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Why do we hate and fear the poor who try to enter this land?

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Original Peoples

At this point, you are probably assuming that I'm talking about the Tamil refugees, and even though that's not completely incorrect, the specific incident that this piece is about is the much less publicized issue of the refusal by Mr Kenney's minions to issue visas to about 100 Tibetan scholars, who has the audacity to want to participate in a conference on the Tibetan culture held at UBC: what a radical idea it must have seemed to Mr Kenney's men to have a couple of Tibetans at a Tibet conference. Before I'm accused of sexism, let me say that the use of the male form in the last sentence is entirely intentional: I have far too much faith in the female sensibility to believe that any woman would partake in such insanity. You can call it idealism if you like.

Even though less dramatic than the Tamil story, on a more fundamental level, the case of the Tibetans is even more egregious and embarrassing, and yet more revealing and thought provoking: the conference mentioned above is a well-respected biannual international event at which scholars of Tibet the world over congregate to discuss the Tibetan tradition and history as evidenced by the 200 page list of abstracts on the conference website. Yet, of the 350+ participants, everyone's input was deemed worthy of attention other than that of the Tibetans. To see how senseless all the usual vitriol about the Tamil refugees is, one simply needs to ponder the specifics of this case: Tibetans are world-renowned for their peacefulness; these visitors would not cost the government of Canada a dime: in fact, they would bring money as well as credibility to the country's intellectuals; what's more is that none of the visa applicants are even trying to seek asylum here: most of them are well-known researchers with stable jobs elsewhere and so there is no ground for suspecting that they would try to stay in Canada (e.g. 10 of them were fully sponsored by UBC). Then, one wonders why are they being refused entry?

Could it be because they uncover our subconscious fear of people whose pain and suffering maintains our lavish life style here in lotus-land? Could this be the reason for why we detest the poor so passionately and are so horrified by their approaching us as if they are about to come over and rip our heads off?

This will probably be interpreted by some as an esoteric socialist rant about class wars and so forth, and let me clarify the air by saying that I'm referring to something much more precise and concrete: as Susan George points out in the documentary The End of Poverty? sub-Saharan Africa alone "pays $25,000/minute to Northern creditors."

So, even if you completely ignore every other way in which we benefit from their misery (e.g. conflict minerals, dirt cheap labour in sweatshops, the fattening of our military-industrial complex through their ongoing conflicts, etc, etc), just the interest that they have to pay to us because of all the loans that we imposed upon them is enough to cripple their economies indefinitely.

Now, coming back to us, of course when you live on the back of the "other," you naturally constantly dread the day when the "other" starts questioning the hierarchical/Confucian order into which they have been forced, by virtue of their place of birth, the colour of their skin, the religion they practice, etc, and tries to climb up the Confucian ladder or, worse yet, demand a shift toward an egalitarian/Taoist paradigm. And, much like the Taoists, who were (and still are) persecuted, we keep them out by building invisible, yet impenetrable walls around us; we put in place degrading and humiliating systems that make them question their worth as human beings, just to discourage them from approaching our "green zone." Of course, the most blatant manifestation of this invisible wall is our racist and elitist immigration system, but the entire apparatus is much more subtle and multi-faceted than a single ministry headed by a not so smart minister. It is the same wall that makes our post-secondary education system so inaccessible to the aboriginal youth, our politics to women, our medical profession to foreign-trained doctors.

Let me also add that calling this "racism" or "sexism" (or whatever other kind of ism) is adding insult to injury by understating the gravity and the depth of the issue: discrimination is a mammalian/cortical phenomenon, whereas what we are dealing with here goes much deeper into the sub-cortical/reptilian brain. The significance of this observation is that the problem is much more difficult to eradicate: the solution is not another civil rights or women's rights (or whoever else's rights) movement. We need to question and alter much more fundamental aspects of our lives than the figure-head in whose name these policies are being carried out and a handful of loudmouth bigots in the media. The problem is not Jason Kenney: he's just a symptom of the disease; wasting your time and energy on bureaucrats like him is like screaming at a stick that's being used to hit you. The problem is us.

It's easy to blame Jason Kenney (not that he's such a saint), but it takes real integrity, not to mention intelligence, to realize and admit one's own contribution to the catastrophe and to do something about it. Every time we buy a new electronic gadget, a woman in the Congo gets raped. Every time we buy a T-shirt, one more Haitian is enslaved into a sweatshop; one more Chinese worker commits suicide. Every time we drive a car, a village in Sudan is razed; a child in Iraq is blown into pieces; a tribe in Ecuador is driven off their land; another Lubicon child is poisoned to death. Every time we buy a piece of gold jewelry, a village in Tanzania get their water poisoned; one more lake in BC is turned into a tailings pond destroying the way of life of another First Nations people.

We are soaked in blood, and we know it subconsciously (if not consciously), which is why we hate and fear "them" so. Until these foundational issues are addressed, we will be fighting Ministers of Citizenship and Immigration to come.

Of course, at this point comes the annoyed, and yet very appropriate question of what indeed can be done: after all we're living in a small (economically and demographically speaking), peripheral country that is constantly living at the mercy of the empire of the day, are we not? So, without any meaningful power and consequently without much ability to do any real harm, we, the inhabitants of this country, can't do a whole lot to stop the harm that's being done all around the globe, can we?

I must concede that that line of reasoning does carry some weight when it comes to most sectors of the economy, but as the late George Carlin put it ever so eloquently and succinctly, "we can't build a decent car or a TV set or a VCR worth a fuck anymore, ... but we can bomb the shit out of your country alright" (the profanity being all his, not mine). Actually, the appropriate statement in the case of Canada would end with "we can poison your water alright" or "we can sell arms to people who will bomb the shit out of you alright" or "we can put so much CO2 in the air that you'd die from drought alright," etc. The point is that when you have a bunch of greedy, yet lazy and unimaginative clowns in key decision making positions in a country, you end up gradually shifting toward more and more unethical means to maintain your life style. So, we have to poison my Tanzanian sisters and brothers to get their gold; we have to deny the Congo debt relief because the Congolese government cancelled the mining contract of a Vancouver-based mining company, making it impossible for the government to pay its soldiers enough money to stop them from wreaking havoc on my Congolese sisters, whom they're supposed to be protecting; we have to sell arms to all and sundry and provide our military-industrial complex with a source of revenue by continuing to drop bombs on my Afghan sisters during their weddings.

What I would like to tell you is instead of killing my sisters and brothers, foster ingenuity and creativity. Canada could be at the edge of the green revolution instead of digging for oil and gold. As someone who was born in a country that is the very embodiment of the resource curse, let me warn you that the resource curse is coming to Canada as well and that things are going to get much uglier than this: both for us and for those who come knocking on our doors.

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