#LOSTwatch

Follow along to Allie’s exciting, enlightening, and comedic live tweet of our Re-Watch through the entire LOST series. Use the hashtag #LOSTwatch to send us your thoughts and experiences of the show, whether it is your first time watching the series or you are an expert.

We are currently on Episode 9 – Solitary, so you better get caught up!

Witness Me: The importance of sacrifice in Mad Max: Fury Road

By Nathan Olmstead

In case you have no watched Mad Max yet, let this serve as your warning that what follows may betray significant plot lines of the movie. Let it also serve as my personal recommendation that you watch this movie as soon as you can. It is phenomenal in a variety of ways. This is not a film review, so I will leave it there. Just in case your eyes are prone to wander, though, here is a picture of Charlize Theron looking absolutely bad-ass as Furiosa to fill some space.

Photo by Jasin Boland.
Photo by Jasin Boland.

George Miller’s new installment of the Mad Max franchise has been met with popular and critical acclaim since its release in May 2015. Mad Max: Fury Road blends together minimalist dialogue with high-paced action sequences and complex, tangible, characters. It succeeds at being a movie for both the critically-minded academic and the average moviegoer looking for a distraction from everyday life. It does it all without being sucked into the recycled characters, CGI action sequences, and plot lines that have proven to be a formula for commercial success in Hollywood. It breaks down molds for movie-making and writing in a way that presents intellectual stimulation for those willing to study its depths. Mad Max elegantly explores complex social phenomenon ranging from progressive feminism to the relationship between religion and politics. While much deserved attention has been paid to the incredible depiction of Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as a unique female character in modern film, I was also struck by the willingness of Miller to explore the intimacy between religion, sacrifice, and political order.

The film wastes no time in establishing what will be the overarching context for the themes that follow; Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by the vicious followers of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a selfish and plagued tyrant, but escapes along with the rogue Imperator Furiosa. She has facilitated the escape of Immortan Joe’s prisoner-wives (known as breeders) and both she and Max spend the remainder of the movie escaping the ruthless patriarch.

Without going beyond this surface level narrative of Mad Max, we are already presented with vibrant potential for discourse. Yet the thing that gives endurance to the life of Miller’s film is the fact that it does not, as so many others do, settle for surface level plots and simple characters. It is willing to go beyond first impressions. Each of the main characters is supplemented by a team of secondary characters that aid in their development while also sprouting their own, independent, stories. Each character helps in illuminating some of the intricate dialogues already at play within the movie. The character Nux (Nicholas Hoult), for example, exists somewhere between a primary and secondary character, with a story that is ever-present and exemplifies the complex relationship between self-sacrifice and the formation of individual identity.

Nux begins the film as one of Immortan Joe’s most passionate followers. He is a War Boy, and he serves as a driver for Joe’s ruthless group of militants who know nothing but allegiance to the will of their leader. The War Boys construct their destiny with the promise of Valhalla awaiting each of them after death as a reward for their commitment to Immortan Joe and their colony (known as the Citadel). The religiosity of their beliefs and actions is constructed by the writers to resemble that of a cult, with complex symbols, rituals, and signs of dedication governing their daily lives. In a quick, but meaningful, action sequence, it is revealed that the most honorable end for a War Boy is self-sacrifice. Martyrdom for the causes of Immortan Joe is seen as the most meaningful, admirable, and desirable end, with sacrifice being preceded by an ominous ritual painting and the call for attention of their brotherhood. “Witness me!” they shout, with the hope that one of their brothers with echo their call and, literally, witness their commitment.

It is in this complex political organization that we are first introduced to the heart of Nux. His character is promptly presented as a character with something more to prove than the other War Boys. He is already injured from a previous confrontation and it is only through stubbornness that he is given a second chance to prove himself, driving a vehicle when the War Boys take up the pursuit of Furiosa. His physical disadvantage leaves him limited in what he has to offer Immortan Joe’s cause, and his character quickly develops an obsession with self-sacrifice, which he sees as the ultimate opportunity to demonstrate his worth. If he is going die from his wounds, Nux decides, he better die for Joe.

Early in the chase we see Nux spray his mouth chrome, the sign of sacrifice to come, but his eagerness to sacrifice is met with failure. With each unsuccessful attempt at redemption, Nux becomes increasingly desperate and his sense of connection to the cause becomes obviously fragile. The moment a failing Nux is officially rejected by his beloved, Joe, we see the collapse of his identity. A shapeless Nux, devoid of passion and direction, is stowed away on the escapees rig, come what may.

From out of this emptiness, Nux is eventually given form through the compassion of an escaped bride (Capable, played by Riley Keough). A new narrative is stitched slowly into the fabric of his being, reaching a head in what is, to me, one of the most climatic moments of the film’s story. As the escapees, with many enemies and friends left dead behind them, reach the crucial moment of their escape, the future rests in the hands of Nux. There is no way to escape unscathed, and he is presented with the ultimate moment of decision. With fear and trembling, Nux urges his new family forward, while drawing back as a sort of buffer between their pursuers and freedom. As the music swells, and we catch a glimpse of the once-lost passion in Nux’s eyes, we hear the simple and yet powerful declaration of the reborn Nux. “Witness me,” he says and, in a single moment comprised of destruction, allegiance, and identity, ends the chase once and for all.

Nux’s infatuation with sacrifice, and the relationship between this obsession and his sense of self, provides the starting point for a discourse surrounding sacrifice and political identity. I’m immediately reminded of book Sacred Violence by Paul Kahn, who argues that self-sacrifice is the necessary beginning of the sovereign creation. Using the word sacred as a label for that which demands the sacrifice of its adherents, Kahn writes, “life has positive meaning only when and to the extent that it is filled by the sacred” (29). The sacred, he explains, is central to the legitimacy of any political order. He asks “what is sovereignty stripped of the capacity to demand sacrifice?” and, to him, the answer is simple: Nothing. Nux and the War Boys build their identity around their willingness to sacrifice for Immortan Joe. Their relationship to their leader is made immediate in the moment of martyrdom.  When Nux is unable to sacrifice for Joe, however, his confidence wavers – his connection to the sacred (Joe) becomes questioned. Without the ability to sacrifice, there is no way for Nux to legitimate his allegiances.

Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio
Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

In this moment of uncertainty, Nux also comes to exemplify the fragility of loyalty and the migration of the sacred. In his weakness, Nux is discovered by the bride Capable, curled up into the fetal position and shaking. The symbolism here should be obvious. In this moment he is exposed to the rebirth that is about to follow. New life is given to Nux through a new intimacy. His loyalty is no longer to Joe, and the roots of a new sovereign are taking hold of him. Kahn explains this transition of the sacred as inward turning. He writes that, “in a sacred world, only one faith can displace another” (30). For Nux, his old identity is destroyed and replaced by a new loyalty, a new code, and a new passion.

As much as the transition of Nux’s loyalty is made gradual throughout the second half of the film, his final sacrifice is no less ultimate. It is important not only as an internal transition, or as a romantic gesture to Capable, but as a political act of creation. Even though Furiosa herself is raised up as the new leader of the new order, Nux is the first sacrifice to the new sovereign. He is the one that makes it sacred. Sure, Furiosa and Max both continuously display willingness to die in their fight against Joe, and their side experiences casualties along the way, but no death is as deliberate or positive as that of the reborn, ex-War Boy. The violence of his old allegiance persists into his new life insofar that “even a revolution… can only build from the conceptual materials at hand” (Kahn, 14). The violence of his old religion is inescapable, but it is harnessed now in the process of creation instead of tyranny. It is positive insofar as it is a powerful creator. It symbolizes not just the collapse of Immortan Joe’s authority, but also the birth of something new. As Nux’s rebirth is completed, so too is the founding of a new politics to follow.

In the character Nux, we are exposed to the complete transformation of the sacred through the life of the individual. A willingness to die for Immortan Joe is destroyed and, from a moment of complete nothingness, there is a moment of founding. We watch the growth of a new romance and ideology into the tangible political order that the movie leaves us with. While we can speculate about what sort of order and tragedy await this new order in Miller’s promised sequels, we can be confident that, at least for the time being, it is legitimate. It is legitimate because of the sacrifice of Nux, who has died to the old ways of the tyrant and has been reborn. There is no ritual for Nux in this death. There is no spray paint, and he doesn’t know what will await his companions, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is loyalty. What matters is the intimacy of love and violence in this time of decision. In a single moment of destruction, passion, death, and creation, we are left with one last look and two simple words: Witness me.

The Real Implications of the Niqab Debate

by Nathan Olmstead and Allison Tremblay.

As the Canadian public enters the final leg of what has been a long few weeks of campaigning, an issue that was front and center before campaigns began has resurfaced; The Niqab Debate.

Arguments surrounding the place of the niqab in Canadian society began when a Muslim woman refused to remove her head covering to take the citizenship oath, citing personal convictions. Since the original incident, a series of court appeals rising all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada have revealed the current Canadian government to be adamantly and openly opposed to the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship ceremony. Coincidentally, and perhaps this is why the Conservatives are so vehemently fighting the Supreme Court’s decision during an election, the majority of Canadians appear to agree with them. While many have argued that their concern is for security and transparency, the reality is that the woman did remove her niqab long enough to be identified by government officials. It is nothing but a distraction to pretend that we are concerned with security when what the details seem to suggest is that we are arguing about culture. More specifically, the accommodation of Islamic traditions within Canadian society.

Harper has argued that the niqab is a symbol of oppression and that, as a liberal democracy, Canada cannot justify supporting such a practice. The niqab, he claims, is rooted in a tradition that is “anti-women”, and one that is necessarily Un-Canadian. A poll by The Privy Council Office (PCO) suggests that the vast majority of the population agrees. Even the NDP, who have played the antithesis to the Harper government, have had to publicly express their distaste and condemnation of the niqab in order to regain momentum in Quebec. While continuing to defend the right of women to wear the niqab, they have publicly agreed with the claim that the niqab is a terrible symbol of oppression against women. Voters believe the that the niqab is oppressive, and our candidates are forced to agree with them.

Indeed, these arguments can seem self-evident to many Canadians. Islam is labelled as one of the three monotheistic religions of the West (the other two being Christianity and Judaism) and all three of these traditions are considered the three most pervasive patriarchies in the world. Each traces their history to the patriarch of Abraham, and has historically been overwhelmingly built around male leadership. The niqab is, in this context, one of many ways each religion differentiates between men and women, elevating one (men) over the other (women).

Even if we move forward on the assumption that this logic is true – that the niqab is a symbol of oppression – I don’t think voters should be fooled into thinking that Harper’s focus is gender equality. I also don’t think Harper, or those of us that agree with them, have taken the time to follow this logic through to its other consequences for Canadian society. While Harper claims that the niqab is anti-women, Canada is pro-women, and therefore the niqab should be banned, the truth is that Canadian society is more than accommodating to many other traditions that are based on gender-inequalities, and no one is questioning them.

Consider marriage. More specifically, a type of marriage ceremony that is quite intimate with mainstream Christianity. Men and women, year after year, turn to Paul’s view of marriage expressed in Ephesians chapter 5, with the verses often used during the actual ceremony. While many may argue that the text itself is not actually condoning marriage inequality, there is no doubt that it has been used to reinforce the oppression of women throughout history. There is no doubt that verses like these have been used, and continue to be used, in cultures that legitimately believe in a gender hierarchy – where men are leaders, and women are followers. Yet they are allowed, and the marriages that rely on such an understanding of marriage are seen as legitimate by the Canadian government. True, there are many feminist challenges to these traditions, but none of our major political leaders seem concerned.

There’s a reason that they don’t have to be, and that is that we don’t seem to be.

It is telling that we are talking about the niqab when the same logic could just as easily put Christian marriage on the hot seat. An article by Ishmael N. Daro asserts that claiming the niqab to be a symbol of oppression against women is really just serving as a proxy for Canadian citizens. More specifically, it is serving as a proxy for their anxieties around Islam’s place in Canadian society. There is no doubt that Canada has, throughout history, struggled with the realization of multiculturalism and accommodation, and Canadian response to the niqab debate suggests that Daro is right, Canada seems much more resistant to the accommodation of religious minorities than it is to the oppression of women. The reality seems to be that mainstream Canadians are showing themselves to be more anti-Muslim than they are pro-Women. They are quick to dismiss one patriarchal tradition on the basis of oppression, while many others are never given a legitimate political platform, and the division between the two is no more complicated than there approximation to the mainstream. Canada is built on economic and cultural systems of oppression, but only when it oppression is presented in the form of a minority is it questioned, implying we are more concerned about the minority itself than the oppression. Gender inequalities permeate Western society, and no one is raising an eyebrow.

If the niqab was a part of Christianity, it would be a non-issue, delegated to private feminist movements, traditionalist movements, and academia. Only when it`s a Muslim woman do politicians seem to care one way or another, lending more credibility to the idea that Trudeau is right to suggest that Harper is playing a politics of division. We all are.

The question is not how far we are willing to go to welcome a Muslim woman into Canada. The question is how willing we are to welcoming a Muslim woman at all.

Terrorists, Tories and Bill C-51


A Response

By Brodi Ethier

Omar Khadr’s story is the most recent act in a rather drawn out and curious play in which it is quite impossible to tell apart the actors from the audience. There has been a constant struggle to define what constitutes an act of terrorism, what makes one a terrorist, and how far the government can go before it has ventured too far in an effort to protect its citizens. Examining the strikingly different reactions of notable Canadian politicians to Khadr’s release it becomes suddenly apparent how much of a political tool terrorism actually is. To fully comprehend the current tory government’s approach to terrorism, one is required to do a certain amount of rummaging through the political literature of the early years of the current century. The months and years directly following the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States produced a plethora of books, essays, and articles attempting to elucidate and explore the global threat of terrorism.

Due to the sudden surge in the word’s usage it is almost tempting to think of the term “terrorism” as being a fairly recent invention. Such a presumption, however, would require an ignorance of the past few decades worth of history. An older british audience is likely to remember when the word terrorism conjured up the image of the Irish Republican Army bombing a hotel in Brighton (an incident that could have claimed the life of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher). For americans living prior to 9/11, the term would have been more likely to bring televised broadcasts of Nicaragua and embassies in Africa to mind -exotic, foreign lands far from home – than the image of an american city under attack. 9/11 showed just how devastating terrorist attacks could be and set in motion a wave of hysteria that has still not settled 14 years later.

One notable Canadian contribution to the noise and confusion of the post 9/11 media frenzy is The Lesser Evil, a book written by the well-known academic Michael Ignatief who would become better known to the wider public as the leader of the Liberal Party from 2009 until their disastrous defeat in the 2011 Federal Election. Writing in 2004, Ignatief in his own words sought to “chart a middle course between a pure civil libertarian position which maintains that no violations of rights can ever be purely justified and a purely pragmatic position that judges anti-terrorist measures solely by their effectiveness.” It does not at all seem controversial to claim that this view is one shared by many in Canada; a cautionary balance between liberty and security. Four years have passed since Ignatief left political life and the landscape is not much different today from how it was when he was a party leader. Aerial campaigns being conducted against the Islamic State and recent attacks carried out by said extremist group in France have written headlines for various media outlets across Europe and North America leaving the Canadian public turning curious heads towards Ottawa.

The Conservative Party’s majority government under Harper has procured more than a few anxious words of caution from academics and journalists across the country with their attempt at minimizing the threat of a terrorist attack on Canadian soil. 

The tory reaction to the threat of a terrorist attack is that of Bill C-51, a bill that has been not so subtly referred to as the “Police State Bill” by its critics. The now passed piece of legislation was drafted in an attempt to amend multiple Canadian laws to make it easier for government agencies to share information between one another as well as expanding the authority of CSIS. With the tories holding a majority of the seats in Parliament and the support of Ignatief’s old Liberal Party (now led by Justin Trudeau) the bill passed 183-96 in favour, with Thomas Mulcair’s NDP and the Green Party being the only ones to oppose the bill.

One aspect that is oddly absent from serious discussion of C-51 is public opinion. Despite the NDP’s filibustering of parliament to allow experts to examine the legislation more closely and the number of reported protests across the country by people demonstrating their contempt for the proposed bill, the Globe and Mail reported that polling found 82% of Canadians are in favour of C-51. If these numbers are true that would make this one of the most popular pieces of legislation in Canadian history. Perhaps even more startling is the fact that according to the same poll, 36% of Canadians believe that C-51 does not go far enough in its security measures. It seems odd then that the NDP would oppose the bill for any reason other than perhaps principle, or more likely, to paint contrast between themselves and the tories and grits.

Most apparent among the few things that can be lucidly stated about post 9/11 Canada is that terrorism serves as a powerful political tool for all parties and public discussion of the topic is not likely to settle at any point in the foreseeable future.

The Making of An Enemy

Omar Khadr’s Struggle to Prove His Humanity

by Nathan Olmstead

Omar Khadr, the Canadian who, as a fifteen year old boy, was arrested and held at Guantanamo Bay for committing acts of terrorism, was recently released on bail by an Alberta court. Now almost thirty years old, Khadr has frequently been the subject of critical analysis and controversy, much of it focusing on the use of torture in the acquiring of his confession. His body has, through the violence he experienced in prison, metaphorically and literally served as a canvas on which the War on Terror has been exemplified by the Canadian and American governments. In addition, being a Canadian of Muslim/Arab origin conveniently places him in the prototypical mould of the modern terrorist. His case has consequentially raised important questions about the use of torture, the imprisonment of child soldiers, and the discrimination of Khadr based on his racial background.

The construction of his character, however, depends on who you ask.

Many see Khadr as an innocent teenager, caught under the control of his radical father – in the wrong place at the wrong time. To them, he is the victim of a context outside of his control, who became unfairly discriminated against by Western governments. The case of Omar Khadr, for them, represents the failure of the judicial system to protect a child caught in an impossible situation. The Toronto Star recently wrote that “Canada’s image as a nation that upholds civil rights and the rule of law has been tarnished by this affair, and it won’t soon recover”.

Omar Khadr after his release (Photo courtesy of CBC)
Khadr after his release (Photo courtesy of CBC)

Others, including the Canadian government, however, have constructed Khadr as a radical terrorist who, even thirteen years later, cannot be trusted. For them, Khadr is an enemy, and one that willingly chose his position. Harper and his delegates have notoriously fought against the release of Khadr, and have struggled to hold back their disatisfaction since the decision was announced.

The release of Khadr is thus a moral victory for those that defended Khadr, with severe consequences for the vanquished. The Harper government, more specifically, has struggled to find its words in addressing the reintegration of an individual that they so vehemently opposed for the last decade.

The aftermath is, of course, a tidal wave of questions directed at the government and its supporters, made more flamboyant by the fact that the Conservative Party has not taken defeat quietly.

In analyzing the case of Omar Khadr, I have no intention of trying to draw conclusions about who is right in their depiction of Khadr and their conclusions about his release. To do so would likely only add to the ocean of noise and opinions surrounding this unique and infamous case. It would be a waste of my time and yours, and I don’t think anyone’s mind would be changed. Instead, I want to focus on why it has been so incredibly difficult for the Harper government to establish solidarity with the Alberta court that released Khadr, or the millions of Canadian citizens that have so ferociously defended him since his arrest thirteen years ago.

Photo Courtesy of TheSun.com
Photo Courtesy of TheStar.com

To do this, it is important to recognize the difficulties that accompany the creation of an enemy by a liberal state like Canada. By enemy, I mean someone that is positioned in direct conflict with the state and, as such, becomes the target of systematic and militarized state violence. We more commonly use words like fanatic, radical, and terrorist to describe such a character but, unanimously, the implication is that the person is not just a criminal, but an ideological outcast as well. We cannot, with a clear conscience, identify with them. They are, to use popular language, the Other to our identity. They are pushed away from whoever we consider ourselves to be.

The creation of an enemy is fundamentally difficult for a liberal state built on concepts of protection and inclusion of all peoples. To make an individual an enemy, their status as a person must be bypassed or removed through the process of dehumanization.

Sherene H. Razack from the University of Toronto wrote an excellent article in 2014 entitled Racial Terror: Torture and Three Teenagers in Prison. In it she analyzes the violence that Omar Khadr experienced in the prison system. The violence against Khadr , even if socially controversial, was authorized by an active legal system.

How could torture and neglect be justified?

Razack anticipates the question, answering that “each of the three was evicted from the category of the human, marked, that is, as less than fully human and as belonging to a group against whom violence is authorized and deemed necessary” (3). More specifically, Khadr became a part of a foreign threat to the Canadian nation, undeniably influenced by his racial heritage, and lost not only his status as Canadian but his status as human as well. His identity as a child soldier becomes not only secondary, but ignored altogether, with the violence against him defined as necessary. Furthermore, the violence against him reinforces its own necessity by shaping the construction of his identity. It is the violent action against Khadr that becomes the embodiment of his status as Other.

Knowing the intricate dance that went into creating an enemy out of Omar Khadr, and the violence committed that cannot be undone, it becomes a little easier to understand why the Harper government has twisted its tongue in addressing his recent release. Making amends with Khadr, for the Canadian government, is not like shaking hands with the man you got into a fistfight with ten years ago. It’s more like buying a gift for the dog that bit your hand to show forgiveness. The gesture is hardly applicable to the individual. To them, Khadr isn’t a human being that finally got released from prison. He is a terrorist that got free. Understanding the intimacy between dehumanization and the process of Othering is crucial in understanding this case.

In this context, Khadr saying “”I will prove to them that I’m more than what they thought of me, I’ll prove to them that I’m a good person” becomes especially ironic. Khadr is not charged with the responsibility of proving to Harper that he is a good person. He must first prove that he is a person at all. Headlines like the Toronto Star’s, which reads “The man Prime Minister Stephen Harper loves to demonize reveals himself to be remarkably human” exemplify the simple fact that Khadr has not spent the last decade fighting for his freedom or his innocence. He has, since he was fifteen years old, been fighting to prove he is human.