Tuesday, June 12, 2007


So, today I was called to my profession. Between getting rear-ended on Elgin Street and having a posh lunch with family and friends, I donned the black robes and white tabs (and regulation black shoes and socks), walked across a stage, bowed a couple of times, and became a lawyer.

[Ok . . . I started this post almost a month ago . . . and now I am determined to finish it. . . .]

The call to the bar was a mixture of archaic tradition and down to earth common sense. We wore the robes and bowed. We rose when the special session of the court was opened to admit us as solicitors. We were told to look after our health and our relationships (there's something ominous about being told at your graduation that you are in a high-risk group for addictions and suicide, but it's good to have it addressed . . .). We applauded our families for supporting us through this process. We were encouraged to give of our time, and to safeguard the reputation of justice.

I went to law school because I wanted to safeguard justice, to make justice happen. I came out of the process convinced that our profession DOES have that responsibility, but that we generally have failed to take it on. People need lawyers in the crises of their lives, but most people can't afford a lawyer. We are told to safeguard justice and to work tirelessly for people in need, but we pay sky-rocketing tuition that leaves many young lawyers in too much debt to consider a low-paying career. We are also groomed to be elite, from the wine and cheese parties that the firms throw to the etiquette seminars that are offered through career services. All of these conflicting messages can leave a young lawyer wondering if we can actually make a difference.

I am now a member of a profession that has earned itself a bad reputation, but I think it is salvageable, and I hope that my career will be an example of integrity within the profession.

Nationalism gets Ugly

So, in my last post, I asked if nationalism could exist without xenophobia. I guess this is part of where these thoughts were coming from - I've recently been doing a lot of research on some pretty terrible wars (yeah . . . as opposed to those lovely wars . . .). I have learned about atrocities that I am stunned and saddened that people committed, but I can see how it happened. The propaganda made them believe that they had to get rid of "the enemy" or their communities would be threatened. I can see how ordinary people would be led into this thought process. But then, there's the next level of atrocities - where they start wanting to get rid of the threatening "other," and then they end up engaging their basest instincts - I am particularly thinking of the ICTY case where Muslim teenagers were held as sex slaves. How did these men convince themselves that they could do that? Is this the natural place where fear of the other can lead? These crimes were done in the name of something that started out as nationalism - how does this fit into the dialogue on nationalism as I was noticing it in Quebec and Norway? Does it, or is it a completely different world?

Friday, June 1, 2007


I have been thinking about nationalism and national identity, but don’t quite know how to craft an entry on it. I guess it’s more that I’ve been noticing and observing than that I’ve been developing a thesis on the matter.

In Quebec City, we saw several exhibits about the people of Quebec, and francophones across North America, and their quest to be a “people” – one movie had a recent immigrant to Quebec talking about how the word “nationalism” conjures up images of Nazi Germany, but he felt that that Quebec had a different kind of nationalism. Obviously Quebec is not Nazi Germany – but if nationalism is about defining “us,” can it ever be truly free of discrimination?

Norway is a country that is both very old and very young. While the ancestors of modern Norwegians have lived there for hundreds (thousands?) of years, the country had been controlled by Denmark or Sweden for something like 400 years until 1905. When they got complete independence, one of the first things they did was bring in a Danish prince to be their king. Apparently this was a requisite element of statehood in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Europe.

Elements of Norway’s national pride shows up in various ways – in the massive turn-out on the streets of Oslo on Constitution Day (including otherwise painfully fashionable young women in traditional dress); in the mention that the clock on the Oslo City Hall is 4 cm bigger than Big Ben; and, like France and the Netherlands, in the narrative surrounding the resistance to German occupation during WWII.

All of these things I’ve observed speak to a community’s desire to define itself to both itself and outsiders. These characterizations are generally myth and sometimes caricature, but I think it’s a natural impulse. Is it good for a society? It is benign? Or is it harmful – can nationalism exist with xenophobia?