Some ideas are good, some are bad

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A couple of days ago, Ayaan Hirsi Ali—author, politician, activist, and polarizing figure worldwide—appeared on CBC's Q radio show to discuss her second memoir, Nomad, with host Jian Ghomeshi.

Ali, who was born in Somalia and raised there, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, later emigrated to the Netherlands and became a strong critic of Islam (especially how Muslim societies treat women) and of multiculturalism policies in the West. As a Dutch parliamentarian, she faced threats of assassination from Islamist extremists, and eventually moved to America.

I blasted through her first memoir, Infidel, a few months ago—it's a riveting account of her physical and mental journey. There's little doubt why she thinks the way she does now. She's a little younger than me, but her life well deserves two books (so far).

It seems to me that the core of Ali's argument on the radio was that no moral or political ideas should be respected or endorsed simply because they emerge from religion or other ideologies, culture, or traditions. She pointed to societies that cling dogmatically to such ideas, as in Somalia, who remain backward and fail. Conversely, societies like those in the Netherlands, the U.S., and Canada are largely successful, prosperous, and safe because we analyze and debate ideas of all kinds, make decisions about which ones are better—and then improve because of it.

We're far from perfect at it, of course, but it is an ideal we strive toward. And it applies not only to ideas coming from immigrant communities, but to long-standing homegrown ideas as well. In Canada over the past few decades, analysis and debate helped us decide that Indian residential schools were wrong, fomented the Quiet Revolution in Québec, and are bringing gay people into the legal and cultural mainstream. Similar progress happens much more slowly, if at all, in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, North Korea, Haiti, Burma, Malawi, or even China.

Isn't it an inherently good idea that one of CBC's top-rated national radio shows is hosted by a guy named Jian Ghomeshi, who didn't have to change that name to seem "more Canadian?" It would have been unimaginable 40 or 50 years ago.


Nonetheless, I prefer to call him J-Gho.

I wonder what they would've anglicized it to. John Gomesh?

Having moved into the interior of BC, I feel I've regressed a bit. I hear of gays having to remain closeted, or endure teasing, here, and to me that's just weird. Also there's the near-constant picketing of the hospital by anti-abortionists and the Pro-Life Thrift Shop on my way to work. Of course, people have a right to protest, it's just that the sentiment is so prominent here.

When he was first touring with Moxy Fruvous (and maybe on the first album credits?) Jian was going by Jean. I like that he switched back.

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