Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Burkini Ban Won't Prevent Spread of Islamic Fundamentalism. It Will Fuel It

Who knew a full-body bathing suit was such a threat to a country's national identity? Well, apparently leaders in some towns in southern France think it's a threat, which is why they've banned the so-called burkini bathing suit from their beaches. They think that somehow, by banning the burkini, they will stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism. But history actually shows us that banning the overt expression of religious devotion doesn't prevent the rise of religious extremism. In fact, it often does just the opposite.

Long before countries in Europe started banning Muslims from wearing face veils or headscarves, it was actually Muslim countries that were trying to prevent their people from being too steeped in Islamic observance. Many people don't know it, but Iran, which is now in the firm control of Islamic fundamentalists, was once a staunchly secular country.  In fact, the last Shah of Iran attempted to ban things like the hijab and the niqab. As is the case in France now, anyone in Iran who displayed their religious devotion in public was viewed as a threat to the regime.  But ironically, the attempts by the Shah of Iran to protect the secular state from Islamic extremism by suppressing Islamic religious observance did just the opposite.  In 1979, the people of Iran, led by Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the secular regime of the Shah and established what is now arguably the most dangerous Islamist regime in the world.

More recently, Turkey has become the latest secular state to fall to Islamists. Indeed, in just over a decade, Turkey has turned from a modern, secular state where wearing the hijab or any other conspicuous religious garb in any state institution was strictly forbidden, to a country under the near-total control of an Islamist president in the person of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who himself was once arrested and served time in prison for espousing Islamist politics.

So clearly, putting undue restrictions on religious devotion or religious practice does not prevent the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. Instead, such restrictions add gas to the fire that we call Islamic extremism. If France and any other country wants to stop the spread of Islamo-fascism, then they need to concentrate on the real threats - and folks, the burkini isn't one of them.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Save Aleppo! Save Syria!

Today, I signed a petition put together by a doctor working in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo (see: Obama & Merkel: Please act to save our lives in Aleppo).  I doubt it will make much of a difference, however, as the leaders of the free world have largely ignored the plight of the Syrian people, much to the joy of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and his fellow dictators in Russia and Iran, not to mention terrorist groups like ISIL.  More than 250,000 people have died in the war; more than four million refugees have fled the country and another eight million are internally displaced (see: Lifeline Syria Facts and Statistics).  Hundreds of thousands of these refugees have made their way to Europe, triggering the worst migration crisis on the continent since World War II (see: Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts).  And remember when our modern-day Neville Chamberlain, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a red line?  Well Mr. President, chemical weapons have been used on several occasions and you've sat on your hands and done nothing - and nothing is exactly what your word is worth to both your allies and your enemies.  No wonder then that neither the U.S. nor its allies have taken meaningful action to end the Syrian conflict.

And by meaningful action, I don't mean trying to talk Assad and his allies into ending the slaughter of Syrian civilians.  I mean force - the only thing that dictators like Syria's Assad, Russia's Vladimir Putin, the Iranian ayatollahs and terrorist groups like ISIL and Hezbollah understand. The sad truth is that the U.S. and her allies missed the best chance to end the conflict with limited military action years ago.  Had the West acted to neutralize Assad's air force the same way they did Libya's when people in that country rose up against their dictator, the war would have been over years ago; thousands of deaths could have been prevented, there would not be a massive flow of refugees into Europe, and terrorist groups like ISIL and Hezbollah wouldn't have the foothold in Syria that they have now.  But alas, the leaders of the free world failed to act.  So now, instead of planes from the world's democratic countries flying in the sky over Syria to defend civilians from the wrath of their dictator's air force, there are instead Russian warplanes flying over Syria bombing Aleppo and other civilian centres in the country alongside Assad's planes.  Clearly, it is our enemies who have the courage to defend their interests in Syria, whilst the democracies, led by a feeble U.S. president, sit on the sidelines.

I do believe, however, that it is still possible for the free world to use military force in order to save the lives of civilians in Syria.  But it means that somebody's going to have to have the guts to stand up to Putin and tell him that the air forces of the democracies will defend Syria's civilians, even if it means shooting down his planes.  Okay, maybe you folks reading this think I'm crazy because doing what I'm proposing would inevitably lead to a third world war, right?  I don't think so, for the simple reason that as tough and aggressive as Putin has acted over the last few years, he's not yet ready to take on the full military might of the Western democracies.  So I say we stand up to the petty Russian dictator on Syria now, while we still can, before his forces are ready to draw hands with us.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

It's Time We Got Rid of Streetcars in Toronto

I recently came across a CBC news article that referred to a study linking many serious bicycle accidents in downtown Toronto to streetcar tracks (see: Streetcar tracks major cause of serious downtown cycling crashes, new study finds).  To me, this is yet another reason to get rid of streetcars in Toronto.  I understand that streetcars are an iconic symbol of the city, but they're also a big traffic nuisance whether you're riding a bicycle or driving a car.  Have you ever driven in downtown Toronto and gotten stuck behind one?  Unless a streetcar has its own right-of-way, like on St. Clair Ave. or Spadina Ave., chances are that whenever it stops to load and unload passengers, the rest of the traffic behind it has to stop.  By law, all traffic in the land adjacent to a streetcar must stop behind the streetcar doors to allow passengers to be loaded and unloaded onto the transit vehicle. There are instances, however, when drivers will ignore this law and try to pass the streetcar when its doors are open, sometimes leading to riders being injured or even killed.

The fact of the matter is that if not for the presence of these annoying hulks of metal and the infrastructure they use, both cyclists and TTC riders would face much less risk to their well-being when navigating the streets of downtown Toronto.  Furthermore, traffic would flow more freely because it wouldn't be stuck behind streetcars loading and unloading passengers.  Indeed, getting stuck behind streetcars doesn't just cause a lot of frustration for drivers, but also leads more idling traffic and therefore more pollution.  Another benefit of doing away with streetcars is that the city would no longer have to do maintenance on streetcar tracks or cables.  I can't even count how many times the city has had to close major intersections in downtown Toronto in order to repair streetcar track, resulting in more traffic headaches.

Now of course, if we get rid of streetcars, we'll obviously have to replace them with something.  After all, multitudes of Torontonians rely on streetcars every day.  Indeed, supporters of streetcars will tell you that if we got rid of them, we would have to replace them with buses that run on gas rather than electricity like streetcars do and the end result would be more pollution.  But as I've already mentioned, even though streetcars run on electricity, they cause traffic to idle and that idling itself leads to more pollution.  Also, who says that we need to replace streetcars with buses when we can replace them with subways?  This has been done in the past.  Older Torontonians may remember, for example, how there used to be streetcars on Bloor and Danforth before the Bloor-Danforth subway line was completed.  There's no reason why we can't replace current streetcar lines with subway lines. There would, of course, be a major financial commitment, but I think many Toronto residents would agree that it would be worth it to alleviate traffic jams and make getting from point A to point B easier.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Young People Looking for Work Face Exploitation and Despair

I recently read an article in The Globe and Mail about how a growing number of people with graduate degrees are either unemployed or underemployed.  You would think that the higher the education you have, the easier it'll be to find full-time employment.  But it's not so simple.  In fact, the Globe article also noted that the number of employed people with just a high school education or trade certificate is growing.  The fact of the matter is that nowadays, if you want a good job, you may be better off learning a trade than spending several years in university.

I remember looking for work after I got my graduate degree and believe me when I say that one of the worst jobs a person can have is looking for a job.  It is especially difficult for young people, many of whom come out of university with a mountain of debt, looking desperately for full-time work so that they can pay off their student loans.  They try to get their foot in the door, only to have the door slammed on them by potential employers. Some are told that they don't have enough experience, leading them to ask themselves, "How can I get a job when everyone wants experience?  And how can I get experience when I don't have a job?"  The answer that the compassion-less conservatives usually give is that you need to volunteer and work for nothing.  Personally, I think this is a ludicrous answer because nowadays, students and recent graduates who are up to their eyeballs in debt can't afford to work for free.  Some of them do, nevertheless, because it's the only way for them to get the experience they need in order to increase their chances of landing that all-important full-time job in the future - or so they think.

Enter the unpaid internship, where young people can find themselves working full-time hours with no compensation.  Now of course, the compassion-less conservatives will say that the compensation is in the form of job experience.  But in many cases, young interns will find themselves doing menial tasks that do nothing to prepare them for the job market - tasks that should be done by paid employees. The sad truth is that some firms, organizations and individuals take advantage of unpaid internships to exploit young people and use their free labour to avoid hiring paid employees, leaving the young interns themselves no closer to a full-time job than before they decided to work for nothing.

The sadder truth, however, is what happens when a young person fresh out of university has pulled out all the stops, but still hasn't found gainful, full-time employment.  In a word, underemployment. Indeed, I worked my ass off in university, obtaining both a BA and a Masters degree, only to find myself working on construction sites doing manual labour because I couldn't find work in my field. How's that for a reward for my years of studying!? Actually, I consider myself fortunate because I was eventually able to start my own business.  Others, however, aren't so lucky and are forced to take on menial jobs just to make ends meet.  So it's no surprise that there are many university graduates working as waiters or retail salespeople.  Believe me when I say that being underemployed can feel just as humiliating and degrading as being unemployed.  I hope I speak for most people when I say that folks who work hard in university deserve better than to be serving drinks or mopping floors.