August for the people 2018 : Canada/Saudi Arabia, Emancipation Day, global languages, Auden’s Brexit poem?

Aug 9th, 2018 | By | Category: In Brief

At the beach ... where we should all be in August.

CANADA/SAUDI ARABIA : To us what the Canadian federal government has done in its recent complaints about the fate of Samar Badawi, and other human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, is altogether what should be done. We have stood up on the side of the angels, and we should just have the balls to stay there.

As explained by The Independent in the UK : “Canada said last week it was ‘gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi’… Ms Badawi is a lawyer and sister to [Saudi Arabian] blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison in 2012 for criticising the country’s clerical establishment. His wife Ensaf Haidar and three children now live in Quebec … The whereabouts of Ms Badawi along with Nassima al-Sadah, arrested on the same day, are currently unknown …”

Canada’s “really quite standard comments from a Western ally” here (in the words of one former Ottawa bureaucrat now in academia) have prompted a quite fierce reaction from the Saudi government and its ambitious new crown prince.

For further details see, eg, Akbar Shahid Ahmed’s (we think especially perceptive) HuffPost US piece, “Thanks To Trump, Saudi Arabia Won’t Accept Even Mild Criticism From Its Friends … That a standard statement on human rights now inspires drastic Saudi actions and troll attacks evoking 9/11 shows authoritarians are bolder and diplomacy is harder.”

Current Quebec resident Ensaf Haidar, wife of Saudi-imprisoned human rights activist Raif Badawi, and her children, meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Some Conservatives in Canada — still congenitally attached to old (and new) imperial apron strings — have been wondering on Twitter and so forth whether Canadians are really willing to “pay the price” some believe is always exacted when you stand up for principles in this way.

Our quick thoughts are that the true north, strong and free, does not do anywhere near enough business with Saudi Arabia now for any such price to be very high for the overwhelming majority of we the people of Canada. And standing up for forward-looking principles of freedom most of us do value highly, in the always troublesome short term, could do even the Canadian economy a great deal of good over the mid to longer term.

EMANCIPATION DAY : August 1, 1834 was the day on which slavery officially ended throughout the old global British empire. It is still celebrated in such places as Jamaica today.

We are grateful for this related short Canadian recollection from our friend Dr. White :

North Buxton Marching Band at the 1960 Emancipation day parade in Windsor, Ontario. (Windsor Star files).

“I was lucky enough to have a job in the engine plant at ‘Ford’s’ in Windsor, Ontario for a summer in the middle of the 1960s. One Saturday I bumped into a big parade downtown.

“The participants were mostly black (and young). Some were from Windsor. Others were from just across the river in Detroit.  I was especially impressed by hip drill squads, juggling fake wooden rifles to syncopated drum beats.

“I asked another spectator what the event was about. The somewhat you-should-know-already response explained it was Emancipation Day, marking the end of slavery in the British empire.

At the Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2018.

“In the Toronto where I grew up there was no such parade. That has changed now, sort of, with the annual Toronto Caribbean Carnival, started in the late 1960s by the late great Charles Roach and others. (And held this past holiday weekend in 2018.)

“Yet if someone were to ask my opinion (which I’m sure no one will, but …),  I would argue that Emancipation Day should be somehow blended into what some still call Caribana in Toronto. (There were hints about at least the word “emancipation” in a recent NOW magazine piece on costumes in this year’s Carnival.)

Meanwhile, I was pleased to see on the world wide web that this past holiday weekend there was also a ‘Windsor Emancipation Day Celebration 2018, August 4 @ 2:00 pm —  August 5 @ 10:00 pm.’”

LANGUAGE IN TWO GLOBAL VILLAGES TODAY : A Statista article by Niall McCarthy at the end of last month nicely brings out one intriguing linguistic dichotomy in today’s incarnation of what Marshall McLuhan started to call the global village in the 1960s.

On the one hand. there is “Estimated number of first-language speakers worldwide in 2017” — down on the ground, somewhere on planet earth. The language with by far the largest number of first-language speakers is Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese — almost 1.3 billion), followed by Spanish (437 million), English (372 million), Arabic (295 million), and Hindi (260 million).

On the other hand, in the new virtual reality of cyberspace there is the “Percentage of websites using various content languages.” And here, some will say, a few old European imperial echoes are somehow lingering on. By very far the largest website content language is English (52.9%), followed by German (6.3%), Russian (6.1%), Spanish (5.1%), and French (4.1%).

On still another hand, see, eg, “Top 20 South Africa News Websites To Follow in 2018”. Note they are all in English. Meanwhile, Darryl Pinckney’s take on Craig Brown’s provocative new book on Princess Margaret in the latest New York Review of Books subtly but surely underlines how Prince Harry’s wedding to a “divorced, slightly older, mixed-race, i.e., black American woman” has made clear that Winston Churchill’s “English-speaking peoples” now include many people with African heritages. And both Coronation Street on TV and Silicon Valley in the flesh make clear they similarly include many people with various Asian heritages too.

On the magical French River in the Ontario near north — part of the ancient voyageur fur trade canoe route across Canada, currently a little too close to forest fires.

W.H. AUDEN’S 1935 AUGUST POEM ABOUT BREXIT 80+ YEARS LATER? : “August for the people and their favourite islands” is the wonderful first line of a poem by W.H. Auden, first published in 1935 and called “To a Writer on His Birthday.”

On the world wide web today you can read the poem in its original published form, in the Oct-Nov. 1935 issue of the English periodical New Verse. (CLICK HERE and scroll to page 7.)  Reading the poem this summer, our friend L. Frank Bunting has urged, you wonder whether the 1935 holiday scene in England not quite two years after Adolf Hitler’s accession to power in Germany, that Auden seems to start and end with, also anticipates the English world that finally voted for Brexit in 2016?

Maybe, maybe not? We in any case do think Auden’s “August for the people” in the 1930s does have a few broad political echoes that fit the hot and bothered summer of 2018.  (Cf, eg : “See scandal praying with her sharp knees up / And virtue stood at Weeping Cross / And Courage to his leaking ship appointed, / Slim Truth dismissed without a character / And gaga Falsehood highly recommended.”)

Eric MacDonald on the French River, at Moosehorn Bay. Photo by Peter Bowers.

And then there is the great last stanza of a poem composed to celebrate the birthday of Auden’s fellow poet and great friend, Christopher Isherwood (who had spent time in 1929 in Berlin with Auden) : “This then my birthday wish for you, as now / From the narrow window of my fourth floor room / I smoke into the night, and watch reflections / Stretch in the harbour. In the houses / The little pianos are closed, and a clock strikes / And all sway forward on the dangerous flood / Of history that never sleeps or dies, / And, held one moment, burns the hand.”

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