Questions for Author Irshad Manji:
1. What is the best international affairs book you have read in 2011 (Canadian or otherwise?)
Hands-down, it’s Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. It’s not just a biography of the German Lutheran minister who gave his life to oppose Nazism, it’s a comment on how moral courage develops. Here’s a guy who grew up in a household that prized scientific rationalism, which in turn nurtured Bonhoeffer’s willingness to ask questions that few others could. But it’s Christian faith that fostered his commitment to do something about what he learned by asking questions. And where did he strengthen that faith? In Harlem, from African-Americans, who escaped the indignities of segregation by paying loud, proud tribute to the God of both black and white, Jew and Gentile. This is the story of how individuals shape international affairs, not by being epic but by pursuing their own integrity.
2. What was the biggest international event of 2011?
The Arab Spring – a series of movements, incubated over years, that could wind up changing family politics as much as governments. In May 2005, I was in Cairo to observe the biggest anti-regime demonstrations to that point. Afterwards, I hung out at a café with a bunch of democracy activists. One of them pulled me aside because she needed confidential advice. She’d fallen in love with a Jewish man and didn’t know how to tell her parents. The paradox, she pointed out, is that she was putting her life on the line to effect political change in her country, but the scarier prospect was to speak with her own father about love. If the Arab awakening spawns taboo conversations like this, then we’ll witness a cultural revolution that replaces the god of family honour with the god of individual integrity in Islam.
3. Who was the biggest international influencer of 2011?
Mohamed Bouazizi was the young Tunisian street vendor who self-immolated as a protest against police harassment and other injustices. His act of desperation set off the Arab Spring. Although Bouazizi committed suicide in December 2010, his influence has suffused 2011. It’s given vent both to anger and to hope worldwide, sparking jabs that the demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street have “Tahrir envy.” What they actually have is an appreciation that if a people without much freedom can demand it, then a people with some freedom can leverage it. Bouazizi’s influence has even led to my new book being published in parts of the Muslim world before it appears in Europe. As one Asian-Muslim publisher told me, “If Arabs can rise up, then I am ready to defy my government’s official list of banned books.” We’ll see if I get into his country for my tour.
4. Who was the biggest Canadian international influencer of 2011?
Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine. They created ”#OccupyWallStreet,” the Twitter “hashtag” that provided identity to the mish-mash of a movement now known as Occupy. What I find interesting is that both in Occupy and in the Arab Spring, various individuals have expressed worry about coming off as leaders, afraid to be perceived as taking credit for the movement. But not Adbusters. They’re of the old school, where leadership isn’t a dirty word.
5. What was Canada’s best international moment of 2011?
Our media didn’t go completely crazy over the wedding of Will and Kate, unlike mainstream U.S. news. I’d like to have chosen something more serious, like our participation in NATO action to support the Libyan rebels. But we don’t know exactly who these rebels are, what they really want to achieve, and whether life under a regime created by them would be much better for Libyans. After all, these are the same “rebels” who abused darker-skinned people – migrant workers – at the first opportunity.
6. What was Canada’s worst international moment of 2011?
The worst international moment took place on the domestic front. But it has transatlantic implications. According to news reports, the federal government won’t consider amendments to the Criminal Code in order to crack down on “honour killings.” Some would argue that’s a provincial responsibility. Still, the feds could be working with the provinces to tighten legal loopholes and raise awareness about traditions that simply don’t square with liberal democracy. Indeed, a couple of years ago, Ottawa updated the citizenship guide to say that Canada doesn’t tolerate “barbaric” customs such as “honour killings.” European policymakers took notice of – and inspiration from – this no-nonsense language. What message is Canada sending now? The one thing that Ottawa can do is expand the definition of hate crimes to include “honour”-based violence. Other open societies will pay attention.