In search of ‘cultural harmony’ in Richmond, B.C. — North America’s most Asian city

Interesting long read regarding some of the tensions (the Mayor was just re-elected):

Mayor Malcolm Brodie likes to boast that his city — home to Canada’s largest immigrant population — is a “model for cultural diversity and harmony.”

At the annual Richmond World Festival this summer, there seemed to be ample evidence to support the claim: colourful Bhangra dancers charmed the crowds as onlookers sampled Syrian sweets, Indigenous bannock burgers and Brazilian cheese rolls. The music ranged from Celtic folk-rock to Cantonese opera.

But behind the veneer, this Vancouver suburb of 200,000 is locked in a perpetual state of intercultural disharmony, some say. Among the flashpoints: What to do about businesses that advertise mostly, or — in exceptional cases — entirely in Chinese characters? How to clamp down on a thriving underground ride-hailing industry that caters only to Chinese speakers? And how to respond to birth tourists — non-resident expectant mothers who come here to secure Canadian citizenship for their babies?

The tension has been manifest in the municipal election campaign that concludes Saturday, with accusations that certain activist groups are lobbying residents to vote only for Chinese candidates. And it can be seen in the dozens of vitriolic emails received by the city clerk’s office over the past year, some decrying the “invasion” of the city by Asians.

One racially charged letter was so hateful the city’s intercultural advisory committee questioned whether the clerk’s office’s practice of not responding “may be seen as legitimizing these perspectives,” committee minutes show.

In an effort to bring the community together, Richmond is developing a strategy for what it calls “cultural harmony.” It’s a still-vague concept that seems to aspire to the elusive sweet spot between cultural accommodation and American-style assimilation.

But there isn’t a lot of consensus about how to get there, and whoever voters elect to city council Saturday will be pressed to figure it out. Ideas so far include everything from throwing more neighbourhood block parties and intercultural festivals to giving more money to immigrant settlement agencies to providing more diversity training at city hall. Some incumbent city councillors have been accused of not helping matters by fomenting an us-versus-them mentality.

What is clear is that as Canada’s visible minority population grows, handwringing over what municipalities can do to ensure residents of all backgrounds not only get along but engage meaningfully with one another, will only intensify.

“This is a challenge for our communities,” said Andy Yan, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University. “Are they going to dissolve into tribal villages or are they going to unite into a transcultural metropolis?”


Though Chinese, Japanese and South Asian settlers have been part of this community’s storied agricultural, fishing and canning past since the mid-1800s, its reputation as a “gateway” to the Asia-Pacific really began to take off in the 1990s when the British handover of Hong Kong to China fuelled a surge in migration.

While Vancouver and several surrounding suburbs have achieved “majority minority” status, nowhere has the demographic shift been more pronounced than here.  According to an analysis by Yan, Richmond has the distinction of being the “most Asian” city in North America; 71 per cent of the population is of Asian descent. Census figures show Richmond also boasts the highest proportion of immigrants in Canada — at 60 per cent. The largest minority group — at 53 per cent — is Chinese, also the highest in Canada, followed by South Asian and Filipino.

Richmond’s city centre now teems with Asian-themed shopping centres, strip malls and karaoke bars and some 400 Asian eateries catering to every palate.

But Asian-American scholar Wei Li, who teaches at Arizona State University, says we should resist the temptation to think of Richmond as a “suburban Chinatown.”

Unlike ghettos or enclaves of the past, which were the result of forced segregation and in which Chinese wielded little economic power, today’s “ethnoburbs,” Li writes, are linked to the globalization of capital and set up voluntarily to maximize personal and social networks, as well as business connections.

And like ethnoburbs outside Los Angeles and Toronto, Richmond has seen its share of clashes between long-term and newer residents.

Last September, amid persistent complaints about Chinese-language business signs, city council put into writing a policy of encouraging businesses to have at least 50 per cent English on signs.

That didn’t satisfy residents who favoured a stricter approach.

“My wife and I understand that the world is changing. However, when our ancestors came over and took on Canadian citizenship, they took on the customs, languages and day-to-day Canadian practices,” one person wrote to Brodie. “We are losing what Canada was — and longstanding mayors such as yourself are letting it happen.”

Another person, who identified himself as a 50-year resident, wrote: “The last time I looked, Richmond is in Canada, not China. Why do you not stand up for the rights of the White minority.”

The language debate isn’t limited to signs. This week the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal had been set to hear the case of a Richmond townhouse complex strata council (condo board) that started to carry out its official business exclusively in Mandarin. But the parties reached a last-minute confidential settlement.

The man behind the complaint, Andreas Kargut, who has since moved out of the city, had written on a GoFundMe page that the council “destroyed our ability to live together respectfully in a multicultural environment.”

Ray Arnold, who attended high school in Richmond in the 1950s and came back in the mid-1990s to retire, compares the state of community relations to tiles in a mosaic: combined, they create a nice picture, but individually they merely co-exist.

“They don’t meld together,” says Arnold, whose name appears often in the letters section of the local paper. “One of the things about multiculturalism … is it gives people who are not particularly eager to assimilate to a new culture too many excuses not to do that.”

Arnold’s biggest beef is the rise in “affluent ghost towns” — offshore investors building “pseudo-mansions” and leaving them deserted much of the year.

“When you have a community that is unoccupied or mostly deserted, it no longer qualifies as what we traditionally have called a neighbourhood.”


Some of Richmond’s longtime Chinese-Canadian residents don’t disagree.

Hong Kong native Amelia Ho, owner of the busy Bridgeport Sports Club tennis table centre and a Richmond resident for nearly four decades, says she sees too many newcomers who constantly fly in and out of Canada  and who don’t really engage with the rest of the community.

“If you want to be a citizen you should have loyalty to your country,” she said.

Henry Beh, a retired accountant who recently stepped down as executive director of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, moved to the city from Malaysia in the mid-1970s. In his opinion, recent immigrants, who hail mostly from mainland China, have been slower to integrate than previous generations from Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Because many stores and banks are staffed by Mandarin speakers, a lot of newcomers don’t think they need to learn English, he says. “I think they should learn to speak. … You won’t get the local people here upset.”

Some of Richmond’s newer immigrants told the National Post they just need time.

Sitting in a boardroom at Richmond Multicultural Community Services, an immigrant settlement agency, Jennie Chen, who moved to Richmond from Wuhan two years ago, says new residents “want to integrate, become a part of Canada” but just don’t know how.

“I think the government should provide more information,” she said.

Flora Jiao, who came to Richmond from Beijing a decade ago, acknowledges the city is “very convenient for those who don’t speak English fluently.” Speaking in Mandarin, Jiao told the Post she was surprised when the local hospital provided a translator during a check-up.

That’s not to say she isn’t trying. “I have recently been reading stories and some simple newspaper articles,” she said.

Jiao added she would like to see more cultural exchanges and “more people — people from here — learning Chinese too.”

When it comes to the sign debate, Jessie Wang, manager of Venus Furniture — a high-end retail store whose windows are covered with posters describing, in Chinese characters, brands and deals inside — takes a pragmatic view. The decision to advertise primarily in Chinese is to give customers — especially those with limited English — a sense of familiarity.

“When they feel familiar, they come to your store. It’s that simple,” she said in Mandarin.

Justin Tse, a long-time Richmond resident and researcher specializing in Asian-American studies, wonders if outrage over Chinese-language signs isn’t just a “manufactured crisis” that stems from frustration over the lack of affordable housing.

“As an observer it seems to me the real flashpoint is the housing crisis and that the real scapegoats are ‘Chinese money,’” he says, referring to the purported link between the flood of capital from China and skyrocketing house prices.


Whatever the reason, some city councillors have been candid about the state of intercultural relations.

At a January council meeting, Councillor Chak Au said immigrants need to know what’s expected of them, “how do we expect them to integrate … and do their part, such as acquiring the language, knowing the culture and become part of us.”

Asked what he meant by “us,” Au told the Post someone who has put down roots in the community, as opposed to someone who is always “looking back, as if (they) have another alternative.”

Councillor Carol Day told the same meeting too many newcomers were “imposing self-segregation.”

Asked what proof she had, Day told the Post she could tell by the people who “hold their head down and only perk up when they see someone from their own ethnic background.”

“We want to open the door to possibilities. Yes, you can just play table tennis with only Chinese people or you can come to the seniors’ centre to learn wood-carving, come to a social media class and learn to do videos.”

But there are fears some of the rhetoric could be sowing greater discord.

“Dark undertones” are pervading discourse at city hall, said Councillor Derek Dang. He pointed to a meeting of the city’s community safety committee during which Day wondered whether a spike in property crimes in a neighbourhood might be because wealthy Chinese residents with expensive cars were attracting thieves.

“I think it’s blatantly identifying one group as a cause for concern when really the whole issue isn’t that simple. … She’s ignoring all the people who have contributed to this community and brushing over everybody with one thoughtless comment,” Dang said.

Day insists she saw nothing wrong with the question and was simply expressing concern for residents in that area. Enough with the political correctness, she said.

Councillor Harold Steves was also scolded earlier this year for something he tweeted during debates over whether to build a temporary modular housing project for homeless people and whether to limit the size of homes that can be built on agricultural land.

“500 Asian people go to a Public Information meeting. The librarian gets Karate Kicked by an opponent to housing for homeless people. South Asian landowners are campaigning for 10,764 sq ft houses … Is this multiculturalism?” he wrote.

Records showed the person who kicked the librarian was not part of the meeting. Steves initially stood by his remarks, telling the Richmond News he was merely pointing out that “we have certain culture groups with different beliefs than others.”

He later apologized.

That heated rhetoric is of a piece with what motivated Kerry Starchuk’s decision to run for a council seat. She is one of the loudest agitators on the issue of Chinese-language signs and is behind a petition to end birth tourism, saying it has “debased the value of Canadian citizenship.”

In an interview, Starchuk recounted how her activism started years ago.

“I went to the Sears shoe department. A whole bunch of people were speaking Mandarin, I guess, they were just yelling. I asked them to speak quietly and if they could speak English. They got mad at me.”

What gets her now, she said, are “the noveau-riche that have come with a ton of money.”

“When I was growing up, all the corner stores were run by the Chinese families. They were humble, grateful, nice. My best friend is fourth-generation Chinese. I couldn’t ask for a nicer friend. … But the ones that have come from mainland China have been very difficult to carry on conversations with them from a neighbourly point of view. It’s been very hard. I’ve tried. I’ve brought flowers, cookies.”

Speaking to a women’s church group recently on the theme of “loss of community,” Starchuk said she is sometimes accused of being racist but insisted she is not anti-immigrant.

“I love Richmond, but I don’t like what’s happened to Richmond,” she said.

It’s not just white residents who have been accused of stirring up division. In June, the Richmond News reported that mayoral candidate and lawyer Hong Guo held a campaign launch that was entirely in Mandarin and outside the view of mainstream media.

A narrated video shown at the event stated that the voice of Chinese residents had been “ignored” and their rights “obliterated,” the newspaper reported.

“Only Chinese people can understand what Chinese people want. …Today, Richmond politics has finally heard a Chinese voice, Hong Guo.”

An editorial in the Richmond News said Guo had engaged in dangerous race-based politics.

In an email, Guo told the Post that like many residents, she is a native Chinese speaker, and she has to “choose the best means of communicating my message to as many voters as possible.” Guo, whose campaign literature calls for an end to the “politics of division,” noted many of her campaign videos are delivered in English.

The argument the Chinese community’s voice has been ignored isn’t without merit, says Ivan Pak, who is running for school trustee. Earlier this year, he was part of a vocal group opposed to the temporary modular housing project, which was ultimately approved by council.

“People from China or Hong Kong, they have less sympathies for people who become homeless and addicted to drugs,” Pak said. “In the Chinese culture, we think this is your personal responsibility to take care of yourself, to be less burden to society.”

Pak says parents were also not adequately consulted when the Richmond school board voted to support a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program aimed at bullying prevention.

Of most Chinese parents, he says: “They want traditional values.”


City staff face a daunting challenge to find a path to “cultural harmony.”

A report setting out the strategy’s guiding principles contains a lot of feel-good phrases like “intercultural interaction,” “cultural inclusion” and “community engagement,” but details are scant.

The Post filed an FOI request for some of the initial findings, but they were withheld entirely.

Internal emails and interviews suggest the city’s goal is two-fold: enhance the way the city welcomes new immigrants and their perspectives, while also educating new immigrants about their community and integrating them to civic life.

“Definitely we’re not looking at assimilation as a goal, but I do think inclusiveness is a two-way street,” Ted Townsend, the city’s spokesman, said. “One way is making sure people don’t feel isolated in their community but also making sure that people are part of the community and not isolating themselves.”

Brodie, the mayor, whose campaign ads in the ethnic press adopt the first part of a Chinese folk saying (“A long road tests the strength of a horse; a long time tests the nature of a person’s heart”), stressed the city is not looking to force immigrants into doing anything they don’t want. “I wouldn’t say it’s a push to get involved but certainly making it apparent to them there is every opportunity for them to be involved.”

He added: “I don’t want a series of small communities in Richmond. I want one community.”

But the strategy, which was supposed to be done by now, is not expected until next year. That’s because a Winnipeg consulting firm the city contracted for $44,000 was dropped in February.

The firm had been asked to examine best practices in other Canadian cities, review Richmond’s policies and programs, interview community leaders, and deliver recommendations.

“Our needs weren’t being met,” said Kim Somerville, the city’s manager of community social development.

Some wonder why the city chose a firm based in Manitoba. It would’ve made more sense to choose consultants “who live here and have a stake in the community,” said Tse, a visiting professor at Northwestern University.

The city has now hired Connie Baxter, former director of Richmond’s museum, to complete the project.

One of the things under review is the extent to which the city should accommodate newcomers who are not fluent in English. The city produces a newcomers’ guide in multiple languages, but decisions about translating other city documents are made on a case-by-case basis.

When the city notified residents in February about an information session concerning the proposed temporary modular housing project, it was written in English — except for a message at the top in Chinese that read: “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT NOTICE. PLEASE HAVE SOMEONE TRANSLATE IT FOR YOU.”

Tse says such translations should be automatic because it fosters inclusivity.

In California, state law requires public agencies serving a substantial number of non-English speakers must ensure they have access to government information and services through the use of bilingual speakers, interpreters and translated materials.

Tse says it’s noteworthy the city doesn’t use its own staff to assist with translation or interpretation work. Instead, records show, the city often turns to a downtown Vancouver firm, Chinese Informedia.

“If Richmond is 55 per cent Chinese, there’s something called hiring people who can read and write Chinese — it should not be difficult,” he said.

Maybe, he quipped, it’s city hall that needs to integrate into Richmond.

In 2014, Eliana Chia, then a master’s candidate at UBC’s school of community and regional planning, wrote a report on civic engagement in Richmond. Among her conclusions: city hall, for some immigrants, can be an  unwelcoming and intimidating place due to a perceived lack of staff from their racial background; staff struggle to provide translations due to a lack of resources and clear corporate guidelines; and when engaging immigrants in planning decisions, staff lack facilitation skills to carry out meaningful discussions.

While claiming a “large increase” in staff diversity over the last decade, the city could not provide the Post with a breakdown of ethnicities or languages spoken. Townsend said the city hires based on merit and, besides, setting diversity goals can be tricky.

“We’ve got Filipino staff who are of Chinese descent who might identify themselves as Filipino, as Chinese, as Canadian or all of the above. So if you’re going to set a goal of hiring based on culture, who’s going to define who fits those goals?” he said.

Townsend noted some community members are adamant that city business be carried out only in English or French. “Even some leaders in the Chinese community say the more you do (to accommodate other languages), the more you promote isolation. What we’re trying to determine is: what is the happy medium?”


Music composer Chris Ludwig, who’s lived in the city 15 years and moderates community roundtables, doesn’t get what the fuss is about.

On the proliferation of Chinese–language signs? Let the free market sort it out, he says. On lack of integration by newcomers? The government can’t force it; let it evolve organically.

“When I’m in the playground, say there’s another mom there and my son is playing with them, and let’s say they’re from Beijing or wherever. (I might say), ‘What’s your husband doing over there? Oh, he’s doing that.’ You hear about why they’re here, why they love Canada. You really get to understand that people are just people, right? I think that’s the way we connect is person to person.”

The notion of community building through one-on-one engagement seemed to hold promise during a community roundtable this spring at the Richmond library.

Among the participants was Diann McGrath, 78, a longtime resident who admits she is frustrated by all the foreign languages spoken in the city.

“I found that when the people come here from other countries, they don’t speak to us. They speak in their own language … and we have no communication. They seem to be very unfriendly,” she said.

“I feel like I don’t really belong here anymore because I’m outnumbered by all these Asian people.”

Sitting next to her was Vivian, a recent immigrant from China. She wondered if there were any informal meet-ups in the community so she could practice her English.

It seemed like Vivian and Diann had hit it off and they exchanged phone numbers.

Months later, the Post asked McGrath if they stayed in contact. They hadn’t.

“To pal around with somebody you don’t know is difficult,” she confessed. “What am I going to talk to them about?”

Source: In search of ‘cultural harmony’ in Richmond, B.C. — North America’s most Asian city

How The Jewish Left Learned To Stop Playing Defense And Fight Anti-Semitism

While I don’t follow the UK debates in detail, I found this commentary of interest:

It is no surprise that the British Labour party would ask an anti-Zionist to help fight anti-Semitism. Labor’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has long supported the Palestinian cause, and facing a long-running scandal over Jew hatred in Labor, it is natural that the British Left would turn to the Jewish Left. Indeed, Corbyn has long been friendly with Jewdas, the irreverent, non-Zionist left-wing group whose member, Annie Cohen, led an “interactive workshop” to “raise awareness of anti-Semitism” to a branch of Labor.

Rather, the surprise is that the Jewish Left is now in the business of offering anti-Semitism workshops.

For many years, the Left has responded to allegations of anti-Semitism defensively. The Left traditionally argues that claims of anti-Semitism are used cynically to delegitimize criticisms of the Israeli government.

I would know: I have made this argument many times.

Ours was a reactive analysis of anti-Semitism, which ceded the term to the Right and then frantically played defense, trying to stave off Leon Wieseltier’s or Abe Foxman’s assaults on this or that progressive figure.

But over the last five years, a younger, radical segment of the Jewish left has positively embraced the term “anti-Semitism” — along with fighting it.

These lefties, associated with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), IfNotNow, and portions of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), put anti-Semitism at the center of their political practice. “We show up for ourselves,” IfNotNow’s principles announce. “We acknowledge the existence of anti-Jewish oppression, in the world and in ourselves.”

And indeed, the group regularly runs trainings on internalized anti-Semitism. This is startling and audacious, given that for decades, “self-hating Jew” has been the term of abuse right-wingers use for critics of the Occupation.

Moreover, these groups tell a clear, coherent story about what anti-Semitism is, a story that is fully compatible with non- or anti-Zionism and which fits Jews into the Left’s broader analyses of class, race and gender.

The Left can talk about anti-Semitism in part because of the surge of right-wing anti-Semitism, especially since Donald Trump’s election. White nationalists are chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” and George Soros has become the object of conservative conspiracy theories.

Such circumstances have eroded the link that the Right forged over the last half-century between anti-Semitism and Israeli politics.

When you ask a millennial to picture an anti-Semite, we imagine not a left-wing Muslim but an alt-right white man.

But the shift on the Left goes deeper than momentary politics, because it reflects a new theory and philosophy of anti-Semitism.

I first encountered that theory in April Rosenblum’s 2007 pamphlet, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” which I read as a college student. Rosenblum argued that anti-Semitism had emerged from medieval Christianity, and that Jews provided ruling elites, whether in feudal Europe or under global capitalism, a convenient scapegoat for their crimes. She thus integrated thinking about anti-Semitism into the Left’s broader account of how power works across many axes of oppression.

Flash forward to 2017, when JFREJ released “Understanding Anti-Semitism: An Offering to Our Movement.” The document, which quotes Rosenblum, also extends her analysis: “Originating in European Christianity,” anti-Semitism has “functioned to protect the prevailing economic system and the almost exclusively Christian ruling class by diverting blame for hardship onto Jews.”

That is, Jewish middlemen make convenient targets for the rage of the oppressed. JFREJ also connects anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, showing how stereotypes about Jews and Muslims are parallel and intertwined.

In short, the document crafts a usable account of Jewish identity, one that places our history in a larger context of racial and economic exploitation and oppression.

Most notably, while JFREJ does take the standard line on Israel (“Criticisms of Israel and Zionism are not inherently or inevitably anti-Jewish), that gets only a page or two out of forty-four. They are consciously crafting a broader definition of anti-Semitism, one in which Israel politics are mostly a distraction. “Confronting antisemitism,” the pamphlet concludes, “is a necessary precondition for collective liberation.”

You can see the struggle between the two Left views of anti-Semitism playing out within an organization like JVP. The edited collection they released in 2017, “On anti-Semitism,” often seems at war with itself. Some of the essays emphasize the ephemerality of anti-Semitism, or the role of the Israeli government in exaggerating the problem of Left anti-Semitism and discrediting pro-Palestinian advocacy. One essay even declares that there is no anti-Semitism, strictly speaking, in the United States: anti-Jewish prejudice, sure, but no structural oppression of Jews.

On the other hand, many of the contributions of younger Jews were enthusiastic about fighting anti-Semitism, which they placed alongside homophobia, classism, and racism as a basic category of radical analysis. (It bears saying that much of the new theory of anti-Semitism comes from queer Jews and Jews of Color, who often do not enjoy the privileges of the white, mainstream American Jewry and who naturally speak the language of intersectional oppression.)

The JVP collection didn’t say much that was new, but it was fascinating as an index of the two, opposed impulses on the Left: to minimize the significance of anti-Semitism and to see it everywhere; to see it largely as ploy by the Israeli Right and to see it as fundamentally baked into Western civilization.

I have some worries about the new narrative of anti-Semitism. For many white Jews, I think, it is all too convenient to rediscover our own oppression at a moment when our whiteness and privilege make us increasingly uncomfortable.

The liberal interest in Steve Bannon’s alleged anti-Semitism seemed to me very odd: no one in the Trump administration is talking of deporting Jews or banning circumcision, after all.

This is not a critique of JFREJ or IfNotNow, both of which aim to be intentional and careful about race; it is rather my nervousness about how this new narrative circulates in the broader culture.

I have seen too many Facebook declarations to the effect of “I’m not white, I’m Jewish” to be entirely comfortable with re-emphasizing Jewish oppression.

Nonetheless, I think that a broader, proactive analysis of anti-Semitism is the better of the two options for the Left.

Our longstanding defensive posture on anti-Semitism largely failed, for obvious tactical reasons. It was fundamentally reactive, it allowed our opponents to set the terms of the debate, and it meant we were constantly apologizing for perceived faults.

The new Left approach to anti-Semitism, by contrast, puts the Right on the defensive. It is positive and aggressive.

Moreover, it offers Jews a usable identity in the age of Trump: a story in which the struggle for social justice is not merely a Jewish value, but a necessity for Jewish survival.

Source: How The Jewish Left Learned To Stop Playing Defense And Fight Anti-Semitism

The British Museum’s new Islamic world gallery is a triumph

The Louvre’s Islamic art section, renovated and expanded some 10 years ago if I recall correctly, is also impressive:

IT IS a striking object. The lyre (pictured below), dating from the 19th century, was used in Sudanese Zar ceremonies, in which individuals thought to be possessed by spirits (jinn) were exorcised. Its arms are adorned with items that might appease spectres: multi-coloured beads, traded by Europeans; assorted currencies from Cairo, Istanbul, Britain and Sumatra; and shells. The instrument may not be the obvious draw for a prospective visitor to a gallery of the Islamic world, but in its wonderful complexity it illustrates the diversity of the works, places and ideas on display at the British Museum’s new Albukhary Foundation Gallery.

The gallery, which was opened on October 18th, explores the geographical spread of Islam chronologically, from the 7th century to the modern day. Islam is wisely presented not as a monolithic culture, but a global one with many centres and peripheries; artefacts range from Spain to Nigeria to Indonesia. The displays are devoted to themes such as science, calligraphy, fashion and storytelling, and the visitor is led through historical periods and regions, reflecting the movement of art and ideas between cultures. A case displaying Islamic lustreware reveals a glaze perfected by Iraqi ceramicists in the 9th century; it is juxtaposed with a dish created by Italian potters in the 15th century, who had later mastered the same technique. Other skills were learnt and spread from one place to another: a 13th-century flask from Syria is decorated in gold and intertwining vegetation, a Byzantine style.

The new space lets the curators display more of the museum’s collection than was previously possible—archaeological finds as well as newly commissioned contemporary art—and create beautiful, expansive displays. This is particularly true of the “Reading the Skies” case, containing items related to astronomy and astrology. An astrolabe, considered the computer of the 10th century, has been taken apart and its composite layers arranged to show their design. The intricacy of the mechanism is staggering. According to William Greenwood, one of the curators, “one 10th-century astronomer estimated that there were a thousand possible applications for an astrolabe, ranging from the position of the stars to finding the direction of Mecca.” The design of this display, and many others throughout the gallery, elevates the objects. The lighting for a celestial globe, for example, is so subtle that it seems as if it might be lit by its own heavenly design. The “exploded astrolabe”, meanwhile, casts planet-like shadows across the wall.

This thoughtful marriage of scholarship and design is striking, even unconventional. A turquoise dish from 17th-century Iran has been turned over to reveal the labels of the previous exhibitions it appeared in. One is for a showcase of Persian art held at Burlington House in London in 1931, then the largest the city had ever seen, and visited by 250,000 people. The exhibition was organised as a “symphony of pure form” and focused solely on the decorous beauty of Islamic art; a New York Times correspondent of the time said it was “like stepping into a recreation of the Arabian nights”. The touch reveals the curators’ willingness to show how the objects have been acquired by the British Museum, as well as the clichéd perceptions of the Islamic world that have surrounded them.

The location of the new gallery makes a statement, too. Where the artefacts were once isolated in restrictive rooms in the northern section of the building, the exhibit is now on the second floor of the museum. It is next to the Sutton Hoo collection, a prestigious collection of treasures from an Anglo-Saxon burial, and alongside the rooms on medieval Europe, Greece and Rome, and the ancient near east. The relocation puts the Islamic world in conversation with the rest of global history.

The British Museum’s new gallery avoids the “Orientalism” of past exhibitions—essential given that the institution is facing intense criticism for the colonial provenance of some of its collection. The curators have created displays that approach the subjects and the artefacts with nuance, sensitivity and skill. At a time when Islamophobia and misconceptions about the religion are prevalent, it is a vital corrective.

Source: The British Museum’s new Islamic world gallery is a triumph

Swiss citizenship fees vary widely across country: report

Most aspects of citizenship procedures are administered at the cantonal level with considerable variation between cantons:
Swiss citizenship doesn’t come cheap. While the cost of filing an application with federal authorities is relatively low (100 Swiss francs for an adult, or 150 francs for a couple), cantonal and communal authorities also charge non-refundable administrative fees which can seriously mount up.

Those administrative fees can vary depend on factors including age, place of birth, and marital status, but also differ significantly depending on place of residence as a new study carried out by Swiss weekly Le Matin Dimanche shows.

This is despite attempts to bring these administrative costs in line across the country back in 2006.

The study reveals that administrative costs can range from 500–1,600 francs in the canton of Jura to 1,800–3,000 francs in Fribourg, depending on which commune you live in.

Costs in other cantons include 550 to 800 francs in canton Vaud, 1,000 francs in Valais and a fixed rate of 1,250 francs for adults over 25 in Geneva.

For the canton of Zurich, the cost is listed on the cantonal homepage as 1,200 francs for foreign-born adults aged over 25. However, the canton also notes there are additional cantonal costs to be factored in. According to Le Matin Dimanche, the fees in Zurich total 1,700 francs.

Contacted by Le Matin Dimanche, authorities in Fribourg said there was no political motivation behind the high administrative costs associated with citizenship in that canton. A spokesperson said costs of individual applications were calculated based on actual costs incurred.

The office of Swiss price watchdog, Stefan Meierhans, is now looking into the matter.

Source: Swiss citizenship fees vary widely across country: report

Seuils d’immigration: le Québec aura moins de poids, prévient Ottawa

While I don’t advocate for more immigration for immigration’s sake, the overall demographic and eventual political impact of the Legault government’s reduced immigration levels is clear:

Le gouvernement Legault risque d’accélérer la chute du poids démographique du Québec au sein de la fédération canadienne – et, par ricochet, son poids politique – en voulant réduire le nombre d’immigrants qui s’installent au Québec.

Telle est la mise en garde qu’a poliment lancée le gouvernement Trudeau à de proches collaborateurs du nouveau premier ministre du Québec, François Legault, au cours des derniers jours, alors que le gouvernement de la Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) a officiellement pris les commandes de l’État jeudi.

Selon des informations obtenues par La Presse, le gouvernement Trudeau a entrepris de sensibiliser le gouvernement caquiste aux répercussions possibles de son intention de réduire le nombre d’immigrants qui élisent domicile au Québec sur le poids démographique de la province au sein de la fédération. Au lendemain des élections québécoises, qui ont vu la CAQ remporter 74 des 125 sièges à l’Assemblée nationale, François Legault a réitéré la promesse électorale de son parti de faire passer le nombre d’immigrants de quelque 50 000 à 40 000 dès 2019.

Le nouveau ministre de l’Immigration du gouvernement caquiste, Simon Jolin-Barrette, a obtenu le mandat de réaliser cette promesse qui a suscité de vifs débats durant la campagne électorale, d’autant plus que le gouvernement fédéral a son mot à dire en matière d’immigration et que les entreprises doivent composer avec une pénurie de main-d’oeuvre au Québec.

Rappelons que le gouvernement fédéral, quant à lui, s’est donné pour objectif d’accueillir 310 000 immigrants en 2018, 330 000 en 2019 et 340 000 en 2020.

Durant les trois premiers mois de 2018, l’Ontario a accueilli presque autant d’immigrants que la cible annuelle que propose François Legault dès l’an prochain, soit 35 222 personnes, selon des données du ministère des Finances de l’Ontario obtenues par La Presse. L’Ontario comptait 14 374 084 habitants au 1er avril 2018 (contre 8,4 millions au Québec) et avait aussi accueilli 44,1 % de tous les nouveaux arrivants au Canada durant le premier trimestre de l’année. En 2017, pas moins de 121 915 immigrants ont installé leurs pénates dans la province la plus populeuse.

Les nouveaux sièges en fonction du poids

Dans les coulisses, on a tenu à rappeler que c’est à partir du poids démographique d’une province que l’on distribue de nouveaux sièges à la Chambre des communes – de plus en plus dominée par l’Ontario, qui détient 121 des 338 sièges. À titre de comparaison, le Québec détient 78 sièges, alors que la Colombie-Britannique (42) et l’Alberta (34), mis ensemble, en ont presque autant (76) depuis la réforme de la carte électorale de 2011.

« Quand on décide de réduire le nombre d’immigrants qui s’installent au Québec, cela va avoir un impact sur le poids démographique du Québec par rapport au reste du pays. Et cela pourrait aussi avoir un impact sur son poids politique à long terme », a-t-on fait valoir dans les rangs libéraux à Ottawa.

Au cours du dernier siècle et plus, le poids démographique du Québec est passé de 30,7 % de la population canadienne en 1901 à 22,6 % en 2018.

Le poids démographique de l’Ontario, lui, s’établit à 38,7 % aujourd’hui. Le gouvernement ontarien prévoit qu’il atteindra 39,8 % en 2026 et qu’il franchira le cap des 40,3 % en 2031 si la tendance actuelle se maintient.

Au cours des dernières années, la population de l’Ontario a donc crû fortement, ce qui lui a permis d’obtenir davantage de sièges à la Chambre des communes et d’augmenter du même coup son influence sur les décisions qui sont prises dans la capitale fédérale.

Des inquiétudes

Dans les coulisses, des députés libéraux fédéraux du Québec ont aussi exprimé leurs inquiétudes quant aux répercussions de la politique du gouvernement caquiste en matière d’immigration. « Je suis un député du Québec et je ne veux pas que le Québec en vienne à perdre de son influence politique à Ottawa au profit de l’Ontario », a résumé un député libéral, qui a requis l’anonymat pour s’exprimer plus candidement sur cette question qui pourrait devenir une pomme de discorde entre les deux capitales.

En 2011, l’ancien gouvernement conservateur de Stephen Harper avait annoncé l’attribution de nouveaux sièges à l’Ontario, à l’Alberta et à la Colombie-Britannique afin de tenir compte de la forte croissance démographique dans ces trois provinces. La Chambre des communes est passée, aux élections de 2015, de 308 à 338 sièges. L’Ontario a obtenu 15 de ces 30 nouveaux sièges, tandis que l’Alberta et la Colombie-Britannique se sont vu donner six nouveaux sièges chacun. Le gouvernement du Québec et le Bloc québécois sont montés au créneau pour décrier la baisse du poids politique du Québec à la Chambre des communes. De proches collaborateurs québécois de Stephen Harper l’ont alors convaincu d’accorder trois nouveaux sièges au Québec, même si la croissance de sa population ne justifiait pas une telle mesure.

Le Québec détient aujourd’hui l’équivalent de 23 % des sièges à la Chambre des communes, soit une proportion plus élevée que son poids démographique (22,6 %).

Applying Behavioral Insights to Support Immigrant Integration and Social Cohesion

As others go backward, Canada moves forward: Ibbitson

Good sense of perspective:

Australia’s coalition government blamed an “administrative error” after many of its senators supported a motion that declared: “It’s OK to be white.”

The motion, which also decried the “deplorable rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilization,” was narrowly defeated, by a vote of 31-28 on Monday, thanks to opposition by Labour, the Greens and independents.

After the government forced a revote, the motion was decisively defeated. But the fact that the Australian Senate could even be debating these noxious words is remarkable. Any Canadian politician who tried to introduce such a declaration into a legislature would surely be expelled from whatever caucus they belonged to.

In that sense, the legalization of cannabis use on Wednesday is simply the latest evidence that Canada has set itself apart from the world.

We are the only Group of 20 country to have legalized cannabis use at the national level, and to offer pardons to those convicted in the past.

We are also the only large developed nation that continues to embrace high levels of immigration. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada expects to take in 330,000 immigrants and refugees next year, and 340,000 in 2020.

In Sweden, which accepted a record number of refugees from the Middle East on a per-capita basis during the migration crisis of 2015, anti-immigrant sentiment powered the far-right Sweden Democrats to a strong showing in September’s elections. Six weeks later, the mainstream parties still haven’t figured out how to form a government.

The Trump administration wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico. In Britain, the Conservative government imposes tougher restrictions on immigration every year. New Zealand is also discouraging new arrivals: Parent-class approvals fell by 63 per cent in 2016-17, while 6-per-cent fewer skilled immigrants were approved.

While Australia continues to have a robust immigration policy, the United Nations has condemned rules that imprison asylum seekers in offshore detention centres, sometimes for years.

The UN has also condemned the deplorable conditions in which many Canadian First Nations live. And the federal Liberal government is internally divided over whether Canada suffers from systemic racism.

“That expression is not a part of my vocabulary,” Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, told The Globe and Mail’s Daniel Leblanc. But Liberal MPs Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Greg Fergus maintain systemic racism is a fact of Canadian life.

We are far from perfect.

But if perfection is at the end of a scale, Canada is farther along than most. Not only was this country one of the first to legalize same-sex marriage, it is the only country to formally apologize and offer restitution to those who were dismissed from the public service and military in the past simply because of their sexuality.

Same-sex marriage in the United States arrived through a Supreme Court decision that LGBTQ advocates fear could be reversed, now that conservative jurist Brett Kavanaugh is on the court, tilting it further to the right. Advocates for women’s rights fear the court might also reverse Roe v. Wade, which made abortions legal in the United States.

In contrast, this Liberal government mandates that half the ministers in cabinet be women. More than half (55 per cent in 2016) of the federal public service is female.

At least 40 per cent of full-time university faculty are women (up from 37 per cent in 2010), although they make up less than 10 per cent of senior management in major companies.

And how do Canadians feel about this march toward greater tolerance? A recent international Ipsos poll says Canadians are less likely to feel their country is in decline than almost anyone else.

Only 30 per cent of us agreed with the statement: “Your country is in decline,” in contrast to 51 per cent of Americans, 49 per cent of Brits and 36 per cent of Australians. Among 24 countries surveyed, only the Germans and Chileans were more confident than Canadians that things are getting better rather than worse.

While much of the developed world stagnates or backslides in the struggle for greater equality, Canadians remain determined to keep going forward.

There is no excuse for complacency. But we might be permitted a moment or two of quiet satisfaction.

Source:     As others go backward, Canada moves forward John Ibbitson October 18, 2018     

Third of British people wrongly believe there are Muslim ‘no-go areas’ in UK governed by sharia law

No great surprise in the divide between the cities and other areas:

Almost a third of British people now believe the myth that there are “no-go zones” where non-Muslims cannot enter, according to a report warning of mounting intolerance.

Research by Hope Not Hate found that economic inequality was driving hostility towards Muslims, immigration and multiculturalism, particularly in post-industrial and coastal towns.

“These areas also voted strongly for Leave in the referendum and, ironically, may well suffer most under a hard Brexit – making them a ripe target for the far and populist right,” the group said.

“In effect, two Britains have emerged, with a more confident, diverse, liberal population now concentrated in our cities. The implications of this for Brexit, for the Labour Party, for politics in general, and potentially aiding the rise of a far-right movement, could all be profound.”

The research comes following an increase street protests by far-right groups including the anti-Islam Democratic Football Lads Alliance and supporters of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson.

A 2018 YouGov survey of more than 10,300 people showed that attitudes towards Muslims had been hardening in Britain in the wake of Isis-inspired terror attacks and grooming scandals where the majority of suspects have been of Pakistani heritage.

It found that the perception of Islam as a threat was moving into the mainstream, with 32 per cent of respondents believing that there are “no-go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.

The view was shared by almost half of people who voted Leave in the EU referendum, and 47 per cent of Conservative voters.

The “no-go zones” theory, which is spread by global far-right pundits online has been widely debunked and where there have been isolated incidents of “Muslim patrols”, suspects have been arrested and condemned by local Muslim leaders.

The most infamous group, called the Sharia Project, was headed by Siddhartha Dhar, an acolyte of Anjem Choudary who later joined Isis in Syria.

In the YouGov poll, a small majority felt that there was an increasing amount of tension between the different political and demographic groups in the UK.

Almost a third thought Islamist terrorists “reflected a widespread hostility to Britain from among the Muslim community”, including two thirds of Leave voters.

Hope Not Hate’s research mapped data from the YouGov poll across parliamentary constituencies to create a heat map of different attitudes.

Overall it showed that liberal attitudes are most concentrated in areas like major cities where diversity is a normal part of everyday life, and the population tends to be better educated, younger and enjoying greater opportunities.

Meanwhile, the greatest concern about immigration and Islam was found particularly in post-industrial towns and coastal areas, where populations are less diverse.

Researchers documented a “halo effect” where cities with large Muslim populations are surrounded by predominantly white British areas with more hostile views.

“Where non-Muslims live, work and socialise with Muslims, these interactions are likely to reduce prejudice,” the report said. “But if people witness rather than experience super diversity, existing prejudices can be reinforced.”

Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, warned of a growing cultural divide between increasingly educated, diverse and multicultural metropolitan populations and those living in smaller towns.

“Communities with the greatest anxiety to immigration and multiculturalism are also the ones which has lost most through industrial decline,” Mr Lowles said.

“These communities had failed to see any benefit in globalisation and were, if anything, going backwards … the Brexit vote was, in the eyes of many, those in the left behind communities getting their revenge.

“Views are hardening and the target of their anger is increasingly Muslims, Islam and the political establishment.”

He said a sense of loss of hope and abandonment by the government was translating into hostility towards the political system.

“Political parties will not reduce anxiety or even hostility to immigration and multiculturalism by cracking down on immigration alone,” Mr Lowles added.

“It is about rebuilding these communities, equipping their young people with the skills that will enable them to compete more effectively in the modern global world and – fundamentally – giving them a sense of hope in the future.

Source: Third of British people wrongly believe there are Muslim ‘no-go areas’ in UK governed by sharia law

Deep In The Desert, A Case Pits Immigration Crackdown Against Religious Freedom

Interesting test case regarding a positive exercise in religious freedom unlike Hobby Lobby, which was more about restricting rights:

In January, Border Patrol agents walked up to a ramshackle old building on the outskirts of a small town in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. They found three men.

Two were Central Americans who had crossed the border illegally. The third was an American — a university lecturer and humanitarian activist named Scott Warren.

Warren was arrested and ultimately charged with two federal criminal counts of harboring illegal migrants and one count of conspiracy to harbor and transport them. Warren has pleaded not guilty.

Warren’s arrest briefly flickered across the national news amid the partisan tug-of-war over the administration’s immigration policy before fading into the background.

But his legal team’s decision to stake out part of his defense on religious liberty grounds has made the case a clash between two of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ top priorities: cracking down on illegal immigration and defending religious liberty.

A law written to shield faith

One aspect of Warren’s defense is based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as RFRA. At root, Warren is saying that his faith compels him to offer assistance to people in dire need, including immigrants.

Congress passed RFRA in 1993 with an eye toward protecting the exercise of religious beliefs, particularly of religious minorities, by providing narrow exceptions to neutral laws that apply to everyone.

The law would allow, for example, a religious group to use an otherwise illegal drug, such as peyote, in religious observances. In recent years, Christian evangelical groups have used the law to advance their causes.

In one prominent case, Hobby Lobby Inc., a for-profit chain of arts and crafts stores, opposed — on religious grounds — providing its employees with health insurance that includes contraceptive services, as required under the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor.

Warren’s lawyer declined to make him available to talk with NPR for this report. But Warren’s parents and others familiar with his work spoke about the case.

Sessions and religious freedom

As attorney general, Jeff Sessions has taken up the banner of religious liberty for the Trump administration.

Last year, Sessions issued a memo with guidance on protections for religious liberty in federal law.

And in a July speech, he called religious liberty America’s “first freedom” and vowed to aggressively protect it. He also announced the creation of a task force to help the Justice Department accomplish that goal.

One of its jobs, he said, would be to ensure that the cases that DOJ attorneys bring and defend — and the arguments they make in court — are in line with federal protections for religious freedom.

“That includes making sure that our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith,” Sessions told the crowd. “As the people in this room know, you have to practice what you preach.”

But some critics say the Justice Department is failing to do just that. Instead, they say the DOJ is selectively supporting religious liberty.

“There’s a public face of this government, which is very protective of religious liberty, and then the real work they’re doing is only protecting the religious liberty rights of those who are religious conservatives, not of religious progressives,” said Columbia Law School’s Katherine Franke, director of the Public Rights/Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School.

Franke was one of several law professors who filed a friend of the court brief in Warren’s case to help explain the statute.

The American Civil Liberties Union also has accused the Trump administration of uneven support for religious freedom.

“The Trump administration’s view of religious liberty is both selective and distorted,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s program on freedom of religion and belief.

“It supports an unfounded, unprecedented religious license to discriminate; and at the same, the administration is indifferent or outright hostile to faiths and religious individuals with which it disagrees.”

The Justice Department declined to respond on the record to those allegations.

Many conservative groups and faith leaders have lauded the Trump administration for its efforts to protect religious freedom and people of faith.

One of the most prominent examples of that support was the Justice Department’s decision to file a brief in support of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

United States v. Warren

Warren, who worked as an instructor at Arizona State University, volunteered with a humanitarian organization called No More Deaths. The group aims to save lives in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, where people frequently die as they try to cross the desert on the journey north.

To that end, volunteers for the group hike into the scrubland and leave food, water and other supplies. They also provide emergency first aid to people they find in distress.

No More Deaths and other humanitarian groups use a private residence they call “the barn” on the outskirts of the small town of Ajo, Arizona, as a base of operations.

That’s where Warren discovered Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday in January, according to court papers.

Warren found the two men hiding in the barn’s bathroom, the government says. He gave them food, water and clothes, and allowed them to stay for three days.

On Jan. 17, Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement officers conducting surveillance on the barn saw Warren talking with “two subjects that matched a description given of two lost illegal aliens,” court papers say.

The agents approached the barn on foot and spoke with Warren, who told them to leave, prosecutors said.

The agents then conducted a “knock and talk,” during which they identified Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday and determined they were in the country illegally. Warren was arrested, while the two undocumented men were detained as material witnesses, deposed and then deported.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona declined to comment on Warren’s case.

It’s unclear whether national political dynamics played any role. But the group No More Deaths believes it is connected to the Trump administration’s broader crackdown on illegal immigration.

“What we see under DOJ now is that they’re going after the activists,” said No More Deaths volunteer Catherine Gaffney. “But unfortunately when you go after activists, they’re going to raise their voices and fight back and not be deterred.”

Gaffney also raised questions about the timing of Warren’s arrest.

She said it came hours after No More Deaths released a report that accused Border Patrol agents of slashing water jugs that the group had left out in the desert. The report included videos of Border Patrol agents destroying plastic water containers.

“So we see a clear pattern of political attack here and of weaponizing these immigration statues to go after the activists,” Gaffney said.

Warren and RFRA

Warren, whom neighbors called an active citizen within the town of Ajo, filed a motion earlier this year to have two of the charges dismissed on RFRA grounds.

Under the law, he has to show three things to make his case: that his beliefs are religious in nature; that they are sincerely held; and that they are substantially burdened by a law that applies to everyone.

If he can do that, the burden of proof then shifts to the government.

Prosecutors have to show that the government has a powerful reason to apply the law in Warren’s specific case. They also have to show that the government is using the least restrictive way possible to accomplish that.

At a court hearing in May, Warren testified about his beliefs. He described a life force that permeates all things — animate and inanimate. And his faith, he said, compels him to act when someone is in need.

“For me, we most definitely do unto others as we would want to have done unto us,” he told the court.

The government opposed the motion, saying the prosecution does not substantially burden Warren’s beliefs. DOJ lawyers said Warren “is not required by his beliefs to aid in the evasion of law enforcement. Nor were the people associated with these charges ‘in distress.’ ”

The district judge presiding over the case denied Warren’s motion to dismiss it. But the judge left the door open to Warren to try again when he’s scheduled to go to trial in November.

Source: Deep In The Desert, A Case Pits Immigration Crackdown Against Religious Freedom

Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, and British Anti-Semitism

Speaks for itself:

A year ago, the late Philp Roth invited Salman Rushdie to give the Newark Public Library’s annual Philip Roth Lecture. Delivering the lecture in September of this year, as scheduled, Rushdie took the opportunity to eulogize Roth, to speak of Roth’s influence on his own work, and to comment on a particular conversation that made a lasting impression:

“My most vivid memory [of Roth] is of a conversation in London in the mid-1980s, at a dinner in the house in Chelsea where he was living with Claire Bloom, [whom he would later marry]. He spoke of his desire to return to America because of his growing dislike of British anti-Semitism, and the irritation caused by the accompanying British refusal to admit that there was such a thing as British anti-Semitism, and their desire to explain to Philip that he had probably made some sort of cultural misunderstanding.

I have been thinking again about what Philip perceived all those years ago, because the British Labor party is presently in the throes of a dispute about the widespread anti-Semitism within its ranks, a problem the existence of which the party leadership has appeared to minimize or even deny until quite recently, and which, even now, has not been firmly dealt with. . . .

I told [Roth] that evening about my only personal experience of anti-Semitism. One summer when I was young, before I had published anything, and when I was not even slightly fashionable, I was somehow invited to a fashionable rooftop party in London, at which I was introduced to a designer of extremely fashionable hats named Tom Gilbey, whose work, I was told, was often featured in Vogue. He was quite uninterested in meeting me, was curt to the point of discourtesy, and quickly went off in search of more fashionable party guests.

A few minutes later, however, he came back toward me at some speed, his whole body contorted into a shape designed to convey embarrassment and regret, and offered the following apology. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “you probably thought I was very rude to you just now, and actually, I probably was very rude, but you see, it’s because they told me you were Jewish.” The explanation was offered in tones which suggested that I would immediately understand and forgive. I have never wanted so much to be able to say that I was in fact Jewish. . .”

Source: Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, and British Anti-Semitism