Culture and Religion

Ramadan is a good time to reflect on what Islam has to say about two of Canada’s burning problems—our penchant for environmental destruction and Prime Minister Harper’s attempt to return to a blatant assimilation policy for Natives.

Canada has become an international embarrassment from an ecological point of view. One of Harper’s most shameful acts was formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Accord in 2011. The greatest ecological crisis facing Canada is without a doubt the Conservative’s relentless pursuit of the tar sands project and the accompanying massive Keystone, Northern Gateway and Transmountain Pipelines. The environmental damage from the insane project to ‘wash’ oil from sand deposits is indescribable, poisoning land, air and water—a crime by any standards, subsidized and promoted by ‘our’ government.

The usually timid EU labels such oil extraction as “highly polluting” and has threatened to boycott any Canadian oil extracted from the tar sands. But the Canadian government takes well-meaning Euro-criticism, intended to help Canadians, as an affront, and works closely with the oil lobby, whose sole interest is in making profit, come hell or high water, to promote the project.

What does Islam say about how humans should relate to the environment? Even if the valiant campaign against the tar sands, which has been taken up by people around the world, miraculously succeeds, the American writer Abdul-Matin argues in Green Deen (2010) that the environmental movement today, restricted by its secular, legalist approach to problems—pass enough laws and you can curb the negative practices of business and consumers—is still lacking. He interprets Islam’s focus on one Creator as giving “humankind the opportunity to be one and to have a common purpose”, to bring back ethical principles into our daily lives.

Radio interview on Egypt, Islamic reform, Ramadan. I'm the 2nd hour for August 1

After more than a century of secuarlisation, Egypt's cultural life is set to revolve again around the Quran. "The Quran is our Constitution" exhorted President Mohamed Morsi during the cliff-hanger presidential election, Egypt’s first ever bona fide presidential election, in which he trounced the old guard's representative. But what does this arresting image really mean, asks Eric Walberg

This Ramadan is a historic one, celebrating the triumph of the political vision of Egypt's legendary Muslim Brotherhood (MB): to take inspiration from the Quran to regenerate Egyptian society. Gamal Abdel-Nasser's socialist vision lies in ruins, dismantled in the 40 years since his death, replaced by a neoliberal nightmare dreamed up in American thinktanks.
The vision will not be realised by sticking to the political and economic policies of the past 40 years, policies which turned Egypt into a poor imitation of Western societies, with shocking disparities of income and extreme poverty, environmental degradation and human degradation. Egypt was shattered into fragments -- gated communities for the super-rich, sprawling slums for the poor, traffic-choked streets for everyone, crowded jail cells for thousands of innocent, devout people caught in the treadmill of a justice system that produced little justice.

So goes one of the fundamental laws of physics. In the face of recent “actions” in the West -- economic crisis and rampant Islamophobia, there is an inexorable “reaction”, as the eternal values of Islam continue to manifest themselves, notes Eric Walberg 

Ramadan exemplifies the powerful spiritual calling of Islam. Dry fasting is more a test of the spirit, the will, proof of devotion, than just some health gimmick. And it is precisely this cultivation of mass “mind over matter” that frustrates Western secularists, so used to indulging every consumer fetish on a whim. Why are Muslims so stubborn in nurturing ancient beliefs and rituals when they fly in the face of modern capitalist society? Secular critics dismiss Islam as a harmful, even dangerous anachronism. Why disrupt one’s busy day five times to pray, slow down the whole economic order for an entire month every year, ban alcohol and interest -- the bedrock of Western society?

The Leaders of Change summit 13-14 March in Istanbul was hosted by the Turkish Futures Researches Foundation (TUGAV) founded in 1987. The theme was “Changing to meet, meeting to change”, emphasising the radical changes in policymakers’ thinking now taking place and the importance of sharing new ideas to address the urgent problems facing particularly the Middle East.

The summit was the first of what TUGAV President Ahmet Eyup Ozguc plans to be an annual forum supported by the Turkish government and Istanbul University. Just as the G8 is losing out to a more representative G20 in global economic decision-making, the Turkish organisers intend that such summits can shift attention away from gatherings such as the elitist World Economic Forum (WEF) and provide a more democratic platform for voices of change.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here