I would have thought that by now it would be clear to pretty well everyone that racism and bigotry are not positive character traits, certainly not something you’d want to put out on public display. And it seems I would have been wrong about that. A ridiculous number of people – not yet a majority, mind you, but many too many nonetheless – seem more than willing to attend public meetings and demonstrations decrying the threat to their ‘culture’ posed by refugees, immigrants, or just people who look or pray differently than they do. They fill the comment sections of online news services with anger and hate, not to mention Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere and talk radio phone-in shows.
I used to feel pride, when I saw this happening in the U.S., Britain and Europe, that my own country, Canada, seemed largely to be immune. Sure, we had our share of racist idiots, but they mostly didn’t make such a public display of their backwards attitudes. People blamed the housing bubbles in Vancouver and Toronto on Chinese investors, for example, when in fact it likely has as much to do with money laundering closer to home. Still, I thought, Canadians are, if nothing else, polite. We hesitate to put our hate on public display, understanding that, leaving aside everything else that’s wrong with it, it’s rude. Well, no more. This past week in Toronto, one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet, two events showed that even we have little to be proud of in this regard.
First there was the anti-Islamic ‘meeting’ held by the loathsome alt-reich Rebel Media and attended by several hundred prime examples of the failure of public education. Included among the attendees and speakers at this event were four contenders to lead the once-proud Conservative Party of Canada. That the party has not officially condemned the event, and the participation in it of four candidates for its leadership – two of whom are former cabinet ministers – says much about the party’s moral and intellectual decline.
The second event, coming hard on the heels of the first, had a group of white Torontonians picketing a downtown mosque, holding signs demanding an end to Islam and shouting through megaphones that Islam is hate.
When you argue against such people, they try to hide behind noble ideals like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. The irony that they would like to deny these freedoms to others is lost on them. An Ontario MP recently introduced a motion in parliament asking its members to condemn all forms of racial and religious discrimination, including Islamaphobia – and that word has set off a fire storm of ugliness, of which the two Toronto events are merely examples. Ironically, these people who feel their heritage threatened by the word ‘islamaphobia’ are the same ones who find it objectionable when others don’t preface ‘terrorist’ with ‘Islamic’ or ‘jihadist’ – why can’t you say that? they insist. Why indeed.
No doubt the people who attended these events – and those who parade their small mindedness in other forums – have been inspired by the mainstreaming of the alt-reich movement in America and Europe. That the movement represents ideals so loathsome we fought a major war over them in the mid-20th century seems a not to matter to these people. They feel their dermic pallor to be threatened, and so want everyone who does not share their affliction to leave.
I will never understand what makes such people feel so threatened. That one person believes in a different version of ‘god’ than you; that they dress differently; that their skin is a different hue – how does this affect you? Does it invalidate your belief in your version of a god that someone else doesn’t share it? Do you feel self-conscious in your ball cap just because someone else wears a hijab? And what the serious fuck is up with caring what colour anyone’s skin is? If white is so damned good, why do so many people go to tanning salons (including that walking Cheeto the Americans elected president)?
Maybe I’m naive. Maybe my conservative father brought me up wrong, when he taught it was wrong to judge people on the basis of their skin colour, or being an immigrant, or believing something different from me; that the important thing was their character. (My father, who ran for office with Diefenbaker, was a great admirer of Martin Luther King, as you may have guessed.) Maybe I am wrong about Canada, and about the importance of diversity. Maybe. But I don’t think so.