The Onion Skin Theory of Knowledge – The Prequel


”Sak pase” (Haitian Creole for ”what’s happening”),

The following blog entries will be for those interested in learning more about me and the origins of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.  The subject will be elaborated on throughout the next few entries which can be viewed as a film series and hence, the title of this blog, “The Prequel” (the rest of the title will be explained at the end of this email). And it begins as so.

The journey of becoming a UN peacekeeper began while I was attending school at Vanier College in Montreal. Having decided that I no longer wanted to study the Natural Sciences, I decided to venture into the unknown: the Human Sciences. Until then, due to limitations, my understanding of the world was confined mostly to my neighbourhood of Saint-Michel and its immediate surroundings.

Rarely can one detach one’s initial attraction for a subject from their professor. My professor was truly captivating and one that had everyone clinging to his every word. With years of experience teaching in Political Science, he treated every classroom as an infantry platoon; arming his “soldiers” with a sense of civic and moral duty in order to prepare them to confront the injustices abroad, as well as, at home. But, before he allowed us to go out into “battle” on the plains of injustices, he ensured that we understood “who we were” as Canadians – where we came from. The notion is as old as the inscriptions in the vestibule of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi or one of the many proverbs located at the Inner Temple of Luxor – “Know thyself”. And learn about ourselves, Canada and our place in the world, we did.

Our classroom at the time consisted of students that were born during the “lost” years – where Generation X ended (circa 1979) and where Generation Y began (circa 1983). I have nicknamed these “lost” Canadians as the “Children of the Charter” since they were born around the time of the patriation of the Canadian Constitution which included the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the “Children of the Charter” that were born in the Province of Quebec, like myself, they experienced an infancy in referendum-torn families and neighbourhoods. Where our fathers’, Pierre Elliot Trudeau and René-Lévesque, political quarrels spilled out onto the dinner tables of our homes and then into the streets of Quebec’s major urban centres.

Back in the classroom, with the Second Intifada erupting between the Israelis and the Palestinians at the turn of the 21st century, my professor linked its origins to the ‘Suez Crisis’ and the utilization of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). In 1956, UNEF was the first UN peacekeeping force that was ever deployed and it was created to keep the peace between Egypt and Israel (conflict known as ‘Suez Crisis’). The proposal originated from then, Canadian Minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson. The Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, the last Prime Minister to have served in the Canadian Forces, later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the creation of the UN Peacekeeping Force. We then read about the atrocities witnessed during UN Peacekeeping Missions like in Rwanda with front line accounts from its Force Commander, the internationally renowned Canadian Lieutenant-General (ret’d) Romeo Dallaire. We also learned about the first multinational force sent to Haiti, from 1993 to 1997, after the military coup that toppled the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government the first time.  It was the UN Peacekeeping Mission that predated the current UN Peacekeeping Mission, known as MINUSTAH, which began in 2004.

My passion to learn and apply for citizenry of the world through international work was born – igniting the wick of the lamp that guided me along the path that led to where I am today. And then there was 9/11 and the flame that was lit began to flicker in the darkness of those years that followed. The world that had been taught to me in my political science classes just the day prior to the event existed no longer. Along with many others segments of society, the North Americans youths, were walking into unchartered territory. The “Children of the Charter” were born into a country where human rights were protected under the Canadian Charter and who believed in a world of peaceful reconciliation was possible. They entered legal age with ambitions to continue the work of previous Canadian generations promoting the protection of basic human rights for the defenceless through their staunch pursuit of ideals in Canada’s involvement in international organizations like the United Nations. Instead, the “Children of the Charter” faced a national and global environment of increased violations of civil liberties and human rights. Newsweek Magazine termed young people between the ages of 10 and 20 on September 11, 2001 as “Generation 9/11” – a sub-group which coincides with the “Children of the Charter”.

This very Canadian sub-group has never really been looked into for what I know. The description is a result of an investigation into the origins of my political ideological stances – an exercise I performed a few years back and will be forever ongoing. It goes back to the idea of “Know thyself” that is as old as Antiquity itself. It is also at the origin of “The Onion Skin Theory of Knowledge” where through the use of an onion as a metaphor for a latticework of systems of knowledge, one can understand how information about oneself and the world relate. I found that the more I began to understand the interactions between various systems and beliefs, the more layers I removed from the onion and the closer I got to “Knowing myself” and what that meant for my community, my country and my place in the world.


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