The Rohingya might be one step closer to justice

Interesting column by Erna Paris:

Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country, took an unprecedented step this week. To everyone’s surprise, it opened a lawsuit against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague – the tribunal that adjudicates disputes among states – accusing Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims.

Gambia is operating within the larger auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, but as is often the case, the impetus came from one individual. Abubacarr M. Tambadou, Gambia’s justice minister, visited a Rohingya refugee camp where he saw a parallel with the violent past of his own country. Importantly, he had been a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the 1990s and recognized genocide when he saw it. That court was the first to convict an individual of ordering mass rape as a tool of war. Significantly, the Myanmar perpetrators have also been accused of this crime.

Although they had lived in Burma/Myanmar for centuries, the Rohingya were incrementally dispossessed of their rights by the Buddhist majority and an authoritarian regime. Eventually, in 1982, they were deprived of full citizenship. In August, 2017, some Rohingya pushed back, giving the military an excuse to force them from the country. It is estimated that the military and their Buddhist allies killed at least 60,000 people and committed sexual violence against 18,000 women. Today, most of the survivors are in Bangladesh refugee camps, but Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on earth and is complaining about the burden. Something had to give.

One remedy may be international justice. Push back against those who believe they can commit major crimes with impunity.

It’s not as though the world hadn’t noticed their plight. Rights groups have expressed outrage. In 2017, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian leader, to respond appropriately. (She didn’t.) The parliaments of several countries, including Canada, have called the situation a genocide. In 2018, an independent United Nations fact-finding mission concluded that Myanmar’s military acted with “genocidal intent” and recommended that six individuals be prosecuted. Reports of risk assessment have concluded that genocide remains a risk for those Rohingya who remain in Myanmar. But if too little happened until Gambia decided to act, it is because reality – and realpolitik – got in the way.

First, reality. Last year, a ruling from the International Criminal Court said that tribunal could investigate the case of Myanmar – but in a limited way only. The problem was the court’s statutory jurisdiction: Myanmar is not an ICC member country. Bangladesh, however, is a member, which makes it possible for the tribunal to investigate the cross-border ethnic expulsions as a crime against humanity. Not perfect, but a start.

Second, realpolitik. Had the UN Security Council decided to refer the Myanmar case to the ICC for investigation, the tribunal would, according to its statute, have had full jurisdiction. China and Russia did not prevent a Security Council briefing on the UN inquiry accusing Myanmar’s military of genocide, but their subsequent obstruction meant no referral. Still in the realm of realpolitik, there might have been pressure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but Myanmar is a member of that organization, complicating matters. So, although it can prosecute only states, not individuals, the ICJ looked like the best route.

Support from other countries will be critical and Canada is already engaged. Along with the European Union, this country has imposed sanctions on individuals linked to the military operations of August, 2017, and has since stepped up its involvement. The legal case will need funding; the refugees need more help, as does Bangladesh; and Canada is well positioned to intervene in the case, should it decide to do so.

Given worries over diminishing respect for international institutions and the rules-based global order, it is important that the world’s liberal democracies buttress the case against Myanmar. There is already encouraging momentum. In the aftermath of the Gambia lawsuit, Rohingya and Latin American human-rights groups opened litigation in Argentina under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” a legal concept based on the premise that horrific crimes, such as genocide, can be tried anywhere.

The Gambia case has rightly revived the doctrine called “The Responsibility to Protect”. To demand accountability for the world’s worst crimes is in everyone’s self-interest.

Source: The Rohingya might be one step closer to justice Erna Paris

Jacques Chirac’s courage: Acknowledging France’s role in the Holocaust

Good reminder by Erna Paris:

“The criminal madness of the [Nazi] occupier was seconded by the French, by the French state. Those black hours soiled our history forever. … France … committed the irreparable.”

These words were spoken by French president Jacques Chirac on July 16, 1995, and in the days since his death, he deserves credit for moral courage. The occasion was the anniversary of the infamous Vélodrome d’Hiver roundups of Parisian Jews on July 16 and 17, 1942, when French police incarcerated more than 13,000 Jewish men, women and children in a sports stadium on orders of the occupying Nazis. Before the war ended, 76,000 Jews had been deported to Nazi concentration camps with French collaboration. Only about 3,000 returned.

Everyone understood the significance of Mr. Chirac’s words. He said France was responsible. In speaking from the highest office, he exploded the postwar myth that the terrors committed on French soil were uniquely the work of the occupying Nazis and their collaborationist henchmen in Vichy and had nothing to do with the true France, which had resided in London with the government-in-exile of General Charles de Gaulle from 1940 until 1944 while aided at home by the French Resistance. In effect, Mr. Chirac had shattered the half-century-long taboo against an official acknowledgment of the truth.

The birth and demise of France’s long-standing fairy tale remains instructive, for all nations fashion a historical narrative of who they are and were, especially after times of crisis, and their stories ordinarily retain their power until overwhelmed by undeniable evidence. In the latter category, the following was fact: From May, 1940, France was occupied by the Nazis and governed at Vichy by General Philippe Pétain, a hero of the First World War. Pétain was adored by a majority of the French, and the collaboration of his government with the Nazis, including police actions against Jews, was broadly accepted as national protection. Yes, there was resistance. As historians later verified, about 1 per cent of the population participated in military-style resistance networks, just as about 1 per cent willingly participated in the collaboration by marching around in real or virtual jack boots helping the Nazis carry out atrocities. As for the rest of the population, they made small gestures in either direction or sat on the proverbial fence waiting to see which way the wind would blow.

Gen. de Gaulle created the myth of an all-encompassing resistance to the Nazis because he believed a shared narrative of winning the war would promote peace among his divided countrymen. On June 14, 1944, the day he landed at Bayeux, he identified himself and his resistance with “France” and with the “final victory of the Allies.” Only a tiny handful of traitors had sold out to the enemy. These would be duly tried and excised from the collective.

The die was cast, but still the story sat uneasily, for untold numbers of known upper- and lower-level collaborators had moved into positions of prominence in the postwar era. On the other hand, everyone won, including the collaborators who now said they had been playing a “double game” and had in reality been resisting.

Unsurprisingly, the first accurate history of the Vichy era did not appear until 1972 and was written by a foreigner, U.S. historian Robert Paxton. A second groundbreaking book, Vichy France and the Jews, followed in 1981, also written by Mr. Paxton, with a colleague, Canadian historian Michael Marrus. Notably, both works caused scandal and recriminations that eventually set in motion a train of trials, starting with the Nazi Klaus Barbie, in 1987, culminating with the Vichy-era French bureaucrat, Maurice Papon, in 1998, and underscored in 1995 with the first official statement by a French president on the subject of France’s complicity in the Holocaust.

Because timing and perceived sincerity matter, Mr. Chirac’s formal acknowledgment of his country’s mythologized history was a standout moment in the life of postwar France. Fifty years later, his sorrowful, truthful evocation would help his countrymen recalibrate long-time historical distortions and face their nation’s history, however painful.

Trapped inside a contemporary world of lesser moral clarity, we may admire Mr. Chirac’s principled act.

Erna Paris: The MMIWG report was searing and important, marred only by its inaccurate genocide charge

Erna Paris on why the word matters:

Watching the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls present its final report to federal government officials in Gatineau, Que., earlier this week was a searing experience. The ceremony helped to restore respect and dignity to the more than 1,000 murdered women whose lives were taken by perpetrators who preyed upon their vulnerability.

Many of the Inquiry’s hundreds of recommendations regarding the safety of Indigenous women and girls look like useful proposals, such as a possible shift to Indigenous-specific sentencing options, improvements to the restraining-order system for violent partners and inclusive police work. The Canadian government has vowed to move on the file.

For much of my professional life, I have explored the origins of racism, the retrieval of national historical memory after strategically forgotten crimes against humanity, the role of courtroom justice in bringing accountability to the victims of the worst crimes known to humankind and the importance of simple acknowledgement to the reconciliation process.

In doing so I have learned the importance of factual precision regarding criminal accusations, and in this respect, I believe the commissioners’ otherwise excellent report was marred by the gratuitous charge that Canada has committed, and continues to commit, genocide against its Indigenous populations. Not cultural genocide, a concept that is broadly accepted today with reference to the attempted obliteration of aboriginal culture in the Indian Residential Schools, but all-out genocide – without qualification.

In its report the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has conflated the recent murders of women and girls with the entirety of the Indigenous experience in Canada, past and present, then framed its conclusions under the powerful rubric of genocide, for which both past and present federal governments are held directly responsible.

But these extrapolations are overly broad. The men who killed Indigenous women were not génocidaires set on destroying a group. They were commonplace domestic criminals – murderers and predators who ought not to have been elevated to fit a paradigm.

We forget, at our peril, that genocide is a legal term, not a societal term. It is the worst crime in the lexicon of international law, the apex of “crimes against humanity,” the most powerful criminal designation ever codified. Genocide is a crime whose proper referent is the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) of 1948, and its most important characteristic is intent: “The deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group.” Genocide, as opposed to cultural genocide, is the planned extermination of peoples. It is not, as asserted by the Inquiry, “the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report.” Genocide (like all crimes) is an act. To lose sight of this fact is to jeopardize the usefulness of one of the most important tools of international criminal law.

In recent years, the abuse of the word genocide has become almost commonplace, almost like a Twitter hashtag, an epithet and, in some places, a propaganda tool. State-controlled television in Russia is a prime (though not unique) illustration; for example, in 2017 both Ukraine and Latvia were accused of planning a “genocide” of minority Russian speakers. One is reminded of Lewis Carroll’s sly observation: “’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said…, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’”

The Inquiry’s conclusion that Canada is a genocidal state lines up with the distortion of language characterizing much of contemporary political discourse. It may also be an assertion of power, à la Lewis Carroll. In the era of Donald Trump, where insult is normalized, where journalists are characterized as “enemies of the people” and where Canada’s negotiable trade demands are improbably described as a “national security issue,” shock-and-awe language may be seen as a way of propelling one’s words above the din.

That this may be true is suggested by the surprising fact that although “genocide” was he framing concept of the report, many of its defenders have subsequently downplayed its import.

But words do matter. They matter because they have commonly agreed-to referents and because once they are stripped of these through misuse, we are in Humpty-Dumpty land.

I know from experience that the victims of violence and state-sponsored harm burn with the humiliation of generations, that reconciliation is a difficult, incremental process that sometimes looks out of reach and that it is dependent upon mutual respect. In this regard, the Inquiry’s report contains important lessons about the need for empathy for those who continue to suffer and for vigilance in opposing stereotyping and racism.

It is my personal observation that non-Indigenous Canadians have been sensitized to Indigenous history in recent years, and that many champion a vision of reconciliation. Whether we get there or not will naturally depend on government action. But it will also depend on the tenor of our shared public discourse.

Source: Opinion The MMIWG report was searing and important, marred only by its inaccurate genocide charge

After Israel’s election, the country is on a dangerous political path: Erna Paris

Good thoughtful commentary. Should Netanyahu follow on his election commitments regarding annexation, will certainly make it harder to argue against BDS:

In her final work, The March of Folly, the late historian Barbara Tuchman defined her subject as “the pursuit of policy contrary to public interest.” Her criteria for folly were threefold: An alternative course of action was available; the actions were endorsed by a group, not just by a particular leader; and the actions were perceived as counterproductive in their own time.

Among Ms. Tuchman’s far-ranging examples were the Trojan Horse and the American war in Vietnam. Were she alive today, she might have included the increasingly dangerous trajectory of Israeli politics.

Following the country’s election this week, Israel, the United States and the Jewish diaspora have arrived at a historical juncture. Although Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, tied in terms of seats, the former may well govern at the will of a coalition whose ethno-nationalist policies threaten the democratic nature of the country and promise to destroy even the rhetoric of a peace process.

The new entity includes Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), an offspring of Kach, the party of the late Meir Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel in 1994 for inciting racism, and designated a terrorist organization in both the United States and Canada. Jewish Power advocates the annexation of the occupied West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to its 2.8 million Palestinian residents, a move that would create a state like South Africa under apartheid. The party also promotes the deportation of “Arab extremists,” dependent upon an undefined “loyalty test.”

In catapulting Jewish Power to centre stage and becoming beholden to its politics, Mr. Netanyahu may have overstepped and altered the political status quo. There would be consequences to radical illiberal legislation. First, the anger of the Palestinians and the larger Arab world, with inevitable security implications. Second, the annexation of millions of West Bank Palestinians would transform Israel into a binational state, threatening both its democratic and Jewish character. Third, the hitherto tight support of diaspora Jews for the State of Israel could fracture – a process that started weeks ago when news of Mr. Netanyahu’s alignment with far-right extremism became known.

The relationship of diaspora Jews to the State of Israel is complex and quasi-religious in nature. Based on ancient biblical yearnings coupled with the emergence of political Zionism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the desire for a safe homeland peaked in the wake of the Holocaust and was celebrated with the creation of the state. Seventy subsequent years of war and failed peacemaking with Arabs who also claim rights to the region have incrementally toughened the minds of Israelis and many of their supporters in the diaspora, especially during the long swing to the right under the governance of Mr. Netanyahu. But the radical views of Jewish Power may be a historic dividing line, for they are widely seen to betray the ancient core values of Judaism itself: deeply ingrained ethical imperatives, held by the religious and secular alike, such as Tikkun Olam – the biblical mandate to make the world a better place.

Such values also underpin liberal democracies such as the United States, and there are signs of fracture. A Muslim member of Congress, a Democrat, caused an unprecedented ruckus by questioning unwavering American support for Israel. Harder to impugn was the unique criticism emanating from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which called Jewish Power “racist and reprehensible.” Stigmatizing Israeli Arabs is “immoral,” the influential U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League added. Rabbis in both the United States and Canada also weighed in.

But other considerations may be riskier still for the long-term diaspora-Israel relationship. The majority of American Jews vote Democrat, but contemporary Israelis admire U.S. President Donald Trump. There’s a chasm of values in that equation. Jewish Power has also opened a consequential political wedge: Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders openly wished for Mr. Netanyahu’s defeat without being vilified. Add in the further perils of demography, for as the memory of the Holocaust recedes, along with the fervent nationalism born of the 1967 war, younger Jews around the world are statistically less attached to Israel than their elders.

Diaspora Jews cannot vote in Israeli elections, but Israel is a U.S. client state, and a shift in Jewish support will matter. Paradoxically, should Mr. Netanyahu cross a perceived moral line, principled resistance from the diaspora may help prevent Israel, the beloved country, from pursuing its perilous march to folly.

What has Germany really learned – and remembered – from Kristallnacht?

Good commentary with the lingering questions “What have we learned from the Shoah?”:

Last week, Germany memorialized the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – “the night of broken glass” – during which 1,400 synagogues and innumerable Jewish businesses throughout the country were vandalized. There were dozens of killings on that day, Nov. 9, 1938. At least 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

It was the visible unravelling of the old as a violent new social order was born, yet the savagery had not emerged from a void, as many have since argued. For almost a century, anti-Semitic speech had been increasingly normalized in public discourse. The brutality of Kristallnacht was an unsurprising outcome once a leader able to channel hatred arrived on the scene.

As the 2018 memorial date approached, the German government banned a planned protest march by far-right groups. This was a risky move in a liberal democracy, but necessary, according to Thomas Lutz, who heads the Memorial Museums Department of the Topography of Terror Foundation in Berlin. Mr. Lutz told me he encouraged the authorities to take preventative action. He belongs to the postwar generations who have made moral responsibility and Holocaust education their life’s work – a group that is being tested as never before. The radical Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is a serious threat to the German liberal consensus. Having entered the political mainstream in 2017, its leaders are hostile to foreigners and to Holocaust memorialization in the name of resurgent ethnic nationalism.

Two political streams are emerging where, until recently, there was only one. The AfD is increasing its support, but last week the older ethos was also visible when a 94-year-old former SS guard went on trial for crimes committed in Poland. “Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi war crimes even today,” the prosecutor said. “This is a legal and moral question.”

No country has made greater efforts to atone for Second World War crimes than Germany, the perpetrator state. Since the 1970s, schoolchildren have learned about the Holocaust through history classes and mandatory visits to concentration camps. Museums such as Mr. Lutz’s superb Topography of Terror, which details the Nazi regime in words and pictures, have been erected. Small and large memorials pepper Berlin, including the massive and unsettling Holocaust Memorial near the famous Brandenburg Gate.

On the other hand, the former East Germany did not parallel this education. According to Communist ideology, there were no war criminals east of the Wall: they all lived in the West; a fiction that blocked acknowledgement and reflection. At reunification in 1990, the two cultures were largely strangers, and in the subsequent years, the promise of measurable gain has not materialized in much of the East. One can plot the growth of animosity. Simmering resentments soared in 2015 when Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed a million poorly vetted refugees into the country. Postwar taboos against racist speech loosened, possibly liberated by trash talk from the new U.S. President. Permission to spout hatred almost always radiates from the top.

On the anniversary last week, Ms. Merkel delivered a powerful address in a reconstructed synagogue in Berlin. She decried the “worrying” rise of anti-Semitism in her country. She called for the safeguarding of protective institutions and the liberal values that underpin them. And she asked the seminal question we once thought we had answers to, but has since become ambiguous: “What did we really learn from the Shoah, this rupture of civilization?”

“Democracy is complicated,” she said. “It relies on balance between majority and minority, on the division of powers.” Then she addressed an evident truth: Those who felt left behind were looking for simple, not complicated, answers – and they were finding them among racist nationalists.

Given its 20th-century history, the revival of right-wing German nationalism is a fearful prospect – not least to Germans themselves. Yet as important as it is to march in the streets, simple confrontation is not an effective strategy. New research suggests that cultural memory has a shelf life of 70 to 80 years – exactly the time that has elapsed since the Holocaust. Better solutions to the economic problems and social resentments of those who feel outstripped must be reimagined.

Angela Merkel is Europe’s wisest leader, but she has been fatally weakened by the political rise of the extreme right in both parts of her country. In her forthcoming absence, others must defend the democratic values she embodies and with which she has served her country.

Her question, “What have we learned from the Shoah?” hangs in the air.

Source: What has Germany really learned – and remembered – from Kristallnacht?

What happened to respectful debate in Canada? Erna Paris

Great commentary by Erna Paris, notably regarding the Writers Union of Canada and the more recent Dalhousie controversies:

Will Trumpism come to Canada? When asked over the past year, I’ve said no. Canadian respect for diversity, an economy that has stayed afloat and our reputed politeness have made such an evolution improbable – at least in the near term.

That’s still true, but we’re seeing ground-level challenges.

Yes, Ezra Levant’s hateful website, The Rebel, fell into disrepute after its coverage of the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August. Yes, the federal NDP has elected a Sikh man as its leader. And yes, the recent outing of men with a history of predation may actually kick-start change to the oldest status quo in history: the demeaning of uppity women who think they’re equal.

But, starting with the kerfuffle at The Writers’ Union of Canada last May, there have been troubling signs – not because the concerns being raised are inappropriate, but because of the way they’re being handled.

In an issue devoted to Indigenous writing, the editor of the house magazine, Write, said provocatively that he believed in cultural appropriation. Writers must be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities, he explained, before flippantly calling for an “appropriation prize.”

Those of us who hope to build a new relationship with First Nations peoples recoiled at his insensitivity, but the brouhaha that followed, including his immediate firing and a public apology on the part of the union erased his central point: that it is the work of writers to imagine and interpret the world.

This used to be self-evident. Was E.M. Forster appropriating Indian culture when he wrote A Passage to India? Did this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Kazuo Ishiguro, appropriate British culture in The Remains of the Day because he happened to be born in Japan? Was I wrong to circle the globe to write Long Shadows, a comparative look at how different cultures re-imagine their history after times of crisis? Limitless vision used to be the hallmark of good writing. If this is now being contested, the editor’s remarks ought to have triggered a serious public discussion about the nature of writing itself. This didn’t happen. The Writers’ Union correctly took action, but it simultaneously curtailed the conversation.

Another distracting development has been the self-serving effort to redefine common words, such as the term “racist.” According to a teenager of my acquaintance, some Ontario teachers are using the word to apply uniquely to those who are presumed to hold power, meaning that only white people can exhibit the flaw. It has been a near-universal understanding that anyone, regardless of skin colour, can harbour hatred and hold racist views. How will children learn to think with nuance about difficult questions if their teachers eschew history, context and moral complexity?

Last month, another indication of the emerging zeitgeist took place at Dalhousie University when its student union condemned Canada 150 celebrations because of the country’s exploitative history with Indigenous people. After a student launched an obscenity-laden tweet in support, engendering a complaint, the university decided to investigate, but withdrew when mounting anger seemed to preclude a mediated solution.

There was much that was disturbing about the Dalhousie affair. The student motion was certainly open to debate, but the tweet was not. It was, on the contrary, an attempt to silence speech in the name of free speech. The second problem was the capitulation of authority when faced with intimidation. The retreat of the university leadership sent a message that balanced discourse on a sensitive matter would not be possible, leaving everyone without recourse. The third concern was gross incivility in the public sphere. How many will risk engaging publicly if their interlocutors are more likely to hurl insults rather than debate the issue?

Because Canada is a diverse society largely sustained by historical compromise and the goodwill of its citizens, it will always be a fragile place, one that needs vigilant oversight. We must accept the anger that has been released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and listen with respect to unpleasant truths. We must also have a respectful national debate on the complex historical issues being brought to light. At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the larger picture – the flawed beneficent country that sustains us.

via What happened to respectful debate in Canada? – The Globe and Mail

When words become weapons, repression follows: Paris

Good column by Erna Paris – words matter:

It appears we can become accustomed to anything, provided it’s repeated often enough. What may have appalled us last year, or the year before, eventually loses its edge and is rendered normal. Think of the way highway speeding ratchets up as drivers accelerate to maintain the faster flow of traffic.

Something similar happens with language. Words accelerate. Without thoughtful restraint, they are like speeding cars, prone to accident.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, there existed a tacit consensus in Western pluralist societies that generalizations about race and religion might be destructive to the public good: the living memory of 20th-century atrocities largely sufficed to keep the most extreme animosities in check. These unspoken taboos were frequently breached, but racist speech was ordinarily frowned upon and usually did not sink deep roots. When the protective umbrella of taboo failed, as in the former Yugoslavia after the death of Josip Tito, for example, predictable violence ensued. Words matter, especially when they emanate from people in high places.

Since 9/11 and the advent of “the war on terror,” open, or dog-whistle, anti-Muslim rhetoric has increased exponentially as taboos have loosened. In the immediate aftermath, governments in Russia, China and elsewhere were happy to label their troublesome minorities “terrorists,” thus whitewashing repression. It became common to hear insinuating generalizations about Muslims.

Just last month, Statistics Canada reported that hate crimes against Muslims rose 60 per cent in 2015, alone. This is not surprising. That year encompassed Stephen Harper’s niqab and “barbaric cultural practices” initiatives. It was also the year of the failed Quebec Charter of Values that directly targeted Muslims.

With his darkly nativist rhetoric, U.S. President Donald Trump has upped the ante. He need not attack directly; in order to communicate his discriminatory message, he need only exact a travel ban on people from six predominately Muslim countries, or make atavistic speeches about the decline of Western civilization, as he recently did in Poland. We don’t yet know where his unfettered rhetoric will lead. What we do know is that he has opened Pandora’s Box – the place where we have historically guarded our protective taboos. From his White House perch, he has liberated people who used to keep their prejudices to themselves, if only for fear of social reprobation.

Citizens in liberal democracies expect their leaders to wield power responsibly and – excepting the rhetorical opportunism of Mr. Harper and others, such as Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch – Canadians in high places usually do. That’s why it was particularly troubling to see Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard fall into a trap last month when he said, with regard to a terrorist act perpetrated by a Quebecois: “Unfortunately, you cannot disconnect this type of event – terrorism – from Islam in general.” Since Mr. Couillard is said to be a history buff, it is odd that he did not understand the import of language that conflated the entirety of Islam with the acts of a few. Wouldn’t he have known that the biblical texts of all three Mosaic religions contain writings in support of both war and peace, depending on one’s preference? It is not a defence of violence to note that, across history, all three religions have traversed periods of extremism, such as the Spanish Inquisition (Christianity) and, more recently, the fanatic Jewish settlers in Israel’s Occupied Territories whose religious claims to the land eschew the rights of others.

Mr. Couillard claimed to be echoing a speech made by French President Emmanuel Macron, but the situation in France is not comparable. France has miles to go before there is trust enough to enable co-operation between its Muslim population and the country’s political leadership, while in Canada, mutual co-operation already exists to a high degree. When Mr. Couillard held Islam and the Muslim community responsible for the acts of some of its members, he accelerated the traffic on the rhetorical highway, encouraging bigotry.

My husband, Tom, likes to rail about the damage that’s been done across time by the little word “all” – as in “all Muslims are ‘X’” or “all Jews are ‘Y.’” He’s right; words are not innocent. We are each responsible for maintaining the civility of public discourse, but people in positions of leadership hold a special trust. They set the rhetorical standard. And they must be held accountable.

Source: When words become weapons, repression follows – The Globe and Mail

Countries that forget history become easy prey for demagogues – The Globe and Mail

I agree with Paris’s assertion of the need for greater emphasis on critical thinking skills, incorporated into school curriculums, and it is alarming that Ontario is considering ending its mandatory grade 10 civics course (Civics classes may disappear in Ontario. That’s a mistake. – Maclean’s) – Correction Ontario’s education minister subsequently announced no plans to do so.

However, I am not sure that the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship have the needed reach to make much of a difference.

The liberal triumphalism of the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union may partly account for our inattention, but there may be a more pertinent cause. Few in the world today were reasoning adults when the Second World War ended in 1945. We matured in the postwar era, as the international community created a multitude of protective institutions such as the United Nations. Hope underscored the trials of war criminals in Nuremberg and Tokyo, the birth of the International Criminal Court and the creation of the European Union.

The postwar liberal order was a rational global response to the events of the early 20th century. And if we assumed the 70-year status quo would endure, it is because we collectively forgot that irrationality is a core human attribute. In addition, few among us were trained to recognize warning signs. In Canada, the study of contemporary world history has not been mandatory on most high school curricula, a lacuna that has lessened our aptitude for awareness.

Which brings me back to Tom Lehrer and his pithy advice. Be prepared.

Economic well-being is a central indicator of social peace, and since Canada’s economy is dep-endent on trade with the United States, the government of Justin Trudeau has wisely attempted to position itself with the incoming administration in positive ways. The Prime Minister also shuffled his cabinet for similar reasons.

But there are other ways to be vigilant. It is worrisome that Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch opportunistically admires Mr. Trump and thinks his “exciting message” needs to be delivered in Canada. Stephen Harper thankfully failed to ins-pire voters with his anti-Muslim provocations, but the Conservatives haven’t yet chosen their new leader, and those tea leaves, with their capacity to threaten our core acceptance of multiculturalism – the driver of Canadian social peace – remain unread.

As for long-term preparations, I hope ministries of education across Canada will create mandatory courses in critical thinking and human rights studies at the secondary level, possibly assembling elements of current social studies and history programs with a new focus. Such courses should have both historical and contemporary content. Young Canadians need to understand how, and why, pluralist societies have failed in the past in order to be vigilant about preserving their own. As “fake news” threatens the media, young people will need the tools of critical thinking in order to differentiate sources of credible information from propaganda.

Organizations such as the Global Centre for Pluralism, based in Ottawa, might consider making public preparedness for what lies ahead a priority. So might the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, an entity dedicated to the basic principles of belonging and diversity.

Without these defences, we will become easy prey for demagogues. An unpredictable historical juncture is upon us, and we must pay attention.

Source: Countries that forget history become easy prey for demagogues – The Globe and Mail

Fragility and discontent: We can only hope history isn’t repeating itself: Erna Paris

Erna Paris on the need to be vigilant:

We, too, are vulnerable. According to a recent report in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, there are approximately 100 hate groups operating in Canada, slightly more per capita than in the United States.

And since we are inherently no more immune to the blandishments of hatred than others, there has also been an uptick of racist incidents here: alt-right posters urging white Canadians to reject multiculturalism; racial insults on a crowded streetcar; the defacing of religious institutions; female politicians targeted by misogynistic attacks; political hopefuls playing the identity card.

The next year will set the tone for the Trump presidency. Should potential social disruption in the United States spill over our border, I believe our commitment to multiculturalism as a core value will provide protection, but we must be vigilant.

We must avoid normalizing discriminatory speech and behaviour, and in this the teaching profession can play an important role. And Canadian leaders must speak out early, and loudly, and use the full force of the law to prosecute hate crimes. As citizens we must protest any assault on the peaceful fabric of Canadian society.

With the election of Mr. Trump, the United States will face an unprecedented test of its inclusive values.

Americans will need to be ultra-vigilant. And so will we.

Source: Fragility and discontent: We can only hope history isn’t repeating itself – The Globe and Mail

Canadians must never take multiculturalism for granted: Erna Paris 

Erna Paris notes the integration basis of multiculturalism in Canada and how multiculturalism has become part of Canadian identity, but warns that Canada is not immune to the apparent trend to xenophobia:

When Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced his multiculturalism initiative on Oct. 8, 1971, he faced no opposition in the House of Commons. Politicians were not about to vote against a policy that sought to combat discrimination. All the same, his proposal felt symbolic, even cringe-worthy. Canada would formally respect the diversity of its citizens’ languages, religions and cultures, but didn’t we already do that unofficially? And were we really supposed to don national garb and sing and dance for one another? Furthermore, the new strategy had transparent political ends. One year earlier, the Quebec politician Pierre Laporte had been assassinated by the Front de libération du Quebec – the day after the government had implemented its controversial War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties. So, yes, the crisis in Quebec needed to be addressed; and, yes, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism had recently made important recommendations to combat nationalism. But what about the rest of us, other cultural groups wanted to know? The multicultural policy was the Trudeau government’s response to their concerns.

Then something unexpected happened. Over the next decades, official multiculturalism evolved into an ingrained collective value. Incrementally, Canadians began to define themselves as citizens of a multiethnic, multireligious society.

This represented major change, for we didn’t always treat one another well. Before the Second World War, immigrants from outside Britain were rejected as “inassimilable,” leaving Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and other cultural groups already in Canada unnerved and at risk. Eminent academics wrote off non-white immigration as “impossible.” Mr. Trudeau’s single most important statement as he introduced his new policy may have been that no singular culture could, or would, define Canada.

There’s yet another explanation for the values shift: The underlying ideology of Canadian multiculturalism rejects a push to assimilation in favour of integration. Throughout modern history, societies that have insisted on the total assimilation of minorities have found themselves in trouble, for coercive assimilation demands what is humanly impossible. We cannot change our inner selves.

On the political side, the progressive face of the new policy became visible in 1975, when Canada admitted more than 5,000 Vietnamese refugees. In 1979 and 1980, 50,000 more from the region were admitted, many sponsored by ordinary Canadians who remembered the St. Louis, the ship filled with Jewish escapees from Nazi Germany that was turned back in 1939. In 1982, multiculturalism was written into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally ratified the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.

But there’s also a darker side. Although a multicultural identity may shelter us from the xenophobia emerging elsewhere in the world, we are as susceptible as any to its provocative appeal. In the final days before last fall’s election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper opportunistically unleashed the ever-present demons of bigotry by creating a snitch line to report “barbaric cultural practices.” Although assaults on Muslims ensued in the immediate aftermath, Mr. Harper had strong public support, testimony to the powerful attraction of intolerance when the call derives from the top.

“It is possible that man’s major problems will never be resolved,” George Orwell wrote in 1944. Sadly, he may be right, which is why the protection afforded us by our national commitment to multiculturalism must be defended by responsible leaders and nurtured by ourselves.

Source: Canadians must never take multiculturalism for granted – The Globe and Mail