he was sent to an internment camp during the Fascist regime. Upon his return, after the war, he suffered a period of intense depression and though emerging from it with some wonderful works, he never revisited Chiarismo. Thankfully, however, I managed to track down some other examples of his Chiarismo period. 
“Strada Bassa” (Lower Road) is stunning and I would consider it one of the masterworks of Chiarismo. It depicts a typical landscape scene outside of Padova’s home town, Casalmaggiore, located some 150 kilometers (80 miles) south of Milan, on the shores of the Po River. The road is, in fact, one of the many winding footpaths that meander along the river.
Goliardo Padova, Strada Bassa (1934, private collection) 

   Strada Bassa puts on display a realism emphasized (in this case) by the lines that designate the path. The foliage that brushes upwards from each side of the road also give the lines of the road presence and definition. But notice how that presence is not at all authoritative or commanding, almost as if line here is complicit with the lightness of luminosity. Another noteworthy point: the road leads no where, as do the lines of the road. In fact, they disappear behind an outcrop of bush. The viewer is looking at the road from an angle away from the path, and therefore she or he is not directed by the path’s lines. In other words, light and line work together to make the painting feel as flat and as two dimensional as possible. And this feeling of two-dimensional flatness is accomplished despite the road’s apparent three dimensionality. What Padova offers us here, in no uncertain terms, is a line on a surface; but it is a line that does not trace or bind a territory. At the very most, it hints at a trace that cannot (once again) support the weight of the painting. Rather, the entirety of the painting is supported by its luminosity rather than its sculptural traces. 
I’ve certainly not said enough about these two works, or about the relationship between line and luminosity. Indeed, in light of such works, one’s imagination is sparked to consider how our contemporary egalitarian ambitions are grounded in a genealogy of line and light, of partition and appearance; and here I’m thinking especially of Rousseau’s famous “this is mine” and his acts of partition that trace a line in the dirt to designate property and hence inequality. Nor have I hinted at the contemporaneity of these paintings, despite their not being a part of our contemporary condition: the disappearance of line in the face of Chiarismo’s luminosity resonates family resemblances with our own commitments to line and light, or position and spectacle, in an age of new media corporatism. 
By stating this, I don’t mean to suggest that Padova’s Chiarismo paintings are political objects that we might turn to in order to solve our own political woes; there is nothing that I have found which would license such instrumentalizations of his aesthetic ambitions in that way. However, I do want to suggest that the aesthetic features of such works carry with them the possibility of political insight on the contemporaneity of our own valorizations of the relationship between luminosity and line. In this regard, one only has to consider the number of lines we draw every day – or, indeed, that we encounter and acknowledge every day – and their indexical role in making the world (and ourselves) intelligible to others. It’s almost as if for us, in our contemporary condition, lines are solid objects that work only and exclusively as indices of clarity and boundedness: a ‘clear line of thought’, or ‘a definite line in the sand’, and so forth. 
Rather than clarity, Padova’s Chiarismo offers irradiancy and clearing. Perhaps I might better state my point this way: the meeting of line and light in Padova’s Chiarismo works irradiates the territoriality of line, clearing the way for things, peoples, and events to appear; and it is the appearing, rather than the intelligibility, of things, peoples, and events that these paintings give weight to. Irradiancy and clearing (both terms that adequately capture the somatic sense of “Chiarismo”) are thus the modes through which appearances are sensed and through which we encounter the world in all its immediate finitude – this, without the demand or expectation of intelligibility. 
I haven’t mentioned two further things worth raising regarding these two masterworks of Chiarismo. The first is a point that the French theorist, Michel Foucault, had noted in his lectures on Manet’s paintings (1971) and that I also find available in Padova’s Chiarismo works: namely, the fact that though there are places where the viewer may stand and view these works, the tensions between luminosity and line characteristic of Chiarismo canvases makes it so that there is no one place where the viewer must stand in order to look at them. In this regard, the sense of flatness of these works places them in direct contrast to classical painting, with its normative systems of lines, perspectives, and vanishing points. In those lectures Foucault calls such works of art “picture-objects.” 
The second point worth raising is the white elephant in my discussion of Padova’s Chiarismo paintings: 1930s Milan was a time of heightened attention to line, contrast, and shading, the major formal elements that accompanied Fascism’s return to a neo-classical, sculptural form. Indeed, between Futurism and Fascist Neo-Classicism, there was little room for imagining light in terms other than bounded line – that is, light must illuminate in such a way as to draw outlines of contrast between, say, the ripples of a male statue’s muscles, or the lines of an industrious worker’s face, or the athleticism of the human form in its tense exertions.
Mosaic at Rome’s Foro Italico indoor swimming pool.

Chiarismo’s luminosity, I want to say, is a direct challenge to a Futurist hyper-fancy as well as to the Fascist commitment to the illuminated line as contrast, shading, and sculptural outline.
Goliardo Padova, The Discus Thrower (1934, private collection)

As we can see by comparing the Mussolini-commissioned mosaic of Rome’s Foro Italico (a.k.a. “Il Foro di Mussolini”, designed and created during the 1930s) and Padova’s “Discus Thrower” (also of his Chiarismo period, though one of my least favorite), for Padova any pretense to flights of fancy give way to a luminescent realism characteristic of the light and landscape of the Po River valley. Indeed, what is dramatic about Padova’s Chiarismo canvases is how fancy seems to have as little of a role to play as possible in the making of his paintings.
   I might, then, wish to call Padova’s Chiarismo a non-representational realism, however oxymoronic or even contradictory that may sound. A visit to the region on a hot summer’s day, however, will testify to the accuracy of my contradiction. The light bouncing off of the Po River’s humid haze make the lines of the landscape luminescent to the point of evanescence; that is, weightless or better yet, groundless. And this is perhaps Goliardo Padova’s short-lived achievement in the face of the contending artistic practices of Fascist Italy. Namely, his portrayal of a robust groundlessness through the realism of an irradiating luminosity that faces up to a looming, dark light.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The MV Sun Sea

Simon Glezos
University of Regina
In August the MV Sun Sea, a ship carrying 497 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka - fleeing the violent reprisals which Tamil populations have been subject to in the wake of the civil war - was captured and boarded by the Canadian Navy off the coast of Vancouver Island. They are now being detained - the men in a maximum security prison; the women in minimum security – while their refugee claims are reviewed. As of this writing only one refugee, a pregnant mother of three, has been released.
The response in Canada has been disturbing at best. Almost immediately upon news of the Sun Sea hitting the media, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the ruling Conservative party began to fan the flames of fear. The Globe and Mail reported that “[t]he Harper government said intelligence sources give it reason to believe the passengers include human traffickers and people linked to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group,”
 this despite having little to no knowledge of who was actually on the boat (suspicions are that the intelligence sources to whom Harper was deferring was the Sri Lankan government itself).  Public Safety Minister Vic Toews claimed that that the Sun Sea was a ‘test case’, saying “[t]his particular situation is being observed by others who may have similar intentions and I think it's very important that Canada deals with the situation in a clear and decisive way.” All the while, Harper ominously intoned “We are responsible for the security of our borders.”
 Despite anything remotely resembling proof, with the specter of terrorists being smuggled into the country, and with hordes more apparently just over the horizon, a disturbing portion of Canadians have embraced the government’s fear-mongering. In an Angus Reid poll “Fifty per cent of poll respondents want to deport the passengers and crew of the Tamil ship back to Sri Lanka, even if their refugee claims are legitimate [emphasis mine]” More broadly, “46 per cent of Canadians believe immigration is having a negative effect on the country, a five-point increase from August, 2009.”
 On the elite side of things a new right-wing think-tank, ‘The Center for Immigration Policy Reform’, has been launched, focusing on asserting “moral contracts” with migrants. As Gilles Paquet, professor of governance at the University of Ottawa, and member of the center’s advisory board helpfully explains “Canada is not a bingo hall. When you come to this country, I expect you to abide by a number of things.” (This, I suppose, reassures those of us who were deeply concerned about the impending “bingo-hall-ization” of Canada.)
The desire is to dismiss this as a momentary xenophobic panic, whipped up in a fairly obvious bit of voter manipulation by desperate politicians. The Conservative party, already unable to secure a majority of parliament in the last two elections, has been falling in the polls recently, and in response has begun a series of fairly shameless vote grabbing maneuvers, of which this is the latest. If that were all this is, then we could hopefully just wait for the furor to die down and sanity to be restored.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of this kind of panicked response to migrants and refugees in Canada, happening in almost unnervingly similar ways, in seemingly regular cycles. Just a little over 10 years ago there was another public panic over immigration, this time caused by the arrival of several boats of Chinese migrants, again off the coast of Vancouver Island. There the arrival of the so-called “boat people” (it is instructive that the term ‘boat people’ has been reapplied to the Tamil refugees) prompted sizeable protests and numerous denunciations in the press. Going further back, in 1939 the St. Louis, a ship carrying mostly Jewish refugees from Germany, was refused entry and forced to return to Europe where most of its passengers were killed in the Holocaust. In 1913, the Komagata Maru, a ship carrying 376 primarily Sikh passengers, was held in Vancouver Harbour for two months, before the Navy finally drove them out. The ship returned to Calcutta “where 20 of its passengers were killed in a shootout with colonial police suspicious of their politics and others were jailed for refusing to return to the Punjab.”
These reoccurring uproars have to be put in the context of Canada’s overall immigration situation. Canada has one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world - a rate which is rising. According to projections from Statistics Canada, by 2031 the Canadian population will be between 25% and 28% foreign born. Additionally, according to the report “nearly one-half (46%) of Canadians aged 15 and over would be foreign-born, or would have at least one foreign-born parent.”
As a result, between 29% and 32% of the Canadian population would be visible minorities, the first and second largest groups amongst which would be those of Chinese and South Asian descent. 
Additionally, these demographic shifts are intensified by Canada’s status as a settler nation which has never properly dealt - politically, ethically or psychologically – with indigenous peoples and its colonial past and present. In recent years, settler society has becoming increasingly unable to continue its traditional approach of ignoring First Nations demands for justice and self-determination, through a combination of increasingly successful legal challenges, political movements, and demography growth which in many ways mirrors that of immigrant populations. As a result, the hypocrisy of Canadian settler society’s attempts to maintain the moral high-ground on matters of immigration (as ‘Native Canadians’), becomes a little more obvious.
These profound demographic shifts challenge easy and supposedly stable images of what Canada, and Canadians, look like. In such contexts, attachments to supposedly cherished principles of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ run the risk of becoming weakened. Multiculturalism, and robust immigration and refugee policies, might be an acceptable practice when one can guarantee that it will happen in a cultural context which is dominantly white, Christian, European and colonial. As white privilege in Canada become increasingly challenged, pluralism becomes much more of a gamble. Accelerating immigration challenges established accounts of identity and puts pressure on stable narratives of identity and community. The perception of the loss of impermeable borders leaves people feeling increasingly adrift in a world of accelerating global flows. In such a context, there is a tendency to seek out authoritative narratives, ones which will hopefully re-affirm traditional borders and boundaries, inscribing both space and identity. Hence the seemingly widespread acceptance of the Conservative party’s claims that these migrants are ‘terrorists and queue jumpers’. Such an account transforms the refugees into foreign others who can be legitimately excised from the moral and political space of the nation, a tactic which reinscribes the boundaries of identity and releases us from any responsibility for them, or sense of community with them.
Most dangerously is the way in which this uncertainty, resentment and fear might be used to change Canada’s refugee and immigration policy. On September 9th The Globe and Mail reported that federal immigration minister Jason Kenney was traveling to Australia to “study its tough policies aimed at deterring asylum seekers.”
‘Tough’ does not quite do the situation justice. Over the last decade, Australian refugee policy has been the source of extensive human rights abuses. When boats aren’t openly turned around at sea, refugees have been subject to indefinite detention, with little hope of release, in privately run refugee camps on Christmas Island, far from the Australian mainland. Australia’s refugee policy has been criticized by both Amnesty International (who called Christmas Island “an extremely harsh and stark environment to detain people seeking asylum") and the United Nations High Council on Refugees, which said “[t]he combination of mandatory detention, suspension of asylum claims and the geographical isolation of detention facilities… - all without any effective judicial oversight - is a deeply troubling set of factors.”
The very fact that Australia is being looked to as a potential model for refugee and immigration policy is deeply disturbing, and goes against everything that is best in the tradition of Canada. Careful attention will need to be paid to what kinds of changes the Harper government attempts to make to refugee and immigration policy. Canada is a country that is supposed to embrace principles of inclusion and multiculturalism, of generosity and pluralism. Cases like the Sun Sea are exactly the cases which test these principles, and the occasions to which Canadians must rise.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Militant Pluralism and Exclusionary Extremism: Reflections on Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

William E. Connolly
Johns Hopkins University

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a pluralist. As he has made abundantly clear in an interview with Soledad O’Brien on CNN, and elsewhere too, he wants the Muslim Center 3 blocks from Ground Zero to be a place where people of multiple faiths gather, worship, and explore alternative creeds and modes of worship.  
   The YMCA, he reminds us, started off as a place where Protestant Christians of several sorts could meet, participate in sports together, and explore ways to connect to each other across differences in theological creed.  The point now, however, is that the faiths to be so engaged embody a much broader array than the YMCA recognized: Judaism, Protestantism, Catholicism, Sufi Islam, Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, nontheism (of various sorts), Buddhism, and Hinduism, for starters.  All these faiths and creeds find expression in the country Rauf calls home, the United States. 
Such inter-sect engagements are no longer a luxury, given the territorial and cross-territorial politics of today. For, as I put it, today multiple pressures have arisen within and across territorial regimes to “minoritize” the world along several dimensions.  By “minoritization” I mean processes by which national and regional identity groups are rendered more diverse, so that it now becomes either necessary to forge a positive ethos of engagement between them or to try to ward off those pressures by repressive means. What are the pressures that push in this direction?  They include the globalization of capital, with the financial, travel, managerial, communication, trade, and labor mobilities that accompany it. There is the system of uneven exchange between different regions of capitalism, pressing many to cross the porous borders that divide territorial regimes. There is the acceleration of speed in many zones of life, which enable such crossings and spread news so that any insult against a constituency in one region is quickly communicated to those in others. There is the resulting ways in which people of different faiths rub shoulders together more often and in more places. There is the globalization of many cities, which, among other things, become seed beds for new movements in the domains of sexuality, gender practice, and household organization. There are the effects of climate change, which increase pressures for population migration. There is the more rapid exchange of news, films, music, internet communications, books, and TV Dramas across regions and between minorities within each region And these different processes amplify each other.
Today, minoritization of the world along multiple dimensions will either be accepted increasingly in territorial regimes as they seek to negotiate a more expansive ethos of engagement or it becomes necessary to enact repressive policies to stifle these flows: territorial walls, growing prison populations, bombing campaigns, media campaigns to demonize internal minorities, anti-immigration and other anti-minority campaigns, virulent talking heads on TV, new wars, and so forth. The irony, in the United States at least, is that many who resist the internal drives to minoritization the most also support militantly the expansionary drives of capitalism that contribute to them. Fox News does its best to hide that irony.

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Imam Rauf’s way of recognizing this condition is to say that the moderates in each minority must organize to defeat extremists in every minority. The extremists in all camps, he says, need and want each other. For when extremists in one zone take action that attacks or insults those in another, the latter up the ante from their side as they mobilize their troops to tighten their exclusionary drives.  Amidst the antagonisms between them, extremists on all sides promote closed religious systems, enclave territorial regimes, and singular family arrangements in a world that is increasingly structured to stymie the success of these agendas. The intensified demands for a world of enclaves amid conditions unamenable to success of those very agendas create an antagonistic spiral that feeds on itself. Extremists on all sides inspire each other to new levels of antagonism.  I appreciate the Imam’s point, then, but I would also describe the types in question a little differently.
Not “moderates” and “extremists”. Today, nonviolent militant pluralists must combine together on multiple fronts to recruit more moderates as they ward off exclusionary extremists on these fronts. It is thus misleading to call pluralists moderates. Moderates try to avoid the extremes they stand uncomfortably between. Mostly they try not to get involved. Moderates, for that reason, are often inattentive to what is happening around them.  They want to be in the middle so much that they unconsciously cultivate a studied innocence of the world, and they do not pay attention to how the battles between extremists move the middle to the right.  They are often surprised and shocked by an ugly event, only to forget it soon.  Moderates are okay.  They are even indispensable, I suppose, and greatly to be preferred to exclusionary extremists. But we need more militant pluralists who cultivate traits that exceed the innocence of moderatism. These, traits do not always fit together perfectly, but they must nonetheless be cultivated in relation to each other in the current epoch. 
Militant pluralists will try to recruit moderates as they also reach out to minorities outside their own comfort zones, listening to their grievances and aspirations, engaging them on their faiths, sexual practices, ethnic commitments, household arrangements, gender priorities. A militant pluralist will also seek to understand more profoundly things in the life circumstances of exclusionary movements that push them toward extremism. Often enough, circumstantial arrangements of repression, punishment, extreme inequality, and misunderstanding are mixed together. But a militant pluralist will band together periodically with pluralists from different faiths, gender practices, ethnicities and sexualities to stop exclusionary extremists from carrying the day. We expose their tactics in our churches and neighborhoods; challenge the assumptions built into their attacks; cultivate and deploy our own media skills, and shift our role practices in this or that way. And when the issue is on the line, we take more stringent actions. 
A key difference between militant pluralism and exclusionary extremism is that the combination that defines the first type stand in a relation of torsion and oscillation with each other, while the combination that marks the second type stand in a relation of mutual amplification. Another is that the first group seeks to convert oppositions into contrasts, where possible, to increase the chances of negotiation across lines of difference, while the second seeks to dogmatize further the constituencies it purports to represent, that is, to convert contrasts into oppositions.
It is not easy to listen and engage at one moment and enter into militant combinations withs other pluralists at others. Few pluralists do or can carry out such a bi-focal mission without running into hitches, the need for a reprieve, or the risk of burnout.. It is just that the current world conjuncture cries out for such an untimely combination.  Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Henry David Thoreau may provide illuminating models here, even though the example of each needs to be adjusted to fit the new world.  
  But what about Imam Rauf? At first he sounds like a moderate fending off extremists.  He speaks softly.  He calls for moderation. But soon you notice a pluralist fierceness inside these calls. He has, after all, refused to accede to the intense exclusionary demands (and moderate pressure) to move the Center to another place, doing so because that would play into the extremists on both sides of the divide he seeks to overcome.  His fierceness is contained within a responsiveness that keeps the door open to engagement. He is an in-formed militant. Imam Rauf is a militant pluralist who negotiates two dispositions situated in a relation of interdependence and tension with each other.