A Short Autobiography
I was was born in 1951, the fifth of eight children, in Hearst, Ontario, a mostly French-speaking town about 150 miles south of James Bay on a northern leg of the Trans-Canada Highway.
One of my first memories is of a man crying. I had played with the crying man's son in a sandbox that afternoon. It was not a real sand box, just a pile of sand dumped in the middle of a muddy driveway. The boy's father, who was in the gravel hauling business, came home at the end of the day unaware that his son was still playing on the pile of sand, and drove over him.
My older sister took me to my friend's house to see him one last time. I was standing in front of the open coffin admiring how good he looked in his tidy little suit and tie, his black hair combed back all slick and shiny, when the tiny coffin started rocking back and forth and a voice started to shout.
I looked up and noticed a man with his hands resting on the open end of the coffin, jerking it back and forth and yelling “wake up, you're not dead, wake up!” (Réveille toé, t’es pas mort, réveille toé) over and over again. The man was crying, with big tears running down his face.
It was the first time I had seen a grown man cry. I promised myself I would never do that when I got older. It's not that I don't get all emotional, an unexpected kindness can bring on the outset of tears, but that's just me.
Six or seven years later I would suffer a similar mishap as my childhood friend but survived thanks to the quick action of a priest.
In 1967, my parent’s lifelong business selling logging and farm equipment was forced into bankruptcy. The year before the family home and much of the family’s belongings had been destroyed in a middle-of-the-night fire.
Having to start over again with next to nothing my parents decided to try their luck out West. On a cold Sunday afternoon in late November, in a scene reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath, with a snowstorm threatening, my mother at the wheel we set out on a journey of more than 2,000 miles to begin again.
My parents found a business they could afford in Ashcroft, a small town about 50 miles South-West of Kamloops, 3 miles or so off the highway to Vancouver. How welcoming would a town which catered to miners, ranchers and cowboys be to people who spoke English with an accent and were responsible for that foreign language on cereal boxes? But welcoming they were.
After my mother suffered, what I think was her fourth or fifth heart attack, her first since we moved to Ashcroft, it became imperative that we move to a larger urban center and find a business that was less taxing. The good people of Ashcroft made Kamloops possible.
After completing grade 13 at Kamloops High, I attended university for a few years. A professor at Simon Fraser who introduced me to Jane Austen and Jonathan Swift said that, if I applied myself, I could became a decent writer.
After abandoning my studies, I went to work for a finance company in Kelowna. Industrial Acceptance Corporation (IAC) provided private sector experience that would prove invaluable when I later joined the federal government.
I may have been born in Ontario, but I had never been to Ottawa. In 1972, on the spur of the moment, I decided to visit the National Capital and perhaps find work there for a year or two before returning to B.C.
A few months after arriving in Ottawa I took the public service exam and was invited to join the federal government.
Twelve years later I was terminated for alleged insubordination.
During the two years it took for the appeal of my dismissal to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada I developed a ground-breaking software application.
The Boreal Shell opened the door to consulting contracts in both the public e.g. Indian Affairs, the Ottawa Heart Institute and private sector e.g. Bell Canada Enterprises in Canada and the United States and ventures in Europe.
The government's drawn out rejection of a solution that a client, Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC), and I had worked on for so many years and which would have made life on many reserves, especially remote communities less of a precarious existence, got me thinking about what I wanted to do next; that, 9/11 and serendipity. I abandoned computer consulting and writing computer code to write prose.
Calgary Herald columnist Les Brost warned his readers not to read The Fractured Nation Interviews, my first book, unless they were “prepared to think -- really think -- about tomorrow's Canada”. The Interviews were nominated for The Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
The Interviews brought me face-to-face with the brave new world of post 9/11. A well-established television producer expressed an interest in a mini-series but without the conversation with the Ayatollah (a sample). “I don’t want to open my front door one morning and be confronted by a guy with a bomb” is how I remember him expressing his reluctance.
Muhammad bragged that he had been made victorious with terror (Bukhari 52.220). This would prove more than just an idle boast as the fear induced self-censorship described here gave way to governments censoring and even criminalizing criticism of scriptures which advocate violence as a means to an end; a tacit acknowledgement of the effectiveness of terrorism.
In 2006, I registered the Boreal Books trademark and obtained from Library and Archives Canada the right to issue ISBNs under that name.
It was while I struggled to make it as a writer that I learned that the person largely responsible for my dismissal from the Federal Public Service on bogus insubordination charges had received a substantial bonus on retiring for what Ambassador Chrétien described as taking a bullet for the Department. This travesty was largely the impetus for writing Shooting the Messenger.
Then followed in 2005 the first edition of Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice. Seven years later my wife and I accomplished, to my knowledge, a world first: a layperson's guide to the Koran which contains the entire book.
In 2012, I published Alice Visits a Mosque to Learn about Judgment Day, a one act thought-provoking, often brutal (it could not be otherwise) sometimes funny play/script about an important concept in Islam on which the Koran expounds at length.
In October of 2013, thinking that time was not on my side, I stopped working on Going Swimming Fully Clothed, a comprehensive introduction to Islamic law, to concentrate on a less ambitious manuscript about what Muhammad said and did that informs the decision of Sharia tribunals to this day. In approximately four weeks, I assiduously read 6,275 of the hadiths collected by the celebrated Bukhari, and a few thousand others by lesser luminaries about what the companions of the Prophet, and his child-bride, Aisha, remembered he said and did.
I thought Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice was the most important book you could read about Islam. After completing 1,001 Sayings and Deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, I am not so sure.
Within the house of Islam, the penalty for learning too much about the world—so as to call the tenets of the faith into question—is death.
While the Koran merely describes the punishment that awaits the apostate in the next world, the hadith is emphatic about the justice that must be meted out in this one: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”
Given the fact that [hadiths are] often used as the lens through which to interpret the Koran, many Muslim jurists consider [them] to be even a greater authority on the practice of Islam.
Sam Harris, The End of Faith - Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, 2004, W. W. Norton & Company.
My next book on the Koran explored a surreptitious concept, that of abrogation. The Verse of the Sword which nullifies any pretense to compassion for those who refuse to submit to the Will of Allah is its most momentous violent manifestation.
Of all the incongruities that devotees of a religion steeped in incongruities have to accept, the concept of abrogation has to be the most outlandish. For the rational mind it is inconceivable that a god, in a book in which He lays claim to infallibility, has to retract, annul, abolish, modify… what He said earlier. Welcome to Let Me Rephrase That!
Children and the Koran, a comprehensive argument against exposing children to the hate, violence and brazen sadism of Islam's core religious text, is not my first book devoted to children and scriptures, but it promises to be the most controversial and epoch-making should it reach a large enough audience. I hope it will be received in the spirit it was intended, which is to make our world a more peaceful place and avoid ISIS-like atrocities on a scale not seen since World War II.
In August 2018, afraid to lose my muse before it was finished, I began work in earnest on a book that I had put off for more than ten years. A friend said he had given up on Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice because of all the verses which he felt interfered with the story. He challenged me to write the story of Islam without the interruptions. I thought it impossible. Not anymore!
In a posting on my website, more than a few months after my wife's passing, I wrote that I owed Lucette’s friends an explanation as to why, when I told her that a young African working girl was crashing at my apartment in Montréal, all she said was she would like to meet her. My explanation took on a life of its own and that is how I found myself writing, during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, a book about love, sex and Islam.
I have been asked, on more than a few occasions, why I write about the Koran, and the alleged illiterate tasked with acquainting mankind with its content knowing the consequence of a one wrong word, a typo or a misspelling... let alone a book-length challenge to orthodoxy.
The danger is there, but it is nothing compared to the risk we ask our young people to take when we send them to fight religious extremists like the Islamic State, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda... And, unlike yours truly, they jeopardize lives not yet lived in what many have to know is a forlorn battle because of what is happening at home.
With the new race and religious hate laws coming through [after the London bombings] it could be considered illegal if Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice is deemed an attack on a person’s religious belief.
A publisher expressing his regrets.
Words, the most effective weapon against an advancing darkness are being rationed in a futile attempt to appease an intractable foe who lives, murders and dies as per the instructions contained in an inviolate book whose provenance and error free status is vouched for by the Book. "Epistemological black holes of this sort", writes Sam Harris "are fast draining the light from our world."
The darkness cannot smother the light on its own. It requires our complicity, our collective willful ignorance of what is behind "the draining of the light". I will not be an accomplice, the reason for my books and my postings.
When writing about Islam you are always concerned that you will not get to finish what you started because someone will take exception to what you wrote earlier. Therefore, you tend to rush the next thing you are working on, and that is unfortunate.
If you find any errors – and by errors I mean typos and malapropism, the bane of writers expressing themselves in a language other than their own – after my passing, you can correct them and publish, post them or do with them what you will for I have in my last will and testament instructed my executor to transfer all my published and unpublished material, including cover art, into the public domain. Just give credit where credit is due.
On a sunny October day in 2013, sitting on the front porch of our wonderful, if somewhat dilapidated nearly century-old home, I gave my first lengthy on-camera interview about that old whistleblower's tale of mine.
In the interview, I mention that one of my most treasured accomplishments was getting a hearing before the Supreme Court of Canada. Having said that, should this interview be shown after my passing, please remember that I would much rather be remembered as the man, of the man and wife partnership, who wrote Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice.
To that end, and leaving nothing to chance...
My name is Bernard Payeur. I was born on February 16, 1951.
Shortly after 9/11, I decided to get to know the Koran, the inspiration, it would seem, for what happened that mournful day. It’s not that I was a slow learner, but it turned out to be a ten year odyssey culminating, with my beloved Lucette's indispensable support and assistance, in Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice – The Koran arranged by topic and explained in a way we can all understand.
Those who have read it say it was time well-spent; those who have not, have been less kind.
I hope you will not think me foolish for wanting to explore the document which, to quote Columbia Professor of Humanities Mark Lilla slightly out of context, “inflames the minds of men, stirring up messianic passions that can leave societies in ruin” and letting you know what I found.
If there is a supreme being who wrote a book to mess with our lives, and if Paradise is my final destination, and not that other place, I will attempt to come back with the proof; not the actual Koran, but a reasonable facsimile. I have to assume that the Almighty will not want to part with the original Arabic edition which He keeps close at hand.
43:3-4 We have made it an Arabic Qur’an that perchance you may understand. And, indeed, it is in the Mother of the Book, with Us, lofty and wise.