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The niqab is a manufactured issue in this upcoming Canadian election that Conservatives opportunistically, shamefully amplified because their base is less than enamoured with Muslims. Another related disgrace is the Canadian response to the plight of Syrian refugees, the worst since the Second World War. Better divisive issues than focus on their past election tampering, abysmal environmental record, blind eye to murdered indigenous women, abandonment of Canadian military veterans, etc. To list every Conservative travesty threatens my word count, but I write today to defend “Western Culture.”

The literary bedrock of Western culture is the Bible and Homer. That’s why Joyce combines both strains in Ulysses, as the Jewish ad man Leopold Bloom meets the artist Stephen Dedalus (Greek name). The Hebrew and Greek come together over the novel. The Bible doesn’t bear on my topic as directly, but Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce have much to say.

Eumaeus is the real Homeric hero, not Odysseus. He is the poor swineherd who offers Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, food and comfortable lodging. Zeus decides that after ten years in Troy, mortals need to learn how to live in peace. How to be civilized. Zeus sets up a code of hospitality humans must obey in the new order: when a visitor comes, give them food, wine, a bed, and ask about their family. Odysseus spends the entire poem learning what Eumaeus does instinctively. (Odysseus has the Gods permission to slaughter the suitors because they subvert Zeus’ new order, by consuming his food and wine, sleeping in his home and trying to court Odysseus’ wife Penelope.)  

While it’s obvious today that god/gods don’t exist, we don’t need divine orders to treat people decently. Eumaeus might have shown Odysseus hospitality because he thought perhaps it was a god, but the truth it was Odysseus, a person who needed help. That should be enough. Western hospitality dictates that harried wanderers be helped. That’s what Western culture says to do. If you believe Canada shouldn’t do its part to assist desperate refugees fleeing the Syrian war, you oppose Western values.

As for the anti-Muslim sentiments stirred up but this fake niqab concern, Joyce would have been disgusted. Staunchly secular, schooled by Jesuits, brought up on Dante and the Bible, he didn’t believe in God but hated xenophobia even more. He as a Catholic made Bloom a Jew. There’s a scene in a bar where this Irish nationalist asshole called “the Citizen” challenges Bloom’s citizenship. Essentially Bloom, being Jewish, isn’t “old-stock” Irish enough for the Citizen. In a Biblical parody of Elijah, Bloom exits the bar in triumph, ascending to heaven in a chariot. Sense of belonging, what it means to be in a community, is a huge theme in Joyce. 

I’m tired of Western culture being thought of as xenophobic because people unfamiliar with it allow their own paranoia to replace Homer and Joyce as its embodiment. The irony is Conservatives fear-monger specifically in the mistaken belief they are defending Western values, when really they trample them. Western culture is innately pluralistic, except for when it falls short of its own standards. Distressingly, this seems to be happening now.

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