What's a bigger problem than Gaza?
But really, verbal support for Israel in its war on Hamas is mere symbolism. It's important, because what our country says about Israel and Hamas is a reflection of who we are -- what we think of democracy, and violence, and our own moral code on everything from a nation's right to self-defence to the war on terror.
But, at the end of the day, Harper and Ignatieff are simply uttering words. The worst that they'll have to face are some disgruntled Muslim radicals in Canada, like the bigoted Canadian Islamic Congress. So what. And, given that Harper and Ignatieff are rhetorically the same, one would think the politics of the matter are neutralized.
But there is a much larger problem, a much more real problem, that the war in Gaza has revealed: massive anti-Semitism amongst Canadian Arabs and the Canadian Left.
Take a few minutes to watch this video, from downtown Toronto:
The CHRC itself acknowledges that they pursue nobodies through section 13. They justify it because they say that the Holocaust "began with words".
...the people who promote hate on the Internet and elsewhere are, thankfully, relatively few and are operating on the margins of society. All they are doing it pounding out their dark words in their dark basements. Why not leave the hate geeks alone and get on with other more important things.
The answer is simple: words matter. And they matter a great deal.
I quote the Minister of Justice, the Honourable Irwin Cotler, when he addressed the House of Commons last spring on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day:Let us keep those chilling facts in mind
The enduring lesson of the Holocaust is that these genocidal murders succeeded not only because of the industry of death but because of the ideology of hate. ... As our Supreme Court has affirmed, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers, it began with words. These are the catastrophic effects of racism. These are the chilling facts of history.
That's not true of course. Words didn't kill anyone in Germany. There were anti-Semitic words for centuries in Germany. It wasn't until Jews had their true civil rights taken away -- their right to property, right to self-defence, mobility rights, economic rights, and ultimately their right to life -- that the Holocaust could happen. Jews didn't die because they lacked the counterfeit right not to be offended. In fact, pre-Nazi Germany had laws like section 13 -- they obviously didn't stop the Nazis. And now we see that our own version of those Weimar hate-speech laws have precisely the same effect 75 years later: no effect.
Well, that's not quite true, either. Because the very Islamists who were marching in Toronto are now amongst the chief users and abusers of our hate speech laws -- filing hate speech complaints at anyone who dares criticize radical Islam. The Nazis, too, used hate speech laws: first, they used the trials a forum for their own views; then, when they took over, they used the laws to go after their own political enemies.
So what is my point? Do I want section 13 to be expanded, to go after my own political enemies -- the bigots, Jew-haters and terrorist supporters in the video above?
Of course not. In fact, I'm glad to have seen that bigotry -- I'm glad it wasn't censored. How else would I know of the peril?
If there were any real criminal acts at that protest, they should be pursued. I don't think the death threat reached the criminal standard. And I don't think merely flying the Hezbollah flag is a criminal offence -- but if I was a cop, I'd say it's fair game to suspect a Hezbollah flag-flyer might well have other ties with Hezbollah. (Wouldn't you say the same thing if someone publicly flew a mafia flag, if there was one, and defended the mafia?)
I think the first thing that needs to happen is for Harper and Ignatieff to condemn these anti-Semitic rallies in forceful, even bitter, terms.
I think they have to be condemned as anti-Canadian.
They have to be -- to borrow a word -- denormalized.
Not criminalized. But it has to be made clear that anyone who flies terrorist flags, who calls for the death of Jews, who engages in flagrant anti-Semitism is outside of acceptable company.
Whatever unions or organizations or advocacy groups or mosques participated in that near-pogrom need to be blackballed. No government grants. No meetings with ministers or even MPs. No boilerplate government ads in Arabic newspapers that support the bigotry.
Public denunciation. Marginalization. Starting from the top: the Prime Minister himself.
Watching that video felt like watching a march of the nascent SA, the Nazi Sturmabteilung or Stormtroopers, the forerunners of the SS. They weren't quite as cohesive; they didn't have their standard uniforms yet; they were seething, but they didn't boil over into violence. But they had control of the streets of the biggest city in Canada, the city with the biggest Jewish community, the most multicultural, pluralistic and tolerant city -- they were the bosses of it. Look at the young toughs -- clearly enjoying it.
Most went home merely encouraged with their success.
But I have no doubt that many went home and decided to move from idle talk of anti-Semitism to action.
Montreal has seen anti-Semitic arson, as has Edmonton. Calgary has seen anti-Semitic assaults. After the vitriol on display, I can't imagine Toronto will escape it in 2009.
Let me close by quoting Harper's comments in Maclean's magazine. He was making the case for hate speech laws:
...they do exist for valid reasons, which is obviously to prevent public airwaves from being used to disseminate hate against vulnerable members of our society.Canada's hate speech laws didn't stop a mob of thousands of anti-Semites. They couldn't -- section 13 doesn't apply to rallies, or verbal exhortations.
We don't need hate speech laws to fight the grotesquery in that video.
We need a sustained, unyielding, embarrassing denunciation of that sort of protest from the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Mayor and everyone else with a bully pulpit.
Those leaders can't do much about the Jew-haters in Gaza. But they can tell the Jew-haters in our own country that that's not acceptable here.