Women Against Fundamentalism

You are a citizen and your experience and life’s story are valuable. Be brave, make the journey from the personal to the political.

I just finished reading Sukhwant Dhaliwal and Nira Yuval-Davis‘s book, Women Against Fundamentalism. The book details the stories of several women and their work in gender, anti-racism and the struggle against fundamentalist religion through the network Women Against Fundamentalism.   This group was born to unite black and white feminists in bringing about collaborative social change.  “Our main demands inclined the disestablishment of the Church of England, cessation of state funding for all religious schools, and the creation of a truly democratic and secular society based on socialist, feminist, anti- racist and anti- discrimination ideals” (p.60).  Rita Mahendru writes that “WAF provided me with an anti-oppressive, intersectional framework to critically challenge and analyze fundamentalist values. Their views resonated with mine. We could collectively find ways to extend our financial and social support to women and feminists in other parts of the world” (p. 284).

Sheila Jeffries defines fundamentalism as any religion that preaches a separation of genders.  Mary Daly calls this encouraging “sex role socialization” (Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. 3).  I would add that any religion that advocates prohibiting civil rights to any group based on skin colour, gender, sexual orientation or ethnic identity is fundamentalist.  In her PhD dissertation Sukhwant Dhaliwal advocates for public pluralism, and that religions are good and promote healthy communities only when they acknowledge diversity.

I am resonating with Kenyan-Brit book contributor Pragna Patel, and how she was inspired by the character of Stephen Daedalus in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man​. Daedalus’ mantra, “I will not submit” steeled her against young arranged marriages (including a trick “vacation” to India) and helped her to follow her dream of working in medicine.  Patel was raised in Kenya after her family was forcefully displaced from India by British colonialism, and she later went to school in England.  In Chapter One Patel writes that her “earliest memories of Kenya resemble photo snapshots. Some are blurred whilst others are vivid, but the memory which haunts me most is of an Indian woman being dragged into the streets and publicly abused by a man, presumably her husband,” while spectators gathered around to watch (p. 54).

Ritu Mahendru describes the term “badmash“, a derogatory word used for women who are bad for challenging male power. She was called this at a young age, and instead of making her feel ashamed, she secretly carried this badge with pride and it helped to form her identity. It reminds me of the negative stigma associated with the word ‘feminist’ in English. Rita went on to complete a PhD.

Ruth Pearson in Chapter Four notes that “some religious institutions can be progressive and we ignore this at our peril,” demonstrating that WAF is not an anti-religious organization, rather it is focused on targeting the fundamentalist ideologies which oppose civil rights (p. 111).

These are just a few bits that stuck out for me in passing.

It is a great academic read, with the added bonus of being incredibly positive and inspiring. The takeaway message for me is that even as women and/or POC facing a variety of systemically oppressive challenges, these women fought and succeeded: Never give up on your dreams.

Women Against Fundamentalism

Sacred Fantasies

I love to play dress-up, draw unicorns, make homes for fairies in my garden.  I dream about small unexplored worlds beneath the sea and post-apocalyptic landscapes with me in badass survival getup making the most of the end of the world.  These are magical and special parts of my existence.  And they are not dreamed at the expense of others.
When the pope says homosexuality is a sin and Americans pass laws making it okay for a doctor to let a person die if they suspect a patient of this sin, when people call black skin a punishment from God the Father, cut out a girl’s clitoris because it makes her more pleasing for her husband, when people stay married to their abusers, all because of an evil dream of an evil God who wants to build a hateful world, this is not a fantasy that deserves to be indulged.
I love fantasies, don’t get me wrong.  I value –and even live in– my dreams more than my realities sometimes.  Everyone has the right to dream and dream and cherish their fantasies. But not at the expense of others.

Antisemitism on the Rise in Europe: Some Photos

History repeats itself, but I never thought it would happen so soon.

Last year I was working in Belgium during the European Union elections.  While these were barely reported in Canada, election talk was absolutely everywhere in Brussels, the heart and seat of the EU.  The results were disturbing; far-right parties swept the polls.  I watched in horror as on May 25th, 2014 two seats of the European Parliament were democratically won by neo-Nazis in Germany and Greece.  The day before, a gunman armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and handgun killed four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

Jewish Belgian politician Mischaël Modrikamen said “Sadly, however, the actual attack comes as no surprise to us after years of living in an atmosphere of rampant antisemitism that often leads to violence.” Where then, was the reporting of these events in Canada?  None of my colleagues back home were aware of the anti-Semitic climate in Europe.   While I was visiting Sweden in early May 2014, I saw anti-Jewish graffiti outside stores in the city of Uppsala (see photo).


This year has gotten progressively worse.  Since last year’s election, over 10 000 Jews have left France alone.  Parents and their children are saying tearful goodbyes to grandparents who vowed never to be displaced by racism again or are too old to move, but are fearful for the safety of their children.

Last week I returned from a quick work trip to Europe.  I was in Brussels for a mere three days, and I did not have to look hard.  Scribbled in white on buildings as the bus I was on flashed by: swastikas.  (See photo).  My own friends told me that Jews and Muslims are the cause of the recession in Europe.  This is exactly the same rhetoric as Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  At Antwerp train station, there are stars of David with GO HOME written beneath.  Go look for yourself.  I don’t know why these things continue to shock me. We all know that history repeats itself.

N1 N2

On my flight home, I watched the news from a screen at a stopover at the airport in Philadelphia: shooting at a synagogue in Denmark.  Following the Charlie Hebdo shooting at the Jewish supermarket, these are dark times indeed.

I am not really sure what to do with this information and these photos.  I find myself wishing that these things were not, are not, happening, but they are.  What do we, as Canadians, do about this?

70 years after Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz Nazi death camp in January 1945, Ottawa is scheduled to unveil a National Holocaust Monument this year, in 2015. I am afraid that we are all too blissfully unaware of the creeping back of anti-Semitic hatred in Europe.  Unfortunately, it is not only Europe.  Just now, February 26th 2015, Daniel (last name omitted for privacy) walked into his apartment’s parking garage in Montreal to find a large swastika emblazoned in red on his car, along with a death threat note.

During the Second World War, when Jews begged to be let into Canada to flee genocide, our government famously responded that “none is too many” Jews in our country.  What are the steps forward to ensuring that this history of ours does not repeat itself?

CALL TO ACTION: Support Haudenosaunee Treaty Rights

This weekend a group of Haudenosaunee hunters will gather at Short Hills Provincial Park for six days in ceremony on their traditional lands to hunt deer with bows and arrows.  Last year they took home 22 deer.  The hunt is also symbolic; as recognized by the Provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and the Nanfan Treaty / 1701 Albany Deed, for these six days the provincial park, usually a place where white settlers walk their dogs, is closed to the public and the hunt takes place.

Last year a group of about 20 white settlers parked their trailers at the park’s entrance, heckling the hunters, ridiculing their drumming and making racist remarks.  This year, they have blockaded the entrance and they are swarming and intimidating the hunters.  A group of local settlers, as well as Christian Peacemaker Teams who support the treaty and the hunters are trying to call attention to this injustice.  Several of my friends have made signs which read “I support First Nations Treaty rights” and other positive messages of support so that the hunters see that not all settlers are racist liars.

As a settler who realizes that I have benefited from colonialism, I can see that this blockade is only making our already bad relationship with the first peoples of this land even worse.  This hunt is a symbol of settlers actually fulfilling treaty rights, even if only for six short days a year.  These blockaders are destroying the credibility of our government for being fair and just in fulfilling legal promises and obligations.  Canadian police should be upholding First Nations treaty rights, not chatting and joking with blockaders and intimidating hunt supporters.

I greatly admire the settlers who are stepping up and standing between the racist blockaders and the hunters who are simply trying to carry out their traditional hunt.  This is our responsibility as people who have benefited from colonialism, and next year I will be one of them.

If any of my friends have suggestions for other ways to offer support in this situation, please let me know.

Below is the press release for more information about what’s going on.


Sat. Dec. 6 and Sun. Dec. 7, 2014, Haudenosaunee hunters will be exercising their treaty-guaranteed right to hunt on their traditional lands. In the face of protest by a few hunting, environmental, and animal rights groups, the Haudenosaunee hunters will be accompanied by locals who support this exercise of their treaty right to hunt, with a peaceful demonstration and dialogue.

Short Hills Provincial Park has hosted the hunt for the last few years as arranged by the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. However, anti-hunt protests and hunt-disruptions marred last year’s hunts.

International human rights observers with Christian Peacemaker Teams will also be present. After reports of sexist and racist verbal violence on the first four days of the 2014 deer hunt (Nov. 23, 23, 27, 28), these observers were invited to accompany treaty rights supporters as well as Haudenosaunee hunters in an effort to de-escalate further aggression and to support a dialogue between community members.

Canada’s constitution includes all treaties and agreements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples before Confederation, which means that this hunting right (as established through the Nanfan Treaty / 1701 Albany Deed) is constitutionally protected.  Everyone should be able to express their opinions on this matter in a respectful way that builds relationships instead of creating divisions and exacerbating tensions. Hopefully a peaceful show of support for the hunters will build dialogue and foster good relations between First Nations and non-Indigenous communities in the area.

For mobile, contact Christian Peacemaker Teams, 1 647 618 5286
For email, contact jharrison@brocku.ca

The Invitation: Poetry Worth Sharing

The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

De Uitnodiging, art by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.


This incredible poem shared with me by Ashliin Miranda.

wĭl′fəl: Persists in doing as she pleases, habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition. Headstrong, self-willed- not obeying or complying with commands of those in authority. ˈwāwərd/: Given to perverse deviation from what is desired, expected, or required. Swayed or prompted by caprice; unpredictable.


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