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Monday, January 26, 2009

Symbolizing Reality: The Humanity of Guantanamo Bay

The War on Terror has left some lasting international impressions about the United States’ foreign policy which liberals are hoping to reverse in order to gain favour in the international community. There is the ever present hope that President Barack Obama is able to alter the negative perception of US hard power in the international arena and replace it with an image of an America that abides by international laws and global democratic principles. In an effort to reign in positive international as well as domestic opinion, Obama has decided to execute an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay. Although on the surface this seems like a step in the right direction, one has to question the humanity of shutting down a glaring symbol of US cruelty.

Guantanamo stands for the anti-democratic principles which marked the Bush era from the get-go. Without a popular vote to get him into office, and a complete violation of international treaties that the US signed upon, the US had no right to market itself as a viable form of democracy. Violating the Geneva Conventions and then justifying those violations by manipulating the fear of the public is not democratic. It is downright Soviet. But democracy be damned, Bush era US foreign policy was borderline illegitimate. By closing down Guantanamo, the hope is that American foreign policy is able to project their influence into regions of the world without using the symbols that characterized the hard power era of Bush’s foreign policy.

However, closing Guantanamo Bay right away without a concrete and visible plan as to how the detainees will be handled was irresponsible of Obama. Of course it was an incredibly political decision. To market yourself as the anti-Bush will win you votes, but to act as the anti-Bush will win you international and domestic love. And Obama is soaking in that right now. But life for the Guantanamo detainee just got much harder. Without the constant public attention that they are getting, their plight as prisoners without fair access to the US legal system will go completely ignored. The fear is that these prisoners will be left in some other hole to die. But some things never change. If Obama gives the public the perception that he has moved away from Bush’s foreign policy, then that is all that matters to the American public. The detainees and those whose lives Guantanamo actually effects is left completely out of the picture. Those issues are not discussed by the public or the media, because closing the symbol of American cruelty, which at one point the American public sanctioned as necessary, will finally bring the American public the catharsis it so desperately craves. Out of sight and out of mind they say.

The situation on the home front is equally as bleak. Canadian foreign policy needs to address the issue of Omar Khadr, the Afghan-Canadian boy who is being detained because he allegedly threw a grenade that killed an American soldier on Afghani soil. With Obama’s upcoming visit to Canada, it will be interesting to see how this contentious issue will play out. The Canadian public elected Steven Harper because he was more in tune with Bush’s policies (albeit, he was elected when Bush was more favourable in the public eye). However, with the return of a more liberal-minded president, it will be vital to see as to whether Canadian public opinion of Harper will change, especially since Harper has been incredibly cautious as to how he approaches the issue of Omar Khadr. Canadian public opinion also seems to be split on this matter. Khadr has humanitarian support on the grounds that he is a Canadian citizen and should therefore be returned to Canadian soil. Many also believe that Khadr should not be able to return to Canada because of the suspicious circumstances of the Khadr’s residency in Canada. The Khadr’s were able to gain refugee status in Canada despite Mr. Khadr, Omar’s father, being linked to both Al Qaeda and having personal ties to Osama bin Laden. It is quite understandable for public opinion on the Khadr’s to be negative. Abusing the immigration system in Canada is sadly incredibly common, and I will be writing a post later on addressing this issue. Nonetheless, the Khadr case is a prime example of when politics fails the individual. Omar was just 15 at the time of his alleged killing of the American soldier. At 15, Omar would have been a child soldier, which effectively makes him a victim of circumstance under international law. Moreover, Canada is the only country to not bring home its nationals. I understand that Harper cannot afford politically to be coy with the press about the Khadr issue since a large contingent that votes for Harper feels that the Khadrs should not be in Canada. Despite these political barriers, Omar was just a boy. To take this political issue out on a 15 year old boy is a galling example that politics and humanity are distinctly separated and reconciling them is not only difficult, but sometimes downright impossible.

Foreign policy debates do not only focus on resources and abstract land masses known as states, but on individual human lives. Omar Khadr’s family may have immigrated under false pretences to Canada, but abandoning a 15 year old boy to punish the downfall of our lax immigration system is incredibly harsh. Furthermore, the circumstances in which he is getting charged for a war crime is ridiculous are well. American soldiers are inside Afghanistan to fight a war. American soldiers are going to come into contact with enemy combatants all the time, hence the war. When an enemy combatant inevitably strikes at you, as my professor so eloquently put it, “shit happens”.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You Took Away My Right to Shop!

I’m sorry, I just had to ask it: Why do the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy not deliver to Canada? Can a Canadian girl not get the casual look for less online? No wonder we’re in recession. Shame on you Gap inc.!

Resurfacing Love

Recently, I read an interesting article that got me to think about boyfriends and girlfriends and the fine balance there is between the past and the present. The article was entitled “The Power of First Love”. First love is able to transcend the boundaries of your present relationship and nurture a seed in the brain of men and women who always feel a fascination to go back to that one time where love was free from the complications of adult relationships. Although this sounds immature and slightly nostalgic, this phenomenon has its roots in science. In the article there are several relationships that are destroyed by a spouse that still lusts after their first love. Although the article puts a positive spin on how the jilted party can “reinvent” themselves, it fails to view the very real and human side of these devastated relationships and paints a rosy picture for those who are able to destroy their present for one more chance at correcting their past mistakes and heartaches. But with science on the side of those who cannot escape their past relationships, is it possible to forgive them or to excuse their behaviour?

This topic was of particular importance to me because it is constantly on my mind as to how relationships are formed based on one’s past experiences. Surely anyone who has been in a relationship knows how important, and sometimes devastating, it is to learn about your partner’s romantic past. There are the trite insecurities that both partners involve face as to how they measure up to other persons past experiences. I have no conclusion after reading this article. It presents us with the contradictions inherent in our society. Prominent psychologists are constantly telling us that we need to overcome the past and live in the present and be happy with those who we are with. But love stories, movies and now scientists are claiming that it is hardwired into our brain to long for your first love. Is it possible to overcome biology, or is it that we will always give into our primal instincts at one point in our lives? Then there are the considerations that if we were to give into these instincts, are we able to forgive ourselves or forgive those who have ruined present relationships and sometimes lives, in order to live out a biological destiny?

The article also brought to light the question as to how truthful we are to ourselves about those we proclaim that we no longer love. My boyfriend and I have always discussed our past relationships with a bit of restraint, never showcasing our true feelings for those who we left behind. His story of lost love was devastating, as it was exactly what the article described; being in love at an early age only to be torn apart by parental influences and never being able to physically communicate afterward. Of course this presents us with the whole “The Notebook” scenario, that one day they will find one another and rekindle the romance that they would inevitably have started had it not been for society meddling. Yet the side of The Notebook that is never told is how it ruins the lives of those who are already in the relationship with one party. The situation between partners can grow tense even if the confession of feelings for their lost love is confessed. Recently, my boyfriend and I played the game “shoot, shag, or marry?” He confessed that if I were not in the picture he would surely marry this girl from his past. His honesty left me dumbfounded, but the reality of the situation is much more complicated. He has insisted that this scenario would never happen, yet he and I know that he cannot help but let those unresolved feelings bubble to the surface of his mind once and while. And it is those feelings that are primarily responsible for driving our actions.

However, there is the other, albeit, more rational side to this scenario as well. Both parties in the relationship have first loves, or first lusts. If each party can make a commitment to stick with each other, isn’t that enough to override biological longings for those in our past that we simply should be able to let go? I do not have the answer to this question. There is the other more disturbing element that if you are incredibly happy in your present, is there a trigger that makes one long for their past? Is there a point in which we are ever able to let go of our past, and even if we are, are we ever able to let go of those feelings we harbour for our first love? This article seems to suggest that we are only able to suppress those feelings, and some of us stay in relationships out of fear that we will be hurt or hurt the other person by leaving. However, if fear is the only thing keeping us together and our longing for our pasts is as intense and hardwired into us as to leave a 10 year long marriage and committed relationships on whim, are any of us really safe from our own feelings for our own past lovers? Are we our own relationship sabotages by rekindling memories of pasts loves?

I do not believe that it is justifiable to leave any relationship without considering how it will affect the lives of others involved. I am not advocating staying in a relationship if you are miserable, but to revert back to the love you had for others while promising that love to the person you are presently with is not fair, and nor is it right. However, with our pasts shaping who we are, how we think and our present relationships, it is hard to get away from the notion that those in our pasts have had a profound impact on us and sometimes that impact is enough to justify breaking away from the commitments we have made in the present. I suppose it is best to say that there are those we love, and there are those that we will always love.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Over-Share and Why I Don’t Like You

Recently I have been confronted with a case of strangers who over-share. Yes, there is nothing more notable then meeting a man or woman who thinks of you as their long lost pal and best friend from another mother and wants you to be a part of their life. Now, as warm and fuzzy as this situation sounds, more often than not (read: ALWAYS) this is creepy and causes me to dash out of various restaurants, grocery stores and other civilian getaways at the mere sight of over-sharers.
Over-sharing has put a damper on many of my would-be friendships. You see, I am not much of a talker and for that reason, people believe that I am a listener. This assumption has led me to be the victim of others trying to become my friend by telling me about their divorce dilemmas, custody battle hearings and how they disapprove of my lifestyle choices.
Exhibit A: Crazy Lady and her divorce dilemmas. There I am, walking in my most favourite of grocery stores when Crazy Lady (my affectionate nickname) comes up and starts to ask my sister and I personal questions like “how do I kill my husband?” and “what kind of medication would I give to make him just hurt a little?” This would all be in good fun except for the fact that I have no idea who she is. Her response is that she has seen me in the grocery store “a couple of times” and thereby feels the need to clue us in as to how her divorce from her husband is going. I do not know this woman’s name. I have never seen her at the grocery store and her comments seem to suggest that she has stalked me out as her victim. I also make the mistake and think that she is joking about trying to kill her ex-husband. Alas, in my many conversations with her in which she tries to pry my name and phone number out of me, I get to understand that her husband and her are in the middle of a nasty little divorce and her kids are being taken away from her. Now, as bad as I feel for this lady, and I really do feel horrible that a mother is put in that situation, I just don’t understand why I was chosen as her sounding board / confidant. I am at least 20 years younger than her. I try my best to avoid eye contact with her when she is in the same grocery store as I am. I try to laugh when she asks me about poisons that will “do the trick”. When her face does not reveal the least bit of humour, I try to run home terrified and somehow think I have left my wallet there and she has found out where I live and will google map me when she gets home. She stalks me at the local Tim Hortons trying to pry my phone number out of me and she tells me that she’ll “keep me updated” on her events. I just don’t know how to tell this lady that I am not her friend and that I don’t like you. This sounds harsh, and well, it is harsh. But honest to goodness, can a girl not just get a little food and coffee and not be harassed by the locals who try to squirm their way into my life with their own problems?
Take example number two: the Tim Horton’s lady. Yes, she is sweet, but I have a succinct feeling that she is slowly but surely dropping bits of poison into my coffee every time I come in. Like a jilted lover, she and I were on the best of normal customer-service relationships. However, things turned sour when I brought my boyfriend in. He and I were holding hands when I went up to the counter alone. No longer was there a friendly smile on her face but a disapproving glare in which she asked me in her thick Indian accent “is that your brother?” Not getting the response she was hoping for, she has never been able to smile at me again. In fact, she deliberately makes sure my coffee tastes like cigarettes. I guess she felt that for those years that I had come into Tim’s without a boyfriend she had my life worked out in her head. Throw in the fact that I have a boyfriend and all her preconceived notions about me being a good little brown girl are thrown into the burning pit of hell. My question is why did she feel that she and I had such a good rapport when the extent of our conversations were cream, sugar and baked goods? And did she feel the need to be interested in my life when I am just a customer and nothing more?
In the larger extent of things these instances are minor annoyances that I have to face. Yet, the tendencies of over-sharers are becoming increasingly prevalent in society. In an age where we can check everyone’s facebook status and become so in tuned with virtual strangers lives, do we believe that this sort of cyber-stalking can work in the real world as well? Are we too invested into the lives of strangers? Or is it that we are not able to reach out to actual human beings anymore and try to create bonds and friendships with those who we merely see everyday and not with those who actually hold our attention and will give us the meaningful audience that we crave?
What do you guys think?