Jagmeet Singh should ask, ‘What would Thomas D’Arcy McGee do?’ – Macleans.ca

Good piece by Geddes:

I asked University of Toronto history professor David Wilson, author of a landmark two-volume Thomas D’Arcy McGee biography, what the story of the most famous Irish Catholic in Canadian politics in the mid-19th century might tell us about the challenges facing a Sikh in Canadian politics today. In fact, Wilson had already alluded to the parallel in his writing. He told me McGee would differ with Singh on major points—starting with McGee’s insistence, in the House that day in 1867, that no respectable politician should show up at a meeting where violent radicals are lionized on banners and portraits.

Wilson says McGee would scoff at Singh’s stance that it can be productive to share stages with those who advocate violence. “McGee’s position was unequivocally that you should have no truck or trade with such people,” Wilson says. “In fact, any kind of ambivalence, any sense that they were motivated by good intentions, had to be really beaten down. You had to draw a clear line. He was quite happy to polarize the [Irish Catholic] group, because he believed that polarization would isolate and marginalize the revolutionaries.”

Still, McGee’s perspective wouldn’t be congenial to hard-liners today who insist immigrants should somehow stop worrying about what’s going on in their home countries and just be Canadian. On the last day of his life, Wilson says, McGee wrote letters about Irish poetry, and about how Canada’s way of accomodating ethic and religious differences might serve as a model for Ireland. “So, yes, he cared deeply deeply and passionately about Ireland,” Wilson says.

On how immigrants should become Canadian, McGee’s views seem to have been far ahead of his time. Wilson says he didn’t think there was any definitive Canadian identity newcomers needed to take on. “He thought it was completely unrealistic to have an a priori definition of what it was to be Canadian,” Wilson says. “Instead, he saw it as a continuous work in progress, in which different ethnic groups—of course, he’s talking about Irish and Scots and French and English—will bring what he hopes will be the best of their cultures.”

And leave behind the worst. For McGee, the worst of Ireland was embodied by the Fenians. His outspoken opposition to them came, of course, at the ultimate cost: he was assassinated by a shot to the back of the head on April 7, 1868, in Ottawa. A Fenian sympathizer was later convicted of the murder and hanged. In the opening chapter of his engrossing McGee biography, Wilson mentions just two other victims of assassination in Canadian history: Pierre Laporte, murdered by the FLQ in 1970’s October Crisis, and Tara Singh Hayer, a Surrey, B.C., newspaper publisher killed in 1998, after years of speaking out against Sikh separatist violence.

via Jagmeet Singh should ask, ‘What would Thomas D’Arcy McGee do?’ – Macleans.ca

And by Arshy Mann:

His initial unwillingness to call out Talwinder Singh Parmar, the founder of a Sikh extremist organization, as the architect of the Air India bombing has now morphed into a lawyerly response: he accepts the findings of the Air India inquiry, which found that Parmar—who was killed by Punjab police in 1992, and continues to be the subject of conspiracy theories that claim he was in fact an Indian agent—was behind the attack. And when asked whether violence is justified in the name of Sikh liberation, Singh equivocates, stating that these sorts of questions are complex when a religious minority is being systematically murdered by the state.

He’s right—these are complicated issues that can’t be adequately answered in a sound bite. But if Singh wants to be able to go back to talking about pharmacare and taxes and pipelines, he’s going to have to find a way to articulate the pain of the victims of violence perpetrated by Sikhs—or risk his leadership being overrun by the politics of the 1980s.

In some ways, it’s not fair to put the burden of decades of bloody history upon Singh’s shoulders. It’s not his responsibility to condemn every Sikh who has committed an atrocity in the name of the faith. But along with being the leader of the federal NDP, Singh is also the highest-profile Sikh politician outside of India. That, combined with his history of activism on Sikh issues, means these are not questions he has the privilege of dodging.

When he talks about the violence that Sikhs have had perpetrated against them with such passion, and then becomes elusive and defensive when Khalistani violence is raised, it makes it appear that he only cares about the former.

That might be acceptable for a Sikh activist trying to bring greater attention to some of the atrocities that have been done to Sikhs. But a federal leader who is looking to represent the whole country has to do more.

Many Sikhs, including myself, are thankful that he talks about the painful history so many families have endured. Those stories are too rarely told.

But the trauma of those years extends beyond just the Sikh community. It’s time for Singh to talk about them too.

Source: Opinion Jagmeet Singh’s Khalistan problem: The NDP leader talks passionately about anti-Sikh violence—but becomes elusive on the topic of Khalistani violence.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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