mercredi 24 mars 2010

The Night Ann Coulter came to Town

As part of a short cross-Canada tour, because apparently Ontario and Alberta count as a truly cross-Canada tour, Ann Coulter came to speak at the University of Ottawa at the invitation of a Free Speech Society. Most of the people in my class left to try to hear what she had to say and I believe it is fair to assume that the vast majority of people who were going wanted to hear what she had to say, whether they agreed or not. To enter, you needed to register, which was free for students, a few days ahead of time. This meant that most people who were there really supported her and what she had to say.

She was of course there to speak about the importance of free speech, but the planned question and answer session would have surely brought out what many of the people who weren’t allowed in wanted to hear: disgusting words about Muslims and homosexuals and liberals. For those who didn’t know, Ann Coulter is not a Facebook fan of these people. Inviting her to the University of Ottawa was guaranteed to create such a show, especially because of Seamus Wolfe, the President of the Student Federation. He likes to get into his own trouble and it was expected that people like himself would try to stop her speech on the basis that it is spreading hate. On the other side, the organizers wanted to promote free speech. It is possible that what the University’s vice-rector François Houle said about the different interpretation of free speech in Canada was important. Telling a Muslim that she cannot fly on a plane so she should use a magic carpet or a camel is not free speech in this country, at least most people wouldn’t think so.

In fact, that so many people were there to hear what she had to say and supported it shows that our country is not as tolerant as we think. What is perhaps more disturbing is that those people are part of the governing elite in Canada and represent an important part of the population. To say that you support free speech is one thing, it should be universal, but to agree with her on topics ranging from converting Muslims to Christianity and destroying the Middle East is a little bit scary. But many people agree with that to some degree and many of the organizers of the event work for members of Parliament or take part in fundraising or what not. This is a scary prospect if ever the reigning party were to obtain a majority. The rights that all Canadians enjoy are threatened, and I don’t mean free speech.

What is especially disturbing is the legitimacy that she has. After seven best-selling books and many television appearances, Ann Coulter still has not really done anything. She does not base her information on facts but on assumptions and close-minded approaches to complex questions. She is not elected and she does not legitimately speak for anyone but herself. How can she define liberals and conservatives and make judgments?

Since the University allowed her to speak, it should have provided enough security to let her do so properly. In that way, she could have done what most expected of her: talk of things that most of us reject as hate and insulting our shared values. Now, she will write a book about it and make more money. At least the University of Ottawa has got its name out for something!

dimanche 14 mars 2010

Old Man, I'm a lot like you

I’ve been caught in a vicious debate within my self for many years. On the one hand, I try desperately to gain credibility within the world of knowledge but on the other, I want to remain true to the people who work this land and make the world go around.

Neil Young’s song Old Man plays directly into this internal debate and reassures me that I’m not the only one in this struggle. Trying to convince the old ranch tender that though he has gained this first credibility does not take him away from the second is captured in 3:25.

Neil Young has of course won many awards and is praised as one the best musicians ever. Yet, this old man didn’t care about his music and his foreign ways, he was a man of the land who didn’t want to see this city boy come and change the way is world spun round. Neil needed desperately to convince the man that though the differences that separate them: city/country, young/old, they share common bonds of humanity. “I’m a lot like you”. When confronted with a new person that we want to impress, we immediately attempt to establish links and Neil, despite his influence and importance, does like any other human.

Over the past years, I’ve continuously attempted to gain as much academic knowledge as possible, to consider theoretical responses to real life situations and to play the game that society wants where a university education is considered the minimum for this job and that. At the same time, the people I respect most are people who work hard, day in, day out, by using their hands and their strength. That is work I could never do: it requires energy, precision, patience and the ability to keep working no matter what. I want to show them that despite this university education where my pen and computer are the tools of the trade, I can relate to the work that they do and the people they are.

Neil wanted the approval of the old man because he thought it was important to feel accepted in this new part of the world in which he was getting himself involved. He wanted his world and that of the old man to join together or, at the very least to be in that world. He wanted to bring the old man back to his youth, when he felt the same possibilities in this world. He wanted to share the common desire for love that binds humanity together and that provides the only link between all of us. “I’m a lot like you were”, he says. I want now, the same things you wanted then.

If Neil Young could say that to that old man, I would like to tell Neil now that “I’m a lot like you were”. I may not yet be 24, but I soon will be. Then, perhaps I’ll be buying my own ranch beside Neil’s and telling him those same words. In the future, it is likely that I will meet with people who doubt my credibility. Perhaps Neil’s words of comfort can remind these doubters of their younger days and give me some of the credibility I seek. If Neil Young needed credibility, I need a lot more.