I recall, when I was fifteen, my mother rinsing dishes at the kitchen sink. It was her habit to read the Globe and Mail line by line, front to back, and on this occasion she had just read about the new flag proposed to replace the Canadian Red Ensign (“A New Leaf,” March). With four sons, she was unhappy that the Liberal government’s preferred Maple Leaf would replace a flag that reminded her of the sacrifices she had made during and after World War II.
Mum was a nurse and physiotherapist assigned to Middlesex Hospital during the Battle of Britain. Dad, born on a farm in Grimsby, Ontario, learned to fly and, like many of his generation, travelled to Britain as a volunteer and joined the Royal Air Force. He was a navigator on Lancaster and Stirling bombers, and was shot down three times. My parents met during one of his recuperations.
When Mum saw the Ensign’s Union Jack in the newspaper, it brought memories flooding back. The idea that it would be replaced—as if her memories could be replaced—must have seemed thoughtless, even cruel.
The new flag didn’t ruffle Dad’s feathers. He seemed to take it in stride. He seldom talked about politics, so the debate, which dragged on for months, must have been unremarkable to him. He didn’t talk much about his war experiences either; he kept his medals under his socks in a drawer.
Like many war brides, Mum left a homeland where she had made so many sacrifices, and adopted this country as hers. The Ensign represented families, lost relatives and friends, and so many deaths in desperate times. Canada’s new flag, with all history stripped from it, seemed too simple, too trivial to represent what they had lived through.
Mum was unhappy about the loss of the Ensign. She felt adrift. But she came to appreciate the simplicity of the Maple Leaf, even though it never really fluttered for her.
Naheed Mustafa is correct in that the Islamic State has created a slick social-media propaganda machine that appeals to a certain type of religious fundamentalist (“Brand ISIS,” March). But she’s put the cart before the horse: ideology isn’t the result of the propaganda; it’s the cause of it.
To win the war of ideas, a compelling counter-narrative must focus not on ISIS itself, but rather on its root cause—Islamist ideology.
“While the vast majority of Muslims aren’t taken in by extremist propaganda, there is a small minority that remains vulnerable.” Really?
Not if you look at the number of nations from which ISIS has drawn recruits. The count is now above ninety. And while I’m inclined to sympathize with Mustafa’s rosy world view, her conclusions are off base. Phrases about the “vast majority” or the “small minority” are meaningless without evidence. Indeed, the absolution of the so-called moderate majority has become part of the banal, apologetic cant spouted by media analysts after each new atrocity.
As long as the West downplays the metastasizing Islamist cancer, I suspect that ISIS will continue to provide more of its brand of dramatic reality therapy.
G. Murphy Donovan
— Josiane Ochman (@PiloteXYZ) February 18, 2015
— Stephanie Brinley (@sjbrinley) February 17, 2015
Emily Landau’s memoir arrived at an important time for me (“My Prescribed Life,” March). I’ve been taking Zoloft for about twenty years. When my depression is bad, I become overwhelmed and pull the covers over my head.
But antidepressants aren’t what everybody needs. Drugs are often prescribed to those who don’t have a chemical imbalance, but rather a mental-health issue from an external source, such as abuse or PTSD. My son was incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD, and a course of Concerta made it clear that drugs were not what he needed. And he stopped.
For those of us who do have chemical problems, medication can make a world of difference. It has let me be the real me, without the anxiety and sadness. I find that I am able to feel pain when appropriate, and I don’t hide from intense emotions anymore. Recently, I have been exploring meditation and spirituality, and I have wondered about the medication’s effect on my core being. But as long as there is so much to do—be a mother, work, care for aging parents—I won’t tinker with what helps me function.
It’s shocking and frightening that Landau turned to cognitive behavioural therapy after many years of revolving-door chemical treatment. We know from rigorous studies that CBT is as effective as—if not more effective than—antidepressant medication over the long term. But given the way most psychiatrists operate, one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
— Eric Jonathan Martin (@emart) February 23, 2015
— Ashley Pereira (@SparkWithAshley) February 19, 2015
“Traces of Mavis” (March) resonates in my breast. I lost my soulmate a year ago, and another dear friend only last month. At my age, eighty-five, such experiences become klaxons.
And John Macfarlane’s description of his career (Editor’s Note, March) and that of the new editor-in-chief, Jonathan Kay, shows how hybridization can create new insights. The products of journalism schools are not always so great. Mavis Gallant was correct: you can’t teach people how to write.
This appeared in the May 2015 issue.