February 14, 2008

Never a dull moment

Poor Irrelevant Opinions doesn't get enough attention from me anymore. I had thought that I would be posting more often this year given my return to a normal work schedule, without the thousands of kilometres of weekly travel. However, the newfound free time has given me an opportunity to focus on a few side projects that I had been committed to, while writing, reading, and commenting on blog posts fell aside. Look for more information about those projects in the coming months.

Occasionally, I'll bookmark an interesting news article with the intent of writing a post about it. Unfortunately, I tend to forget about them until much later, at which point they are no longer relevant. Today, I happened to stumble upon this old article I had bookmarked about the Three Little Pigs, and Muslim sensitivity. Perfect material for me, really.

The gist of the article is that an adaption of the famous story was pulled from eligibility from a children's literature award for fear of offending Muslims. Not only that, but the book allegedly also offends builders, for as we all know, the pigs build houses of straw, wood, and brick. So if the people who are building houses are depicted as pigs, someone who builds houses for a living may get offended. Brilliant conclusion.

From the article:
The judges criticised the stereotyping in the story of the unfortunate pigs: "Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?

Of course, nowhere in the article is a Muslim quoted, nor does anyone from the construction trade offer their insight on the matter.

Why, then, do these judges fear the repercussions of alienating Muslims and construction workers? And God forbid that there be a Muslim construction worker - he would probably go berserk.

The reality is that none of us really care. Pigs, in and of themselves, do not exactly offend most of us. They are the creation of Allah like every other animal. No, we will not eat them, and yes, we do consider them unclean. But they are on this earth for a reason, and surely serve some important purpose in the grand scheme of the universe.

As an open statement to the rest of the world: just ask; it will make you sound a lot less silly. I certainly appreciate your attempts to maintain equity and tolerance, but you should ask us before you tell us what does and does not offend us. You probably won't hear the same answer from every Muslim you ask, but only the most absurd amongst us would be offended by such a book.

Perhaps it was the silly cartoon controversy that put everyone on edge. As had happened with the Muslim world in the early years of this century, the rest of the world became more and more polarized in their attitude towards Muslims. There were those who would leave no verb unconjugated in ridiculing and cursing Muslims, and another camp that would adopt irrational measures to avoid offending us. Both camps often pretend to look for a middle ground, but ultimately come to conclusions that leave everyone unhappy.

Quebec has been in the spotlight for the last few months through the Reasonable Accommodation debates, in which politicians, panelists, and the public have argued over what that middle ground really is. It is unlikely that there will be some grandiose solution to all the problems, but it is perhaps a step in the right direction, with many prominent Muslims having their input heard. Nevertheless, even among Muslims, there is considerable disagreement. Having the hearts and minds of the participants unite on a consistent position is near impossible.

There are, however, some guiding principles that perhaps we can all agree on. First, the "golden rule" is always a good starting point: treat others as you'd like to be treated. Thus, if you do not want to suffer the ridicule of that which you hold dear, then do not ridicule that which others hold dear. If you want to uphold the dignity of your heritage, then let others uphold the dignity of theirs. If you want to protect your own values, expect that others will want to protect values of their own.

This alone is not enough, however. Another important principle is that one should never assume anything on behalf of another. Ask. Investigate. Learn. In a way, this can still fall into the ethics of the golden rule: if you don't want others to speak on your behalf, don't try speaking on behalf of others. Beyond that, though, we must humble ourselves to accepting that we don't have all of the answers on our own, and we need the input of others to form solid conclusions. Of course, swallowing one's pride is never an easy morsel.

A final fundamental principle involves fulfilling one's trusts. Keeping promises, honouring contracts, paying fair wages. If the fulfilment of trusts underlies all of the transactions and relationships between individuals in this country - whether they be immigrants or not, whether they be rich or poor, whatever colour - everyone will get their fair share, leaving no reason to complain. That is, of course, much easier said than done. But it needs to be said, regardless.

There are, of course, many other stories to discuss. The cartoons are back, an archbishop somewhere frightened Europe, a college meditation room sparked a vicious on-line hatefest... surely, there is never a dull moment in the depressing world of incriminating media coverage. Sure, we can try responding to each of these stories individually, protesting in the streets, and flooding the blogs and forums. Or we can simply adopt some common principles of ethics and morality, and leave a lasting impression within our spheres of influence.

Of course, none of this helps those poor construction workers. Oh well.