For millions around the world, “refugee” is more than just a term. Médecins Sans Frontières estimates there are 42 million people displaced from their homes. To raise awareness, the organisation took its exhibit, A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, on tour in 2008, stopping at Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and San Diego.Last Tuesday, students borrowed the idea and set up an exhibit on the Hart House lawn. The 24-hour mock refugee camp featured four tents, which were focused on supplying vaccinations, food, medical supplies, and water and sanitation. A hospital bed with IV lines and other equipment reflected MSF efforts, which included the prevention of water-borne illnesses like cholera.“People wanting to check out the exhibit will first have to be registered at the vaccination tent, where they will receive an identity, like an eight-year-old girl from Sudan,” said Stephanie Tom, executive director of the U of T chapter of Friends of MSF. “Their job is to visit the other tents to find out what happens to their character, to make the exhibit more engaging.”“For example, the little girl’s village will be attacked and she’ll be disfigured, so the participant will learn about reconstructive surgery on the field at the medical tent,” said Tom.Volunteers discussed their experiences of working and living in a refugee camp. Another speaker, Leo Johnson, is a former refugee who lived in camps in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Johnson is now a third-year political science student at McMaster University.The overnight fundraiser started around 4 p.m., with a dozen volunteers staying overnight in the tents. Their dinner was a simple meal of beans and rice.Friends of MSF raised $1,700 towards their goal of $2,500, and they are still accepting donations online. Until Dec. 4, the group is also accepting donations of Aeroplan Miles to send volunteers overseas.
Refugee camp lands at St. George
Trail of Tears
In May 2009, Tamil protestors closed down the Gardiner Expressway for the first time when thousands turned out for a mass demonstration to call attention to civilian deaths. Some protestors at the Gardiner had lost relatives to government shelling in Sri Lanka. Others had lost touch with their loved ones, and believed the Canadian government’s reaction was lukewarm at best.The Sri Lankan civil war, arising out of ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority, began in 1983. In May 2009, the government took over the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. As of October, Amnesty International estimates 250,000 displaced civilians are living in government-run camps. The stories of people caught up in the civil war are told in Not By Our Tears, a play produced by the Asylum Theatre Group, shown Saturday, Nov. 14, at U of T’s Robert Gill Theatre.Hosted by the Centre for South Asian Studies and the Canadian Tamil Congress, the play was part of a book release for Wilting Laughter, a collection of Tamil poetry by R. Cheran, V.I.S. Jayapalan, and Puthuvai Ratnathurai. Chelva Kanaganayakam, an English professor at U of T, translated the volume. On Saturday, he spoke of the difficulty of transferring the rhythms of Tamil into readable English.Not By Our Tears belongs to a genre in Tamil drama called verse play, which involves a “visual and oral representation of poetry” on stage, according to the program.Performed on a practically bare stage with few props, the play drew its power from projected images, Tamil songs, and dance. One particularly intriguing piece was “The Story of a Severed Leg,” in which the leg hung from the ceiling centre-stage as performers dramatized the poem around it, before cutting it down and laying it to rest.After the play, a former member of the Sri Lankan parliament shared his thoughts on how the play comments on multiculturalism in Canada. “The federal constitution of Canada was a lovely constitution because it incorporated both the English and French languages,” said M.K. Eelaventhan, 77 years old and new to Canada. Eelaventhan said that he had only one message for the Canadian government: “Please do something to exert moral and political pressure to make Sri Lanka see reason.”
U of T honours war dead at Soldiers’ Tower
Last Wednesday, the annual Service of Remembrance honoured Canadian soldiers in past and present conflicts. Over 1,180 men and women from U of T gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars.“Each year we mourn the passing of more of our veterans. As we do so, this tower, which was built to honour fallen comrades, takes on an even greater significance,” said Malcom McGrath, chair of the Soldiers’ Tower Committee.“There are those who at certain times in our history stood between us and forces of destruction, and in that they lost their lives,” said Chaplain W. Ebert Hobbs. “To remember them, and to honour them, is something we owe them.”This year’s Service of Remembrance marks the 90th anniversary of Hart House and the laying of the cornerstone at Soldiers’ Tower. At the ceremony in 1919, the governor general said, “Through this memorial the great name and the great tradition established for the university by those who died will be handed down as long as the university endures.”The 45-minute service featured hymns led by a choir and the engineering faculty’s brass ring quintet. Buddhist chaplain Marco Mascarin from the Multi-Faith Centre gave a prayer offering, and Rabbi Aaron Katchen read a memorial psalm.In the final act of the service, wreaths were laid on the Memorial Screen—which featured the names of U of T community members killed in the First World War—by veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, faculty, administrators, and heads of campus organizations.Many attendees were there for personal reasons.“It has great personal significance for me. My father was wounded at the Battle of the Somme, and luckily he came back alive,” said Helen Bradfield, a Trinity College alum and member of the Soldiers’ Tower Committee. Brigadier-General H.E. Brown, a veteran of the Second World War, said he was deeply gratified so many people had shown up for the service.“I think it’s important for people to realize the contribution the university made to previous war efforts in Canadian history, and take note that U of T goes beyond its academic accomplishments and reputation,” said Katherine Parks, administrator of alumni associations.Dr. John McCrae, who composed the famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” and Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin along with Dr. Charles Best, are among the notable alumni who died in active service with the Canadian Armed Forces.The service was organized by the Soldiers’ Tower Committee and sponsored by the University of Toronto Alumni Association.
‘Non-violence is the future of humanity’
As a philosophy student in France, Ramin Jahanbegloo admired Nelson Mandela and took part in “Free Mandela” campaigns. On Nov. 5, he was awarded the 2009 Peace Prize by the Association for the United Nations in Spain, an honour that has gone to Mandela himself, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev and South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba. The prize is awarded to individuals with exceptional records of promoting human rights and the objectives of the UN.Born in Iran, Jahanbegloo initially pursued a pre-med degree. But he grew disgusted by how science was taught, with auditoriums full of students who worried about good grades rather than engaging in discussions. He switched to philosophy in France, influenced by post-1968 radicalism. In 1997, he came to Canada, teaching at U of T until 2001.Jahanbegloo made headlines in 2006, when he landed in Iran’s Evin prison for four months in 2006, accused of preparing a military revolution. He returned to U of T in 2008, teaching political science. Jahanbegloo’s philosophy revolves around the concept of dialogue and building bridges between cultures. “People think I am idealistic, and that politics is about pragmatism,” he said in a recent interview. “I think non-violence is one of the most pragmatic philosophies today because it is about the future of humanity.”The Varsity: Why do you think you won the prize?Ramin Jahanbegloo: I think there is an intellectual conviction in what I have been teaching and the non-violent action that took me to prison. I have also related very closely non-violence to inter-cultural dialogue.TV: You have had several interviews on your 2006 imprisonment. Do you feel that it defines you too much in the public eye?RJ: I hope not, because it is a bitter part of my life. It is no honour to go to prison. That aspect of my life is of course important for me, because it has left me with a lot of consequences, but I try to go beyond it. Non-violence has helped me a lot to go beyond it. I do not have any bitterness; I try to get to pragmatic results from my imprisonment. I think one has to go beyond his or her own tragedies to think of the political construction of a country in democratic matters.TV: Currently, there is another Iranian-Canadian, Hossein Derakhshan, who is being held without trial in Evin prison. What do you think will happen with his case?RJ: Yes, I know him and have met him. I hope nothing bad happens. He is a very controversial figure in the Iranian public sphere because he supported the Iranian regime and attacked many dissidents. I support him because we cannot engage in dialogue with someone in prison; there is no use of condemning someone who is already suffering. What we need to do if we find individuals who are what I call philo-tyrannical—in favor of tyrannies—is support and defend anybody fighting them. It is not because we don’t agree with someone that we should not fight for their rights.TV: If you could speak to Derakhshan now, what advice would you offer?RJ: I would say that he needs to fight mentally and to build up his future in a more ethical way. I would suggest he do some readings and writings in prison if he can, and to somewhat revise his own ideology.TV: You talk a lot about bridging cultures. What does this mean for you?RJ: I wrote a book called Clash of Intolerance where I explain that there is no such thing as clashes because of culture. The clashes come from intolerance inside those cultures, from people who do not respect each other, from lack of understanding.We need to replace hostility with hospitality. When you are a host for another culture you try to understand that culture and try to enrich your culture from that culture. This is what we try to do in Canada.Canadian multiculturalism, if done in the best way, should be an inter-cultural dialogue and not separate communities, but support learning and listening between communities. Creating bridges is replacing the culture of monologue and intolerance with a culture of dialogue and respect.TV: Is Canada a multicultural model for you?RJ: In comparison to what is going on in Europe, certainly, but not in comparison to what is going on in India. India has been living with its diversity, which is much more profound than in Canada. India has never had a problem including a new religion into its culture.I do hope that Canada also becomes like this, where cultures truly intersect and enter a dialogue together, and do not necessarily have a superficial meeting at the economic level.TV: A lot of your work deals with India. Where does your passion for India come from?RJ: My passion started about 30 years ago. I used to find books on India in the libraries of my parents, and at around age 12 I used to try to read them. I have been travelling to India practically every year for the past 20 years and I lived there for two years. It is a country I take very seriously. I say either I was born Indian in my previous life, or will be born Indian in my next life. TV: Who or what was your inspiration for your philosophy of non-violence?RJ: My most important role models are the three non-violent thinkers: Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Dalai Lama. I was very lucky to meet very interesting people who were my professors or whom I worked with, and among these I can name Cornelius Castoreadis, Paul Ricoeur, and Isaiah Berlin, with whom I [wrote] a book. TV: Considering your philosophy, how do you feel about Obama increasing troops in Afghanistan, and his proposed closure of Guantanamo Bay?RJ: I am very much against sending troops to Afghanistan and very much in favour of closing Guantanamo. I think these kinds of prisons are not useful at the level of making things more human. They create more cruelty and violence. There is no way you can handle Middle Eastern conflict with violence. In the long run, all the actors in this game have to find a way to sit down and dialogue together on non-violent ways of constructing democracy. TV: In interviews you talk about Gandhi’s “democratization of democracy.” Is this the democracy you want to see?RJ: Yes. I think the most important aspect of Gandhi’s view is that he tries to take democracy further and make it more participative and deliberative. Gandhi says that we need to bring more ethics into politics, and this aspect is related with the fact that you need to make citizens responsible for their own destiny. It is not that democracy is given from above—[rather], it is a work that comes from the bottom. He tries to talk about shared sovereignty, a shared fate: citizens have to educate themselves on how to handle democracy and its future. TV: You talk about how you want dialogue as democracy in Iran. How do you think dialogue can be created between Iran and the West? Why has it not happened? RJ: It has happened at the level of civil society, but not at the level of governments. Governments have political ambitions, and most of the time they put political ambitions before the common good. We have to pay attention to the fact that we need to deconstruct politics as not just politics among leaders, but among everyday citizens.TV: You gave a speech on Thursday at a U of T graduation. What was your key advice for the graduates? RJ: The idea that graduation is a beginning in life. I was telling the students that they need to think of their future work in a responsible way and that university has always been a shared horizon of dialogue in a very cosmopolitan civic space.
Life is like reading from one chapter to another while not knowing what will happen in the next chapter. I told students to start writing their new chapters, because if you stop writing you will never make history. TV: Where do you think the roots for dialogue come from? How early should we begin teaching this concept? RJ: I believe we can begin teaching non-violence as early as primary school. We should, especially [in] Canada, teach the spirit of tolerance to children of eight to10. They are very perceptive and can understand stories about tolerant figures. Later on, you can talk about peace and why it is so important. Canada is a salad bowl of cultures, and each of these students would understand who they are standing next to. They should not take it for granted.
Around the world: Twenty-years after the Berlin Wall fell, Germany remains divided
Nov. 9 marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an oppressive force in the city itself and symbol of the larger Iron Curtain dividing capitalist and communist Europe for much of the post-war period. Originally met with triumphalism, 20 years later, it is time to take stock of how much has really changed. The Economist reports that, today, a large majority of East Germans are not happy with the “political arrogance” under which the reunification happened, or with the sharp decline in their economy. Almost everybody interviewed by Reuters talked about the “horrors of capitalism” they so despise.The crumbling wall signalled the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Eastern Europe. Seemingly invincible regimes were brought down by the power of millions in the streets, and all that was solid melted into air in a matter of months.This was truly a great moment. Eastern Germany was filled with a sense of unparalleled euphoria. The brutal and cruel Stalinist regime, with its massive apparatus, informers in every bloc, horrifying Stasi secret police, gross mismanagement, and lack of consumer goods had finally come down. The future seemed bright for the East Germans.However, there was a period of anarchy when the German Democratic Republic had fallen, and there was nothing to replace it. The people knew what they didn’t want, but, save for some vague talks about democracy and civil rights, they didn’t know what they did want for their future.A lot of Germans were understandably upset about the division of their country in the aftermath of the Second World War, a division which brought suffering and pain for divided families, and isolated the East Germans from Central and Western Europe. It was in this atmosphere that an idea of reunification was sold to the euphoric people.In the late 1980s and early 1990s, West Germany was ruled by the Christian Democrats and their leader, Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Kohl’s offer of reunification for his East German fellow citizens was simple: come to our side and we will exchange your East German Ostmarks for West German Deutshmarks. What the East Germans weren’t told, however, was that their standard of living was not going match that of West Germany. They were deceived by the beauties of market economics, and were swayed by all the fridges, blue jeans, and Coca-Colas they could buy. But what followed was catastrophic by any interpretation.The East German economy crumbled. Unemployment spiralled upward, prices went up, factories closed down, and large parts of the great industrial base that had characterized East Germany was simply destroyed. Their GDP went into a free fall, declining 15.6 per cent in 1990 and 22.7 per cent in 1991. After that there was a brief and small recovery, followed by a long period of stagnation.Before the Second World War, eastern parts of Germany were actually richer than the western parts, and the GDR was a richer country compared to most Eastern European states. A life without consumer goods, and an existence under totalitarianism was surely hard for East Germans. But a nationalized economy meant full employment, free health care, and a standard of living that wasn’t as good as the West Germans, but not that bad either, and it was all destroyed in a matter of years.Twenty years after the fall of Berlin Wall, East Germany is still divided from the western part of the country by invisible walls. Eastern standard of living lags behind, and the rate of unemployment is almost double that of the west. It is no wonder people in the east keep voting for The Left, a party comprised of remnants of the old Stalinist party, and socialists and communists in former West Germany. The Left has been the most rapidly growing party in the last two elections, receiving as much as 40 per cent of the vote in the old East.Alongside this, many East Germans are looked down upon as second-class citizens by those in the former West. Germany is anything but reunited in substance. The great city of Berlin, beyond its opera houses and contemporary art scene, is not the bustling metropolis it once was during the interwar period. Its two parts were never really reunited.Two decades after Francis Fukuyama declared the end of socialism and the triumph of markets, Germany has witnessed the total failure of capitalism. Not only did it fail to improve the living conditions in post-Stalinist Eastern Europe, but it can no longer afford the concessions it had given to Western German workers either, as the Angela Merkel government cuts social spending.The German people shouldn’t have to choose between free-market capitalism and bureaucratic Stalinism. Their tradition is one of a militant, socialist labour struggle for a democratic socialist society. The future of Germany is up in the air.
MP gives health care a checkup
Health care reform may be a controversial issue in American politics, but to Dr. Carolyn Bennett, a Liberal MP who testified before the U.S. Special Senate Committee last September, it is a simple matter. Last Wednesday, Bennett came to Trinity College to speak with U of T students about Canadian and American health care at an event hosted by the International Relations Society and U of T Liberals.“Should a woman hit by a drunk driver have to pay more health care than those lucky enough to escape such injury?” asked Bennett during her remarks to the Senate Committee. The U.S. spends $7,421 on health care per American compared to $5,170 spent per person in Canada. “For that extra $2,200 per person per year, your health outcomes should beat ours every time,” Bennett told the Senate. “But they don’t.”After students watched video footage of Bennett’s testimony in New York, they asked questions and spoke about the pros and cons of American and Canadian health care systems, privatization of health services, and preventive health care. Bennett, an animated speaker, contrasted fierce opponents of universal health care in the U.S., who spoke “absolute nonsense” to make their case, with more open Conservatives in Canada. “Even the right-wing ministers [in Canada] are willing to speak about sustainability,” said Bennett.“[Bennett’s] discussion of American entrepreneurial medicine still going for a system of ‘boys with their big toys,’ versus the emerging Canadian norm of a more team or community-based health system, brought me to a conclusion,” said second-year student Jonathan Scott, who is studying philosophy and literature. “I feel her argument could be summarized by suggesting that America remains a masculine country whereas Canada is now much more feminine, with the results open for all to see and debate.”Though the Canadian health care system does a relatively excellent job, said Bennett, it is far from perfect. “You can’t get a job if you have a horrible mouth,” she stated, referring to the exclusion of dental health care from general health care coverage. Emphasizing the need for a more prevention-based care, she said, “We need to reward preventive practices instead of giving people the junk they don’t need. The ‘more is better’ mentality is just not quite true.”Bennett added that Canada needs to go back to treating military families and strive to make health care more equitable. “We need three things: empowered patients, strong advocates, and engaged citizens, then we can make [health care] better in this country.”“I found it interesting that the United States spends a significantly higher portion of its GDP on health care than Canada, but that its citizens, on average, receive a lower quality of care,” said first-year Trinity College student Alex Ognibene. “Equally interesting was Bennett’s proposal that medical systems focus more on maintaining and preserving health than simply providing health care.”Dr. Carolyn Bennett is a former Minister of State for public health. Prior to her election as a member of parliament representing the Toronto riding of St. Paul, she was the president of the Medical Staff Association of Women’s College Hospital and an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto.
The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture is getting a major design overhaul over the next few years, a move encouraged in no small part by the faculty’s new dean, Richard Sommer.The building located at 230 College St. was originally home to U of T’s School of Dental Surgery. It has housed the Faculty of Architecture for over 48 years, which was previously run out of the Practical Sciences Building (which was demolished in 1961 to make space for the Medical Science Building). In recent years, 230 College has been criticized for its lack of studio space, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels.The renovation project comes on the heels of the appointment of a new dean to the architecture faculty. Professor Richard M. Sommer of Harvard University recently replaced the retiring professor George Baird as dean, and has been hired for an initial term of five years. Sommer was previously Director of Harvard’s Urban Design Programs, a position he held for six years.The redesign project is being led by architectural firm Office dA of Cambridge, Massachussetts. Office dA was selected through a closed competition process; also on the shortlist were the European firm Sauerbruch Hutton and the American Steven Holl Architects. “I wanted an office that was younger and more innovative, and we got it,” explained Sommer. Office dA is renowned internationally as a small, relatively new firm that pushes modern-
looking and energy-efficient designs. When asked about why there were no Canadian offices on the shortlist, the dean explained that while there were several firms that could have competed against the shortlisted offices, the faculty was looking to hire a firm that was younger and willing to be more experimental. That way, the result wouldn’t necessarily be as predictable.Sommer made the point that the renovation would lead to “rethinking this building, but also thinking about this building as a prototype for the reuse of older buildings with a mind to creating architecture that performs better from an environmental standpoint.” The proposed renovation would greatly reduce the building’s carbon footprint. Additionally, he noted that the building would be used as “a kind of ongoing experiment” in emergent sustainable technologies, and that part of the process would include the students in these experiments.Dean Sommer highlighted the importance of expanding the building’s studio space as essential to the continued development of the faculty. Among other things, he hoped that the redesign would lead to “sharpening and to some degree redefining the mission behind the design studios.” He noted that the studio method of teaching architecture (designing, drawing and building within a studio), which has existed for hundreds of years, has changed considerably in the past three decades due to the digital revolution. As such, the redesign project will also seek to retool the studios, giving students more access to digital design methods.The renovation will be phased. “We hope to start the first phase within a year or so,” he explained. He noted the building would be occupied while the renovation was taking place. “That’s one of the design challenges, how you phase a project while people are still in it,” he added. “We’re arranging for some studio space for the undergraduates [at One Spadina Avenue], where the arts students and art studios are, and we’ll maintain the studio spaces for graduate students. If they are going to be restored or renovated, it’ll happen during the summer when students are off.” Pending completion of the first phase, subsequent phases for the renovation project will require additional investments, which the faculty is currently seeking.The entire renovation project’s designs, as well as a scale model, are available for public viewing in the lobby of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, across from the Eric Arthur Gallery.
Girls on stage
Christopher Owens, front man for the San Franciscan duo Girls, slouches into a couch at El Mocambo. His eyelids flicker under a mass of long, dirty blonde hair and a plaid hunting cap. For the dynamic members of the group celebrated by Spin magazine as “the hottest band of 2009,” Owens and his bassist counterpart, JR White, look downright peaked.Owens stirs, pulls down his cap, and slowly opens his eyes before beginning to speak. Watching the 30-year-old move, it would seem that a rough tour and media frenzy have broken him down—perhaps even more than the 16-odd years Owens spent in a cult, Children of God, travelling around Europe and busking to fundraise for the religious organization. Owens scans the pre-show scene at El Mo, where he is to play a sold-out show that evening, with a pained expression.“Yeah, the tour’s been alright, I guess,” he says with the enthusiasm of a resentful 13-year-old at a family dinner. “I mean, we’ve had sold out shows every night, so that’s cool.”The band is taking some time to play the east coast fresh off the success of their album, Album, which gained attention from mainstream news outlets—and major indie cred—after Pitchfork gave it an unbelievably high nine-out-of-10 rating. This tour has been off to a rocky start: the boys of Girls missed their Montreal gig after getting stopped at the border because some of the crew had “legal” issues. This isn’t surprising, given that their driver and crew spend their pre-show downtime passing around medical marijuana certificates, and swapping tips about how to run a dispensary.Owens left the Children of God cult when he was 16, buying himself a flight from Slovenia to Texas. He lived with his sister for nine years before moving to San Francisco, where he met JR White through a group of mutual friends. White describes them as “fun, aesthetics-loving people, who are just a lot like us.”Most of the appeal of Album comes from its liberated feeling: Owens doesn’t write about his experiences on the streets of Slovenia. Instead, he explains, it’s all about the things he was going through in San Francisco and his everyday life. The album isn’t about restriction; it’s about the things one does with freedom after living in a cult. It’s about real girls, real instances, and real life—and it deals with these issues with a kind of joy.“When you’re starved for culture, you find it in whatever you can,” Owens explains, talking about his discovery of Queen and Guns n’ Roses within the confines of the cult. “We used to watch these movies weekly, which were supposed to teach us some moral lesson. I don’t remember the lesson, but Queen did the soundtrack to Highlander. And at the beginning of Lean on Me, they played ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ by Guns n’ Roses. After I heard that, I became obsessed.”But when Owens launches into the role of music in his life, he speaks in a bitter monotone, sounding a bit like a guy rehashing an old love to a prying aunt. “You have to have a reason to be alive,” Owens spits out, as though the words pain him. “I’ve had times in my life when I don’t have anything to live for, and you’d be better off dead.”“I just want to make music, fall in love, and then die,” White pipes up, his face stoic, with glistening eyes set deep into cragged dark circles.That night, at the El Mo’s sold-out show, the duo listlessly pumps out a rendition of Album. The band is completely stationary, except for a slight head bob during their popular single, “Lust for Life.” The crowd looks on with disappointment and a growing boredom. The band stares into space and strums on their instruments, miles away from the crowd that was so drawn in by the hype that it didn’t mind getting drunk on a Tuesday night.Watching Owens’ despondent face as he pumps out “Darling,” the love song he wrote to songwriting itself, I can’t help but think that the passion seems to be gone from the interaction. Maybe Owens has fallen out of love with music. After all, the show feels like a passionless and mechanical sex session. The kind where you’re imagining your partner as some kind of celebrity, and wishing that the room was darker.Maybe the boys of Girls would be happier smoking some of their crew’s medical marijuana back in San Francisco—but then again, maybe it’s just a rough patch.