Category Archives: cultures

Toronto’s ROM Facing Controversy Over the Dead Sea Scrolls

In June the Royal Ontario Museum is planning on exhibiting the Dead Sea Scrolls. That showing is being blasted by the Palestinians as they say the scrolls were acquired illegally by Israel when the Jewish state annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.
For six months the museum plans to exhibit what has been hailed as one of the greatest historical finds.

That’s a problem for top Palestinian officials. This week they declared the exhibit a violation of international law and has demanded that Canada cancel the showing.

Letters have been sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the top brass at the ROM with senior Palestinian officials arguing that the scrolls are theirs and not the property of Israel.

The Toronto Star reports:

“The exhibition would entail exhibiting or displaying artifacts removed from the Palestinian territories,” said Hamdan Taha, director-general of the archaeological department in the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. I think it is important that Canadian institutions would be responsible and act in accordance with Canada’s obligations.”

The Palestinians are saying that both Canada and Israel are signatories to all agreements.

The protest letter sent to Harper was signed by Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and its second-in-command while the letter sent to the ROM was signed by Khouloud Daibes, minister of tourism and antiquities.

The scrolls were discovered in 11 caves lining the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1957. Who owns them has been loudly disputed since that time.

Lauren, a spokeswoman for ROM, told Digital Journal there is no further information at statements being given until the matter has been fully investigated.

Omar from the General Delegation of Palestine in Canada was also unable to release an official statement at this time.

The Consulate of Israel in Toronto is closed until next week for Passover.

The planned exhibition at the ROM is called the Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World. It is set to run from June 27 to Jan. 3.

Joe Mihevc and the Caravan of Hope 2009

special to digital journal:

The Caravan of Hope 2009 is a community-based project of Toronto. The group has taken five ambulances in the past two years to the poor city of Soyapango, El Salvador.
Father Hernan Astudillo lead the team of volunteers of “The Caravan of Hope” from Toronto, Canada to Soyapango, El Salvador to deliver two decommissioned Toronto EMS ambulances to the poor town in March.

Father Astudillo heads the San Lorenzo Church in Toronto. During the latest trip in March to the impoverished city the Father and his group of volunteers encountered mordida, bride money demanded from the Mexican border all the way to Soyapango. The Toronto Star reports the religious man noted on an email sent back home that a fellow volunteer said on the trip :

“Father we are going to arrive in El Salvador very well mordido (bitten), probably only with one leg.”

The ambulances will be given new life as mobile medical facilities for a city whose population is close to one million. In a city with no medical clinics the ambulances are a godsend. El Salvador has a total of 5 ambulances, all located in the town of Soyapango and all brought in through Caravan of Hope.

Soyapango is the growth of shantytowns of people who were displaced by the 12-year civil war in El Salvador. In the mid-1990’s Toronto formed a relationship with the city. Since that time there have been several missions ongoing ranging from sanitation to public health.

Toronto city councilor Joe Mihevc, Ward 21, St. Paul’s West, has given his support to the project. In 2008 he was behind effort in getting the first ambulance donated. That vehicle was so well received that the he helped obtain two more.

The Caravan of Hope takes older ambulances donated by the city of Toronto and gives them to countries that that in desperate need of the emergency vehicles. Generally ambulances in Toronto are auctioned off once they hit 160,000 kilometers or 54 months in service.

Mihevc has had to battle it out with fellow councilors Rob Ford, (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), and (Doug Holyday, Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) who think that the price that the ambulances garner at auction would be better used on Canadian Streets according to the media. When Digital Journal asked about this the councilor laughed and said it wasn’t such a battle, just business as usual.

Astudillo takes about 10 days to travel to El Salvador. He has made eight trips before to the country on missions. The first trip was ten years ago to bring aid after the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch.

in an interview with Joe Mihevc said that not only is the city helping the poor city in El Salvador but building bonds with the Latino community. Toronto has a community of 50,000 El Salvadorians. This project has been very positive in Toronto in showing the Latino population that the city cares about their homeland and the lives of their relatives.

The Toronto Star reports:

“Basically, a marginalized, new-immigrant community comes to understand and learn how to work city hall … how to apply for grants, how to apply for housing, how to use city services,” he said, noting Astudillo is a frequent visitor at councilors’ offices.

On March 11 Mihevc and Councilor Adam Vaughan flew to El Salvador to act as international observers for the country’s presidential election the following Sunday. Astudillo and his colleagues were also observers for the election. Mihevc was very impressed with observing the recent elections held in El Salvador. He said during a telephone interview it was very exciting to see change happen before his eyes. It was a great learning experience. It brought home the realities how lucky we are in Canada to have a democracy and how in other nations that goal is a hard fought struggle.

In Toronto on April 4 Joe Mihevc, Father Hernan Astudillo and Councillor Adam Vaughan will be co-hosting a community meeting about the Caravan of Hope at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.

The meeting will feature photos and videos from the trip in March to El Salvador as well as planning opportunities to expand the Caravan of Hope for 2010.

The event on Saturday is a two part meeting. First will be a report on the most recent trip to El Salvador. The second and most important part of the meeting will be the fund raising ideas that Mihevc told Digital Journal he hopes the community will help come up with.

The goal is to raise enough funds to buy some of the 30 ambulances that the city of Toronto has to dispose of every year. While it is expected the city will continue to donate a few ambulances each year after seeing first hand the need of these emergency vehicles first hand on the streets in Soyapango and how positively received they are Caravan of Hope is hoping to buy more ambulances to take to the Central American country.

One of the side projects this year was the delivery of 149 pairs of eyeglasses that Mihevc and Vaughan brought with them on their trip to the city.

Mr. Mihevc said during a telephone interview with Digital Journal that the response to the eyeglasses in El Salvador was unbelievable. It was amazing to see how much of a difference it made for the community, considering it would cost about $500 to us in Canada. The Caravan of Hope has built child and community health services in a way that could not have been fathomed before.

Malaysian Police Bar Trousers On Girls Saying It May Make For Tomboys

Ladies in pants in Malaysia are a security threat according to the police. The mainly National Fatwa Council has issued a ruling that females wearing trousers in un-Islamic.

The ruling cited that girls in pants risk becoming sexually active “tomboys.”

Reuters reports:

“I’m warning them and will take stern action as it involves national security,” Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan told reporters Thursday, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

The nation of Malaysia is against both oral and gay sex. The government calls both acts as against the order of nature. Civil law dictates that offenders can receive a jail sentence of up to 20 years for the offense. That ruling is for both genders who also can face the cane and fines for the crime.

The Fatwa Council is also considering outlawing yoga for Muslims.

Self Immolation May Become More Commonplace In The West

Earlier this month in Winter Haven, Florida a Hindu woman set herself and her two young children on fire. Deliberately setting oneself on fire is not an uncommon act in some cultures and as the world blends together it is becoming more common in the West.

Some Hindus believe that self-immolation can bring about a connection to God. Others say these acts are not to be considered a religious rite. Regardless of those feelings the West is having to understand Eastern religions as the two merge into one.

There is no word as to the motivation that caused Priya Masters to kill herself and her two children Milan, 1 and her Mahi, 3, last week but it could have to do with her Hindu religion.

This month’s deaths were quite similar to a case last August in Chicago. When Nimisha Tawari became distraught over her marriage she set fire to herself and two children Vardaan, 4, and Ananya, 18 months in a bedroom.

“Fire is sacred for us. We are taught to respect fire,” which elevates the distress associated with fire-induced deaths, said Suman Lingappa, a volunteer at the Hindu Temple of Florida in Tampa.

Three other burning incidents followed the Tawari case in Chicago. Subhash Chandler set fire to a home where her daughter, son-in-law and young son lived. They mother did so because of anger over the fact that her son in law was of a lower caste and had not sought her consent for the marriage.

Kaushik Patel set fire to himself and two young sons in the shower of his home in late November. He and the older of the two boys survived but his four year old perished in the blaze.

Some say that self immolation comes from the Indian culture where women have been set ablaze in dowry disputes. At one time the practice of “sati”, requiring a woman to self immolate at her husbands funeral pyre was commonplace. Sati is now banned in India.

While it is banned the practice of sati still happens. Within the Hindu faith is the belief that life will renew, the soul will live on and that reincarnation happens until the soul has become pure and is able to escape the karmic scope of being reborn to learn what needs to be learnt. The sati shows a devote faith and family members are proud of the women whose lives are lost to this rite.

The Hindu religion believes in nonviolence. The gun culture of the West is far removed from the mostly peaceful members of this religious belief.

“In many parts of India, people would not kill an insect, even inside their home,” Dilip Shah, one of the founders of the Lakeland temple said. “They’ll pick it up and put it outside.”

So why would a people with such a peaceful nature use fire as a means to killing themselves?

Shah says that in the Hindu culture fire is considered a purifying element and that it is easy to set fire to oneself with gasoline and kerosene readily available.

The Hindu family is generally very close knit. Many of the culture put their family, friends and spiritual communities above everything. Seeking help for a mental health concern is considered a weakness and therefore many will not look outside of their ring of community for help.

100 Arrested For Not Having Toilets

In Uganda if you don’t have a latrine you will get arrested. The nation is in the midst of a cholera epidemic that has already killed eight and left 164 infected. The outbreak is the result of poor sanitation conditions.

have been arrested when it was found that they had to toilets. It is now illegal to build a home without a toilet in it.

“It is illegal … but it is not an arrestable offence. Whoever arrested them is wrong,” he said. “A health officer is supposed to instruct them to build or they can be cautioned.”

In September there were 70 Ugandans who were arrested in the eastern section of the country for the same reason. Cholera is spread when sanitation conditions are no

Be A Patriot, Stop For Anthem

In Thailand a new law is being proposed to promote patriotism that would force motorists to come to a complete stop when the national anthem is played twice daily. That law would cause chaos claims lawmakers.

The army appointed parliament is proposing a new Flag Bill that will promote patriotism within the country. The bill which was drafted by a group of retired and active duty generals was deferred on Thursday to give a committee time to study it.

“It would be chaotic if the bill had passed as it is now. So the National Legislative Assembly decided to set up a panel to review it,” NLA member Wallop Tangkananurak told Reuters.

The goal of the bill will “preserve tradition and instill patriotism in Thais” by having road traffic stop when the anthem plays during the raising and lowering of the national flag.

The nation’s people already stop what they are doing and stand still during the anthem. The national song is played at 8 a.m and 6 p.m everyday and broadcast from loudspeakers in train stations, parks and office buildings.

The bill would allow for motorist to be just as patriotic according to 70 year old retired General and NLA member Pricha Rochanasena.

“The national anthem lasts only one minute and eight seconds, so why can’t motorists stop their cars for the sake of the country?,” retired General and NLA member Pricha Rochanasena, 70, told Reuters.

op-ed: Muslims Portrayed In a Negative Light By Media

How does the average non Muslim person feel towards Muslims? Could the press to blame? A new report out from Britain says that 91% of articles written about Muslims are negative in a one week study commissioned by London mayor Ken Livingstone.

“The overall picture presented by the media is that Islam is profoundly different from and a threat to the west,” he said. “There is a scale of imbalance which no fair-minded person would think is right.” Only 4% of the 352 articles studied were positive, he said.

The report showed how the media is in a way using scare tactics when it comes to the Muslim population even using Christmas as a way to put a negative spin on things. An article whose information proved to be false depicted that Christmas was being banned in an area because it offended the Muslims that lived there.

There were a total of 352 articles that were used in the study. Of those articles only 4% portrayed the Muslim community in a positive view.

“The charge is that there are virtually no positive or balanced images of Islam being portrayed,” he said.

“I think there is a demonisation of Islam going on which damages community relations and creates alarm among Muslims.”

In the past I have questioned if journalists can change the way others view the world. Now I think I need to rephrase the question and ask is it right to allow negative spins on different religious views?

In many online news sources and blogging communities you can see very negative articles about Muslims as a whole. The same can be said about any religious view if you look for it but the world has been on a Muslim witch hunt since 9/11.

As someone who puts articles out for view I have to temper my own feelings in some cases. It’s difficult not to slate our personal feelings when we are impassioned to write an article. Staying true to journalistic standards is a very hard concept to keep when it comes to personal beliefs.

The question now is how do we put aside our personal feelings and simply report the news. Should we leave out religious convictions of those being reported? If we took out the religion card in news reports would that change the way others feel about different religions?

I have to wonder if during the aftermath of 9/11 the term extremist radicals had been substituted for the term Muslim extremist radicals would that have a difference on the way Muslim people are depicted in the media today. There is no answer to that question.

The truth is in this world there are religious wars being fought. There are media and military wars between believers and nonbelievers, Christians and Muslims, Jews and Muslims, etc. Is there a way to report on these events without putting down one side or another?

The truth is out there but it depends on the keyboard what some truths are.

What is your truth?

Is LAPD Using Racial Profiling With The Muslim Community?

Racial profiling is going on in Los Angeles. The police department has launched an extensive mapping program to map out where there are Muslim enclaves across the city. But is this the first time that racial profiling has been used in the city?

Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing defended the program by saying that it would help Muslim communities avoid the influence of those who would advocate extremism and violence. The program will take a look at look at the history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socioeconomic status and social interactions of certain neighbourhoods in the Los Angeles area. The program is still in its early stages and the full cost nor the final scope has been finalized.

At this point an estimated 500,000 Muslims in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. Several Muslim and American Civil Liabilities groups have concerns about singling out individuals for data gathering based on their religious beliefs.

We are seeking to identify at-risk communities,” Downing said in an interview Thursday evening. “We are looking for communities and enclaves based on risk factors that are likely to become isolated. . . . We want to know where the Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are so we can reach out to those communities.”

Downing claims that the Muslim Public Affairs Council has embraced the program in concept. While not saying completely committing to the program as of yet program director Salam Al-Marayati has a meeting set up with the LAPD next week to learn more about the plan.

“We will work with the LAPD and give them input, while at the same time making sure that people’s civil liberties are protected,” said Al-Marayati, who commended Downing for being “very forthright in his engagement with the Muslim community.”

Much more of the Muslim community though is not happy at all with the planned directives of this program. Perhaps that could stem from comments like “a vicious, amorphous and unfamiliar adversary on our land” that Downing has stated when referring to the Muslim community.
ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston compared the program to the Red Scare of the 1950s and said: “This is nothing short of racial profiling.”

Downing says police enforcement officials across the world are dealing with radical Muslim groups that are isolated from the larger Muslim community. These smaller groups have the potential for breeding terror cells like the one that had plans to bomb Fort Dix.

“We want to map the locations of these closed, vulnerable communities, and in partnership with these communities . . . help [weave] these enclaves into the fabric of the larger society,” he said in his testimony.

“To do this, we need to go into the community and get to know peoples’ names,” he said. “We need to walk into homes, neighborhoods, mosques and businesses.”

Al-Marayati believes that Downing is working in good faith but is he a strong enough advocate for the rest of the Los Angeles area to back this program? Could this program be a much larger problem than the radical terrorists that is hoped to be tracked?

Of course this isn’t the first time that L.A. has dealt with racial profiling. In 2001 they collected information on the racial background of all persons who were stopped even though the LAPD had no means to process the information. The reasoning was to prove that the LAPD was not profiling persons who were stopped more than others.

“There is a perception that certain racial groups are stopped over others,” said LAPD Capt. Michael Chambers, a member of a task force on the consent decree. “The city is being responsive to determine if that is so.”

Since 2001 the LAPD has had officers fill out report forms of the the race, ethnicity, gender and age of a person of every person that is stopped in either a vehicle or on foot. The officer is also required to give all persons stopped a business card with their serial number on it as a receipt of the date and time that they were stopped. The information obtained in the original degree was required to be put on their website at

Since 2003 the LAPD has been vigilant when it comes to terrorism. The Terrorist Threat Assessment Center has had a phone number in place at (877) A-THREAT. People were reminded that: “Being Islamic or of Middle Eastern descent, or a Sikh or someone who wears traditional garb, is not in and of itself suspicious,” John Miller, who is head of the LAPD’s Homeland Security Bureau said.

The police in Los Angeles have a bad history when it comes to racial profiling. At one time or another Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Arabs have all been profiled and had to endure the reverse of innocent until proven guilty. The colour of one’s skin or the religious beliefs that a person adheres to in times where fear rules makes for a bigoted view in criminal matters.

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The Slaughter Of The Dolphins

Japanese fishermen slaughter dolphins. Dolphin meat is toxic so why? Why are countless dolphins trapped in nets for slaughter? Pilot whales are also in the carnage. The mercury levels in these two animals making the meat extremely toxic.

This massacre of the dolphins is by no means a new thing. It’s been part of the culture for centuries but prior to the world of the Internet it wasn’t well known. Animal activists have recently given a spotlight on the practice. The activists have used celebrities to help get the word out on the barbaric nature of this type of fishing. The activists have taken measures in their own hands at times destroying the property of the fishermen. It’s been the cause of arrests and bad feelings between the two groups.

“One fisherman told me if the whalers could kill me, they would,” says the best-known protester, Ric O’Barry, who once trained dolphins for the 1960’s TV series ‘Flipper.’ “But I always try to stay on the right side of the law. If I get arrested, I’m out of this fight.”

Dolphin meat has often been used in school lunches. The meat is fairly cheap selling at about $16 US for a kilo. Schoolchildren know the difference between whale and dolphins, it’s not hard dolphin meat smells of the toxins within.

One fisherman compared the “fishing process” to that of the United States slaughterhouses. He wasn’t that far off and he was right in saying that it’s out in the open. Visible. When people see something horrific it stays with them. Slaughterhouses are behind walls.

“If you walked into an American slaughterhouse for cows it wouldn’t look very pretty either,” says one, who identifies himself only as Kawasaki. “The killing is done in the open here so it looks worse than it is.” Most are descended from families that have been killing and eating the contents of the sea around Taiji for generations and reject arguments that dolphins are ‘special.’ Says Kawasaki: “They’re food, like dogs for the Chinese and Koreans.”

In August Assemblymen Junichiro Yamashita, 59, and Hisato Ryono, 51, from the nearby whaling city of Taiji announced the high mercury and methylmercury levels that had been found in samples of the meat of pilot whales that had been butchered. The pilot whale is actually the largest of the dolphin family. Every year 2,300 dolphins are slaughtered in Taiji. The local fishermen herd the dolphins into small coves where they spear the animals and hack them to death. In Japan it is estimated that 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered a year.

Yamashita explained, “We’re not against traditional whaling, but we heard claims that pilot whales are poisoned with mercury, and we discovered that some of this meat from a (drive fishery) was fed to kids in school lunches.”

“We tested some samples — purchased at the Gyokyo supermarket in Taiji and Super Center Okuwa in the nearby city of Shingu,” Yamashita said, adding they were “shocked” by the results.

If the meat wasn’t toxic though would the outrage still be there? Of course it would. But…and by no means am I saying that this practice is right, it is tradition. We in the West do not agree with the slaughter of animals and it happens even here in North America. The clubbing of baby seals is just one instance that comes to mind.

The fact of the matter though in this case is the meat that comes from these slaughters is no longer safe for human consumption. It may have been in the past before pollutants filled the waterways. Now it is not only unseemly to slaughter the animals but by doing so puts a nation’s young at risk when their families prepare it for them to eat. For that reason alone it should be outlawed.

If the people in Japan were more educated by their government on the danger of eating mercury filled meat they would no doubt be up in arms about this practice. The animal activist are right to be outraged at the barbarity of the “fishing” but the key at least to me is the safety issues. Those issues being more in the news have a better chance at stopping the slaughter of the dolphins.

Op-Ed: Burma’s Writers Are In Danger Of Prison

What would happen if the government put a stop to poetry. If your written words expressing how you feel could make you an outlaw, would you continue to write about your way of life?

If the ink that flowed through your pen gave a defiant message would you be willing to live in a jail cell?

In Burma that is the reality for those who make marks on paper that the government deems defiant. And yet they write on. In cells, in exile, using brick powder for ink they script words of meaning.

Win Naing and Zargana are both being held in Burma. Zargana is a well known comedian. His cutting wit often targets the very issues that are current. Those issues are also expected to be censored.

“He’s very inventive,” says Htein Lin, an artist who himself served six-and-a-half years in prison (on false charges) and who now, having married a former British ambassador to Burma, lives in London. Htein Lin has been a close friend of Zargana’s ever since the older man awarded him first prize at a comedy competition, 23 years ago. “Zargana’s jokes always reflect current conditions in the country and are new and up to date. Other comedians just repeat old jokes,” he adds.

In Burma the military authorities know the power of words. That is why they seek to silence them.

In a country that has a higher education system than most around it though silence of the writers doesn’t happen. They just write in secret, their words reaching out to those who crave the knowledge that pen and paper bring.

International PEN, the global writer’s association, has a Writers in Prison Committee. Led by Sara Whyatt the committee is working to have nine writers released from prison. Their terms range from seven to 21 years.

Poets Aung Than and Zeya Aung were sentenced to 19 years a piece for the writing “anti-government poems”. The person who printed their poems received 14 years and their distributor was given seven.

Writers getting longer terms than killers in the United States is insane.

U Win Tin was sentenced to 20 years 18 years ago. He was the editor-in-chief for a newspaper called Hanthawaddy. His crime was running too many articles critical of the regime. At 77 years of age he still writes in his cell using a piece of bamboo for his pen and ink from the brick powder of his cell’s wall. He has suffered greatly during the past 18 years; two heart attacks, lost most of his teeth, and is suffering from diabetes, spondylitis, and a hernia. Still he writes.

I pose a question to you in the journalism world, if your home was replaced by a cell, your pen crushed in front of you, your keyboard tossed away would you still write?