Monday, March 07, 2011

Irshad Manji and Faith and Justice

I've often wondered why those who live lives of peace, of material comfort, have a fragile faith. Yet those whose very lives are threatened, only grow stronger in the faith that puts them in the line of fire.

My mother said that when a person lives in comfort and peace, their faith is never tested. But those who face persecution or suffering have their faith tested, and they and it grow stronger.

Listening to Irshad Manji tonight at Roy Thomson Hall in the Unique Lives and Experiences series, I was struck by how she has grown stronger since she ditched the men with shades and earpieces, even as she continues to face hostility, anger, death threats. (It was nice that the security at the Hall was not overt.) She explained that she got rid of the bodyguards so that she could model to young Muslims how to live their faith without fear, to express what they really feel in spite of the danger of being labelled "dishonourable" and then facing the threat of bodily harm as a result. For how could she expect them to follow in her footsteps if all they saw is that to speak out one requires a bodyguard.

An interesting thing happened though when she made herself more vulnerable to the crackpots: opportunities opened up. To expose herself was to teach others. And she has more hope today than when she wrote her first book 7 years ago.

She is speaking to young Muslims to give them the moral courage to repudiate the violent, extremist slant of Islam. Yet, in a way, she is also speaking to young non-fundamentalist Christians to speak out their faith since in public the only voices (that I hear) are mostly the Catholic ones when the media interview them as representatives of all Christians or those who wanna fit in to secular society or the nutbars, but not so much the mainstream voices. And she is also speaking to all Canadians who are too comfortable with their lives to see their freedom crumbling around them and to act to revive it.

I cannot stop thinking about the contrast between the Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans facing bullets to gain democracy and economic fairness until they overthrew (or will overthrow) authoritarian rule, and the Qu├ębec prosecutors who went on strike to gain fair pay and justice for victims yet in the face of authoritarian crackdown went back to work while the country yawned. (Overworked, underpaid prosecutors whose ranks have shrunk alarmingly and who have no time to meet with victims aren't about to do the kind of job that justice requires.) The causes may seem incomparable, but the prosecutors are facing an appalling injustice in the way they are treated by their employer and what it means for the carriage of criminal justice. Their employer -- the provincial government -- used its clout to perpetuate the injustice. The prosecutors then faced a choice: to comply, to quit the job, or to hold onto their spurt of courage and continue to strike in the face of mind-boggling huge fines. I understand many quit, and the rest complied. Unlike the Libyans whose lives, not merely their pocketbooks, are threatened, they do have something to lose -- their comfort zone. They also didn't have something the Libyans do -- support for their cause.

Canadians were too busy feeling outraged about the carnage across the pond to see the desolation on their doorstep.

When you have nothing to lose, as is the case in Libya, courage comes easy, for really it's desperation that's the driving force. It's the kind of desperation that makes you feel you have no choice but to take that step otherwise you will go mad or die. But when the rightness of your cause spreads and people rally to your side, desperation becomes courage and it grows.

Ultimately, the ones who will pay for the prosecutors' compliance are the victims of crime. And we all pay for Canadian apathy in the erosion of our democracy, of the rule of law, and of good government, a concept we hold dear.

The comfortable and safe are the ones truly afflicted, for they cannot see nor persevere against injustice.

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