A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

Gone to Lebanon in 60 seconds: international car thieves

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 8, 2009

I’m sorry I was late, G said one evening in mid-2007. I took my mother’s car this evening, because it had just been cleaned, and half-way here I realized that I had forgotten to switch the registration.

What? I asked, in my usual discerning fashion.

The registration for our cars, G explained. I forgot to take mine out of my wallet and switch it with my mother.

Wouldn’t it be easier to keep the registration in your glove compartment? I asked, thinking: I’ve never heard of keeping it in a wallet.

Of course not, G said, trying to remain patient with my obvious obtuseness. You have to show the registration at checkpoints. If the car is stolen, the thief will have no registration, so he can’t get too far.

Go figure, I remember thinking. I had no idea that car theft was such a big concern – but then again, I never owned a car in Lebanon.

Once I was looking for theft issues, I noticed that there were regular news reports about car thief rings in the Bekaa and other Lebanese hinterlands. The reports were usually small, vague, and quite intriguing.

And then I learned that my friend M owned a car of questionable provenance.

The salesman gave me an entire history for this car when I bought it, M told me. It was owned by a lady doctor in Canada – low mileage, safe driving conditions. But when I ran a check on the VIN number, it turned out that the car’s history was quite different.

So I should have been prepared for this next story, about a Lebanese car thieving ring in Canada. But … Ottawa? Not to belabor the point, but perhaps choosing the nation’s capital as the site of one’s massively illegal activities might not have been Mr. Tanios’ and Mr. Tirani’s smartest “business” decision.

OTTAWA — Two men are facing charges after a two-month police investigation into an illegal exporting operation that sent stolen cars and car parts from Canada to Lebanon.

Ottawa police worked with the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the Insurance Bureau of Canada on the investigation, which recovered $400,000 worth of vehicles and parts.

So far, 14 vehicles have been recovered, with more expected to be found, said Det. Marshall Clark of the Ottawa Police organized auto theft section.

Police believe the stolen vehicles were being cut in half and shipped via the port of Montreal to Lebanon, where they would be reassembled or sold for parts. They tended to be expensive models by manufacturers such as Hummer, Infiniti and Lexus.

“It’s not the first time we’ve uncovered this,” Det. Clark said. “It is a common problem.”

Hanna Tanios, 39, of Ottawa was arrested and charged with fraudulent concealment and possession of stolen property over $5,000. Ayad Tirani, 39, formerly of Ottawa, was also charged but has not yet been arrested, as police believe he is in Lebanon.

Both men are also charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

[You can read the rest of the story here.]

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Posted in Canada, Lebanon | 1 Comment »

timely warnings ii

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 24, 2007

If its late August, it must be time to think about the upcoming (Sept 25) presidential ‘election’. For popular second-country citizenship choices like Canada and Australia, this means that it is time to remind Lebanese dual citizens of the need to register with their local embassies for help during what the Canadian embassy so delicately terms “emergency situations”:

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I’m not holding my breath in hopes that the American embassy will publish a similar notice, but seeing the new crop of registration does make me a bit nervous.

It reminds me of the cabin announcements that pilots sometimes make during long-haul flights – one of which I heard earlier this week.

Folks, we’re going to encounter some chop in about ten minutes, they usually say. If you need to get up for any reason, now is a good time to do so.

I’m in the states for the next few weeks, and seeing these notices makes me wonder whether there won’t be a similar amount of “chop” on the ground when I return.

Posted in Canada, Canadians, citizenship, Lebanon | 1 Comment »

Little Mosque on the Prairie VI: Good Neighbors

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 4, 2007

Several times during the past week the fact that I have no television set has come up in conversation. Regardless of nationality, everyone is horrified.

I love radio, newspapers, books, and magazines; somehow the appeal of television and cinema is less strong for me. When I watch television here, I download American shows and watch them on my computer.

I include all this exposition about my media consumption as explanation for my tardiness in posting about the two most recent Little Mosque episodes. I adore the show, but … I forget to watch it. Television, even good television, doesn’t always grip me in the way that a novel does.

Episode six,  which I am taking from mydien rather than asifnana because mydien’s version has stripped the show of its commercials, deals with the ominous visit of the Anglican archbishop. He is making a tour of non-performing parishes and closing those with poor attendance.

Given the small (and aged) size of his parish, our priest fears that his church will be the next to go. The Muslim congregation volunteers to impersonate a full, enthusiastic, multi-cultural congregation in order to give the impression that the parish is full of active parishioners. They stage a dress rehearsal, practicing hymns, the sequence of standing and sitting, and prayers – a delightful display of good neighboring, as they attempt to help the parish that helped them (by renting its parish hall to them as the community mosque).

Some of the humor is situational, and some of it a bit slapstick for me. What I found fascinating about this episode was the (very realistic, in my experience) gulf between Muslims and Christians with respect to knowledge of one another’s religious praxis.

While many Muslims may be aware of two of the fundamental theological differences between Islam and Christianity (the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the related doctrine of the Holy Trinity), the details of their neighbors’ religious lives are unknown. For example, Yasser, though married to a converted Anglican, has no idea what distinguishes New Testament from Old.

Sarah is called upon to give the congregation a crash course in Anglicanism, and her efforts to do so are funny but also sad. Her knowledge of the faith and practices of her former faith are hazy at best – and a not inaccurate depiction of the depth of many Christians’ religious knowledge.

As a scholar of the Islamic world, I am quite accustomed to the reality that Christians (in the Middle East almost more than in the United States) know very little about the ways in which practicing Muslims live their faith. This episode brought home the reality that our lack of knowledge of one another extends in both directions. For me, it was comic and sobering at one and the same time.

Posted in Americans, Canada, Canadians, church, Islam, mosque, neighbors, religion, unity | 2 Comments »

Little Mosque on the Prairie V: praising God

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 17, 2007

Episode five of Little Mosque on the Prairie is available on YouTube (and again, with thanks to Asifnana for the prompt uploading.

This episode has a rather painfully funny addition: a white Canadian convert. He exemplifies the by-the-book rigidity that converts to any religion can exhibit, running around shouting Allahu Akbar and criticizing the community’s Muslims for their various lapses in correct practice.

A sub-plot involves Sarah and her daughter Rayyan’s pinkie-swear that Sarah can keep up with the five daily prayers for a month. The rigor of doing so is exaggerated for comic effect, which I find less than funny. I know many people who pray the required 9salat without falling prey to such total exhaustion.

One bit did make me laugh. After Sarah agrees, Rayyan brings her something to help her keep track of the prayer times: a mosque clock! I’ve never seen one that keeps track of the five prayer times, as the television show’s clock is meant to, but it could be possible.

mosque_clock.jpg

Posted in Arabic, Canada, Canadians, clothing, family, food, Islam, mosque, music, politics, Qur'an, religion, television, time, women, words | 1 Comment »

Some are more equal than others: Australia’s dual citizens and their evacuation from Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 15, 2007

In November I wrote a bit about Canada’s proposal to charge Lebanese-Canadians for the cost of their repatriation to Canada during the July war: Some are more equal than others: Canada’s dual citizenship debates.

Similar discussions have evidently been taking place in Australia, and have now been settled. Lebanese Australians who reside in Australia will not be charged for the cost of their repatriation; those who reside in Lebanon will be asked (not required, but requested) to pay.

Here is the article:

Lebanon evacuation cost $30m, gov’t says

The evacuation of Australians from Lebanon last year cost the federal government more than $30 million.

And the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it expected to recover only a fraction of the money after the government decided not to force evacuees to repay the cost of their repatriation.

DFAT on Thursday said the total cost of getting around 5,000 Australians out of Lebanon after fighting broke out with Israel last August was almost $30.4 million.

That covered the cost of evacuating people home by air, evacuating them to Turkey and Cyprus by sea, accommodation, using Beirut’s convention centre as a processing point, medical support, food, interpreters and visa services.

DFAT said the government had decided to seek reimbursement of evacuation costs in cases involving dual Australian-Lebanese nationals who were permanent residents in Lebanon, and those who had recouped money through insurance.

But the system was voluntary, and the people would not be forced to pay back the money.

“What we’re doing in order to manage the financial recovery process is inviting the individuals to self-nominate,” DFAT’s consular division first assistant secretary Rod Smith told a Senate committee.

That process was only just getting underway, he said, but the government did not expect to recover much money from the exercise.

“We don’t expect it to be a great deal, certainly not close to the costs to the government of the evacuation,” Mr Smith said.

“I would think it would be not more than in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The Howard government’s decision not to make people repay their evacuation costs reflected the view that they were caught up in extraordinary circumstances, he said.

“Nobody could have predicted that commercial air services would have been cut when they were,” Mr Smith said.

“It [the evacuation, I presume, and not Israel’s airport bombings] was seen as a reflection of the seriousness of the government’s consular role.”

Although I dislike immensely the Lebanese tendency to acquire second nationalities for precisely such instrumental purposes, I dislike even more the idea that democratic governments should construct hierarchies of citizenship.

Perhaps a better solution is to take more seriously the requirement (which at least in the United States is a legal requirement honored almost entirely in the breach, rather than the observance) that those who take Australian, Canadian, US, etc. citizenship do forswear the nationality of the country they have left behind.

Posted in Australia, Beirut, Canada, Canadians, citizenship, economics, Lebanon, news, politics, research, words | 1 Comment »

Little Mosque on the Prairie: Pools & Pirates

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 15, 2007

Last Saturday I watched episode four of Little Mosque on the Prairie, which was excellent. It covered two very common daily-life issues for Muslims – one a universal issue for today’s world, and the other more specifically related to life in North America: swimming and Halloween.

Rayyan advises Fatima, who has sprained her leg, that she needs exercise, and suggests the ladies’ fitness classes at the local pool. The class instructor, however, turns out to be a man. There is a long plot line revolving around the solution to this problem, which ends with Fatima dressed in an “Islamically appropriate” swimsuit – which appears to be a modified fireman’s costume.

I used to swim at the state pool in Damascus during its weekly women’s hours. My fellow swimmers came dressed in all kinds of bathing costumes, from bikinis to loose, vaguely wet-suit like costumes that covered them from neck to wrist to ankle.

More recently, the Australian government has launched an all-Muslim lifeguard program, with really slick looking modests swimming costumes for women.

I understand that Little Mosque chose the swimming costume designed to make the biggest visual “splash”, but I wish they had chosen to highlight a less risible, more likely-to-appear-at-a-pool-near-you outfit.

The community’s discussion of Halloween begins with an argument between Fatima and Babur over whether their children should be allowed to participate. I know several Muslims (and know of many born again Christians) who have debated this same issue: is anything centered around devilish revelry truly harmless?

The imam comes to the rescue and suggests an Islamic Halloween: Halaloween, with Arab-world costumes. Not the stereotypical ones of oil barons and their shrouded wives (several years ago an old friend, just returned from a stint in the Emirates, went to a Halloween party dressed as a “chic sheikh”, complete with stylish mobile and watch. none of the American guests got the joke.) – he suggests that the two pre-teens go as a fig and an olive.

Babur is nominated, much against his will, to accompany them. The children’s costumes draw puzzled looks, but his “costume” is a great hit. One child compliments him on his “Osama costume”, while a parent says approvingly: oh, the Taliban – how topical!

Seeing the Halloween issue brought to life in Little Mosque reminded me of my aunt’s post on the difficulties she has faced in explaining the holiday to friends in the Gulf: some things just don’t translate.

decaying-pumpkin.jpg

(a photo M took last January of a left over Halloween pumpkin slowly returning to the earth from whence it came)

Posted in Canada, Canadians, childhood, holidays, Islam, media, mosque, politics, Qur'an, religion, swimming, television, women | 2 Comments »

Unity in the Arab world

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2007

My friend Andrew (the Middle East is a breeding ground for expatriates named Andrews and Andy; they soring up everywhere, in journalism, the foreign service, humanitarian work, and academia. This Andrew is one of five whom I know.) has published a piece on Sunni Beiruti fears in the Toronto Star: Recipe for more bloodshed in the streets of Beirut.

Its an interesting piece. Andrew notes that the few Shiite residents of Tariq Jadideh have since moved to Shiite-majority areas, which reminds me of a comment that H made recently about a barber in my neighborhood. I had noticed that the barbershop had suddenly disappeared, but not known why until H (who frequented it, apparently) said: he moved because he is Shi3a and the neighborhood is too Sunni.

Towards the end, Andrew notes that: The clerics at Imam Ali Ben Abi Taleb have issued their fatwa and hung a blue banner in front of the mosque that reads: “Hold on to Islamic and National Unity.”

Over drinks a few weeks ago we talked about this notion of unity and why it has such strong resonance in the Arab world.

For example, almost every day I walk under a banner that reads: “The strength [quwwa] of Muslims lies in their unity”.

Here in Lebanon the opposition is calling for a unity government; the opposition in Bahrain is doing the same; and we all know about the new unity government in Palestine.

A and I wondered, at first idly but then more seriously, about the extent to which the high value in which unity is held plays into what Western analysts often see as laughably high election victories. (Not that the US’s incredibly low <50% victory margins do not merit snickers of their own, of course.)

What if we as academics and political analysts were to look at 98.75% presidential victories not as risible insults to our intelligence but as the overwhelming show of support needed for a “mandate” to rule? If unity is the ideal rubric under which one governs, a 65% or even 75% victory is little better than an outright loss.

I haven’t reached any definitive conclusions about this little rumination of mine, but I do think that notions of unity and the positive attributes attached to it are things to which we should begin to pay closer and more serious attention.

Posted in Arabic, Bahrain, Beirut, Canada, Canadians, Islam, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, politics, unity, words | Leave a Comment »

difficult palindromes: man, a plan, … Amman?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 10, 2007

I am in Jordan for the weekend – the Lebanese weekend (Saturday- Sunday), which overlaps only partially with the Jordanian (Friday-Saturday).

Naturally, I forgot to pack my camera, but even since my last visit (in July 2006 – I returned home to Beirut just in time to unpack and settle in before the war began) I can see changes in Amman – and not just the number of Iraqi license plates. The neighborhoods past seventh circle are now almost as thickly settled as the heart of the city – and the westward growth continues.

In lieu of current photos, I am posting a few from a delightful trip down to Wadi Rum that I took with my friend M, her friend S, and his brother S in June 2005. Yes, Wadi Rum in June. It was beyond hot, but still beautiful.

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The famous “bridge” of Wadi Rum, photographed by me and twenty million other tourists.

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Sociable camel passing by to say saba7h alkheir and “you are welcome in Jordan”.

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a classically ‘touristic’ scene

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even at 8 am, the temperature was high enough to produce this heat haze …

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… which strangely enough did nothing to deter S & S (a doctor and civil engineer, respectively) from racing one another up this hill and then sliding down it, despite the burning sands.

Men really are from Mars – even when they are from Canada.

Posted in Americans, Amman, Canada, Canadians, film, friends, Jordan, photography, teaching, tourism, travel, words | 5 Comments »

strange bedfellows: FOX on “Little Mosque on the Prairie”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 8, 2007

It pains me to admit this, but I have just read an editorial on FOXnews.com that I not only agreed with, but found thoughtful to boot.

Wendy McElroy’s Culture Connection: Your New Muslim Neighbors is a reflective analysis of the impact and significance of two recent “events” in Canada: the laudable broadcasting initiative that is Little Mosque on the Prairie, and the town of Herouxville’s deeply distressing publication of “standards” (the English version of which is available as a pdf from the town’s website).

Both have excited commentary on all sides – as a simple Google search (web or news) will indicate – including much criticism of Little Mosque and some praise for Herouxville.

(The standards are a mixture, and well worth reading for an understanding of the variety and depth of nativist anxieties at play today. They reflect general issues  – “The history of Quebec is taught in our schools.” “In many of our schools no prayer is allowed.” “We wear safety helmets on worksites, when required by law.” They also exhibit an appallingly patronizing view of Muslim (and all non-Christian) immigrants as uncivilized and backwards – “You would see men and women skiing together on the same hill at the same time, don’t be surprised, this is normal for us.” “If our children eat meat for example, they don’t need to know where it came from or who killed it.” and, of course, the most quoted one: “we consider that killing women in public beatings, or burning them alive are not part of our standards of life.”)

Elroy’s take is thoughtful and realistic. No specter of a “Muslim wave” taking over the United States; no hot rhetoric about traditional values. I suspect from her website‘s self-description (“a site for individualist feminism and individualist anarchism”) that I would not agree with all her views; but then again, I imagine that FOX doesn’t either.

I read her essay cautiously, expecting at any moment to be hit by a sarcastic, FOX-like jibe at Islam, Muslims, or immigrants in general. It never came.

Must an observant Muslim woman wear a hijab, a traditional headscarf, in the presence of a cross-dressing gay man? The assimilation of North America’s Muslim population will involve wrestling with some odd questions.

The answers from Muslims and non-Muslims may well be foreshadowed by two recent events in Canada, which represent polar opposite reactions.

The first event was the television debut of “The Little Mosque on the Prairie” in early January. The sitcom from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. explores questions raised by a clash of culture between Muslims and secular North America.

Despite incendiary possibilities, the humor is “soft” because, as the show’s creator, Zarqa Nawaz, states, “I simply want people to laugh with Muslims like they would laugh with anyone else and feel comfortable doing so.”

In short, the hijab-wearing Nawaz wants to put a human face on “the stranger.”

She does so through depicting a fictional Muslim community in the rural Prairie town of Mercy into which walks the young and assimilated Amaar Rashid, the new imam, or religious leader.

The community is varied and ranges from traditionalists who speak stumbling English to a woman who converted from Anglicanism, presumably when she married her Muslim husband.

The other Mercy residents are equally varied; they include a Muslim-baiting radio host and a benevolent Anglican minister who rents Rashid space in his church. His basement becomes the mosque.

“Little Mosque’s” debut drew 2.1 million viewers, which is unprecedented for a Canadian sitcom. It also drew international media attention from The New York Times to Arab News and the Jerusalem Post.

Clearly, people are eager to understand the Muslim families who are (or may become) their neighbors, the youngsters who are playing with their children and the Muslims who could become in-laws.

Many people also are afraid.

The second event also occurred in January in Herouxville, Quebec, a small town outside Montreal with a population of 1,300. The town’s mayor and councilors passed a “publication of standards” — that is, a declaration of norms to inform would-be immigrants of the behavior required of them.

The prohibitions, most of which clearly target Muslims, are stirring ferocious debate in Canada and have been condemned as anti-immigrant by a diverse spectrum of organizations including the Jewish ‘B’nai Brith Quebec’ and the Muslim Council of Montreal. And, yet, the standards have also drawn international media attention from England to New Zealand. Like the 2.1 million viewers of “Little Mosque,” the international interest speaks to the high level of concern caused by Muslim immigrants.

The prohibitions are a bizarre mix. For example, Herouxville explicitly forbids “new arrivals” from stoning women to death or burning them alive. Since these dubious activities already are quite illegal, their prominent inclusion seems to be both unnecessary and a “perpetuation of negative stereotypes,” as Muslim groups have claimed.

Other prohibitions probably are illegal themselves. For example, one outlaws “the covering of faces other than on Halloween,” an obvious reference to the Muslim face veil.

Canadian Muslim groups have stated their intention to file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission on the grounds that the “publication of standards” violates Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Section reads: “This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.”

Given that Herouxville’s “publication of standards” admonished “new arrivals” not to re-create “the way of life which they abandoned when they left their countries,” the challenge is likely to succeed.

I hope so. It seems driven by fear.

Both the fear and the curiosity will grow as Muslims move into neighborhoods. But the best way to create a good neighbor remains the same: Be a good neighbor yourself, not a person who dictates what others may wear.

The odds of Muslims moving into a Canadian neighborhood are high.

The country’s population is slightly less than 33 million; an estimated 600,000 to 650,000 are Muslim.

America’s population is approximately 300 million but the number of Muslims included is a matter of considerable debate. Estimates reach from a low of 1.1 million (2001) to a high of 7 million (2002), with the American Society of Muslims estimating 2 to 3 (2006). As the Muslim population increases (as it seems to be doing), many of the same dynamics playing out in Canada will occur Stateside.

It would be preferable if the dynamics were non-violent and aimed at understanding; it would be best if curiosity won over fear.

“Little Mosque” moves in the right direction by using one of the few things that can defuse cultural differences: humor.

It is hilarious. My favorite scene so far: Local feminists picket the mosque because it is considering a barricade behind which women would pray. A black woman is a loud advocate for the segregation and quarrels furiously with the Anglican convert (a white woman).

The white Muslim says she agrees with the pickets. But she adds that, as a white woman “of privilege,” she doesn’t feel able to tell a black woman how to worship.

The feminist looks aghast and blurts out in horror, “I didn’t mean to offend anyone” before fleeing the scene.

How is the barricade resolved? In much the same manner I suspect the “Muslim immigrant” problem will be.

Rashid erects a barricade across only half of the mosque so that women can choose to be segregated or not. The men are not satisfied; each faction of women grumble. But everyone can live with it.

 

Posted in Americans, Canada, Canadians, clothing, home, Islam, media, neighbors, news, politics, Qur'an, religion, television, women, words | Leave a Comment »

Little Mosque on the Prairie: comments on episode III

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 2, 2007

Asifnana has kindly posted Episode Three of “Little Mosque on the Prairie” on Youtube. I enjoyed it, although the sluggish Lebanese network chopped it into 15 second bits. Perhaps this is why I found this episode entertaining but less memorable than the first two.

One of the most poignant moments comes approximately 6′ 20″ into the third section of episode three – and it is not part of the show. It is one of the “Hire Canada” PSAs, a brilliant if discomfiting series.

This one follows a job interview in which a young fast food store manager asks an older middle aged, English speaking, senior level mechanical engineer – an emigrant from Teheran – about his education and professional experience. His final question is: “so can you operate a soda machine?”

The advertisement fades to black, and the screen asks: “If Canada is a land of opportunity, why is an engineer serving fast food?”.

We in the United States could ask ourselves the same question. Its not only a question of rights and human dignity – it also raises the issue of whether our prejudices outweigh the country’s best interests.

Is our ‘best practice’ as a nation to have super-qualified taxi drivers (New York is filled with them), or to re-certify those whose professional training was undertaken elsewhere, in order to maximize their capacity to benefit our country?

My answer, I imagine, is obvious.

Posted in advertising, Americans, Canada, Canadians, economics, food, Iran, Islam, media, mosque, politics, religion, words | 6 Comments »