I sensed the audience was primarily left-leaning artist-types. When Junior said “Sometimes a woman has to shut her mouth to let the man speak” there was an ‘ichk’ moment in the room. After the demonstration performance, a friend came up to me and said: How can he really think that? Is he so backwards?
This is dangerous water. This is why the work we do with Projet Rencontres is dangerous.
The impulse to try and change another person’s mind is very alive in our work. This impulse is very alive in Montreal, in Quebec, in Canada… Under this impulse is the belief that I’m right and you’re wrong. Policy-makers yield and contend with this impulse.
Why should the hijab be banned from citizenship ceremonies?
A Nationalist: Because when you move here, you need to follow our rules.
A Feminist: Because the hijab is a sign of male dominance.
An Uncle of mine: Because it’s an issue of national security.
These three people, perhaps incredibly different politically, share something common — and I think it’s some deep sense of:
We were here first. We fought for this society. We should not change for the Outsider.
I’ve heard a fair bit of this growing up in an Italian-Canadian community:
We immigrated here. We followed the rules. We worked hard. We assimilated. Unlike…
I’m very skeptical about these arguments, for one because the core sense of “we were here first” is way too ironic. I’m also skeptical of these arguments because they seem tied to a notion of cultural retention, ideological progress, or state neutrality.
A courtroom is not neutral. Suits and ties are not neutral. An ideological agenda (no matter how deep you can reason it) is not neutral.
Culture should not be embalmed. Culture is not the food I make. Culture is what happens when (as an example) the son of Italian-Canadian immigrants, who has his own complicated sense of his own national identity, sits across from (as an example) a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (who has his own complicated sense of his national identity), one speaking French, one speaking English, and listening to eachothers stories, and not understanding everything. Because it’s impossible to understand everything. Because culture is the complicated amalgamation of whoever you are in contact with someone else. Culture is in action.
back to the topic…
The members of the Encounters ensemble hold different values and worldviews. Since part of our investigation is having difficult conversations, they engage sometimes again and again with the same issues:
“How can she really think that?”
When neither party is willing to budge, difficult conversations can feel like a Sisyphean task.
What’s the point of talking to someone who may believe that “sometimes a woman should shut her mouth to let the man speak” if you cannot change his mind?
Why not live a more pleasant and comfortable life: living my own private policies, surrounding myself with people like me?
Our work is dangerous because it asks its members to just try to step into shoes that are not their own, and be courageous enough to think they may have something to learn.
Or, how do you step into someone else’s shoes without losing yourself?