Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

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Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

The Hideous Consequences of Political Rhetoric

A commentary on the increase in “hate crimes” due to political rhetoric.

rhetI am deeply disturbed by some of the events occurring in my beloved country of Canada. I have always been proud of the fact that Canada celebrates cultural diversity. Multiculturalism in Canada is the sense of an equal celebration of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds.  The Canadian federal government, under then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, put forth the ideology of multiculturalism which places emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is a law that was passed in 1988 and it aims to preserve and enhance multiculturalism in Canada. When I taught high school social studies I always proudly emphasized this fact to my students. So, when I learn of islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration views expressed in my country, I am alarmed and angered. These are some of the things that have happened in Canada.

In early March, Montreal police arrested a 47-year-old man hours after a bomb threat targeting Muslim students forced the evacuation of three buildings at Concordia University’s downtown campus. Apparently, several media outlets in Montreal received a bomb threat claiming to be from the “Council of Concerned Citizens of Canada,” a white supremacist organization also known as C4, which claimed that “small […] amateur explosive devices” had been placed in two buildings on the University. The email stated that C4’s goal was to injure Muslim students. The email also began by citing the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as inspiration for the group’s violent agenda (see CBC News).

Also in early March, a late-night fire at an Islamic information centre and mosque is being investigated by Toronto police. A police spokesperson said the fire is considered “suspicious” and being investigated as arson. It was not ruled as a hate crime then, but it certainly “smells” like a hate crime (see CBC News).

The Globe and Mail is reporting that police are investigating the discovery of swastikas inside an Ontario university classroom this week which left some students feeling distraught; the school calling the symbols “hate graffiti”. The news report says the police are treating the incident as a case of mischief at the time of the article. Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario told reporters, “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that anti-Semitism continues to persist even in a society as welcoming as Canada and a city as diverse as Toronto.” Hillel Ontario is an organization that strives to enrich the lives of Jewish students attending Ontario’s colleges and universities (see Globe & Mail). Sure seems like a hate crime to me.

Far right groups opposed to a federal government motion condemning Islamophobia took to the streets of Montreal in early March. On the opposing side were around 100 representatives of anti-fascist groups, carrying signs saying “Make racists afraid again” and chanting “Immigrants in, fascists out.” Tensions between the groups quickly flared despite a police presence (see CBC News).

Then there was the Quebec City Mosque attack that occurred on January 29th. Alexandre Bissonnette, only 27, was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm. During that attack, six men died in the shooting while evening prayers were underway at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec (Islamic cultural centre of Quebec) [see CBC News].

A Winnipeg business owner who identifies herself as a witch says her store has been repeatedly vandalized over the past six years and she wants police to investigate the incidents as hate crimes. Dominique Smith owns Elemental Book & Curiosity Shop Inc. Smith sells alternative spirituality products such as herbs, crystals, incense, books and tarot cards. She also teaches classes out of the business and occasionally has gatherings for worship and rituals. She says her shop’s window has been broken three times. She has had people come into the store harassing her and her staff, telling them that we were evil and needed to repent. Ms. Smith says she’s had to clean spit and urine off of her door and windows countless times over the past few years (see CBC News).

Now I ask the question: what has happened to “tolerance and understanding”? Why does it appear to be disappearing? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that naive. Canada has always had its share of racists and bigots, but for the most part my country is seen as a tolerant, multicultural society. In fact, analysts at the London-based think tank, the Legatum Institute, ranks 142 countries based on their economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom and social capital.  In 2015, the Institute ranked Canada as number one for being the “freest country in the world” with its tolerance of immigrants, minorities, freedom of expression and beliefs. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of Canadians (92 %) agreed that their country is a good place for immigrants. The United States was ranked 15th for personal freedom (see CTV News).  In 2016, Canada dropped to second place and the United States dropped to position 26 in terms of personal freedom. (see Legatum 2016).

mother-teresa-beautiful-words-love-thy-neighbor-quotes-if-you-judge-people-have-not-time-acknowledge-them-caring-givingCanada is predominantly a Christian country. In the 2011 National Household Survey, two-thirds of Canada’s population reported affiliation with a Christian religion. Christianity is a religion that follows the teachings of Jesus whose teachings focus on the themes of love of God and love of neighbour. In fact, Matthew 22:36 – 40 in the Christian scriptures says, ‘Teacher [Jesus], which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He [Jesus] said to him,” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ If Christians believe this, then I do not understand why Canadians (at least some of them) are becoming (maybe they’ve always been so) increasingly intolerant and bigoted. At least this is what the various news articles are suggesting is the trend. It just doesn’t fit with the teachings of Jesus.

Sadly, this trend seems to have begun when the US presidential campaign began and much anti-immigration, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexico rhetoric began filtering into Canada’s news. Middle East Eye, an online news organization that provides news from a Middle Eastern perspective, reports that Donald Trump’s election victory is causing a ‘spill-over effect’ in Canada, where hate-motivated incidents have seen a recent spike (see MEE). Even some of our Canadian politicians are now spewing toxic, divisive rhetoric. I truly thought Canadians were different; that Canadians were more tolerant because of our multicultural diversity.  In fact, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during an address in London, United Kingdom, in November of 2015 said, “Diversity is our strength.” Now I always thought so, but perhaps I’m just naive.  It was Pierre Bayle, a French philosopher, who once said, “It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling”. He is so right! I still choose to believe that the majority of Canadians are tolerant and welcoming people no matter what race, religion and belief a person may have. The individuals carrying out these despicable hate crimes act out of fear perpetrated by rhetoric. Publius Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and an historian of the Roman Empire, once said, “Fear is not in the habit of speaking truth.” People are acting out of fear and thus executing heinous, hateful, acts because of lies spread by toxic political rhetoric. This has to stop!

You Just Have to” Give Your Head a Shake”

An outsiders view of the Trump presidency (so far)

Now I have been trying to avoid writing about Trump because I think he gets far too much attention than he deserves, but this man just keeps delivering me something more to write about.

A news headline that recently caught my attention was, Trump says anti-Semitism is ‘horrible’. My immediate reaction was to laugh. I literary shook my head. Why, you may ask? This is the man who said in June 2015, while announcing his candidacy for president, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”  Then in December 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, he called for a complete and total halt of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Both of these statements are clearly xenophobic demonstrating his intolerance to Muslims and Mexicans.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xThe article, Trump says anti-Semitism is ‘horrible. reports that on Tuesday, February 21, after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Trump told reporters that the museum was a “meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all forms.” He then called the recent threats against Jewish community centres “horrible and painful.” Several Jewish community centers across the United States were evacuated the day before after receiving bomb threats. Trump reportedly said, “I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop”.

Trump has been accused of encouraging, or ignoring, bigotry against groups including Muslims, Mexicans and Jews. He refused to take a question about anti-Semitism during a news conference, plus his administration came under fire for not mentioning Jews or anti-Semitism in its statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It is hypocritical when someone utters anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist remarks and then talks about anti-Semitism being horrible. How can Americans, or the world for that matter, take this man seriously or believe anything he says. I am not the only person who sees Trump’s hypocrisy. Steven Goldstein, executive director of Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect (see Anne Frank Center Criticizes Trump) said on February 21,  “His [Trump’s] statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism.”  These are pretty strong words.

The CBC news article, Human rights at risk amid rise of ‘fear and disunity’: Amnesty International, discusses Amnesty International’s annual report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, which documents “grave violations of human rights” in 159 countries. This 408-page report described 2016 as “the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs. them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s,” when Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. I find these words rather upsetting. The report laid much of the blame on Donald Trump who’s “Poisonous” rhetoric in his election campaign exemplified “the global trend of angrier and more divisive politics”.

I am proud to say, the 2016 report highlighted Canada’s recent record on treatment of Syrian refugees, noting that at least 38,000 Syrians were resettled in my country. It was not all praise for Canada, though, as the report expressed concern regarding Indigenous people’s rights. I’ve always felt Canada has failed in its treatment of the First Nations people.

I am also alarmed by the effect Trump has had on Canada. I have always supposed Canada to be a much more tolerant and understanding society, but since Trump came into the picture, I’ve seen some intolerance and racism rise up in this country, like the January 30 Quebec City mosque attack. As a Canadian, I also find it disconcerting that a CBC news article, 1 in 4 Canadians want Trump-style travel ban, reports that an Angus Reid Institute poll that looked at Canadians’ attitudes toward the federal government’s handling of refugees, revealed a “significant segment” of Canadians say the country’s 2017 refugee target of 40,000 is too high.  It alarms me even more that one in four Canadians wants the Canadian government to impose its own Trump-style travel ban. This is the direct result of the rhetoric Trump has been spewing since announcing his candidacy for president.

Trump’s campaign slogan was, “Make America Great Again”. An AlJazeera news report, Mapping hate, provides some unsettling statistics. It reports that there has been a rise in the number of hate groups operating in the United States for a second year in a row. This is according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) monitoring group.  The SPLC found that the total number of hate groups in the US in 2016 grew to 917 from 892 a year earlier. Since 1999, the total number of hate groups in the US has more than doubled.  The article says there are now more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate and black separatist organizations than ever before. The sharpest increase was among anti-Muslim groups, which grew from 37 to 101, a 197% increase in just one year.

maxresdefaultWhat is especially troubling is the sharp rise in “bias incidents” following the election of Donald Trump. Bias incidents are instances of hate crimes or harassment and intimidation. In the first three months following Trump’s election, 1,372 bias incidents were reported. Of that total, more than 25% were motivated by anti-immigrant sentiments. Now I ask you, how is this making America great? I would argue the opposite is true. What Trump is doing is making America repugnant.

In my previous post, I discussed the Golden Rule and its relationship to karma, the law of cause and effect. When people spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric it comes back to haunt them, as “what goes around comes around”.  Gertrude Buckingham, an American poet, says, “Hate brings to men wars and fear.”  I agree!  Hate begets more hate. Trump’s “hate rhetoric” has clearly caused more hate to come around. That is what the statistics suggest.

photoMartin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.  What America needs is more love. Ironically, in July of 2016, at a rally in Tampa, Florida, Hillary Clinton said, “You can’t put this into laws: We need more love and kindness in this country. We need more respect between and among our fellow Americans. We need to be listening more to each other.” One has to wonder what America would be like under a Hillary Clinton administration. Now give your head a shake! I am.

What happened to the Golden Rule?

the-golden-rule.gifGrowing up I was always reminded of the Golden Rule, both at school and by my parents. Being raised in a Christian community this rule was always emphasized. It wasn’t always stated as “treat others the way you wish to be treated” but often in other ways such as, “show respect to your elders” and “always respect your teachers.” I have always believed that if all people could bring themselves to live by this ethic, humankind would be in a much better place.

The Ethic of Reciprocity, or what is better known as the Golden Rule, simply states that we are to treat other people the same way we would wish to be treated. It can be worded in various forms. Wikipedia describes this rule in three forms:

  1. Positive or directive form: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
  2. Negative or prohibitive form: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
  3. Empathic or responsive form: What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.

No matter how the rule is stated, it boils down to the word respect. Merriam Webster dictionary defines respect as “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc” or 
as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” So when a person shows respect for another then they treat that person the way they would wish to be treated.

What always astounded me about the Golden Rule is that all organized religions have this ethic.

  • In Christianity it is found in Matthew 7:12 (NRSV) of the Christian bible where it is written, ‘in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
  • In the Buddhist tradition it is found in a collection of verses known as the Udanavarga. In chapter 5, verse 18 of the Udanavarga it says, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
  • In Hinduism, it is found in their sacred scriptures Mahabharata 5:1517 where it is written, this is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
  • Judaism has it in two places, the Talmud and Book of Tobit. The first book of the Talmud is about Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. In Shabbat 31a. It states, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” In the Jewish scriptures, specifically the book of Tobit, it says, “And what you hate, do not do to any one.” (4:15)
  • In Islam, it can be found in a compilation of forty hadiths by Imam al-Nawawi, an influential Sunni hadith scholar. A hadith is one of various reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, it says, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

The Golden Rule is such a simple thing and makes a lot of sense. It begs the question, why is it so important to live by the Golden Rule. The answer to that question has to do with the idiom, “What goes around comes around” or stated another way, “as you sow, so shall you reap”. These are simply reminding us that when people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them. This is what the expression, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” refers to as well. An individual must accept the unpleasant results of something they have done. Really all of these expressions could be understood as karma, the law of cause and effect. Karma is a Sanskrit term that literally means “action” or “doing”. In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to action driven by intention, which leads to future consequences. Good intent contributes to good karma and happiness in the future, while bad intent contribute to bad karma and suffering in the future.

The Huffington Post article on Karma puts it this way:

“Everything we say and do determines what’s going to happen to us in the future. Whether we act honestly, dishonestly, help or hurt others, it all gets recorded and manifests as a karmic reaction either in this life or a future life…There is no exact formula that is provided for how and when karmic reactions will appear in our lives, but one can be sure they will appear in some form or other. One may be able to get away with a crime they committed, or avoid paying taxes, but according to karma, no one gets away with anything for long.”

What I find even more thought provoking is that science supports this idea of “cause and effect”.  Science, specifically Quantum Physics, is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. There is a theory known as quantum entanglement. According to Space.com, the theory states when changing one particle it changes the other even if they are on opposite sides of the galaxy, 100,000 light-years apart. In other words, they behave like one object even though they are physically apart. Einstein called this idea “spooky action at a distance”.

Quantum Entanglement: What It Is And Why It’s Relevant says,

“Quantum entanglement means that every action, thought, feeling and emotion is connected and can affect the whole in one manner or another. We are all made up of atoms, photons and electrons. We are all in a constant state of vibration. Our emotions, feelings, hearts and minds have the ability to affect what frequency our molecular structure vibrates at. Quantum entanglement is observed at a physical level, meaning what we do to one particle at one location, happens for another particle at the a different location.”

So even science reinforces the idea that every single thing that a person does, thinks, etc. has an affect. Now I know from experience that when I said something hurtful to a student or to a family member there was an effect. The impact was typically in the form of parental wrath or an angry family member.

9-11We’ve all felt the impact of the actions of an individual or group of people. There are many examples of this in history, such as the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. The affect of this event has made many people fearful and afraid to travel. We still feel the effects of the 9/11 attack in New York City as flight travel is much more cumbersome with all the extra security. Terrorism initiated by ISIL or ISIS caused much of world community to participate in a bombing campaign, bombing areas where the terrorists were located. What goes around comes around.

It’s fair to say that one person can impact the world. We just need to look at the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior to see this. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

So remember every action you take, every word you say to someone, or even every action you don’t take has an impact on your community, on your planet or maybe even the universe. It seems to me that in this time of Islamophobia, fear of terrorists, and anti-immigration, the Golden Rule is very much needed. Perhaps people (no names mentioned) who spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric ought to remember, “What goes around comes around”.

Will There Ever be Peace Among Religions?

A commentary on the religious tensions on our planet.

09-donald-trump-bully.w536.h357.2xRepublican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has given several anti-Muslim orations perpetrating a
widespread belief that the United States is at war against Islam. Canada, too, has had its share of people who have an anti-Muslim sentiment.

The Archbishop of Canterbury in a Church Times article, is quoted as saying, “the global turmoil and conflict driven by extremism can be stopped only once religiously motivated violence has been purged from every faith tradition”. Archbishop Welby goes on to say; “the world was facing, for the first time in centuries, an obviously religious conflict that encompassed all faiths.” His claims are based in his travels around the Anglican Communion, where he says he had come across “Islamic violence, Christian violence, Hindu violence, Buddhist violence”.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 7.36.11 PM

Euronews, a website that lists news about “Religious conflict” has numerous news articles about the latest religious skirmishes. Here are some of them.

Hundreds of Iranians held  protests in central Tehran over Saudi Arabia’s execution of the prominent Shiite cleric. A wave of anger against the Sunni-led kingdom has led to the ransacking of its embassy in Tehran.

Persecution against Pakistan’s Christians in the form of suicide bombs outside two churches killed at least 15 people in the eastern city of Lahore.

Iraq could once again descend into civil war between the Shiites and Sunni Muslim factions after the country’s most senior Shia Muslim cleric issued a call to arms to fight a rapidly advancing Sunni insurgency.

The United States, along with its allies, has launched airstrikes at Islamic State or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) targets in Iraq in an expansion of its military campaign against the jihadists (those carrying out a war or struggle against unbelievers).

Two Buddhists have been jailed in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar for murders that took place during religious violence in March of 2015. They are the first Buddhists to be convicted of any serious offence relating to the rioting, which mainly targeted Muslims and left around 40 people dead.

The history of modern India has many incidents of violence. During the 1947 partition there was religious violence between Muslim-Hindu, Muslim-Sikhs and Muslim-Jains (followers of Jainism) on a gigantic scale. Hundreds of religious riots have been recorded since then in every decade of independent India. In these riots, the victims have included many Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Buddhists.

In 2013, hundreds of villagers fled their homes in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after three days of bloody sectarian clashes left at least 38 people dead and dozens wounded. The fighting between Hindus and Muslims in the area, the worst in years, was sparked by a violent dispute between two families of different faiths last month, authorities said.

Researchers say statistics from the multi-state study tell us in 2015, anti-Islam attacks in the United States were up 78% from 2014, and anti-Arab hate crimes increased 219%.

This is but a sampling of the numerous religious conflicts on the planet. Hans Küng, a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and author and President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic since 1995, once said, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.” I’m beginning to think Mr. Kung may be right.

Rebecca Rosen, in her book, Awaken the Spirit Within, says,

“the path to God in life was not the way, but only a way and that truly all paths lead home [to God]. Consider that God, metaphorically, is the centre of a wheel. The spokes on the wheel represent the many unique and different paths people use to reach God, and yet each spoke is connected to the same central hub. Meaning that all religions, all paths serve a similar purpose, [that is], to connect us to and bring us closer to God. In fact, the root of the word religion means “to bind” or “to connect. When you think about it, whether you practice Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, any other religion, or Atheism, it’s really meaningful and purposeful connection that you’re after…no matter what your religion or belief system, we’re all searching for and wanting the same basic stuff.”

Rebecca says it so well. There is no one path to God, there are many. Every religion is a path. Once humanity understands this and accepts this, then maybe there will be peace among religions. There are even references in the sacred scriptures from the various world religions that support the idea that there are many paths to God.

Christianity: And Peter opened his mouth and said, “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him [meaning a sense of respect, awe] and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10.34-35)  

Hinduism: As men approach Me [Krishna, a Hindu deity], so I receive them. All paths, Arjuna, lead to Me. (Bhagavad Gita 4.11)

Judaism: Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai said, “Just as the sin-offering atones for Israel, so righteousness atones for the Peoples of the world.” (Talmud, Baba Batra 10b)

Islam: Say, “We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to God do we submit.”(Qur’an 3.84)

Those who believe in the Qur’an, those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Sabeans and the Christians–any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness–on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Qur’an 5.69)

Buddhism: Sometimes I [the Buddha] spoke of myself, sometimes of others; sometimes I presented myself, sometimes others; sometimes I showed my own actions, sometimes those of others. All my doctrines are true and none are false. (Lotus Sutra 16)

We must stop being so narrow-minded and get beyond the belief that “our religion” is the only path to the divine. It is incredibly naïve of a person to believe that they have the only exclusive knowledge on reaching God or the divine and that people of a different belief system have it wrong. Is it not so difficult to believe that all religions have truth and that there are many ways to reach the divine? Religious tolerance and understanding is a goal we must all strive for. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or we are going to perish together as fools.”  Mahatma Gandhi says, “The pursuit of truth does not permit violence being inflicted on one’s opponent.”  Both of these men, two men who I admire, had wisdom for achieving peace, yet humanity continues to ignore it.peace-sign

Remembering 9/11 and Rethinking Terrorism.

A commentary on terrorism.

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From Huffington Post

This week is the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States. The world changed that day. I distinctly remember feeling that way when I learned of the horrific acts of terror effected that day. Mohammed Adam wrote a column in the Ottawa Citizen entitled, Fearful shadows of 9/11 still haunt Muslims, where he wrote:

Post-9/11, Islam was vilified and many Muslims were attacked and hounded as potential terrorists. Muslim women in particular, easily identifiable by their hijabs, faced verbal abuse, intimidation and even violence. A lot of bad things — the Iraq war, torture, Guantanamo — all happened. Draconian laws that curtailed age-old freedoms were passed, including here in Canada.

There has been a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent months especially since Donald Trump, Republican presidential nominee, has been spouting his rhetoric about a Muslim immigration ban.  The Guardian article, Hate crimes and attacks against Muslims, reports the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) published new data showing that incidents against Muslims in California increased by 58% between 2014 and 2015, and that communities throughout the US are seeing similar trends.

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From National Post

Many French Riviera mayors imposed a ban on full-body bathing suits known as burkinis this summer. France’s top court later ruled that basic freedoms were infringed upon and that mayors had overstepped their powers when they decreed a ban on burkinis at the beach. BBC News reports that French cities, such as Nice, have since lifted the controversial ban to be in line with a national court ruling. French opinion polls suggested most French people backed the burkini bans igniting fierce debate in France and around the world, with Muslims saying they were being unfairly discriminated against. Now I think the court decision was the right decision. It is simply discriminatory for one group with one set of values to tell another group that their set of values is wrong or at the very least unwelcome.

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)Even Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, defends Muslims. In the CBC article, Pope Francis defends Muslims, the pope says,

“I think it is not right to identify Islam with terrorism. It is not right and it is not true. I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.”

The pope went on to talk about the causes of terrorism. He said,

“I know it is dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy. I ask myself how many young people that we Europeans have left devoid of ideals, who do not have work. Then they turn to drugs and alcohol or enlist in ISIS.”

Now  I certainly don’t agree with everything Pope Francis says but I agree with him on this. I agree that terrorism is related to social problems. Terrorism is defined by Dictionary.com as the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes. With that definition one could argue that many if not most acts of violence are acts of terrorism. Let’s look at the city of Chicago, Illinois in the United States as an example. That city has been making news headlines lately because of its high rate of gun violence. CNN reports in its report, 500 homicides. 9 months. 1 American city, that on Labor Day weekend Chicago’s 500th homicide of the year took place.  These are Americans carrying out acts of terror on one another and I suspect the majority of violent acts are not carried out by Muslims. So I asked myself, Why? This article says there are nearly 82 shootings per week. What does that tell me? Guns are too readily available but that is a whole other post. But why would people want to carry out acts of violence? Some Chicagoans blame the violence on economic struggles and lack of jobs. What’s interesting to note is Chicago’s unemployment rate fell from 6.1% in 2015 to 5.5% in 2016. Others say social problems are the root cause of the violence. Regardless of the cause, my point is that there is so much media emphasis on Islamic extremism when really there is much more terrorism being caused by non-Muslims. Most acts of terrorism are carried out by home grown  non-Muslim citizens.

In our local paper recently there was headline titled, Mobile Muslims launch 40-day campaign. The story explained that members of the Muslim community stopped in our little town spreading teachings of peace and love in hopes of changing their religion’s stereotype. One of the Mobile Muslims said, “There are many and false teachings associated with Islam and we need to dispel them.” CBC did a piece on this group called, Muslims go on cross-country tour. Kudos to the Mobile Muslims who are trying to set the record straight. It’s time to stop blaming terrorism on the all Muslims.  The number of radical Muslims who practice terrorism is only a small group.

But let’s not forget that radicalism is not unique to Islam. The news site, AlterNet.org, published an article called, 6 Modern-Day Christian Terrorist Groups You Never Hear About, which talks about six Christian terrorist groups. These are groups like the “Army of God” who openly promote killing abortion providers and who also have a history of promoting violence against the LGBT community. It also talks about “The Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA) who according to Human Rights Watch, has committed thousands of killings and kidnappings. It seems terrorism does not exclusively belong to Muslim extremists. The Christian religion has had its fair share of extremists. Terrorism, no matter who carries it out, is WRONG! Discrimination against any group is WRONG! It’s time we focus on building a world of tolerance and understanding.

Dance Could Change the World Too

A commentary on the value of dancing.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled, Music can change the world suggesting that music is a way to unite the world. I personally believe this to be true. A few days ago a link to the following video landed in my inbox.

Dance has always been a part of my world. I grew up in a small town where there were dances, often wedding dances, many weekends of the year. It was at those small town dances that I learned to dance. When I was in college and university I joined the dance club where we learned to do such dances as the Rumba, Samba, the Foxtrot, old-time waltz, swing and even square dance. My wife tells me that one of the things that attracted her to me was the fact that I could dance. She also tells me that now I don’t dance with her enough. Our daughters danced for years with the local dance association doing Hip Hop, Ballet, Modern, Jazz and Lyrical dance. My wife and I also volunteered when our club held their dance festivals. So when I watched this video I was immediately enlivened and inspired. What a great video! Watching it put a smile on my face. The video raises one’s spirits. Dance, even just watching it, has the ability to put us in a better mood.

I wanted to learn more about what kind of person would make such a video and why they would make it, so, like I typically do, I did some research.   Can dancing unite the world? is an article I found on the Pocket Cultures site, a website which aims to increase connections, awareness and understanding between different cultures.  According the article, the video was created by Matt Harding who became an Internet celebrity by creating a series of videos of himself doing silly dances in numerous countries around the world. The video above is his latest and was made in 2012. If you go to Mr. Harding’s website, where the heck is Matt, you will find other videos he has created. Matt says he started dancing with locals because he thought it looked like fun but some people have argued that he is actually improving world relations by connecting people around the world. clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdI applaud Mr. Harding for his diplomatic projects and for showing us that everyone in this world just wants to dance and enjoy life.

Dancing is a great way to connect people around the world, just as music is. Really, when you think about it, the two are connected. You can’t have dance without music and probably visa versa. It’s difficult to dance without music and I suspect music is what inspired dancing to arise in the first place. So I wondered, are there organizations or movements that share this vision of connecting through dance to unite the world? Using Google, this is what I discovered. United Dance is an organization with the purpose to unite and train dancers all over the world. They desire to show the heart of God in unity through creative expressions of worship and dance to the world. Another is Movement Exchange, a community of dance diplomats, who aim to unite the world through dance and service. This movement believes that sharing movement creates more joy in our world. That is so true! If you watch the above video carefully, you will notice that no matter what country Matt is in, the people dancing with him are smiling and joyful. I’m sure there are other movements as well.

Even the United Nations acknowledges dance music as a positive global force. According to this article, United Nations Secretary General Bam Ki-Moon praised Belgium’s Tomorrowland music festival, one of the most noteworthy global music festivals; a festival that began in 2005.

The Secretary General commented on the true power of global dance music, and its positioning within a wider cultural dialogue; one meant for a world of togetherness and universal acceptance. Now even though the festival isn’t specifically a dance festival, you can bet that the “dance music” had people dancing. In my view, dance and music go hand in hand.

Not only does music and dance unite people of different races and cultures, but dance is good for you.  According to the Better Health Channel’s article, Dance-Health Benefits, the health benefits of dancing are:

  • improved condition of your heart and lungs
  • increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
  • increased aerobic fitness
  • improved muscle tone and strength
  • weight management
  • stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • better coordination, agility and flexibility
  • improved balance and spatial awareness
  • increased physical confidence
  • improved mental functioning
  • improved general and psychological well being
  • greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • better social skills.

Time’s article, The Hidden Health Benefits of Dance, says:

“People who took dance class improved their fitness three times more than non-dancers”.

The Toronto Star reports in the article, Toronto researchers test benefits of dance for dementia patients, that a few studies suggest dancing programs in care homes appear to decrease problematic behaviour and increase social interaction and enjoyment.

Psychology Today’s article, Why Should We Dance?  says,

Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets

So the bottom line is dance has value in this world. We live in a world that needs unity. All one has to do is watch the news to come to that conclusion. So the more ways there are to unite the world, the better this world will be. I think dance, like music, is another way to do this. So, I encourage you to celebrate the different forms of dance in the world. I especially enjoy watching people from Africa dance. The African people know how to move and express themselves.

dancingSo let loose and dance. To quote Satchel Paige, an African-American Major League Baseball pitcher,

“Dance like nobody’s watching.”

It’s a good way to get fit. It makes you feel better. It unites the world because every country has their own unique dance forms. What more can I say?

So now I’m curious. Tell me what you think?