My Sandhill Crane

My Sandhill Crane

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday morning when I was cleaning out the cleaning closet – the last step in preparing the cottage for the summer – I was suddenly very startled. It was very early in the morning. The sun had just woken. A new day was dawning. Should I focus and appreciate the rising of the sun or finish cleaning up the last remnants of the previous summer?

Some very local geography first. Our family cottage is located on an island in Georgian Bay. It is quite isolated and we have no close neighbours. But we are not on the open bay, but on an island in a very large bay, Shawanaga, off the very much larger body of water that is itself the size of one of the Great Lakes. The cottage sits at the pinnacle of the island which is just a six-acre treed outcropping of rock. The back door to the cottage has a large glass plate the length of the door. It stands right next to the cleaning closet.

The noise that startled me was a loud rat-a-tat. Repeated. No, not rat-a-tat, but tat-tat-tat, repeated loud sharp noises in rapid succession against the glass. I looked up and before me on the other side of the glass stood a bird as high as my mid-chest – and I am still over six feet even though I have certainly been shrinking in the last two decades. The bird had a very long beak and I thought it was going to break the glass against the door. The bird’s bill was longer that its head was tall. Its neck was long and thin as it thrust back and forth hitting the window with its beak each time with a noise loud enough that I thought it would waken my wife.

I was standing on one side of the glass and the bird was on the other. I had never seen such a large bird – it was not as large as an ostrich that I had seen up close in South Africa – but not nearly this close. The black legs were very long so I knew it was some kind of wading bird. I thought of the flamingos that I had seen around the Ngorongoro Crater in Kenya. But the only bright colour of this bird was its scarlet red crown. Otherwise, the bird was a mottled gray. If it had a bath, would it become white? Later, when we looked for the bird in our bird book – my wife found the picture instantly – the description said the bird could have a rusty wash on its upper body, but I saw none. Nor did I see its evidently famous “bustle” at the back, for the bird was facing me.

But not just facing me. And not just trying to thrust its beak through the window. It was doing a bit of its dance as it came forward, jabbed the window about ten times, and then danced back, only to thrust forward again almost immediately. The bird was alone. I did not know whether it was a male or a female, but I presumed it was a male because of its aggressive behaviour.

Should I wake my wife? She loves birds. I bet she had never seen such a large bird facing her and just a pane of glass away. But I remembered when we arrived at the cottage. That same glass window was covered in blood. Had a bird injured itself badly against the window? There had been some feathers on the back porch. Were they grey? Maybe it was this bird’s mate and it was seeking revenge. But all I could think of was that the bird might break the glass, that the bird was probably injuring itself, that the bird might wake my wife.

I started to make noises and do my own wild dance to chase the bird away, all accompanied by a low roar – if a roar could possibly be low. The bird stepped back, a bit startled, but clearly unafraid. Then it thrust forward again with the loud tat-a-tat of its bill against the glass of the door.

Suddenly, it turned, spread its wings – the span was at least six feet – and flew upwards towards the north in a low flight pattern that soon circled back south as it increased altitude. Other than its huge flapping wings – though they only flapped at the beginning for the bird seemed to be a glider – the bird now seemed so large that the body, compared to when the bird stood tall before me, seemed to shrink. Of course, that body was now horizontal, like a very aerodynamic missile. As the bird rose, it seemed to require very few strokes. And all of this right in front of my eyes!

I never heard it make a sound, though someone, whom I saw later yesterday at a book launch back in Toronto, told me that its honking sound was prehistoric, more like a haunting bellows rather than the honking of geese. It was also suggested that the bird was engaged in a mating dance. Had it fallen for me? Had I scared off a very large bird that was courting me?

My ego was quickly deflated when it was suggested that the bird saw a reflection of itself and thought it was a female. The male and female look alike. The bird was not courting me. Nor was it being narcissistic. Rather, it probably saw – or thought it saw – a potential mate. It was baffled at the sight of me. It had never seen quite as strange a dance. And the sounds coming out of my mouth were very prehistoric. Later, when we were reading about the bird, we learned that it was a sandhill crane that mates for life. I clearly was not a suitable partner. It is also a very ancient bird with the oldest bird fossil 2.5 million years old.

The sandhill crane is largely found north of Sudbury and North Bay, but my informant at the book launch told me that he had seen a nesting pair on an outer island nearby. He told me they laid very large oval brown eggs. Presumably their breeding grounds and range had been creeping south with climate change.

The formal species name of the sandhill crane that I saw is Antigone Canadensis. Canadensis make sense for this is Canada. But Antigone? Anti came from the Greek meaning “opposed to,” but sometimes “compared to.” Given the Greek myth of Antigone, I took it to mean opposed; the story was one of conflict between two different sources of moral authority. But, in this case, opposed to what? γονη, (goné) in Greek means birth or offspring, so that the dance I saw performed could very well have been a courting ritual. But that still does not explain Antigone and the theme of opposition.

Let me explain. Antigone is the main character in a Greek myth that Hegel discusses at some length in The Phenomenology of Spirit. One of my graduate students wrote her thesis on that section. The issue was not on pride and the hubris of Icarus who flew too close to the sun so the wax in his wings melted and he plummeted to the ground. Nor is it about Hegel’s owl of Minerva, the bird after whom the lead periodical on Hegelian scholarship in English is named.

Hegel in the preface to the Philosophy of Right wrote, “When philosophy paints its gray on gray, then has a form of life grown old, and with gray on gray it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known; the Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in.” I saw my sandhill crane in the early hours of the morning, not at dusk. Though the bird was gray, it was not the colouring of a life grown old beyond rejuvenation when an age of history is ending and cannot be resurrected and when the only obligation is to recall and understand the past. I believe that my bird was seeking to give new birth to life. But, to ask again, why then Antigone, even though goné in Greek means “birth” or “offspring”? For the tale of Antigone is as dark a story as you will ever read.

Antigone was perhaps cursed at birth. Her father was Oedipus – the guy who slew his father and married his mother, inspiring Freud with his greatest brand. Antigone’s mother was Jocasta, the Queen of Thebes who was married to King Laius. However, the couple was told by a prophet that their son would grow up and kill the father. So, like Abraham, they took the infant up the mountain, bound him, but, unlike Abraham, left the baby to be eaten by birds of prey. But no such “luck.” The child survived and grew up to unknowingly slay his father. And marry his own mother. And then poke out his own eyes when he discovered the truth. Thus, Jocasta was both the mother and grandmother of Antigone.

With a parentage like that, as a product of incest, what chance did she have? However, she was both a very loyal and determined girl. When her father, blinded, went into exile, she accompanied and guided him. When he died and she returned to Thebes, she found that her two brothers were at war, Eteocles defending Thebes and Polyneices attacking the regime. Both were killed in the battle and Antigone’s uncle Creon became king. He buried Eteocles in an elaborate state funeral, but issued an edict, in accordance with the law of the land concerning treason, that the body of Polyneices be left on the field. Whether enemy or friend, in death everyone deserved to be buried. And Antigone refused to comply with her uncle’s command and had Polyneices buried.

Creon had Antigone arrested and locked in a cave to die. However, Antigone was engaged to her cousin, Creon’s son, Haemon, who was deeply in love with Antigone. Haemon went to the cave to free Antigone, only to find she had hung herself. In despair, he took his own life.

The central theme for Hegel in this tale was not a story of the Owl of Minerva and the death of an era. Nor was it of rebirth and a new age emerging. Rather, it was a tale of the process of history. Creon was a figure of state who believed he had to uphold positive written law and deny any burial for Polyneices, his own nephew, because Polyneices was regarded as a traitor.

But Polyneices was the brother of Antigone and Antigone felt she had to follow a higher law, a divine law, a humane law, a natural law, a law at odds with positive law. She followed her principles and died for them.

The issue is not the end of days when both divine and humane law have become exhausted. This was not the time for the Owl of Minerva to pronounce the death of the old and the obligation to recollect and understand. Nor was the tale about birth of a new era. It is a struggle between positive law gone awry and the obligation to stand up and be counted in opposition to defend a higher moral law.

Was my sandhill crane an omen?

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.

Brussels

  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

One for All and All for Me

One for All and All for Me

by

Howard Adelman

Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno in Latin means “One for all, all for one” in English. It was the brand of the Musketeers and d’Artagnan in Alexandre Dumas’ famous French novel published just before the Swiss Civil War began in 1847. In German, the expression is Einer für alle, alle für einen, in French, un pour tous, tous pour un) and in Italian Uno per tutti, tutti per uno. There is a Romansh version (In per tuts, tuts per in). All four versions were adopted by Switzerland just after the American Civil War ended in the midst of devastating Alpine floods to show how, in a small country, four different ethnic and linguistic groups could serve the whole with a sense of duty and solidarity to keep the country unified in spite of centrifugal forces that almost pulled it apart twenty years earlier. It has since been the slogan of the country.

This is not the slogan governing the recent House of Representatives American Health Care Act (AHCA). The economic analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) came out this past Wednesday, 24 May. https://www.scribd.com/document/349349526/eilsnell

Recall that the CBO is an agency of Congress headed by a Republican selected by Republicans that has a stellar reputation for impartiality. Nevertheless, the report is flawed, not because of its results, but because it approaches the health crisis in the U.S. by comparing AHCA to the previous flawed House bill that failed to pass.

That flaw is not fundamental, just inconvenient. I also would have liked the CBO to offer more analysis of the effect of the legislation on the stability of the insurance market, already detrimentally affected by setting aside a single payer system, insisting on state versus federal control which prevents insurers from crossing state borders and allowing some states to permit young people to opt out of insurance without penalty, thereby ensuring both higher premiums and more limited coverage, by lacking a system to shift medical practice from treatment to prevention, and providing no incentives for encouraging medical practice based primarily on care and not primarily, as in some states, on medical entrepreneurship.

Even without these more ambitious concepts, the current instability resulting from both the inability to improve Obamacare, allowing states to undercut the plan, and insurers pulling out of the market in the face of current uncertainty, has meant that, for example, in Missouri, 19,000 were left uninsured when Blue Shield and Blue Cross abandoned Obamacare.

Further, there is a true tragic irony. House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) was the one that championed state waivers and pushed for the Bill’s passage, but was shocked when he read the CBO. For, while he supported the rights of states to mold the legislation to suit their own constituents, he was brought to tears when he learned that the Bill had not come near to adequately funding high-risk pools. Given his personal family history, he was genuinely upset by the CBO results and vowed changes would have to be made. “In the end, we’ve got to make sure there’s enough funding there to handle preexisting conditions and drive down premiums. And if we can’t do those three things, then we will have failed.”

Too little funding! Inadequate to ensure coverage for preexisting conditions! Failure to drive down premiums! The Bill he eventually pushed was declared by him to have failed.

About 20 million Americans are currently insured under Obamacare. [In discussions of those insured and uninsured, I and the CBO leave out those who have limited insurance policies for dread diseases, policies with limited insurance benefits for specific diseases, insurance for dental care or eye glasses, supplemental insurance, say for single or double occupancy rooms rather than 4-person rooms in hospitals, and indemnity insurance.] Of these, 20 million, 10-12 million are newly insured. So why does the CBO claim that 23 million more Americans would be left uninsured under AHCA in comparison to the 24 million left out in the previously failed Republican legislation? How can 23 to 24 million people be left uninsured if only 20 million are enrolled and, of those, only 10-12 million are newly insured since Obamacare came into existence?

First, the 20 million figure represents those that will be left uninsured in 2021 compared to those currently covered in 2017. In 2018, the figure would be 14 million left uninsured in comparison to Obamacare. Does that mean that everyone of the insured under Obamacare (14 million) would go from being insured to uninsured? If that was the case, how could the numbers of uninsured grow 50% in the next four years?

First, though the projections are of those who would be uninsured, it does not mean that all of them would not have access to some health coverage. An estimated several million would be able to access health care by using tax credits to purchase health insurance, but insurance that would not cover major medical risks. Second, recall that millions of Americans remain uninsured under Obamacare. As estimated by Kaiser Permanente, there were 28.5 million in 2015. In the year before, the number of uninsured in America dropped dramatically by 8.8 million when over 33-37 million Americans were without health insurance. Further recall, that in 2014, the first year that the Affordable Care Act was in full operation the number of uninsured Americans dropped dramatically from 13.3% of the American population to 10.4% of the population.

To answer the question raised above about how, if only 12-14 million had enrolled in Obamacare, 20 million could be left uninsured in 2020, the answer is that there is a difference between the total of those who have access to health care because of government support and the total who have access because they purchased insurance. That is because, in addition to those who purchase insurance, there are those covered by Medicaid who would also be detrimentally affected by the 2017 AHCA.

There are two sources of health coverage: insurance that individuals and families purchase on their own either through the ACA marketplaces or directly from private insurance companies, and those insured under Medicaid. The 2017 AHCA detrimentally affects not only insured receivers of health care, but those who receive benefits from Medicaid. Previous to Obamacare or the Affordable Health Care Act (2013 AHCA), Medicaid overwhelmingly serviced seniors. Of the 16 million Americans under 65 who gained access to health care through the 2013 AHCA, a number, an estimated 4-6 million were enrolled in Medicaid by the end of 2014. That number has grown since. The estimate of 14 million detrimentally affected, to the extent that they would lose access to health care, includes not only those who would be forced out of the insured cluster, but both the under-65 age group and the retiree group that would find themselves without access to health care.

The CBO took all this into account when it projected a loss of insurance for about 14 million this year and by 2020 an additional 6 million who would lose coverage. The stats from 2013 to 2014 when Obamacare was in full operation show the following figures:

  1. Uninsured drop from 41.1 to 32.3 million uninsured;
  2. Employer insured grew slightly from 168.1 to 168.8 million;
  3. Medicaid insured increased from 52 to 58.4 million;
  4. Direct-purchase insured increased from 23.7 to 33.9 million;
  5. Those previously covered under veteran or medicare programs stayed roughly constant.

The figures to calculate concern, not only those who directly purchased insurance and those enrolled in Medicaid who would be detrimentally affected by the new Act if it ever passed the Senate in some form, but also employer-insured Americans. They would suffer as well. Note that those who work part time or as independents before Obamacare likely lacked any medical insurance; Obamacare’s subsidized options directly benefited this group. Thus, whereas the total number of uninsured dropped 8.8 million by the end of 2014, the number of part-time workers aged 18-64 who were uninsured fell by more than 6 percentage points from 24 to 17.7% and the numbers who were unemployed for virtually the whole year who were uninsured fell from 22.2 to 17.3%. The drop in the fully employed aged 18-65 fell by only 2.7%. Among the overall beneficiaries, those who most benefited were Blacks and Latinos.

Thus, other than ideologues, the dislike of Obamacare came from those insured who resented their insurance rates increasing to pay for the health benefits of minorities and of the part-time and the unemployed. However, the 2017 AHCA would also detrimentally affect even them as legislation removes the obligation of the insurance companies to cover high-cost medical procedures. Those insurance companies could also exclude those with previous conditions. Simply put, in all the categories, the weakest and most vulnerable suffer to ensure premiums are somewhat more stabilized than when more people from minorities, more part-time employed and unemployed were covered.

Nevertheless, the CBO estimates that, on average, under the new legislation, prior to any consideration of tax credits, insurance costs would increase faster than under current law by an average of 20%, though in subsequent years that increase would be somewhat offset by the stability fund. Further, depending on how a state permits insurers to discriminate based on age, older people would face higher premiums and younger people smaller premiums, especially in states which permit premiums to be established on the basis of an individual’s health status. Basic deductions allowed would also affect premiums – the greater the deductible, the smaller the premium. In such states, premiums can be expected to increase, especially for those most in need of that insurance. If mental health care, maternity leave or treatment for substance abuse are not included, this would also reduce premiums while significantly increasing the already terrible stats on health outcomes in the U.S.

Importantly, the cost to government coffers for covering the most vulnerable would be significantly reduced, thus benefiting the bottom-line taxes middle-income and certainly upper-income Americans would pay. “The largest increases in the deficit would come from repealing or modifying tax provisions in the ACA that are not directly related to health insurance coverage — such as repealing a surtax on net investment income, repealing annual fees imposed on health insurers, and reducing the income threshold for determining the tax deduction for medical expenses.” Their insurance is projected to increase or, at best, very modestly decrease directly. The greatest benefit would be the decline in obligatory expenditures of the federal budget. The budget saving of the new Health Care bill would be $119 billion over ten years, less than the previous estimate for the bill that never made it through the House of $150 billion. The lion’s share of those savings under the proposed tax cuts would go to the 1%, but the middle-income earner would see a minor benefit here as well with even the possibility of a slightly lower projected increase in premiums for insurance.

However, since the real extensive savings would result from increasing the deficit considerably because of those tax cuts, and because the economy is unlikely to grow at the rate of an average of 3% per annum projected in the Republican budget, not only will the partially employed, contract workers and the unemployed suffer disproportionately, not only would Blacks and Hispanics suffer disproportionately, but so would the youth of America as burdens are projected forward to pay for benefits today, not only from these cuts in subsidies, but also by reducing the income threshold for tax deductions for medical expenses. To be fair, these negative effects would be partially offset by enhancing the Patient and State Stability Fund put in place to reduce premiums and the benefits accruing to employers who would no longer suffer penalties for not insuring its workforce, a clear benefit to small business owners, but at a cost to their employees.

On the other hand, CBO projects that one-sixth of the American public would live in areas in 2020 in which the insurance market will become even more unstable than it is now as healthy, mostly younger, Americans only purchase insurance for what they need and from insurers which offer policies only for that group based on their low risk as the insurance companies exclude high risk cohorts. “People who are less healthy (including those with pre-existing or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

In sum, no health coverage for many more Americans, possibly slightly smaller effective premiums for middle and upper income earners, and savings for small business people. But these last categories would suffer as well if one of the members faces a catastrophic health care costs and if limits are placed on the amount insured or if insurance companies can reject coverage for previous illnesses and disabilities.

I have not attended to the effects and costs in general that poor health services deliver to a large swath of Americans: lower age of average mortality than the rest of the developed world, higher incidents of infant mortality and of women in labour. These cost the American economy.

If partially employed whites in West Virginia and Ohio are detrimentally affected, why do they continue to support Trump? It is clearly not in their self interest. I contend that the issue is identity politics and not self interest. Trump played and continues to play the identity card, as have Republicans in general. The poor whites may be suffering from an opioid crisis, may die earlier and have less access to health services, but they want to be recognized for who they are more than for the benefits they get. In fact, they have tied their identity to a claim that they are self-reliant. Democratic appeals to their self interest largely fall on deaf ears. And that may continue to be the case even when the effects of Republican health care planning, as modified by the Senate, is passed, if a Bill is passed and takes effect.

In Canada, Medicare was fought strenuously, especially by medical associations and the doctors in Saskatchewan who went on strike against what grew to be a central feature of the Canadian identity, especially as doctors found they actually gained from Medicare since they no longer had to worry about the costs and the losses from fee collection problems. Based on those lessons and on the results of the CBO, it should be no surprise that currently in the U.S., virtually every single medical and health professional as well as hospital organization has opposed the Republican plans for health care “reform” – the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association are but two examples.

The fight boils down to an ideological one between those who believe, at least in dire circumstances such as sickness and injury, we are our brothers’ keeper. Caring for the most vulnerable is best ensured by the state versus reliance primarily upon public charity.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

First-Borns

Numbers 3:11-13 First-Borns – Parashat Bemidbar הפטרת במדבר

by

Howard Adelman

 

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 11 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יב  וַאֲנִי הִנֵּה לָקַחְתִּי אֶת-הַלְוִיִּם, מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תַּחַת כָּל-בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם, מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְהָיוּ לִי, הַלְוִיִּם. 12 ‘And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be Mine;
יג  כִּי לִי, כָּל-בְּכוֹר–בְּיוֹם הַכֹּתִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּי לִי כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאָדָם עַד-בְּהֵמָה:  לִי יִהְיוּ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.  {פ} 13 for all the first-born are Mine: on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto Me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast, Mine they shall be: I am the LORD.’ {P}

What’s the deal? Why did I pay my friend, a Cohen, whose actual name happened to be Aaron (the Cohenim are all descendants of Moses’ brother, Aaron) to redeem one of my sons as a baby? It did not even cost me the five silver dollars I gave to Aaron, for he handed me the coin in the first place and asked me whether I wanted to keep it and give him, as a representative of God, my son, or whether I wanted to return the coin. I chose my son and he gave the five silver dollars as a gift to him. And I said a blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם. אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו. וְצִוָּנוּ עַל פִּדְיוֹן הַבֵּן

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the redemption of a son.

I only learned much later that I should have redeemed my son for 100 grams of silver. I never weighed the five-silver-dollar coin to check if the weight exceeded the minimum amount. Was the whole ceremony invalid?

In any case, Aaron blessed my son. The ritual is called, “Pidyon Haben.”

It seems on the surface to be a nutty ritual. What does it mean that the first-born belongs to God? Why is a first-born redeemed? Why are the Levites provided as a substitute? What are these three verses about?

Exodus 13:2 reads: “Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites, is mine.” If you have four wives or two wives, assuming they are Jewish, the first-born son of each of them belongs to God.

Exodus 13:12-13 reads:

12 you shall devote to the Lord the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the Lord.13 But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

The commandment runs through the Torah text. (See Deuteronomy XV:19-22 where the reference is only to the first-born of animals.) It is not a one off in Numbers. Further, in Exodus it is connected to the tenth plague when the Lord slew all the first-born of Egypt. How? And why the first-born of animals as well as the first son?

In the case of animals, it must be unblemished, the best of the newborns among one’s herd. The Priest ate the flesh of the sacrifice. But no one eats the flesh of your first-born son. You do not want him to die. You get him back. And I even paid the money only symbolically. The rabbis say that a first-born is holy by nature. Ironically, holiness appears to be a given, not something acquired.

It is from this attribute that Christians insist that Jesus as the one and only son of God was sacrificed, as a beast is sacrificed, so that the sins of humans can be redeemed. What a contrast with Judaism. The Jewish ritual is a shell game. For I never gave Aaron my son. He never took him. It is all symbolic. Jews abhor sacrificing their children. Christians celebrate that God sacrificed his only son. Sacrifice is avoided for redemption, not to achieve redemption for oneself and clearly not for the sins of mankind.

Further, there is a twist. The first-born could be a girl. You do not have to redeem a daughter. Only a son. And only if he is the first-born, which he is not if a daughter is born first. The reference is both to boys and to first-borns. Both are necessary conditions. There are additional conditions. If the first-born son of a Jewish woman is delivered by caesarian section and does not “open the womb” himself, the child does not have to be redeemed. If the woman had a stillbirth, that child, even though born dead, was considered to have opened the womb so that even if she subsequently gives birth to a boy, that boy is not considered a first-born to be redeemed in the ritual of Pidyon Haben. But if she has twins, only the first out of the womb is redeemed. Finally, if the child himself is a Levite or a Cohen, he does not have to be redeemed. Why? Because he is destined to be a sacrifice and not someone sacrificed. Further, he is destined for religious institutional rather than political leadership.

There are a number of explanations for the ritual. One is that in Egypt, given Pharaoh’s command, the first-born sons were at risk. Another is that when God slew the first-born infants of the Egyptians, the first-born sons of the Israelites needed special protection. In another innovative interpretation, it is the first-born son of Jewish women, not Jewish men, who must be redeemed because the redemption is carried out for the shechinah, the feminine side, the nurturing side of God, the place where God actually dwells. In another account, the ritual is carried out in memory of Rachel whose fist-born son, Jacob, was sold into slavery.

I want to try another approach by trying to understand the nature of the first-born before trying to figure out the resolution of the puzzles and the connection with previous explanations.

Though key characteristics such as agreeableness, aggression, conscientiousness, extraversion and openness seem to be randomly distributed among children, first-borns seem to have a disproportionate share of the following twelve characteristics:

  1. Achievers who strive to win;
  2. Controlling;
  3. Careful rather than rash high-riskers;
  4. Diligent;
  5. Greater BMI (body mass index);
  6. Higher proportions of homosexuality;
  7. Lower insulin sensitivity, hence higher amounts required;
  8. Premature adults with a propensity for leadership;
  9. Reliable;
  10. Self-assured;
  11. Serious;
  12. Structured

Note that 21 of NASA’s first 23 astronauts who made trips into space were either eldest or only children. All seven of the original Mercury astronauts were first-borns. Fighter pilots are most likely to be first-borns or only children. Assuming the validity of the evidence concerning the significance of birth-order, though the data does not track first-borns following stillbirths, etc., what has all of this to do with the rituals described above? Even more significantly, what does it have to do with God and Jewish history favouring second-borns – think of Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob; Ephraim and Menassah. First-borns may receive a double inheritance, but also need to be redeemed from God.

It is noteworthy that Jesus was a first-born and Christ is considered “the first-born of all of Creation.” (Hebrews 1:6) Israel as a nation is referred to as God’s first-born son. (Exodus 4:22) Yet so many times it is a second-born who replaces a first-born in a leadership role. Relative to Judaism, Christianity, especially through the doctrine of supercession, can be considered a second-born which takes the blessing of Israel away. By nature and custom, in terms of privilege, first-borns have a clear edge.

Then why is the actual sacrifice of the first-born replaced by the dedication of that fist-born to service to God and then the Levites provided as stand-ins? Put another way, why does the first-born naturally belong to God while the second-born turns out to be the one chosen by God? Jesus, paradoxically, is a natural first-born, but the religion founded upon his sacrifice becomes the second born that historically Christians believed succeeded primogeniture in history.

I am sorry, but I do not have an answer. But I do have some thoughts. Four core ideas are involved: sacrifice; substitution; redemption and historical significance versus natural birth order. I begin with the last.

Of 44 presidents, 24 were first-borns, even more if one includes George Washington for his older siblings were half-brothers. (This was also true of FDR and Clinton who also had older half-siblings, adding further to the count.) John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson from the founding fathers were first-borns. In addition, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush were all first-borns. However, I suggest that although first-borns may be fighter pilots, fighter pilots are only the best political leaders for democratic monarchies or parliamentary democracies headed in that direction. Then you want first-borns as warrior kings, though with Jimmy Carter, the U.S. certainly did not get one.

The history of Canada, though a parliamentary rather than a residential system, is not much different. Of Canadian prime ministers who served more than a couple of years (this excludes John Abbott, John Thompson, Mackenzie Bowell, Charles Tupper, Joe Clarke, John Turner and Kim Campbell), Sir John A. Macdonald, as wily a politician as one can find, had two older siblings; his oldest brother died (William) when he was two-years old. Alexander Mackenzie had older brothers. Wilfrid Laurier had an older sister who died two years before he was born. William Lyon Mackenzie King had an older sister who lived to the age of 41. Only R. B. Bennett and Robert Borden, two notable failures as prime ministers, were first-borns before WWII.

 

However, after WWII when Canada came into its own as a nation, things changed with respect to first-borns. Only Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien were not first-borns. Louis St. Laurent John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau were all first-borns. Does that mean anything? Statistically, it certainly does. Being first-born plays a significant role in directing one towards political leadership.

 

Why then in the Torah did the Israelite nation in its genesis run counter to this propensity and told stories of younger siblings usurping the leadership role of his elders? Why would an unsteady and insecure character like Moses become the founding political leader of his people? Why does the Torah favour selection over the authority and natural leadership of first-borns?

 

Do first-borns tend to sacrifice others for their own advancement while second-borns sacrifice themselves for the public good? The careers of Justin Trudeau, Paul Martin, Lester Pearson, and Louis St. Laurent would seem to belie that. There is no evident correlation, though there is a possible one with ideology.

 

However, there is another sense of sacrifice. The first-born is the testing ground in parenthood, the child on whom all the inadequacies of parents (and God) are thrust. The first-born, with all the advantages of favouritism, is the sacrifice undertaken in raising children. Parents do learn something, as does God, from initial mistakes. Further, a later child can learn from those who go before, particularly lessons in figuring out how to get around road blocks. Relatively and disproportionately, first-borns are brave born leaders for the most part, but second-borns are more wary of direct confrontation. (There are exceptions, of course, Jean Chrétien is an example; as the 18th of 19 children, he had to learn to be scrappy to earn his place in the sun.) A second child inherits more experienced parents and has a chance to watch and learn more than the first-born. The second-born must rely more on his own wits to get ahead. This often makes the later-born a more cultivated leader without the brash thrust of the first-born.

 

Precisely because the first-born is up for sacrifice, the first-born must be redeemed from God. This requires that a substitute be offered to minimize the extent of that sacrifice. The suggestion is not that second-borns and later-borns have a propensity to make better leaders than first-borns, but, rather that the two groupings constitute very different kinds of leaders, ones wary of competing in a wide-open field or vast sky, but, instead, prepared to search for a niche where they can shine. Hence, Jews became a niche people instead of fulfilling God’s wish that they multiply and dominate the world as God’s physical expression in the world. Hence a polity very different than either the U.S. or Canada, in spite of the wide differences between the U.S and Canada.

Canadian Civic Religion and a German Core Culture

Canadian Civic Religion and a German Core Culture

by

Howard Adelman

When I posited a set of values central to the Canadian civil religion, I did not define that set as constituting the core culture of Canada as a nation. Further, I dubbed it as a civic religion rather than as a set of cultural values. The differences are important.

Germany is a country that has undergone a radical revolution with respect to the dominant values and practices of the society in the last 72 years. The difference in practices was most evident when Germany agreed to admit and resettle by far the highest number of Syrian refugees in the West. Germany also admitted the most asylum claimants.

“Germany has pledged 30,000 places for Syrian refugees through its humanitarian admission programme; nearly half the global total of resettlement and humanitarian admission programme places for Syrian refugees and 82 per cent of the EU total.” (Amnesty International.)

What a change even from 1979, about the half way point between WWII and the present. In the Fall of 1979, I was a guest of the German government sitting in the balcony of the Bundestag in Bonn (the old capital of West Germany before reunification) when parliament passed a motion to admit 20,000 Indochinese refugees into Germany by a sizable majority, but the vote was very far from unanimous. Afterwards, the Minister in charge met me and, with an enormous smile of self-satisfaction, asked me whether I thought that what had been accomplished had been great.

I did not give him the answer he was expecting. Essentially, I gave his Parliament a C grade. Germany was so much larger, so much wealthier than Canada, I said, and Canada was then admitting 50,000 Indochinese refugees. I said that I did not see why Germany was not admitting 100,000 rather than just 20,000. The Minister was visibly unhappy with my reply. Somehow, I had deflated the great joy he had taken in what had been accomplished. But his reaction was not defensive. We went back to his office to discuss the prospect of Germany taking in more Indochinese refugees.

Germany then had a much more expensive method of resettling refugees. Supported 100% by the government, they were kept in special camps, usually for two years, where they were taught to speak German, learn German ways and otherwise acclimatize themselves to German society. While the young attended school, adults were given training to upgrade their skills to facilitate their entry into the German job market. Of course, this method of resettlement posed challenges. As one example, it is much more difficult to learn a language when you live within your own linguistic community and have relatively little contact with the native German-speaking community. I described the Canadian private sponsorship program and how it might be both more suited to integrating Indochinese refugees as well as permitting Germany to take in many more refugees.

The Minister was skeptical, but he was a very enlightened and open man, indeed eager to try new things. He offered me a car and a translator to travel around Germany for 2-3 weeks and explore the issue with Germans and to return with a report on whether I thought such a program would work and, if so, how it might be implemented. The translator was necessary to facilitate contact with a much wider group of Germans than the many who spoke English. Further, my German skills had so deteriorated that I could not speak as well as an Indochinese refugee, and he wanted me to speak to them as well about their own experiences.

I took up the challenge. I visited only lists of liberal people in human rights and other humanitarian organizations as well as a number of German clerics. My report was completed in 8 days. I concluded that it would be impossible at that time for the German government to introduce a private sponsorship program for refugees. Second, I had come to understand why the decision to take in 20,000 refugees was considered such an accomplishment.

My interviewees were unanimous in declaring that such a program would be impossible to implement at that time. It was not that Germans were ungenerous. Rather, they regarded the Indochinese as never being able to become German. This was not seen as a problem of the Indochinese, but because of the German self-definition of themselves. To be a German was not just to be a citizen – which the Indochinese could certainly become, but it meant being an ethnic German. The liberals I consulted said that a shift away from an ethnic self-definition would not and could not take place in their lifetimes. I would not have predicted from those interviews that the shift came as fast and as extensively as it happened, even though, as I understand it, a majority of Germans still maintain a self-definition of a German primarily in ethnic terms. (Cf. Christian Jopke “Contesting Ethnic Immigration: Germany and Israel Compared,” European Journal of Sociology, 43:3, 301-335, December 2002)

Last month, the German Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière from the Christian Democratic Union, published ten points that he believed were central to the German core culture. This was especially interesting to me because his name indicated that he might have been descended from the Huguenots, the Protestant refugees who fled France and the French Catholic persecution then underway in the seventeenth century. When I first visited Berlin, I remember being surprised to learn that 10% of the names in the Berlin telephone directory were Huguenot ones. I checked and my presumption was correct. The Minister’s family originally came from Maizières-lès-Metz. As Hurguenots, they sought asylum in Prussia and attended French-language schools and Huguenot churches in Berlin until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Minister asked, “Who are we? And who do we want to be? As a society. As a nation.” He initially offered three core characteristics of German constitutional patriotism: “the protection of human dignity,” the reverence for democracy, and linguistic commonality. However, he argued that there was more to it than that. “Democracy, respect for the Constitution and human dignity are honoured in all Western societies. I think there’s more. There is such a thing as a ‘German Core Culture’.”

The Minister offered two components to a core culture. “First is the term culture. This shows what is at issue, namely, not rules of law, but rules of living together. And the word “core” is not about prescription or obligation. It is much more about what is guiding us, what is important to us, what gives us direction. Such a direction-giving guide for living in Germany is what I mean by core culture.”

What is the difference between what the Minister wrote about Germany and what I wrote about Canada? Aside from the use of “culture” rather than “religion,” he referred to rules. I had referred to values. His were rules about “living together,” which implied they were obligatory informal rules governing behaviour for all those who lived in Germany even though he declared that “core” did not entail obligation. Later he would specifically declaim such a suggestion by stating that the rules could not be prescribed and were not even obligatory. In contrast, the values I listed were normative aspirations rather than rules, which I do not believe even a majority of Canadians feel are central to who they are. But the implication was that they were the dominant set of values setting standards, not for living together, but for doing good works together.

In both cases of informal rules or aspirational values, they are signifiers as guides, as offering meaning and direction. However, in the German case, we observe an effort to redefine the German nation from an ethno-national approach to a normative frame. But not from a citizen frame. And not from a long term residential frame. All German citizens are automatically part of this nation. But the definition of the nation goes further to include others who live in Germany, speak German and agree to abide by the same rules that facilitate Germans (in this cultural sense) having “trusted and true” norms for living together. They are not the only rules which are trusted and true. Other cultures may have different sets of rules. Nor is it a claim for a superior culture, just one that is different and unique for Germany.

When the Minister spelled out the content of the rules as translated into a set of practices, it was clear that he was enunciating norms more characteristic of the French definition of laicité, what I have dubbed the French secular religion, than the description I offered for the Canadian civic religion, if only at its most basic in avoiding the description of what he was talking about as a religion. I contend that he was offering a secular religion based on rules rather than aspirations, rules which permeated the fabric of the whole society.

He called them customs, expressions of a certain attitude – norms of etiquette for members of German society, such as introducing oneself by name, acknowledging the other by name, and shaking hands upon meeting. But it also included “prohibitions against demonstrators” covering their face. At first, one is invited to think of demonstrators wearing face masks to hide their identity. But it is clear that he is enunciating a form of civic religion, a secular religion unlike Canada’s explicitly rooted in faith groups, a core culture based on rules rather than values, which limit even the clothes worn in public. “We are an open-minded society. We show our face. We are not Burka.” [my italics]

His second statement about the practices of the core culture of German society spoke, not of etiquette, but of a precondition, education, not as techné, not as instrumental, a type of education in which Germans excel, but a claim that, “A well-rounded education has a value in itself.” One is carried back to the debates in North America over general education at universities in contrast to mastery of specific disciplines so characteristic of the transition of the university from a Sanctuary of Method to a Social Service University. Germany came late to this transition in higher education. It is noteworthy that in my definition of the Canadian civil religion there was no inclusion of proselytizing even in the mild form of education.

A third emphasis was on achievement combined with a social safety net. “We require performance. High performance and high quality produce high living standards. Our country was made strong by striving for accomplishment.”

Perhaps the most interesting of the ten norms enunciated was the fourth one regarding accepting the past as present, which in Germany, entails a special provision for Israel. I quote it in full.

We are heirs of our history with all its high and low points. Our past affects our present and our culture. We are heirs of our German history. For us, it means a struggle for German unity in freedom and peace with our neighbours, the maturing of the states together into a federal State, the fight for freedom and for acknowledgment of the lowest lows of our history. This also includes a special relationship with Israel’s right to exist.

Wir sind Erben unserer Geschichte mit all ihren Höhen und Tiefen. Unsere Vergangenheit prägt unsere Gegenwart und unsere Kultur. Wir sind Erben unserer deutschen Geschichte. Für uns ist sie ein Ringen um die Deutsche Einheit in Freiheit und Frieden mit unseren Nachbarn, das Zusammenwachsen der Länder zu einem föderalen Staat, das Ringen um Freiheit und das Bekenntnis zu den tiefsten Tiefen unserer Geschichte. Dazu gehört auch ein besonderes Verhältnis zum Existenzrecht Israels.

In Canada, I did not make the obligation to remember the sins of cultural genocide committed against our aboriginal peoples or making up for those sins by acts of redemption a part of the civic religion, not because this is not entailed by the values of the civic religion I set forth, but because, even if this was the most egregious sin, our past sins are manifold – the imposition of the Chinese head tax, the rejection of Sikhs seeking homes in British Columbia, the “None Is Too Many,” approach to Jewish refugees and the internment and relocation of Japanese Canadians during WWII. More importantly, I believe the Canadian civil religion is more of a social justice than a confessional religion.

A fifth characteristic of the core German culture that he tried to define was the esteem given to poets and philosophers, to musicians and artists. “We have our own understanding of the stellar value of culture in our society.” Is the equivalent in Canada the centrality of hockey in our collective lives and memory? Is this why I did not include the so-called “low” culture as a central feature of the Canadian civic religion? The question is rhetorical only to make the reader think about why I would not include it.

The sixth characteristic directly addresses the issue of the role of religion in German society.

“Germany is characterized by a particular relationship between State and Church. Our State possesses a neutral worldview, but views Churches and religious communities in a friendly way. Church festivals add rhythm to our yearly cycle. Church steeples dominate our landscape. Our country is Christian. Our religious life is peaceful. And the basic prerequisites for this are the absolute priority of the law over all religious rules within our state and communal co-existence.”

Note, neutrality rather than impartiality with respect to religion. Note the state support for and celebration of religion. Note the definition: “Our country is Christian.” And it is evidently out of that Christian religion that the rule of law trumps and sets boundaries to any religious rules. Does de Maizière not recall when the ravings of Martin Luther “to connect” Germans included screeds against Jews? In the desire “to connect,” there must be a self-consciousness of what is disconnected in the process. A reading of E.M. Forster’s Passage to India would teach one that.

Note as well with respect to the Minister’s seventh point about the German “civilized ways to regulate conflict,” based on compromise and consensus (presumably as illustrated in the industrial-union accords so characteristic of German economic life), currently expanded to dealing with and tolerance of minorities and rejection of violence as a principal way for resolving conflicts. The seventh point includes this odd sentence: “We accept diverse ways of living, and those who reject this will find themselves outside the majority consensus.” Besides the construction as a tautology, the “majority” consensus dictates tolerance, but anyone who refuses to participate in this consensus is effectively ostracized from the core culture of Germany.

The eighth point insists that Germans are no longer to be defined ethnically, but are also no longer to be defined in terms of nationalism. “Enlightened patriotism” is the new designation to celebrate unity, justice and freedom. Note the difference with my depiction of the Canadian civil religion. There was no mention of unity there. Instead of justice, which is a result, the stress was on impartiality and fairness, both of which are procedural. And freedom was very clearly articulated as a goal rather than a given.

While my depiction of the Canadian Civil Religion was small “l” liberal, but otherwise apolitical, the Minister’s depiction of the core culture of Germany included a clear political position.

“We are part of the Western world: culturally, spiritually and politically, and the NATO protects our freedom. It links us to the USA, our most important foreign friend and partner. As Germans, we are always also Europeans. German interests are often best represented and fulfilled through Europe. Conversely, Europa will not flourish without a strong Germany. We are perhaps the most European country in Europe – no country has more neighbours than Germany. Our geographic location has formed our relationship with our neighbours over the course of centuries that used to be problematic, but is currently good. This fact influences our thinking and our politics.”

Wow! It is one thing to describe this as a current reality about Germany. It is another to depict it as a core feature of German culture. Partnership with the U.S. Primacy of Europe. Centrality of a strong Germany.  Compare this claim of partnership with my own negative contrast with the values and norms of those who rule America at present, the implicit depiction of the economically and militarily weak Canada relative to the U.S., but with its moral superiority. Further, Canada has an outlier status, not just in North America, but with respect to the rest of the Western world. That politics may have influenced the creation of the Canadian civil religion, but does not define it.

Finally, and most descriptive of all, there is at the heart of the German culture, nostalgia, memories and attachments to place and time that did not play any part of my depiction of the civil religion of Canada, except in the claim that the different memories of groups, such as religious communities, helped understand the differential responses to refugees by different religious and other communities. Therefore, the core of memory was not nostalgia, but a concrete memory of the failure to live up to the values and virtues listed as central to the Canadian civic religion.

Look at how the Minster described those who do not share in the norms of the core German culture. First, they seem to be only newcomers. Secondly, there are those who 1) do not absorb those values; 2) ones indifferent to them; and 3) those who reject them. The result will be a failure in integration. Canadians who do not share the values of the Canadian civil religion are not depicted as failing to integrate, if only because the core civic religion does not require a majority status. In a subsequent blog, I will outline the problems that emerge when identifiable groups do not identify with the predominant Canadian civic religion. There will be differences in the values of the emerging generation as well as the values of various groups of immigrants from those of the Canadian civic religion.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Canadian Civil Society III – Partisans versus Impartiality

Canadian Civil Society III – Partisans versus Impartiality

by

Howard Adelman

This blog continues the discussion of the core values of the Canadian civil religion in contrast to the Stone- Trump ethos now governing the polis in the U.S.  In the previous two blogs, I dealt with the first five values: civility versus incivility; compassion versus passion; dignity versus indignation; diversity versus unity; and empathy versus insecurity. In this blog, I want to take up the last five antonyms:

Canada                                        U.S.A. (current ruling ethos)

  1. Impartial                           Partisan
  2. Egalitarian                        Inegalitarian
  3. Fairness                             Ruthless & even Unfair
  4. Freedom as a Goal          Freedom as Given
  5. False-consciousness        Humans as Falsifiers

Yesterday, at the final public session of a conference held at the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto on Religion and Ethno-Nationalism in the Era of the Two World Wars, Victoria Barnett from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Professor Susannah Heschel from The Mandel Center at Dartmouth College were on the final panel moderated by Doris Bergen, the Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Chair of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto.

A number of observations:

  1. The conference in Ottawa was held by people engaged in interfaith dialogue; the conference in Toronto was, in part, about people engaged in interfaith dialogue 75-100 years ago.
  2. The Ottawa conference, like the Toronto one, was about religion, but the former presumed a peaceable kingdom and did not focus on either ethno-nationalism or violence but rather the victims of both.
  3. While the Ottawa conference was about interfaith cooperation to do good, the Toronto conference primarily explored the role of religion in causing, contributing to or exacerbating violence.
  4. The Ottawa and Toronto conferences are both signs of an increasing interest developed over the last couple of decades in the role religion plays in politics in general and in either peace or conflict more specifically, filling in a correlational gap in scholarship that heretofore focused only on power, economics, ideology, nationalism, etc.
  5. While the Ottawa conference approached the issue of the relation of religion to the polity from the perspective of participant observers, the Toronto conference strived for detachment, but both did so within an ideal of impartiality that, in itself, seemed to belie an essential part of traditional religion, its commitment to the truth of partiality as expressed in any specific religion.
  6. Lurking in the background of the Toronto conference was the heavily quantitative use of the Minorities at Risk (MAR) data base at the University of Maryland initiated by Ted Gurr in the mid-eighties and used in Jonathan Fox’s Religion, Civilization, and Civil War or his edited volume, Religion, Politics, Society, & the State, and, most importantly, his own conclusion that religion was not a salient factor in violent conflicts. The figure cited at the conference was only 13%.
  7. The latter complemented my own studies referred to in the Ottawa conference that historical memory rather than faith was a main determinant of assisting refugees, suggesting that faith had a very limited role in fostering good works as well as violence.
  8. Victoria Barnett suggested two main streams for approaching the relationship of religion and power, that of interfaith dialogue so evident in the Ottawa meeting, and a more critical approach, one which has barely broken through into deep discussions of theological differences and the role of those differences in fomenting violence or the role of overlapping beliefs fostering good works.
  9. Susannah Heschel was very suspicious, no, dismissive, of any attempt in using religion to apply to secular systems of values. Though she restricted her asides to caricatures – football as a religion – she was clear that she wanted to limit the use of the term to social systems based on rules and practices that made reference to a superior being, though religions exist which do not.
  10. However, in listening to the discussion, I concluded that the distinction was not between religions confined to a connection with a superior being and the extension into realms of civil society, but between faith systems that were rooted in absolute certainty and the truth for which one was willing, not only to die but to kill, versus religions that brought to consciousness that which had been taken for granted and, therefore, left unexamined, the connection between absolutist beliefs and violence.

The core characteristic of traditional religion may be that it is rooted in an inherent bias. Therefore, how can I dub a set of values articulated as the best for a polis as a civil religion if one of those values is impartiality? Is interfaith dialogue only possible because of a willingness to set aside or bracket theological differences in the search for commonality, thereby surrendering the core of that which may give religion its sense of passionate commitment? What if violence is defined as the commitment and effort to achieve a higher good? If so, how can interfaith dialogue be peaceful if it tries to go beyond making space for the other and, instead, uses the space in between and among to engage with others over commitment, over truth, and over what is most important in offering one’s life as a sacrifice? Or is that simply the orientation of the dominant Western religions?

One might even go further. Is not the development of a civil religion the sign of that effort to reach for a beyond that has been a hallmark of all religions, but doing so by setting aside the inherent connection to violence? In fact, is not the post-enlightenment effort over the last one hundred and fifty years been to discover and articulate a set of values and norms which defend a common humanity as primary? Has that effort not developed rules about the employment of violence, as in just war theory and practice, that allow lions to lie down beside lambs? In other words, the very effort to strive for impartiality, the very effort to esteem the core values of science, may be the core civic value in overcoming the traditional partisanship, not only of religion, but of ethno-nationalism?

Which brings me to the issue of equality. In Jeffrey Omar Usman’s very long scholarly article, “Defining Religion: The Struggle to Define Religion under the First Amendment and the Contributions and Insights of Other Disciplines of Study Including Theology, Psychology, Sociology, the Arts and Anthropology” [note the explicit omission of politics and economics] published in The North Dakota Law Review (83:123, 123-223, 2007), he concluded as follows:

“whatever definition of religion is applied, it should be applied in a consistent manner, and though courts should act with caution in defining religion, they should do so without fear. It is readily apparent that religion is incredibly difficult to define; scholars and courts have stumbled and will continue to do so in approaching this extraordinarily complicated subject. In endeavoring to formulate the best possible definition, the most important elements of the continuing effort by judges and academics to define religion are: (1) adherence to equality (my bold and italics) as a guiding interpretative principle; (2) employing the definition in a consistent manner; and (3) being cautious but not so frightened that the courts retreat to so vague a definition that the term religion loses its meaning.”

Why equality? Why consistency? How do these two overarching values help prevent slipping into the mire of meaningless equivocation? Look at how Usman’s key elements of a religion, that must be expressed, articulated and be unequivocal, are mapped onto those articulated by Susannah Heschel.

  1. “A religious belief or practice under the First Amendment…should be an approach toward or duty imposed by an authority that is part of some reality or understanding that is beyond the ordinary and beyond the state.” (This is a wider frame than Heschel’s definition in terms of a superior being, but it entails the retention of the distinction between a sacred authority and the profane in relation to fundamental questions of existence, and the exclusion of beliefs that are just personal and not broadly communal. The rituals of football or the collection of memorabilia about a celebrity or even the pursuit of wealth ad infinitum, do not deal with the meaning of suffering and death and the existence of spiritual reality, what Hegel called the Geist.
  2. On the other hand, that authority beyond the ordinary, whether it be called divine or not, “can encompass both the divine and demonic, the creative and the destructive.” (Paul Tillich) [I will return to this at the end.]
  3. There is a distinction between the right of free speech, a much broader right independent of religion, and a guarantee of the free exercise of and the prohibition against an established
  4. To go further, and in an extract by the Supreme Court of the U.S, “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” The First Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In other words, freedom from practicing religion is as important as freedom to practice one’s religion.
  5. When William James, one of the key founders of Pragmatism, in the nineteenth century wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience [note, experience is singular but religion is written as a plural noun], it is clear that, although there may be a singular ultimate concern, people experience life with a variety of competing and conflicting concerns through various experiences and, therefore, there should be no effort of the polity to give one set of concerns priority over another.

That is why the core sentiment expressed in the American First Amendment is so crucial in the construction of the values of the modern world. Impartiality, equality and fairness are at the centre of post-enlightenment religion rather than partisanship, inegalitarianism as well as ruthless and unfair practices characteristic of the profane realm and built into historic religions. The Stone-Trump doctrine raises the profane values of extreme partisanship, inegalitarianism and ruthless and unfair methods to advance a cause once seen to be core values of religion and ones removed from that core by the First Amendment and modern efforts to articulate a Civil Religion. It is a civil religion as demonic.

And the reason is simple. Whereas Hobbes and Locke made the fundamental mistake of presuming that freedom rather than equality was the fundamental given, and, therefore, allowed those who developed their ideas on this platform to conceive of the state as an instrument for squelching or confining that freedom, a modern civil religion views freedom as the holy grail, as a state that we should be dedicated to establishing for all humanity.

This brings me to my final set of antonyms, false-consciousness versus humans as falsifiers. The latter is easy to understand. Those who would raise the core of the profane to the level of the sacred are slaves to dishonesty, to using whatever is necessary to win, in business or in politics, as long as those efforts fall within the law, or, at least, fall within the law that can be used to send you to prison and deprive you of freedom – hence the effort to control the making of laws to expand the realm in which dishonesty can be used with impunity. Some would claim that sacred is even a non-issue for such people, but the passion of belief of a man like Roger Stone suggests otherwise.

Freedom, instead of providing a platform in which different groups can pursue the questions of the ultimate meaning of existence without interference by the state, is conceived as already pre-determined, as rooted in a law of nature: each individual exists simply to pursue his or her own well-being. Freedom equals the doctrine of possessive individualism. That is why all other belief systems can be used and abused, trampled upon and cast aside, in the pursuit of self interest.

In Friedrich Engels and other theorists, false consciousness was the use of people pursuing survival within an ideological and institutional framework that perpetuated rather than undermined inequality. It was the disease at the ideological base of capitalism. It is the base that forms the core of the Stone-Trump ideology in an effort to monopolize the conception of capitalism under the virtue of greed in the guise of free competition. However, it should be apparent to everyone that competition for recognition is not equivalent to competition over the acquisition of material goods ad infinitum, that competition in capitalism can be a virtue without raising greed to a high altar in the holy of holies.

No one who turns mendacity into a supreme virtue can even explore the conception of false consciousness. For the purveyors of this supreme lie allow for no other competing belief in their civic demonic religion. All humans are greedy. Period! The core of a civil religion is to unpack this false consciousness, not only in others, but in our own ideological conceptions and institutional preferences. Critical self-consciousness to uproot false consciousness has to be at the centre of a civilized civil religion.

It is these values of this demonic religion set in Catfish Row on the waterfront of Charleston, South Carolina, where a Black mammie takes care of the child of a good-lookin momma and rich and powerful father, that were satirized in George Gershwin’s “Summertime” that I heard a chorus sing at a concert last evening.

Summertime,

And the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy’s rich
And your mamma’s good lookin’
So hush little baby
Don’t you cry

One of these mornings
You’re going to rise up singing
Then you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky

But until that morning
There’s a’nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by.

Then, among the Hebrew, Yiddish and other great songs, the choir sang “Blackbird” that expressed the ultimate goal of the new civic religion.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life,
You were only waiting for the moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life,
You were only waiting for the moment to be free.

Black bird fly, black bird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Black bird fly, black bird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Canadian Civil Society II – Islamophobia and Empathy

by

Howard Adelman

This blog continues the discussion of the core values of the Canadian civil religion in contrast to the Trump-Stone ethos now governing the polis in the U.S.  In the previous blog, I dealt with the first four values, but I reprint the whole list as a reference.

Canada                                        U.S.A.

  1. Civility                               Incivility
  2. Compassion                      Passion
  3. Dignity                               Indignation
  4. Diversity                           Unity
  5. Empathy                           Insecurity
  6. Impartial                          Partisan
  7. Egalitarian                       Inegalitarian
  8. Fairness                            Ruthless & even Unfair
  9. Freedom as a Goal          Freedom as Given
  10. False-consciousness       Humans as Falsifiers

Why is empathy, the fifth value above, different from compassion? Compassion is a feeling for the suffering of others. Empathy is a cognitive exercise, getting inside the head of another to understand how and why the individual makes the decisions he or she does. Empathy operates by adopting the point of view of the other as one’s own in order to understand the other’s perspective. This vicarious experiencing of the thoughts, feelings and frame of reference of another was largely evident in the debate leading up to the Members of the House of Commons passing an “Islamophobia” Motion, M-103, by a vote of 201-91 two months ago on 23 March 2017.

Before I analyze the Canadian debate on Islamophobia as an example of empathy for the most part, I want to first explain what Islamophobia is and why I offered “insecurity” as the antonym to “empathy” by tracking Donald Trump’s position on Islam. I also want to do this as an exercise in empathy rather than righteous haranguing against Donald Trump’s self-evidently outrageous statements on Islam.

Donald Trump’s criticism of Islam began long before he launched his campaign to become president and long before he assumed the Office of President of the United States of America. Some statements made five years earlier may have adumbrated one plank of a presidential campaign that would include negative statements about Islam. When Donald Trump took leadership of the Birther Movement, the organized effort to convince Americans and the world that: a) Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.; and b) that Obama was secretly a Muslim, in an interview on 11 December 2011, Trump articulated his more general warnings about Islam and Muslims.

In November of 2015, he uttered the outright lie that, “thousands of people [Muslims] celebrated in Jersey City in N.J. on 11 September 2001.” Though some residents of Jersey City claimed that Trump’s assertion was true and that “we saw it,” no video or photo has ever appeared to verify the claim. According to Trump, “There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it [the destruction of the Twin Towers] a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. No good.” In December of 2015, Trump put out a policy statement in his race to win the Republican nomination that warned of the “extraordinary influx of hatred & danger coming into our country.”

This is what appeared then on his campaign website:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing “25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51% of those polled, “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.” Shariah authorizes such atrocities as murder against non-believers who won’t convert, beheadings and more unthinkable acts that pose great harm to Americans, especially women.

The citation of a notorious Islamophobe, Frank Gaffney and his organization, in itself fostered Islamophobia. Gaffney was even banned from attending the Conservative Political Action Conference when he levelled the same claim against the board members of being Muslim Brotherhood agents that he had accused Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, of being. Thus, Trump’s call on the campaign trail to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., his assertion in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN that, “I think Islam hates us,” and that, “we can’t allow people coming into the country who have this hatred of the United States,” and his promise to absolutely implement a Muslim database, all offered evidence of his purported Islamophobia. The campaign climaxed in the two failed executive orders he issued when he became president to ban members of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

However, in Riyadh on Sunday as President of the U.S. appearing before an Arab summit of 50 leaders, he called his foreign policy, “principled realism,” though it is very difficult to discern any moral principles informing the doctrine. He asked for “partnerships” that would “advance security through stability, not through radical disruption.” In a slip of sloppy writing, he contrasted those prospective partners with perfection: “We must seek partners, not perfection.”  The ideal was self-reliance; the compromise was partnerships, partnerships even with predominantly Muslim countries.

Donald Trump made other mistakes in his overtures to these countries. He celebrated the pyramids and palaces of Giza and Luxor, the ruins of Petra in Jordan, all pre-Islam, but conspicuously not the grandeur in art and architecture, science and technology, thought and writing achieved at the pinnacle of Muslim civilization. However, he lauded Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths” and insisted that the war was against terror, against radical Islamicists; the majority of the victims were Muslims. He never used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” that he claimed Barack Obama had been too cowardly to employ. He continued: it was not a war between civilizations.

How can we reconcile these assertions as President with Donald Trump’s claims as a campaigner? Was Trump guilty of Islamophobia, but quickly abandoned the belief after he became president and made his first foreign trip abroad to Saudi Arabia? Let me try to understand the position, but only after reviewing the debate on Islamophobia in Canada.

On 26 October 2016, the Canadian Parliament gave unanimous consent to a motion by NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, condemning Islamophobia:

That the House join the 69,742 Canadian supporters of House of Commons e-petition (e-411) in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.

In his speech, the Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP) said:

Mr. Speaker, hate crimes targeting Muslim Canadians have tragically become more frequent in recent years. Each time we hear of another, it weighs heavily on our hearts. We know that Canada is fundamentally a country of peace. Nous célébrons la diversité et les différences. Cela fait partie de qui nous sommes mais ces valeurs doivent être protégées. Les étincelles de haine doivent être condamnées. Nous ne pouvons pas rester sans rien faire. L’histoire nous l’a bien appris. Nous devons lutter contre la haine perpétrée à l’endroit de n’importe quel groupe de personnes en raison de leur religion, de leur ethnie, de leur langue ou de leur orientation sexuelle. We must actively fight hate perpetrated against the Muslim community and denounce, in this House, lslamophobia in all of its forms. Au nom de tous les néo-démocrates, je tiens à offrir mon appui à la communauté musulmane de Sept-Îles et à rappeler à toutes les communautés musulmanes du Canada que nous sommes avec elles.

What took place between the passage of this motion and three weeks earlier, on 6 October, when an almost identical motion was defeated by a handful of Conservatives members shouting, “Nay”?  Did Parliament deny the Canadian-Muslim community the recognition and empathy it deserved in the defeat of that motion? Was it subsequently moved by a petition with almost 70,000 signatures and/or the third attack on a newly-built Sept-Ȋles mosque that took place just four days before the motion passed? Was the defeat of the 6 October motion itself an act of Islamophobia that even went beyond the claim that it was an indication of a lack of empathy? Or was the vote of a handful of Conservative members of the House likely motivated simply by partisanship, as Mulcair claimed?

Ironically, the vandalism was probably not a hate crime. At the time of the unanimous passage of the motion, a man turned himself in to the police confessing responsibility for the crime. He said that he had become drunk that night in the bar next door to the cultural centre and did the damage, but he was too drunk to even know at the time that he had committed the crime. Nor, given the subsequent debate on a bill against Islamophobia, was the earlier dissent on the motion likely motivated by either partisanship or Islamophobia. It was more likely the Conservatives did not fully grasp the meaning and intent of the concept “Islamophobia’. They gave evidence that they had not been sufficiently empathetic to the position of the Muslims.

Why would they want to vote against a bill that condemned a form of hatred? One possibility is that they regarded Islamophobia as a term that did not mean “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” It was not anti-Muslim or anti-Islam at all. Islamophobia literally meant fear of Islam, Islam – phobia.  Fear is different than hatred. One can irrationally fear all Muslims even though very few are terrorists, but there is no necessary connection between fear of the other and hatred of the other.

However, the Ontario Human Rights commission offers a definition of Islamophobia as: “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general.” In the UK, the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in its 1997 report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.” The concept is made up of the following eight recurring views of Islam as:

(1) a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change;

(2) separate and ‘other’ without ‘values in common with other cultures,’ being neither affected by them nor having any influence on them;

(3) ‘inferior to the West,’ ‘barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist;’

(4) violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilizations’;

(5) a political ideology used for political or military advantage;

(6) rejecting out of hand ‘criticisms made of the West by Islam’;

(7) hostility justifying ‘discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society’;

(8) seeing anti-Muslim hostility ‘as natural or normal’.

In contrast, antisemitism is defined as hatred aimed at Jews. Islamophobia has a wider range than hatred. There was a fear that the vagueness of the term and its broader cast would have the potential to stifle debate. Some even claimed that this was the only reason for introducing the bill, to stifle criticism of Islam even further. According to Dennis Prager, “The term “Islamophobia” has one purpose — to suppress any criticism, legitimate or not, of Islam.” Critics, specifically from the Jewish community, claimed that Motion M-103 put forth by Mississauga-Erin Mils MP, Iqra Khalid, would allow a person criticizing Islam to be subjected to criminal charges. A final reason offered was that, in contrast to B’nai Brith’s extensive collection of data and documentation of violence, harassment and vandalism against Jews, the equivalent documentation against Muslim and Islamic institutions was sparse.

Ironically, a Muslim academic, Ingrid Mattson, who holds the Inaugural Chair of Islamic Studies at Huron University College in London, Ontario, said that as much as hatred targets Muslims groups, there were many more antisemitic attacks in Canada. I was not able to ascertain whether Amira Elghawaby, the Communications Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), who was also at the conference, agreed or whether she would simply say she does not know because the Muslim community is not as adept at collecting data as the Jewish community.

First tabled on 5 December 2016, M-103 passed in March by a vote of 201-91 and was referred to committee for further review. Why had it been subject to so much acrimonious debate? Why did opponents view it a slippery slope to limiting freedom of speech or even introducing Sharia law into Canada when that law ran counter to Canadian values and laws? Why did almost the whole Conservative caucus, with the exception of Michael Chong and Bruce Stanton, oppose the bill? Why were not these opponents swayed by the 29 January mosque shooting in Quebec City where six Muslim worshippers were killed? And why, according to an Angus Reid poll conducted between 13 and 17 March 2017, did only 12% of Canadians support the bill? 31% saw M-103 as endangering free speech, another 31% viewed it as a motherhood motion without any effect, and 17% viewed the bill and the debate as a waste of time.

Khalid’s motion required the government to undertake three initiatives:

  • Condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination;
  • Quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear;
  • Develop a government-wide approach for reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.

The latter would require the heritage committee to create and maintain a data base on hate crime, much as B’nai Brith does for the Jewish community with respect to antisemitism in its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. Data collection on Islamophobia, in contrast, is sparse.

However, an effort to collect such data, however valuable, might also cause one to pause, especially if the data is to be assembled by government. For, in the age of digital communications, incidents of antisemitic remarks have expanded exponentially, suggesting a rising tide of antisemitism based only on the number of incidents recorded. As B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn opined, the comment section of any news media includes a plethora of comments condemning Zionist plots and Jews for murdering children. In addition to genuine acts of antisemitism – spray painting swastikas on gravestone, vandalizing synagogues and Jewish community centres – there are a plethora of crackpots now publishing antisemitic symbols and spreading hate.

The same can be said of hatred aimed at Muslims. Haroon Siddiqui gave a speech at the Aga Khan Museum that blamed the media, in particular, the National Post and the Postmedia newspaper group, for contributing to Islamophobia by looking for terrorists under every minaret and writing up every Muslim who makes an outrageous statement suggesting militancy or malevolence. On the other hand, given the incident yesterday evening in Manchester, one should not be surprised at the fear that a Muslim could be a terrorist. Should Harvey Levine, the Quebec Director of B’nai Brith, be condemned when he asked Montreal police to investigate two incidents of Muslim imams allegedly calling for the killing of Jews?  It should be no surprise that Levine had concerns about M-103.

Cannot the same be said about motions condemning antisemitism – that they go overboard and sweep up genuine criticisms in their compass? What is the difference between some strong criticisms of Israel and the xenophobia allegedly evident in statements and articles critical of wearing the niqab and the fearmongering that accompanied it. A motion was passed unanimously by the House of Commons, the Irwin Cotler motion, that noted “an alarming increase in anti-Semitism worldwide,” incidents that included a singular and virtually exclusive preoccupation with the alleged misdeeds of the Israeli government and even the denial of the right of self-determination for the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist.  When does legitimate criticism of Israel become antisemitic?

There is one notable difference between the antisemitism and Islamophobia. The latter starts with fear and expands towards hatred. The former starts with hatred that fosters fear. But there are far more commonalities. And, in the final analysis, whatever the fears of creeping infringements on freedom of speech in both cases, whatever the ambiguities, whatever the comparative quantitative and qualitative analysis of victimhood, whatever the contradictions when some Muslim groups seem to be main purveyors of antisemitism and some Jewish organizations are major critics of the open-ended nature of the focus on Islamophobia, if one empathetically enters into the mindset of the pains and fears of members of either group, whatever the qualms, support for motions condemning both antisemitism and Islamophobia usually follow. Even when it does not, one must appreciate the relative civility in which the debate was conducted and honestly get inside the mindset of the person in opposition.

Which brings us back to Trump. I do not think he hates Muslims. I do think he used hatred and fear as means to advance his own political agenda. He should be condemned for manipulating people based on their irrational fears and hatreds rooted in their insecurities and, thereby, contributing significantly to a rising tide of Islamophobia.

With the help of Alex Zisman