Populism

Yesterday was very busy. I attended the lunch hour talk at Massey College by Cliff Orwin on “Populism.” I then went to my dentist and heard the disappointing news that my implants were not yet fused solidly enough to my jaw bones to put on crowns; I would have to wait another two months. I then returned to the University of Toronto and attended the J.F. Priestley lecture delivered by Jill Lepore on “Facts.” Today and tomorrow I will attend the second and third of these lectures by Jill Lepore on “Numbers.” And “Data” respectively. The three-part series is called, “The End of Knowledge.” In the evening I returned to Massey College to listen to a panel discussion on “Religion and Conflict.” I will report on each in turn in this and subsequent blogs as a way of gaining an understanding of the university as a Social Service Station.

Cliff is a brilliant scholar who was educated at Cornell University under the aegis of Allan Bloom and at Harvard in the sixties and then, like many American academics, migrated north. He is a professor of political philosophy renowned for his work on Thucydides (The Humanity of Thucydides), but is also engaged with modern, contemporary and Jewish thought. In his own bio, he writes that his main current concerns are compassion and the emergence of justice or righteousness in the Torah. Coincidentally, at the panel on “Religion and Conflict,” Rabbi Yael Splansky, one of the panelists, handed out a drash (an interpretation of religious text) from the Talmud, Bereishit Rabbah 8:5, that dwelt on the interplay of kindness or compassion, truth, justice and peace. As is customary, it is written in the form of “on the one hand” and then “on the other hand” in an argument among the angels over whether God should create humans. Because humans will be bestowed with compassion and justice – Cliff’s two current topics – in the angel’s eyes, this argues for human creation. However, humans will also be characterized by the propensity to lie rather than seek the truth and with the propensity for conflict and dissension rather than peace, the arguments offered for not creating humans.

These will be the four themes that run through the next series of blogs – the expression of compassion and the quest for justice offset by the propensity to lie rather than seek the truth and the propensity for dissension or conflict rather than peace. What does God do after listening to the debate amongst his angels? He “took truth and flung him to the ground. Thus it is written: ‘You will cast truth to the ground.’ (Daniel 8:12)” “Why did you do that?” asked an angel. Why would you despise your seal of truth since truth must rise from the ground? “Truth will grow from the earth.” (Psalms 85:12)

Two historians of the past and a rabbinic scholar on the same day are really all mesmerized by the issue of truth in juxtaposition with developments in the external world. The scholarship of the two professors is used to offer different reasons for the current passion to denigrate “truth” and to explain why this is so. They are not addressing abstract topics, but issues we now confront daily. They may be political philosophers or scholars in modern intellectual history or preoccupied with the Talmud, but the issue before them all is explaining the current widespread disdain for truth and assessing the significance of this turn of events. They are esteemed thinkers, two of them working in a university still characterized as a Social Service Station focused on and guided by the current problems of the day which they use their scholarship to address. In addition to their scholarship, Orwin, Lefore and Splansky are all prolific contributors of op-eds.

Populism is certainly on the rise. In the past ten days we witnessed Doug Ford, a local populist, being elected to lead the Conservative Party of Ontario, an event reported by Foreign Affairs in its coverage of the noteworthy issues around the world. In the Italian elections on 4 March, populist parties emerged triumphant, Matteo Salvini’s Northern League (Lega Nord), the far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), Luigi di Maio’s Five Star Movement (MoVimento 5 Stelle or M5S) and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forward Italy (Forza Italia), the latter now portrayed more as a traditional centre-right party than a populist one. Together, they won a majority of the seats in Parliament with M5S winning a much greater proportion of the votes than expected. Then, of course, there was the latest flood of news from the strongest label in the populist arena, Donald Trump himself and his shenanigans.

Trump’s initiative to meet with North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, first unconditionally, then conditionally, then quasi-conditionally, that is, unconditionally with some conditions, his firing of Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State via a tweet, his protectionist trade policies and imposition of duties on imported steel and aluminum, at the same time as he was embroiled in the suit be Stormy Daniels, the porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair and to whom he indirectly paid $130,000 to shut her up just before the elections. Yesterday, Trump reviewed the design prototypes in San Diego of his long-promised wall along the Mexican border, one of the main planks of his populist program that won him the presidency. The cup of populism runneth over.

What did Thucydides have to say about populism? As Cliff noted, the pattern of lying is not unique to populism. Look at the big lie of the George Bush presidency about nuclear weapons in Iraq that justified the American invasion. As Thucydides wrote (Book VI of The Peloponnesian Wars), the Athenians based their invasion of Sicily, ignorant of the deep divisions within that population, on advancing their imperial and pecuniary interests, but based on misinformation and downright lies as revealed by Nicias who had been appointed general against his will. Nicias thought that the decision to go to war was based “upon slight and specious grounds.” Nicias warned of the many existing enemies that would arise from such an expedition and the new ones that would emerge from within Sicily.

One populist response to these lies and historic consequences was a rejection of global overreach and a propensity towards neo-isolationist policies. The imperial elites that populists subsequently rejected in the name of self-determination and the opposition to bringing more foreigners to Athens because the needs of Athens’s own population were being neglected, were the same problems pointed to by liberals. Neo-cons were the enemies of both liberals and populists as were the mandarins who supported those imperialist adventurers.

The populists simply marked all bureaucrats with the same brush. The populists were correct in at least one sense – liberals had lost touch with the people. And Cliff is driven by a need to reconnect intellectual elites with the people in the pattern of his hero, Thucydides, who he claims always displayed a sympathy for the victims of power. Trump went further along another path and insisted, “Let us have no more allies such as ours have often been to whom we are expected to render aid when they are in misfortune, but from whom we ourselves get no help when we need it.” (Thucydides, Book VI)

Further, as with Athens, America is an innovative state that has always been dedicated to imperial expansion and glory in pursuit of its own interests at the expense of others. Populists simply insist, contrary to fact, that it is the U.S. that has been suckered. Further, the populism of Athens, and any other city-state in the ancient Greek world, preferred safety even at the cost of justice. So wherein comes justice, wherein comes compassion, in a world torn between imperial passions and defensive self-concern? Even Sparta, rooted in conservatism, moderation and the old-fashioned virtue of justice, was motivated by fear, fear of the helots on whose labour the city-state depended. States are caught between imperial overreach (such as that of the neo-cons) that expresses a willingness to sacrifice for a larger cause, and an obsession with safety of self characterized by populism. Liberals must manage the two diverse and rival passions of glory versus safety, ambition versus self-determination, and must do so by a reverence for candor and truth.

Cliff made the same point that Thucydides did – the need to make liberalism more populist. In order to reinvigorate a democracy that had abandoned its roots, its foundations in self-determination and in democracy. The problem, of course, is that populism and liberalism, whatever their overlaps, are very different. Populism embraces a politics of resentment, of negativity rather than offering a positive program based on a canonical text outlining core beliefs. Further, populism is anti-elitist where the elites are NOT defined by their wealth, but by their failure to identify with the problems of ordinary people. The elites are journalists, academic intellectuals and mandarins who speak what to them is a foreign language and who substantively appear to be hypocrites in their ostensible concern for resolving social problems while neglecting the decline in jobs, the decline in hopes and the general distress of a working class displaced by globalism.

Localism, anti-mandarinism, neo-isolationism in both trade and foreign affairs, mark them off from liberals. In Europe, populist parties have tended to don a liberal dress to attract a wider appeal. In North America, they market themselves as anti-liberal. In both cases, populists regard the position of these academic elites as consisting entirely of lies and responsible for the dissension in society because they do not attend to “the core values” that once purportedly characterized the nation. To top it off, these liberals lacked compassion towards their own and a determination to deliver on the promise of justice. Barack Obama bailed out the banks but not the people who were underwater because of the history of the banks disregard of the impact of their policies on small homeowners.

But the central characteristic that I take to be typical of populism is a total disregard of the truth that they project onto elites. It is they who sell out their heads for what they feel. It is they who base policy on sentiment in response to a deep need for compassion and justice directed toward themselves. In The New Yorker (5 March 2018), there is an investigative report by Mike Spies on the famous or infamous gun lobbyist in Florida, Marion Hammer who earns US$316,000 a year for her efforts. Florida witnessed the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in the attack of a killer with assault weapons on a largely Latino gay nightclub in Orlando on 12 June 2016. 49 were killed and 58 others were injured, a fatality toll only surpassed by the attack in Las Vegas a year later. But the killer was Omar Mateen, a follower of radical Islam.

This was not the case in Las Vegas. This was not the case of the 17 killed most recently at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. A majority of Americans may support increased gun control, but a populist-rooted NRA and its lobbyists have been behind a series of efforts to expand the access to weapons by Americans, including the unique privilege of carrying firearms by the ordinary public, bills that punish officials who even attempt to establish gun registries, the right to carry concealed weapons and, more fundamentally, for overturning 100 years of American judicial interpretations of the second amendment of the American constitution that protects the rights of states to arm militias and converting it to a policy that insists on the natural-born right of every individual in America to bear arms. Not only to bear them, but to use them if they have a reasonable belief that they are acting to defend themselves. “Subjective feelings of fear were grounds to shoot someone even if there were other options available.” (p. 28)

Law and order displaces the rule of law and a respect for due process. It is no surprise that subsequent to the passage of such legislation, “the number of homicides ruled legally justifiable had increased in Florida by seventy-five percent.” “Such killers need provide zero evidence of self-defence to avoid not only being convicted but being prosecuted at all.” (p. 31) On 26 February 2012, George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida killed an unarmed black man, Trayvon Martin, and was found innocent. Since the law took effect, seventy percent of those who invoked it (the belief in a justified fear of danger) as a defense had gone free.” (p. 28)

Behind it all is not a politics of informed debate, but a politics of lies and threats, of coercion and manipulation. The NRA has 300,000 members in Florida. It is Marion Hammer, a non-elected lobbyist, who writes bills and oversees their passage and who prevents ANY and ALL legislation that would limit access to and the use of guns to even come up for vote. She controls a politically very active voting bloc that she manipulates with provocative language, paints even her most loyal legislative supporters as traitors if they deviate one iota from the line she establishes. Their miniscule attempts at deviation are marked as “unforgiveable betrayals.”

The basic position is that she is not just defending the right to both bear and use weapons, but a way of life under attack defended by a large “number of fanatical supporters who will take her word for almost anything and can be deployed at will.” (p. 26) She sends out 2-3 million e-mails on an issue and there are 4.6 million registered Republicans in the state. Hammer refused to be interviewed for Mike Spies’s story and in response to queries insisted that, “facts are being misrepresented and false stuff is being presented as fact.” But she offers no proof. She offers no rebuttals. As a complete fabrication based on no offered or available data, Hammer contended that “before the law (the one allowing the use of a weapon if you had a reasonable belief that you were in danger) was enacted, innocent people were being arrested, prosecuted and punished for exercising self-defence that was lawful under the Constitution.“ (p. 28) Ask for even one example and the answer is, “Not relevant.”

Mandarins who supply objective and disinterested “facts” are called liars propelled by the political intent to kill the legislation she supports. Anyone who does not support the positions she advocates, no matter what their past activity and support had been, become enemies. “(I)f you cross me once, even if the issue doesn’t involve the Second Amendment, I will take you out.” In defence of a Hobbesian state of nature in opposition to responsible government, any lie is permissible, any libel justified.

Though truth is thrust on the ground and covered with dirt and filth, truth will still grow from that earth, but it will take courage, commitment and compassion to protect those tender shoots against the assaults of populism. The duty of academics in a Social Service Station is to launch a full-scale attack on behalf of truth against these purveyors of lies and manipulators of voters. The dilemma, as Cliff points out in his book on Thucydides, is that reason and truth are weak in dealing with fears; hypocrisy must be employed to win support. Both liberalism and democracy need to be reclaimed by ensuring that truth can grow and thrive and that compassion rather than coercion, justice rather than injustice, can prevail. But it won’t come without costs.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Jill Lepore on Facts

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian Civil Society I

Canadian Civil Society I

by

Howard Adelman

At the conference in Ottawa last week on “Our Whole Society: Religion & Citizenship at Canada’s 150th,” the objective was to advance solidarity among faith groups by allowing them to operate within a broader framework of shared practices, in spite of diverse perspectives. I was there to address the role of faith groups with respect to immigrants and refugees and to help comprehend the role of faith groups in society more generally.

In my talk, I addressed each of these topics. On the issue of solidarity, I challenged such an objective on two grounds. First, a family resemblance existed among different faith groups on shared practices and values that required no solidarity on perspectives. They already had a common frame; they did not need solidarity on content. As John Borrows noted in his keynote address, the goal should not be to close the space and eliminate the gaps between and among groups. Nor should it simply be to allow space for others. Rather, those spaces should be used to encourage dialogue and debate, to facilitate exchanges that encourage respect for others.

Secondly, I addressed the conjunction between immigrants and refugees and suggested a fundamental difference between the two groups, not in terms of the traditional difference between one group who came of their own free will and the other who came because they were forced to flee. Free will and coercion are not dichotomous choices. Rather they are ideal poles and different immigrant and refugee groups arrive with different degrees of each motivating their quest for Canadian citizenship. I then suggested that the groups could better be distinguished by the different ways they integrated into Canadian society, a process that had important implications for future support of refugees and for the premise of the interfaith dialogue that led to the cooperation of faith groups.

Third, I challenged the conception of “exclusive secularism” that seemed to have been presumed by the organizers. This is a brand of secularism that insists that a hard line had to be drawn between the secular and the faith worlds, as hard a line as Kant drew between reason and faith in his Critiques. I challenged this proposition on two grounds. First, in many jurisdictions, especially in France with its doctrine of laicité, secularism itself is a religion and a relatively dogmatic one at that. It is a value-rooted system that prescribes conduct and especially dress, not just the banning of the hijab by school girls, but the wearing of speedos by males at public swimming pools. Second, it is a myth that faith groups are excluded from the political process. They enjoy in many areas, but especially in the sphere of refugees, an intimate partnership with the state as well as with the rest of secular society.

Fourth, I insisted that research had pointed to the important relevance of history rather than the primacy of faith in explaining the hand religious groups extended to refugees. That is why the Mennonites and the Christian Reformed Church were first to step up to the plate in a partnership with the Government to bring Indochinese refugees into Canada in 1979 and why more established churches, the United Church and the Catholics, had been stragglers. There was a hierarchy of commitment among faith groups, but the degree of commitment was not determined by faith, but by the historical experience imprinted in a group’s priorities concerning the effort to be devoted to refugees.

But the major part of the talk addressed the family resemblance among the different faith groups. I argued that the same family resemblance was shared with a significant part of secular society so that it could be said that most Canadians share a Canadian Civil Religion. It is a civil religion because it is not rooted in a singular faith and because it influences and prioritizes what governments do and, in particular, how government deals with strangers, how it deals with immigrants and refugees, how it deals with the most important question a polis faces, who to admit into membership. They shared core values. The values as articulated below were all expressed by various participants on the first day of the conference. I merely wrote them down.

The easiest way to explicate the Canadian Civil Religion was to contrast it with the American Civic Religion currently dominant in our neighbour to the south. I stress the phrase “currently dominant,” because most Americans do not decry the Canadian values depicted below. Second, the current dominant American values are also present underground in the Canadian collective psyche.

A set of ten values as follows indicates the contrast:

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

Let me explore each of these dichotomies in turn. In doing so, I will make reference to the brilliant and gripping Netflix documentary, Get me Roger Stone, in which the Stone-Trump doctrine of cynicism is explicitly articulated. Roger Stone has been depicted by Jeffrey Toobin as the “sinister Forrest Gump of American politics.” Whereas the movie Forrest Gump provided a story in which a naïve innocent was present in every key event since 1960, Roger Stone’s biography reveals a cynical disrupter present in everything from an indirect involvement in the McCarthy hearings through his mentor and hero, Ray Cohn (who was also Donald Trump’s litigation lawyer) from whom Stone adopted his dandyism, to his own actual involvement in everything from Watergate to the election and performance of Donald Trump.

Though not ever present in the Canadian sprawl, at the centre of the Canadian Civil religion is the quality of civility. For Canadians, it is the queen of virtues. It is what Americans refer to when they say, “Canadians are so polite.” Civility esteems reasonable behaviour that elevates courtesy to an art form. At the funeral of Ron Atkey, one could not ignore the civility that characterized this man during his life and the order and respect of the memorial service in his honour at Metropolitan United Church. For society to be civil, political engagement has to show reverence for civility in the conduct of those who practice the profession. Civility, relatively, is an outstanding trait of the Canadian Parliament.

In contrast, Roger Stone and Donald Trump raised incivility to a political art form by using discourtesy to others, innuendo, ad hominem attacks, personal insults, troll accusations and hate speech as the core of the political process. Whether Trump was telling the Russian ambassador that Comey was a “nut job,” or whether he and Stone were leading a mass crowd to shout, “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton, Trump wallowed in libel and defamed his final competitor in the race for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, by referring to stories accusing his opponent of being a sexual gallivanter when Trump’s own operators had written the stories. This is not a core value of most Americans. It is a core value of the Trump regime currently in charge of the polis in the U.S.

A second virtue extolled in the Canadian Civil Religion is compassion, a concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. Compassion entails not just pity, but self-sacrifice for others. Compassion is not merely driven by the sight of the dead three-year-old Syrian refugee boy, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore on a Turkish beach, or abhorrence at the horrors of war itself, as Donald Trump was possibly motivated by the dead children killed in the chemical attack by Syrian forces that left 75 dead, including 20 children. Donald Trump called the behaviour an “affront to humanity” and castigated Bashar al-Assad for his heinous action. But his outrage was not based on compassion for it did not lead to sacrifice and the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. Rather, it led to blowing up runways, facilities and planes with tomahawk missiles.

For the ideology of the Trump brand extols passion for a cause rather than compassion for others. Zealotry, intensity and pugnacity are highly praised under a doctrine of “take no prisoners” and leave behind a scorched earth. For the object is not just winning, but winning at any cost and winning at great cost to the other. For politics is not a positive sum game or even a zero sum game. It is a negative sum game in which you lose, but your opposition must suffer even greater losses. Politics becomes provocation and the only response to criticism is to attack, attack and attack.

A third virtue of the Canadian Civil Religion is dignity. Dignity admires serious attention to a problem and self-control in dealing with it. But it is not only a virtue with respect to one’s own bearing and conduct, speech and self-regard, it is also the accord extended to others who one considers to be a being who is valued even as one disagrees with his or her opinions. The virtue is identified with respect for inherent and inalienable rights. Humans of all types must be treated with dignity. So must the dead.

The contrasting values of the Stone-Trump ideology esteem indignation in oneself and insults aimed at the other. The goal of the latter is to humiliate and lay open to scorn the character and conduct of others. Indignation demonstrates unconcern and indifference for the other and total absorption and care for oneself. The object is to debase the other and draw attention to oneself.  The irony is that indignation is seen to arise because of perceived unfair treatment of oneself. One is affronted and takes umbrage at the disrespect shown. But indignation does not normally result in the quest for fair treatment, but rather in a view that the world is inherently unfair and that the only response is fight if one does not want to flee the plane of battle. Indignation presumes a politics of resentment and uses that deep understanding to mobilize those suffering from indifference and disrespect.

A fourth value esteemed in the Canadian Civil Religion is diversity. Often, many think that this is the primary cultural attitude as we extol multiculturalism. But the curious question is why anyone would prefer monochromatic unity in opposition to diversity. We do not want to eat at the same restaurant every night. And we all do not love meat loaf and fast food. Canadians extol the richness of multiculturalism, the benefits to society brought about when multiple cultures live side-by-side and interact.

However, the reverence for diversity, the respect for pluralism, is not confined to civil society. It permeates the polis, its makeup, policies and priorities. Canadians do not favour assimilation; Canada has no melting pot. Canadians do favour integration. Canadians support strong multiculturalism, not simply tolerance and respect for differences, but a positive effort to promote diversity both in the political representatives of our society and in how the government deals with different cultural groups. This is a work in progress because the government has never been able to adequately address the status and role of aboriginal groups in Canadian society. However, John Borrows in his keynote speech offered a primer on how to do precisely that.

Trump trumpeted unity in his victory speech. This past American Thanksgiving in late November, when Donald Trump was forming his government, he offered the following prayer: “It’s my prayer that on this Thanksgiving we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve.” From the most divisive force in the history of American politics, this prayer may have seemed like an expression of hypocrisy, but Trump has a record of engaging in fisticuffs and then inviting all those he beat up for a drink, while notably abstaining himself.

When he appointed South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, it was not done to highlight America’s multiculturalism, but to honour the success of its efforts in assimilation. When he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress, he extolled unity to end a toxic, partisan environment, ignoring totally that he was the prime source of the toxicity. When he is in charge, everyone should march to the tune of the pied piper even as he plays very different tunes at different times. Unity is a virtue as long, and only as long, as it means unity in “following me.”

That appeal did not last as divisions worsened in society at large, between Democrats and Republicans, within the Republican caucus and even within the White House itself. Trump does not invite or welcome dissident voices. He sees himself as the captain of dissent and difference, but a captain intent on winning the big prize and forging a regime of unity under his suzerainty. It does not work in politics or in society, and Canadians know why.

To Be Continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman