Friday, October 12, 2007

the view from here

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small
contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

Rumi: Mathnawi III:3762-3766
trans Coleman Barks, via sunlight

The provincial elections in Ontario, Canada (see to and fro, forward and back), have concluded as predicted by late polling. The central and heated issue was the Tory proposal to provide public funding to faith-based schools. The clear response from the people was "no" and it is not a great stretch, I believe, to add that the "no" was strongly conditioned by the presence of Muslim schools in the mix. This was effectively a "no" to an independent Muslim presence in the Canadian education scene. Many a Muslim will see it as a "no" to an independent Muslim presence in the Canadian body politic.

Here in Australia, we have long provided funding to non-governmental or "private" schools. Many, though not all, of these schools are faith-based. Catholic schools form the largest sector with the remaining referred to simply as "independent" schools.

Although most are non-aligned, some of the best known independent schools also belong to the large, long-established religious foundations (Anglican, Uniting Church, Presbyterian) but in most cases they do not insist on their students’ religious allegiance. These schools are typically viewed as 'elite schools'. Many of the ‘grammar schools’ also fall in this category. They are usually expensive schools that tend to be up-market and traditional in style.

On the other hand, many independent schools are quite new, often small, and not necessarily traditional at all.

source: wikipedia: private schools in Australia

Here in Australia, when we have heated debates over public funding of private schools, the issue always revolves around money alone: the fairness of giving extra money to "rich" schools that can manage without while allowing government schools to become more and more neglected and "run down". Catholic schools are exempt because their population base is not wealthy to start with. Catholic schools are funded because it is deemed perfectly appropriate that Catholic parents want to send their kids to schools embued with a Catholic Christian atmosphere.

Here in Australia, Anglican parents can also send their kids to schools embued with an Anglican Christian atmosphere; Maronite Christian parents can do so too; and so also Egyptian Copts. And so also Muslims of any persuasion. Every school must abide by certain standards. No school can operate outside the basic guidelines set by the state departments of education. Even home schooling is constrained this way.

As an Australian coming from the experience here, I am stunned by this Canadian voice. Mind you, I can understand it and I am also sensitive to the difference in circumstances between Canada and Australia, especially as regards the relative proportion of Muslim migrants in our populations. However, I can also understand a resentment that must be growing among Canadian Muslims. And, indeed, among every other faith group (besides the Catholics) excluded from the Canadian table.

A strong and probably fairly influential voice opposing Tory's idea came from Canadian political scientist, Salim Mansur (again see details here). I have a great deal of respect for Salim Mansur in many of his views but on this issue I have profoundly mixed feelings. I open my hand in sympathy with his firm stand against Islamist intolerance and supremacism, but I close my hand against his rejection of the core inclusivist ideas behind multiculturalism. That concept originated with or was first most clearly articulated by Jesus of Nazareth as His teachings have been passed on to us in the canonical texts of the Christian faith. It is most succinctly embodied in the idea of leadership within communion and most clearly inaugurated at the Last Supper.

Later, during the Middle Ages, when England was pushing toward a national identity, the Christian Last Supper was transformed and re-envisioned at King Arthur's court and in the image of the Round Table.

Round Table

Apparition of the Holy Grail at King Arthur's Round Table @ wikimedia commons

In the context of the Canadian provincial election, the head of the table is the Canadian identity or nationalism. Only one other knight is allowed to sit at the table: the knight representing the Roman Catholic faith. John Tory proposed that all other knights be invited. No one had any in principle objection to any of the other knights. The only knight rejected was the Knight of Islam and, in order to exclude this knight, all other knights were excluded. Because we wouldn't want to make an exception of Islam, would we?

Everyone knows this is the reality. Nobody is fooled, not for a moment.

At present, ordinary Muslims rely heavily on funds from Saudi Arabia, and therefore from Wahhabism, in order to preserve their faith identity in a foreign land. How else will they develop their own integrated identity unless 1) they are clearly accepted as valid and valued members at the Round Table and 2) they are provided with fair funding that would allow a development of their faith independently of what should now become, for them, a "foreign land" (despite the reality that it houses their Mecca)?

This is all one God-awful mess and this "no" vote has not fixed it at all but only served to clarify it. Light - or consciousness - is more important than power and if John Tory has - albeit unwittingly - shed light on this issue, then he has shown the greatest leadership of all. For that, at least, he is to be commended.

I only hope that this "no" vote is really a "not yet" vote, that Tory's real error was to bring up this issue in the heat of an election. Though, would anyone have paid attention within a less volatile context?

When multiculturalism is rejected, when the Round Table is cut down to one (or two) seats only, then a highly dangerous situation is created, one that will surely lead humanity to a long long sleep. Perhaps this is the core Islamic idea (that Allah cannot tolerate any partners) that has led to the long long sleep of the Muslim world itself. If so, then this core idea has killed our Round Table culture more surely in this "no" vote than any number of sep11 incidents might achieve in themselves.

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