Edmonton Public Library ought to be ashamed of themselves. Last night, I attended their lecture series on Freedom of Expression headed by Salman Rushdie. For people who have come to know Rushdie’s work over the years, we knew what to expect from him: the cognitive dissonance experienced when trying to reconcile two images of a man – a brilliant and evocative writer and a public speaker who revels in blasphemies, insults and what has come to be called (glorified) “trolling”. I attended because I love some of his novels purely for the craft and I received a free ticket from a colleague of mine at the University of Alberta. I also wanted to see what he could possibly have to say that would fly with an open Canadian audience that prides itself on pluralism. What happened at the event, was far more sinister than anything I could have anticipated and is something that EPL should not be proud of.

Rushdie purported to be talking about freedom of expression and censorship – issues that he has built his personality cult around. And yet, his discourse on the subject is not very well-thought out and lacks significant nuance. That is, of course, giving him too much credit. It could just be that he actually believes that freedom of expression means never having any censorship whatsoever, including for spreading hate propaganda and denying that certain phenomena actually exists. Hard to believe that someone could buy that, but he does. Denying the Holocaust as a counter-argument to this “expression free-for-all” is the first thing that usually comes to mind as something that should (and often is) legislated against. (And before any ill-informed Judeophobes get up in arms, let me be clear: historical discussion is not denial. Ever.)

But Rushdie didn’t take his own argument to those problematic ends. Instead he blatantly denied that a different kind of harmful phenomena exists: Islamophobia. He dismissed Islamophobia (a word he allegedly “doesn’t like”) as a relatively recent innovation designed by Daesh (ISIS) apologists (see: all Muslims) to stop genuine criticism of Islam.

Excuse me? Sit down, Sir.

For people who live with the vile discrimination of Islamophobia every single day, dismissing their lived reality as part of a conspiratorial global Muslim plot to make the world more PC is part and parcel of the rest of the Islamophobia we endure daily. Rushdie’s reified Clash of Civilizations narrative wouldn’t even fly in an intro to Poli Sci class at the University so why the hell is EPL giving this fool a podium to spew it so unapologetically?

Here’s a fact: polarizing rhetoric polarizes. They become self-fulfilling prophecies because they don’t describe the world, they prescribe it and in swallowing such quantifiably impoverished arguments, bigots allow the work done to reconcile alienated communities get thrown under the bus immediately. And for him to put all of this under the self-defensive, circular argument of “freedom of expression” is no better than the unreflective xenophobes I am accustomed to dealing with in much less distinguished settings.

At one point, Rushdie actually said he should have the right to disrespect religions and then proceeded to make an argument for the freedom to hate, coupled with jokes that emulated Trump’s pussy-grabbing sexual assault “quips” and quite literally made fun of transgender women for not having vaginas. He did this while painting the artist/writer as a victim of censorship to a room full of people who, astonishingly, swallowed his intellectually devoid argument and laughed along with his hateful one-liners, including politicians and senior city bureaucrats. As a writer, I was appalled.

Rushdie spreads hate under the mandate of anti-censorship so that any legitimate critique of his neo-liberal, anti-religion, secular homogenizing agenda is dismissed as either anti-modern or Islamist.

And isn’t that the tactic of every colonizer to dismiss his critics as being “uncivilized”?

In Rushdie’s Lilliputian world, I am simply a reactive, anti-modern because I don’t think we should give intolerant hacks the time of day – especially not to massive, sold-out crowds at a huge downtown hotel in our capital city. He would simply cry “Censorship” and believe that that should silence me. Point to my hijab and shout “extremist” because I disagree with him. And that should somehow silence me? The caveat of his argument about freedom of expression is that freedom of expression is for all except people who actually recognize how harmful hateful rhetoric is, who devote their lives to studying and preventing it, who don’t believe that people have an intuitive “bullshit radar” (if they did, they wouldn’t have been laughing so hard at his gay-bashing jokes last night and we wouldn’t be dealing with the gongshow of an American election right now) and who know how easily people are manipulated and made to hate by stories told in defense of their social position and power.

But this isn’t about Rushdie. At all. He is so predictable, it hurts.

We all know what to expect from this pandering neo-liberal fool who positively ejaculates every time one of his books is put on a banned list because he gets to self-fellatiate in front of global press audiences. We all know that virulent liberal secularist proponents are the least reflective and least self-critical non-thinkers on the planet. My God, they barely even know that they too operate under an actual cultural system that is not, impossibly, outside ”culture” itself while reifying Christianoform time, rituals and rhetoric unquestioningly as an allegedly non-religious zombie of the Western European tradition.

No, the real problem here is that a community institution, the Edmonton Public Library, attacked Canadian pluralism in bringing him here and simultaneously undermined the difficult and incredible work their staff does daily to establish safe spaces in their libraries for people of colour, Muslims, women and LGBTQ people. I won’t go so far as to say people like him should remain silent or be made silent because I don’t think that is the case. A community institution giving Rushdie’s blatant intolerance a speaking platform and a large audience is entirely another story.  I did not feel safe in an EPL-created space last night and I know a lot of other people who didn’t either. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I know I am.

 

Join us in extending heartfelt congratulations to our very own writer and researcher, Rachael Heffernan, on a successful defense of her Master’s thesis this week. Rachael’s research was on the body of God in the Hebrew Bible.

In the course of her academic career, Rachael has received a number of scholarships and awards, including the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

In personal solidarity with Alberta’s First Nations and Indigenous communities, The Drawing Board owner, Nakita Valerio, is raising money raising money in support of the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership youth camp by getting sponsorship for a 5km run on October 8th, 2016.

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The money will be donated to the YIWCL to be used for basic operational costs of their 8-day intensive, Cree-immersion cultural camp. Recently, this camp lost funding and faces an uncertain future.

This initiative means a lot to me because I have learned that one of the first points of cultural erosion and social disorder is the erasure of a community’s history and culture. In my experience in women’s advocacy, I have also learned that incredible social change comes through the empowerment of women and the creation of safe spaces in which they can learn and grow.

I am doing my very small part to get fundraising kick-started for this very worthwhile cause and would appreciate your support of both my social justice and exercise efforts in the meantime.

Donors will receive social media shout-outs and other perks along the way.

Help spread the word!
IMAGE CREDIT: Artist Aaron Paquette – please visit his blog HERE and support local artists.

 

 

The latest annual report on life expectancy from Alberta Health was published earlier this week and the massive drop in the projected lifespan of Alberta’s indigenous people is startling. The report states that “in comparison to Alberta’s total population, the First Nations populations experience an infant mortality rate that is more than one and a half times higher, a suicide rate that is five to seven times higher, a higher rate of diabetes and significantly higher rates of arthritis, asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure.” While non-indigenous Albertans are expected to live to the ripe old age of 81.87 years, the indigenous life expectancy currently sits at only 70.36 years. That’s almost a dozen years less than everyone around them. A dozen less years to live, laugh and love in relative health like the rest of us.

It is critical to realize that these statistics are only an alarm bell sounding for the rest of us living next to or among our indigenous neighbours. These numbers do not tell First Nations stories: tragic stories of children lost prematurely, stories of loved ones lost to suicide and to the social isolation of addiction and mental illness. They do not tell of the loss of an entire way of life and the effect that this has had on a community’s eroded sense of self and access to healthy, life-giving foods and exercise.

The fact that these preventable tragedies are happening in different communities occupying the same geographic space is unacceptable, and it is not only the imperative of our government to take action: as a Muslim convert born in Alberta, I am not only religiously implored to treat my neighbours well, care for them and cooperate with them, I am also forbidden from harming them and allowing others to harm or neglect them as well. Islam teaches us that it is incumbent upon everyone to ensure that our neighbours do not go hungry as we eat our fill – no matter who those neighbours might be. And an extension of this is that we simultaneously cannot accept our own privileged access to health foods and services, while our brothers and sisters are neglected. Food bank usage among non-indigenous Albertans alone increased more than 23% between 2014 and 2015: if we are going to be a strong Alberta, we are our strongest together and this starts by helping protect our most vulnerable populations.

Empty stomachs and subpar nutrition have vast social consequences, particularly for communities that are already vulnerable through inherited historical trauma and continuing marginalization. The first question to enter one’s mind when faced with what Health Minister Sarah Hoffmann is calling “a troubling situation” should be: how can I help?

The most practical and immediate action you can take is to support local agencies that are trying to make change. Municipal food banks help serve indigenous peoples in cities while Alberta Food Banks is the provincial association of food banks with a mission to advance the vital role, capacity and voice of Alberta’s food banks through advocacy, educational and networking opportunities. While they have yet to form a similar initiative as the Regional Food Distribution Association (of Northwestern Ontario) which feeds indigenous communities specifically, there is no reason such a critical project could not be initiated here. And putting our dollars and donations where our mouths are helps such projects gain momentum. Further, while it is critical that the government of Alberta take action to improve access to health services, better infrastructure and healthier foods, we cannot forget that these people are our elected representatives. Contact your MLA to ensure they are doing everything they can to answer the call to action and are following through on partnerships with indigenous leaders to address the issue through purposeful action.

At the very least, raise awareness with the intention of taking action and remember that while these news stories and reports may fall off our radar within a couple of days on being shared on a newsfeed, these troubling statistics are life stories of the indigenous people around us: lives cut short, potential diminished, and injustice allowed to continue in our midst. I, for one, cannot accept that reality and neither should you.

Nakita Valerio is the owner and head writer for The Drawing Board.


Update: I have called the Alberta Food Banks to ask for an update on any projects that deliver to reserves specifically and will follow-up with how to donate or initiate such a project depending on their response.

Thank you from The Drawing Board.jpg

Success means nothing without gratitude and as The Drawing Board continues to grow, we wanted to take a moment to thank you for choosing local writers and researchers to help your company or organization succeed.

Together, we help shape our cities and build communities by contributing to the business and cultural landscape in which we serve others.

We are proud to uplift you in what you do and are grateful you have chosen to do the same for us.

In gratitude for all you do,

Nakita Valerio (Owner/Head Writer)

Liz Hill & Rachael Heffernan (Writers/Researchers)

This article was written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher with The Drawing Board.

 

If you’re feeling like you don’t spend enough time on your creative self, and you’re getting tired of the same-old-same-old dinner and a movie, you may be a perfect candidate for Sits.

Sits, you say?

Yes, Sits.

Sits began (as far as I know) in my partner’s family. Because they all live far apart during the year, in the last few days of summer they have a ritual they’ve dubbed Sits. They each spend some time scouting out the best places around the property, and then, in one glorious day, grab a couple of bottles of wine and some folding chairs and trek their way to each spot. They sit, they drink, they chat, and they admire the beauty that can only be found in The Middle of Nowhere, Ontario. It’s a beautiful tradition all about spending time in undiscovered places with people you love.

The idea of Edmonton Sits came out of this ritual with a couple of little twists to make it more appropriate for city life, and, as a bonus, orient it towards accomplishing the dreams of two author-wannabes. Here’s how it works:

  1. You and your posse of creative minds go out on the town armed with good pens, notebooks, and no more than one book each for inspiration. You may trade books with one another as the night goes on.
  2. Go to a place you’ve never been before. This can be in nature or can be somewhere indoor that has beverages and appetizers.
  3. Everyone orders drinks OR a timer is set  – and here’s the crutch of the game – you must write as much as you can for the duration of one drink, or leave before the timer runs out.
  4. Then you move on to the next location.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for as long as you please.

My partner and I went out and it was one of the best date nights we had had in a very long time. Getting to spend some time joyfully writing together and sharing our silly stories and poems was hugely refreshing. The unexpected side effect was that I felt it activated my creativity in a whole new way – armed with my notebook in my purse, for the next few nights we went out I ended up furiously scribbling poetry amongst the baskets of french fries and pints of beer on the table.


Here are some of my favourite poems from our adventures:

BEER

Lemon half moon

Bubbly balloons

Sittin’ under Edmonton skies

Burdened down I ain’t

Pickin’ at the paint

Not knowin’ when I’m gonna die


HEIGHTS

My nephew toddled softly

He would adamantly walk

And stoop and stop and bend and stretch

And talk and talk and talk.

He’d pick the little clovers

And stare down at the grass

He’d grab pink rocks and stash them

He’d point out bits of glass

And I’d walk and stop and hurry

I’d take him by the hand

All I could see were stop signs

While his eyes were on the land.