This past July, the town of Saint-Apollinaire voted against allowing their small Muslim community a space to bury their dead. In response, Quebec City has generously offered land for the building of an Islamic Cemetery.

This article is not about Saint-Apollinaire or Quebec’s obnoxious denial of its racism problem.

It’s about death, and how we deal with what’s left of the people we know.

Though we’re all affected by it, death and its technicalities are things we just don’t talk about…

…That is until someone we know dies.

When a loved one dies we do our best to make sure the person gets what they would have wanted. The late comedian George Carlin joked about wanting to be dropped from a plane and left wherever he landed even if it was the mayor’s lawn. Unfortunately, though we’d like to fulfill the wishes of even our most eccentric friends and relatives, the province of Quebec has rules about how a body can be disposed of after death.

The rules come primarily from Quebec’s Burial Act and the Act Respecting Medical Laboratories, Organ and Tissue Conservation, and the Disposal of Human Bodies and related regulations. Generally there are two common ways a body can be put to rest after death, burial and cremation, so this article will focus on those.

The law says that burials have to take place “in a cemetery lawfully established, except in cases otherwise provided by the law”. That means that if your uncle, for example, wanted to be buried at your family’s cottage, he couldn’t unless the land was a cemetery. This is undoubtedly to avoid any dispute as to what should be done with human remains should a property be sold or expropriated.

Cemeteries, it should be noted, are considered private property, and the land is at the disposal of the physical or legal person who owns it, subject to any restrictions imposed as a result of someone buying a burial plot on said land.

In cases not otherwise specified, coffins must be placed in a grave and covered with at least a meter of earth, but the Minister of Health and Social Services who is charged with the enforcement of said acts can make exceptions for special cases.

Burials cannot take place in a church or chapel currently used for religious purposes without the consent of the ecclesiastical or diocesan authority of the religious group who owns the space. In cases where such authority grants this permission, the law requires that the body be placed in a coffin with 2.5 kg of quick-lime or lime chloride and covered with at least 1.25 meters of earth or enclosed in masonry at least forty five centimeters thick. The quick-lime is likely required to neutralize the odor and speed decay.

Cremations can only be done by the holder of a funeral director’s permit allowing him or her to perform them. Crematoriums must be equipped and operated so as to prevent any risk of contamination and avoid to pollution. The law specifies that said crematoriums must have a firebrick oven “kept in good working order at all times”. If the funeral home has a columbarium – a place to keep urns of ashes – it has to be fireproof.

Though the government has its own rules, the faiths of the deceased come into play when deciding how to treat the remains. For the purposes of this article, I will do a crash course on the rules of the three most common Abrahamic faiths in Montreal: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As there are so many sects of Christianity, I’ll focus primarily on Catholicism. Apologies to anyone who is outraged (though houses of worship shouldn’t permit trolls).

Judaism requires that a body be buried immediately after passing, or at most, the following day as the belief is that the soul remains in turmoil until burial. The body must be buried complete: with all its limbs and organs.

Islamic practices are a bit trickier as they vary according to interpretations of Islamic law, but there are a few common customs. As in Judaism, Muslims are buried and burials must take place as soon as possible after death, historically because in the days of poorer hygiene an unburied corpse posed a sanitation risk. If the death was not from natural causes i.e. assassination or freak accident, a burial can be delayed to determine cause of death.

Catholicism permits both burial and cremation, though in 2016 the Vatican issued new rules regarding how remains should be dealt with. At the end of October of that year, they said that ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home or divided among relatives as mementos as it deprives community of their right to respect the dead. They declared that Church authorities should designate special spaces such as cemeteries or church areas to hold them. Only in special cases can a bishop permit an individual to keep remains at home. Unlike Judaism and Islam, there is no time requirement as to when to bury or cremate the body. If for whatever reason as per canon law, a person cannot be buried in a Catholic cemetery, the law allows the person to be buried in designated ground adjacent to said cemetery.

If someone is not religious, their remains can be dealt with as they or their families wish subject to the confines of the law. Last summer, Quebec approved the practice of Aquamations, an eco friendly alternative to cremation that involves using a water based solution to dissolve the body, leaving the bones which are then pressed into powder. With its increasing popularity, many Quebec funeral homes are getting on the enviro safe bandwagon.

The act of putting our dead to rest has been a custom for thousands of years. It not only allows us to pay our last respects to those we knew, but also keeps the inevitable result of human death and decay from becoming a sanitation risk.

“Indeed, both Jews and Arabs are the Children of Abraham; Jews descended from his second son Isaac (peace be on him) and Arabs from the first son Ishmael (peace be on him). To Moses, God Almighty revealed the Torah, as He revealed to Jesus (peace be on him) the Gospel.” – Shahul Hameed, onislam.net

Some very tragic events took place over the past few weeks. Several people were killed in a Kosher supermarket in the suburbs of Paris. A shooting took place around a synagogue in Copenhagen. Following these, a video titled “10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew” appeared, which, considering the neo-conservative ties of the journalist who shot the video, was a nothing more than a PR stunt for those who absolutely want to promote the Aliyah of European Jews.

And the tragic news kept on coming. A Jordanian pilot slain by ISIS, increased ISIS presence in Libya, the murder of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and the ever-present situation in Gaza… The only glimmer of hope came from Oslo this weekend, where Muslims and Jews joined hands in a very mediatized show of solidarity. In the face of all this madness and insanity, some have responded with even more madness and insanity.

marine-le-pen

The witch hunt that started in France against those were identified as “enemies of secularism,” and the birth of “radical” secularism – which in fact isn’t secularism at all, but just xenophobia in disguise –  are just a couple of examples of the “madness” that is in the air. The madness culminated in its apex yesterday in a report by the president of le Conseil répresentatif des institutions juifs de France (CRIF). In the report, the supposed voice of the majority of French Jews stated that Marine LePen – the leader of the fascist Front National, the most anti-Jewish of all French political parties – was herself irreproachable, that the only problems were caused by “some members of the FN,” and that, in fact, most violence perpetrated against the French Jewish community were the acts of “Young Muslims.”

Recently, the so-called peak in ‘extremist religious’ violence has allowed “anti-terrorism” legislations to be passed throughout the world, at the cost of civil liberties and of democratic rights. On the other hand, this violence has also empowered fascistic sections of Canadian and Quebecois society, allowing bigoted and xenophobic discourses to go unopposed, and garner mainstream coverage.

The same has happened within the Jewish community, as well. The violence perpetrated against people of Jewish descent, or of Jewish faith, has empowered a scary xenophobic discourse, which doesn’t draw a line between Islamism and Islam; between a fundamentalist minority that receives much more attention than the fundamentalist segments of other religions, and the overwhelming peaceful majority of Muslims. On the 70th anniversary of the Shoah, of the liberation of Auschwitz, we must stand firm against such kind of discourse – it’s a moral duty.

Pro-JDL-rally-2011-
French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrating in Paris, 2011. (Ligue de Defense Juive)

 

This, in no way, excuses anti-Jewish discourse or actions – they are despicable and must be fought. But those who perpetuate the most prevalent anti-Jewish discourse today, claim to to be the defender of our faith, and consider themselves the sole voice of the Jewish people. The political consequences of this is slowly showing itself, even here in Montreal, not more than a few blocks away from where I am writing this piece. The Jewish Defense League (JDL), considered to be a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU and the United States, and whose slogan, ironically, is “never again” has set up shop in Montreal this past week. To those in the JDL who stress the motto “never again” and the need to “defend the Jewish community from the Islamist threat” I have but one thing to say: The antisemitism of the 1930s and 1940s is the Islamophobia of today, and if we really want “never again” to be more than a slogan, we must fight discrimination against any and every minority. We must fight discrimination in every shape and form.

The JDL’s discourse and the true notion of “never again” are antithetical. “Never again” is a universal call for tolerance, acceptance, solidarity, peace, and, most importantly, resilience against the horrors of xenophobia. Thus, if we truly want to follow the creed of “never again,” we must make sure we fight the presence of the JDL. We must fight all those who resort to a discourse that uses violence as a justification to perpetuate even more violence, that tries to justify one form of racism with yet another. It’s a discourse of hatred that disseminates itself in the disguise of religion, or of some higher moral ground, or in the drapes of secularism. It’s a discourse that is prevalent within the neoconservative movement across the globe right now. It’s a discourse that is at the backbone of the hatred that fuels ISIS, and other such Islamist organizations. It’s the ideological foundation of fascism and of fascist movements. It’s this discourse that links them all together.

We are all sisters and brothers. Either we fight together, or we will perish together as fools!

A luta continua.

Foreword: Following the publication of my most recent article, there were accusations that I was being an apologist for the so-called “racist rag” that is Charlie Hebdo, and absolving them of their ‘racism.’ It’s funny to see reactions from both sides. If you try to take a nuanced position, you’re either writing an apology for terrorism, or an apology for racism. Saying that I don’t believe Charlie Hebdo is a “racist rag” per sé, doesn’t mean I agree with everything that they have ever published – unlike what some believe. As I said in my previous article, I think their depictions of the prophet of Islam were senselessly hurtful, adding to an already toxic environment. It also doesn’t mean I absolve them of their responsibility, when it comes to publishing such cartoons in an era of mounting Islamophobia. On the other, this also doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to the racist environment prevalent in French society. In fact, quite to the contrary… The attack against Charlie Hebdo was merely the latest manifestation of France’s underlying problem with bigotry, xenophobia, and racism. A manifestation of how France like most Western societies – and Canada is no different – creates the so-called ‘other,’  the ‘non-French.”

The January 7 Massacre was the manifestation of that, but CH was the wrong target!

This article is about the systemic racist violence that is perpetrated on a regular basis against French citizens of Muslim heritage or faith, and how the mainstream discourse in the aftermath of January 7 continues to perpetuate the estrangement of the ‘other.’  Here is another article, which in my view should be read by all.  This article is the perfect answer to those that say that CH is a “racist rag.” 

marine le pen
Marine Le Pen

 

The name of the game in France now is “National Unity.” Politicians from all walks of life have called the French people to unite, in a joint effort to defend the principles and the values of the French Republic: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. This being said, one has to ask: Unity against what? Unity in the name of what?

In the wake of the attacks against CH, the mainstream media, the French Left, right, and extreme-right put the emphasis on the fact that the Cherif brothers were Muslim. The French mainstream, just as most of the media in the world, portrayed the assailants as violent Muslims, thereby paving the way for the French political elite to jump, right away, onto the bandwagon of France’s ‘Muslim problem.’ France’s problem of ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ which subliminally suggests that the French nation has to defend itself against the ‘Muslims’ among them, perpetuates the same racist and xenophobic discourse that suggests that if you’re a Muslim, you can’t truly be ‘French’. The same racist and xenophobic discourse, which alienates French youth from the banlieues on a daily basis, and produced the revolt of 2005 is at the origin of all of this affair now.

By overemphasizing the fact that the four assailants were Muslim, the mainstream French media and the French political caste are attempting to absolve France and the French society of all of the racist and xenophobic crimes it has committed against Arab, Muslim, North African populations in the past and even today.

There isn’t a ‘Muslim problem,’ there’s a French problem; a crisis of French integration, which underlines the hypocrisy and voidness of the French national slogan: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. There’s a French problem which is manifest in the way the mainstream media depicts the assailants. The Cherif brothers are French citizens; they grew-up in France, lived all of their lives in France, were discriminated against in France, and were alienated by the French society in France. Their ‘radicalism’ was not a product of Islam, but of the shortcomings of French society, of the systemic and institutionalized racist, and symbolic violence omnipresent in French society that treats French muslims citizens or French arabs citizens, as ‘non-French,’ and as second degree citizens.

But this is nothing new. In 1950s and 1960s, during the French occupation of Algeria, white French colonizers were considered as fully-fledged French citizens, with the right to vote, the right to hold public office etc… The majority of Arab, Berber and Kabyle Algerians were also de facto French citizens, yet didn’t have any of the rights held by the colonizers. Still, they had to pledge their allegiances to the motto of the tricolour: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

islamophobia cartoon

The French problem stems from the fact that the French society has never recognized the crimes it has committed during the Algerian War – the millions of “French citizens” of Arab, Berber or Kabyle descent, who were brutally murdered, tortured and mutilated by French forces. Up until recently in French schools, the war of Algeria didn’t even exist. It was called ‘the Events of Algeria.’ France also never recognized the massacres committed in France during that time against French citizens of Muslim descent. Consider the infamous affair of Le Pont de Neuilly, where more than forty Muslim French citizens were kettled by French law enforcement and pushed into the frigid waters of Seine River and drowned to death. The doubled edged economical oppression of French Muslims in France during the War of Algeria is depicted amazingly in the movie Ici on noie les Algeriens.  And thus French society has in many ways perpetuated this état de guerre against its Muslim population – everyone is equal in France, but some more than others.

The rhetoric of national unity is used as a weapon against “Freedom of Expression,” which it ironically is supposed to defend. French comedian Dieudonné, along with more than fifty others have already been charged for making the ‘apology of terrorism,’ or, in other words, for daring to make comments critical of CH. Although I don’t necessarily agree with Dieudonné, in the same way that I don’t agree with everything CH said or depicted, I have to say: If you defend “Freedom of Speech,” you must defend Dieudonné’s right to speak.
National unity is the French take on the Bushian concept of, “You’re either with us or against us.” And while all of France is focusing on national unity, mosques are being torched throughout France. Marine LePen and Sarkozy are on every airwave, making Islamophobic and anti-Muslim comments under the cover of national unity. Thus ‘National Unity’ is just a magical wand of rhetoric, which allows racists to become the sole defenders of free speech, and on the other hand enables any deviant speech to be banned and silenced.

FRONT POPS

It’s interesting to study the usage of the concept of national unity in French history. First, during the War of Algeria, the French government called for national unity as a tool to unite the French nation in its colonial oppression of Algeria. Second, it was used in the 1930s, a time during which anti-Judaism – not anti-Semitism, since not all Semites are Jewish – was rampant. The extreme-right staged several coup attempts, all of which culminated in a march on the National Assembly that almost overthrew the French government. In 1930, like today, the political caste called for national unity – a union of the right and the Left forces to fight the threat of fascism. The Left refused to make alliances with the centrists and the right-wing, complacent, in many ways accommodated the rise of fascism. Instead, the Left decided to form a Popular Front, made up of Social Democrats, Socialists and Communists and won a majority, bringing along with them the first Jewish head of government in French history: Léon Blum. The Front Populaire is a period that is occupies a significant place in the imaginary of the French Left. Today, instead of a Union Nationale, France needs a Front Populaire to fend off the xenophobic, and racist Islamophobic onslaught that is under way.

Unless French civil society can look its demons in the mirror, and stop projecting its problems onto its minorities; unless France comes to terms with its colonialist past, the massacres it perpetrated in its colonies; unless France stops its neo-colonialist interventionist foreign policy; unless France can strike a balance that truly respects its Muslim and Arab citizens as French citizens first and foremost, equal in every way to their non-Arab counterparts; unless all of this happens, tragedies such as CH Massacre will happen on a regular basis. Until then “Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité” will remain a hollow slogan.

A luta continua.

That’s it, it’s over. Bill Maher, we’re through.

If you’ve ever left a relationship because your partner’s bad traits start making it impossible to appreciate their good qualities, you know what I’m talking about. I don’t care if he’s funny, and spot on when it comes to things like pot and the militarization of police. He’s downright ignorant and bigoted when it comes to anything related to Islam.

I first saw signs of trouble in his film Religulous, when he poked fun at the Christian Right, criticized Muslims in a much harsher way. He pretty much gave Judaism a pass, except for some Orthodox Jews, and was critical of the State of Israel. I chalked it up to his fervent atheism, remembered that he really did a great job with the Christians and forgot about his unfortunate bias for a few years.

Fast forward to a few months ago. While Israel was indiscriminately bombing Gaza, Maher tweeted this:

As if glibly justifying a willful humanitarian catastrophe wasn’t enough bile for 140 characters, he managed to throw in a bit of misogyny too. I decided to watch his next HBO show Real Time, a show which, to be honest, I generally like.

This time, though, I was watching to see if he would apologize or defend the tweet. He didn’t even address it, but he had George Takei as a guest, and I adore George Takei.

I don’t ignore him enough to forget why I was watching, so I decided to be wary of Maher, applaud him when he deserves it, but be ready to call him out when he crosses the line again. I was giving him a third and final chance and he blew it.

Two weeks ago, he closed off his show, as he always does, with New Rules, a comedy bit that is usually quite insightful and funny. This time, though, it was neither.

He started off by making a point that it is easier to poke fun at Christianity than Islam in a Western context. Fine, it is. But Christianity is the dominant religion in the West, and the same point was much funnier when South Park made it.

If he had left it at that, then fine, boring but fine. But instead, he proceeded to make an argument that you can’t call yourself liberal if you don’t speak out against Islam. Here it is, if you want to watch for yourself:

Forget for a moment that no one made this guy the arbiter of what is liberal or progressive, just what does he mean by speaking out against Islam? If he’s referring to objecting to extremism, then fine, religious extremism is a bad thing regardless of the religion, but that’s not what he means.

The following week, the topic came up in the panel section of his show. It had to. The comments had caused such a stink that even Reza Aslan, noted religious scholar, progressive and practicing Muslim appeared on CNN and deflated the argument.

In the discussion on HBO, Maher made it clear that he was, in fact, talking about condemning the religion as a whole. Another panelist, Sam Harris, clarified even more by trying to argue that Islamic extremism wasn’t the exception but rather the rule.

I would have called bullshit and bigotry, but fortunately Ben Affleck did it for me. That’s right, an uber-mainstream, Hollywood A-lister who was on the show primarily to plug a movie called the host a racist. Give it a watch:

To paraphrase Michael Moore, one of Maher’s celebrity leftist friends: “When progressive scholars and Batman are against you, Mr. Maher, you just might be a bigot.” Moreover, you’re probably not a liberal at all.

What’s so liberal about telling people what they can and can’t believe? As an agnostic who also thinks, I find Maher’s comments offensive, and worse, ignorant.

When supposed progressive allies start sounding like the radical right they claim to despise, it’s time to move on.

No, I don’t want people to boycott HBO; I need my John Oliver and Game of Thrones as much as you. I also don’t think guests should refuse to appear on Real Time, as long as they make sure to call Maher out when needed, just like Affleck did.

I do think it’s time the progressive left realizes that a bigot is a bigot. Maher and his ilk aren’t allies, despite making good points from time to time.

Bill Maher, we’re done!

What makes New York City great is that it’s a melting pot of nationalities, races and religions. Where ever you come from in this world you can be sure there is a community waiting for you there. That’s why it incenses me that certain conservatives along with a majority of New Yorkers themselves oppose the building of mosque, given Manhattan’s cultural diversity.

The location is what the majority of people seem to have a problem with.   Being only two blocks away from the heart of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (the terrorist attackers of course being Muslim), some people believe it’s too close for comfort.   As Sarah Palin said “it’s like a slap in the face”.   Of course, I disagree with the half-term governor.

The Mosque Near Ground Zero is Not “At” Ground Zero

The hundred million dollar mosque in question that seems to have stirred up so much anger and controversy is scheduled to be built about two blocks away from ground zero and not in fact on ground zero as many people are being led to believe.

The 13-story Islamic center to be built at 45 51 Park Place can hardly be called a “mosque” as it will contain a Muslim prayer room, 500-seat auditorium, theater, performing arts center, fitness center, swimming pool, basketball court, childcare services, art exhibitions, bookstore, a culinary school and a food court.   It will be more of a YMCA than a house of worship.

Some people call the building of this Islamic Center offensive because the terrorists that committed the horrendous crimes did so in the name of Islam.   They seem to forget that they were religious fundamentalists: they do EVERYTHING in the name of Islam, their religion masks any true motives they might have.

Opposition for the mosque doesn’t surprise me when it comes from people like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich; they will always put their own faith first.   When I hear the same sort of rhetoric coming from organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, an institute I normally trust and support, I must admit I get a bit miffed.

People at the ADL apparently don’t support the NYC mosque because “we wouldn’t be allowed to build a church near Mecca” in Saudi Arabia.   Correct me if I’m wrong, but Mecca is the holiest of sites in all of Islam.   Are they trying to say that ground zero is the Mecca of Christianity?   Even if New York City was the birth place of Christ, Saudi Arabia does not have the religious freedoms that the United States is supposed to have.

New York City Mosque Protesters

The resistance to the Islamic Center clearly stems from a prejudice or general hatred of Muslims.   I’m not a religious man, but I bet if those terrorists had been Christian fundamentalists there would have been no opposition to anyone building a church there on Park Place.

Since people normally hate what they fear and are afraid of what they don’t understand, in this case of Islam, I find that building a cultural center is a great idea.   It will help bring understanding and people of all faiths closer together making New York City even greater as a result.