Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hungarian Philosophers Harassed for Criticizing Right-Wing Government

The Collège International de Philosophie in Paris reported at the end of February that a group of Hungarian philosophers were being persecuted by the Hungarian government and media. The philosophers are presently under investigation for having allegedly misused research grants allocated to them. However, the philosophers claim that they are being harassed and libeled because they openly criticized Viktor Orbán, the current Prime Minister of Hungary, and his administration.

According to the Collège International de Philosophie, the current campaign against this group of philosophers is symptomatic of other issues afflicting the intellectual circles of Hungary: the Academy of Science recently dismissed four philosophy professors while the director of the National Theatre of Budapest was publicly stigmatized for being homosexual.

Among the group of philosophers being currently persecuted are prominent European intellectual figures such as Mihály Vajda, Sándor Radnóti and Ágnes Heller. Ágnes Heller was born in 1929, and was a follower of Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic, György Lukács. Considered the founder of the Budapest School of Philosophy, Heller was persecuted as a dissident in the 1970s, and, in 1977, she left the country and pursued an academic career, first in Australia and then in the USA. Heller has been heavily slandered by the Hungarian media over the past few weeks, to the point that she has now put forward a criminal complaint against the newspaper “Magyar Nemzet” (“Hungarian Nation”) for its constant attacks.

According to Heller, the accusations of misuse of funding are just a cover-up, exploited by the government and the national press, to be able to harass a number of philosophers for their leftist inclinations, and for having criticized, in both the national and international press, the current policies of the right-wing government in Hungary. In an interview with “University World News,” Heller said the following: “There were more than 100 grants [given for research.] Why had they picked six of them for investigation? They gave the answer. The attacked philosophers were all liberal-leftist,” before adding: “Why was the attack concentrated on me, when I have not received one single penny? And why immediately criminal charges? On what ground, if not as ideological harassment?”

Many European intellectuals are worried about the safety of their colleagues in such a political climate. German philosophers, J. Nida-Rümelin and  J. Habermas recently published an open letter denouncing the campaign aimed at discrediting those philosophers. They actively called on the European Commission “not only to subject the Hungarian media law to a long-overdue legal assessment, but that, at the same time, in the course of this assessment, it [the European Commission] ought to take into account the general practices of the Hungarian regime and its agents, and in this case especially it ought to examine the treatment of critical academics and intellectuals.”

I hereby post a video of Heller explaining the situation:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Censorship Brings Back Old Memories [Pride and the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid]

On February 5, 1981, the Metropolitan Toronto Police raided four gay bathhouses in Toronto, arresting 306 people; 20 owners were charged for “keeping a common bawdyhouse,” and 286 men were charged as “found-ins.” While men were being verbally abused, beaten up and dragged out naked on the streets, this moment spurred what is now called the Canadian equivalent of New York City’s Stonewall Riots. Indeed, following Operation Soap (which was the name given to the raid and mass arrest), the LGBTQ communities in Canada rallied, got organized and steered mass protests. Thirty years on, this protest has now turned into what we know as Pride Toronto.

Thirty years is not so far back in time, and yet, in those 30 years, much has been accomplished, including, amongst others, recognizing the civil rights of LGBTQ and other minority communities, the passing of numerous anti-discrimination bills and the legalization of same-sex marriages. Three decades also propelled Pride Toronto into uncharted directions, altering the nature of the parade from a few thousand politically-conscious queers and allies descending into the streets to make themselves visible to what numerous activists now call “a big corporate party.”

While Pride Toronto “prides” itself on being one of the largest cultural festivals in North America, attracting up to one million people, the culture(s) being promoted by the 10-day event is still fraught with ambivalence: is Pride Toronto a political event, is it just a large profit-making corporate celebration, or, if it is a bit of both, how does Pride negotiate both these ends and incorporate them into those 10 days?

The crux of the question may be looked at in light of the debate about whether the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) should, or not, be allowed to participate in Pride Toronto. The embers of this fiery dispute, ignited a few years ago, are presently being fanned again. QuAIA is an off-shoot of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, and is a Toronto-based LGBTQ group aimed at protesting the military occupation of Palestine by the Israeli authorities. While their aim, as a LGBTQ group, is to make themselves visible and vocal enough to state their discontent in the face of a particular kind of colonization and occupation, the queer communities, and the public as a whole, are divided over whether Pride Toronto is an adequate space for QuAIA to denounce the politics of the government of Israel (and other countries supporting Israel.)

Last year, the Toronto Pride Committee claimed that Pride did not have any affiliations to political entities or causes and that QuAIA would not be allowed to march in the Parade. Subsequently, the committee changed its decision at the last minute, and QuAIA was allowed to take part in the parade, but the words “Israeli Apartheid” were altogether banned from use.

Last week, Toronto mayor Rob Ford announced that the city would refuse to grant any funding to Pride Toronto should QuAIA be allowed to participate in the parade. Speaking to the Canadian Jewish News, Rob Ford stated that “taxpayer dollars should not go toward funding hate speech.” From Ford’s point of view, denouncing and expressing an oppressive political situation, in a public fashion, in a democratic society, is “hate speech.”

Rewind back to thirty years ago: had the protests of the LGBTQ communities in 1981 been silenced and shrugged off as “hate speech,” where would the queer communities presently stand in terms of civil rights and anti-discrimination?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mauritius, The Greatest Country on Earth? [some nationalist feeling!]

Those who know me in real life know the deep political and intellectual aversion I have for nationalist discourses and nationalist feelings. These stem from a million of reasons that I won't get into in this post. However, I will make an exception to thrashing the idea of the nation in this post, and instead, I will actually celebrate the island where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life: Mauritius!

A professor at Trent just sent me this article, "The Greatest Country on Earth: What the United States can learn from the tiny island nation of Mauritius." Read by clicking here.

Of course, it got me wondering: if I could be at home where I would attend university for free, why the hell am I piling up debts writing a thesis out here?! :S

"Suppose someone were to describe to you a small country that provided free education through university for all of its citizens, transportation for school children, and free health care—including heart surgery—for all. You might suspect that such a country is either phenomenally rich or on the fast track to fiscal crisis. . . ."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Musical Interlude and British Voices

It's been a very long while now, that I've been musically starved. It's been months that I've been looking for music that is refreshing, that blows me away, that is out of the box of the bing-bang-boom that the mainstream music industry has been producing. While all the Gagas and Rihannas are fine to listen once or twice (and definitely good for a dance-floor), I've been waiting for those artists whose albums I would listen over and over again, across months, without tiring my musical ear.

First there was Cheryl Cole's album, Fight for this Love that caught my attention back in 2009.

Sure, I love Cheryl and I want to marry her. But beyond my love for her, her first album took me back to good pop from the 80s. It was, for me, the epitome of British pop before it all got too trashy and out-of-hand (dare I say post-modern?) Cheryl's second album, 3 Words was released in 2010.

While some of the songs from 3 Words have been played much more than others on my i-Tunes, it didn't last too long.

In 2010, I also discovered Florence and the Machine-- again from Britain!

With Florence and the Machine, I had finally found a voice that gripped me with its tone, notes and texture, and I had found the perfect mix of indie, rock, pop and soul. Till now, I still regularly listen to their album, Lungs, and we often play it as accompanying music while doing our barre exercises at Ballet for Drop-Outs.

And then, a few months ago, thanks to her rendition of Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love, I discovered Adele. Again, a British artist who managed to conquer the rest of the world. Her first album 19, blew me away in its simplicity, its style, and just in terms of Adele's powerful voice.

There was the artist who had "it"-- whatever it stands for. Adele was the voice I had been craving for and I am glad she came along. Her songs are her voice, her personality: who she is is stamped onto every single song, which is predictable when an artist composes and writes all her songs herself. She found her niche, and she knew how to explore it.

A few weeks ago, Adele's second album came out, 21.

I've had it for a week now and it's been playing non-stop in my room, in my ears, and in my head even when I am not listening to it. She has spine-tingling juggling vocal abilities and I will never say this enough: she is original. She's got no Gaga-like gimmicks, nothing is overdone, nothing is exaggerated, other than the passion in her voice when she sings: she sings every single word and hits every single note like she means it.

In Adele's 21 album, she has an acoustic rendition of Someone Like You. I don't think there's ever been a song that gripped me so strongly and intensely. I listen to it three times a day. Just three times. If I listen to it more than that, I feel it's so intense that I want to explode, that I want to run away and hide my head under a pillow. It's just her, her voice, a piano and her passion.

I found this video on Youtube. It's Adele performing at the Brit Awards. Spine-tingling. Each time I listen to it, it gives me goose-gumps:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Drop-outs or Push-outs? Africentric Education and Inclusive Pedagogy

As part of Black History Month, the Community for Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRC) and the Centre for Gender and Social Justice (CGSJ) organized a roundtable discussion on Africentric Education and inclusive pedagogy. The event took place at Catharine Parr Traill College on February 26 and featured Leah Newbold, a Toronto-based visual artist, community organizer and educator at the Sheppard Public Africentric Alternative School in Toronto; Charmaine Magumbe, co-founder of the Afrocentric Awareness Network of the Kawarthas (AANK); and Dr. George Sefa Dei, educator, researcher, writer and professor of Sociology and Equity Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.

Each of the presentations brought to light a different perspective on the merits and challenges facing Africentric educational platforms: Leah Newbold spoke primarily of her experience as a teacher at the Africentric Alternative School; Charmaine Magumbe spoke about how her experience as a student of Jamaican-descent influenced the ways she raised and educated her children in Peterborough; and George Dei’s presentation pertained predominantly to how mainstream education can demotivate youth from minority groups and push them to disengagement. With the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) facing a 40% rate of drop-out amongst students of the Black communities, this panel provided a space to examine the reasons behind this drop-out rate and offer concrete solutions to counter this trend—notably, by questioning established pedagogies and curricula.

In her presentation, Leah Newbold explained that the Africentric Alternative School was initiated in 2009 with 130 students. It now comprises of 170 students from JK to grade 6, and the school is expected to grow by one grade per year. Though the school received considerable negative media attention and was accused of “encouraging segregation” and offering “ghettoized education,” Newbold demystified the latter allegations by explaining that segregation is a form of dominance that aims at separating groups with the purpose of making them unequal. Africentric education, on the other hand, is set up to address systemic failure and disengagement from youth. Newbold pointed out that mainstream education, as we know it, is itself Eurocentric, but the latter fact is taken for granted and not questioned as in its role as dominating or “segregationist.”

George Dei, was also adamant about Africentric schools being the solution to a problem that had been ignored for far too long. Dei explained Africentric education as a pedagogical methodology that, within the classroom setting, introduces culturally relevant references, histories, and experiences that resonate with a student’s identity and community. While the curricula followed is still the ones established by the TDSB, the core element of African-centered education is to “center” African experiences within these school curricula so that children and youth of African descent can see themselves through the lens of a valuable history.

Dei explained this history as a totality of lived experiences and not just as dates and facts that happened at particular times and places. Charmaine Magumbe echoed this notion of history through the work carried by AANK. AANK aims at raising positive-- rather than negative-- awareness of Black heritage in the Peterborough and Kawartha regions. Moving away from lectures and classes, AANK aims to teach and create comfort around Africentricism by sharing lived experiences and practices in order to restore learning about pre-colonial Africa.

One of the major points raised during the round-table discussion is the impact of mainstream education on the self-perception of youth belonging to minority groups. While Magumbe spoke about how her own schooling experience was destructive to her self-image, Dei argued that youth who drop out of schools do not generally do so because of any limitations of their own, but because they are “pushed out” of schools by the educational system. This “push out,” explains Dei, is a process and it needs to be identified and minutely analyzed.

For Dei, one of the ways in which this “push out” can be countered is by making sure that test scores are not the only measure of success for youth in schools. Instead, he proposed a thorough investigating of how students feel about who they are and how they feel about their community. Along the same lines, Newbold proposed forms of teaching that take into account histories of oppression while reinforcing positive models of self-image. Africentric education has the aim of encouraging youth to be proud of their history and their inherited culture, and to question the authority of mainstream whiteness and Eurocentricism.

For Dei, a successful Africentric education is one where Black youth recognize their community, and their community’s past and achievements. In other words, Dei encourages teaching models that move towards a culture of community rather than a culture of individualism. Speaking of Africa not as a continent, but as a state of mind, Dei reiterated that this African consciousness needs to be carried forward proudly. All the participants on the panel spoke of colonization not only in terms of the land, but also in terms of colonization of the mind—which is what an Africentric education aims at decolonizing.

By educating through engagement with identities and experiences, the Africentric educational platform aims to reach out and engage a multiplicity of experiences and identities that may or may not specifically pertain to the Black communities. With time, the panel hopes that such models will open themselves to other marginalized groups and different sites, and have the transformative power to reconfigure the current mainstream educational models.