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

75 Trump Aphorisms

An explanation. The following aphorisms or statements are not ones Trump Two-Two would or could make. Nevertheless, they are intended to represent what he thinks even though he is incapable of articulating any one of them. As his surrogate,Kayleigh McEnamy, said after the first presidential debate that Trump Two-Two had with Hillary, his reactions are all visceral rather than reflective. I have tried to be empathetic and make his beliefs conceptually clear. Of course, if Donald ever talked that way, he would lose at least half of his supporters.

75 Trump Aphorisms

by

Howard Adelman

An aphorism is a terse summary of a maxim used as a guide to life and purportedly representing what is held to be generally true or acutely observed by those who repeat the sentiment. “Saying what is on your mind is easy, especially when you are mindless and cannot see what is in front of your nose,” is an example of an aphorism in the form of an insult. Short statements also represent positions taken. Since I do not consider Trump Two-Two capable of expressing a principle or a considered policy – he is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of guy who speaks in simple and too widely held beliefs, all too frequently uttered twice – I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and act presumptuously as his speech writer. I have written a few beliefs, many in the form of aphorisms, that Trump Two-Two can be presumed to hold, in part to show that I do believe that I can get inside his head and demonstrate that I do not write from a bias. I do hope you get the irony of some of them.

On Facts, Truth, Reason and the Self

1. Some say there must be common sense if we are to have a sense of the commons. A common touch is better than common sense.
2. When reason, used to unravel the riddles of the universe, is also used to make the universe a riddle, unreason takes the stage to unravel common sense.
3. Hyperbole is a white lie designed to bring out a deeper truth than common sense.
4. If truth is not absolute, all thought is subjective; any idea is as good as any other.
5. An idea is only valid if it can be sold, not in the market place of ideas, but in the economic market.
6. Autonomous thoughts, loudly and repeatedly expressed, are as valid as any conclusions of the chattering class.
7. Disregarding logic and evidence is not nonsense but pretense.
8. When philosophers dance on the dais of doubt, anxiety spreads to provide an opening for the fabricator who promises deliverance.
9. Fabulism is the freedom to forge new realities; realism is obsessed with facts and enslaved to what is rather than what can be.
10. When there is no given truth, fabulism deserves equal time with realism in the name of fairness so that the possible can be as plentiful as the actual.
11. Reason not seasoned by common sense needs to be spiced-up by a dose of the blasphemous and the banal.
12. Physical blindness means we cannot see; mindblindness means we cannot know.
13. Do not overrate intellect and underrate imagination. It takes imagination not intellect to appreciate the pleasures of a $500 lunch.
14. Self-consciousness, like the penguin, is overrated.
15. Sturdy individuals are always to be preferred to the studious and the supersensible.

Politics

1. Politics should not be a program of implementing prevailing strategies, but an exercise in demonstrating how nimble you are.
2. The politics of grievance based in resentment energizes both the politics of illusion and the overthrow of the establishment.
3. America is a sea and air power; it need not be a land power. Our army is surplus to our needs. That means that we are free to use our armed forces to expand our wants lest we lend its use to the needs of others.
4. When an ordinary bloke like me can know more about dealing with our enemies than our generals, know more about dealing with our rivals than our diplomats, then we are better off entrusting defence and diplomacy to an artful dodger and a double-dealer. Would you rather have a leader who is tasteless and insipid or one who is openly unsavory?
5. Instead of gab-fests from experts who talk down to you while they ask you to donate blood, instead of an international meeting offering a smorgasbord of non-options, instead of meetings that suck the energy out of you leaving you impotent, attend one of my rallies.
6. Politics should be generous, not uptight. Politics should reach out rather than be hermetic. Politics should be self-regarding rather than being drowned in a concern for others. Politics should be fun and not a Methodist burden.
7. An international meeting is not a place for high mass or for Kol Nidre. It is a squash court rather than a restaurant mistaken for a church.
8. As the refugees in Kakuma Camp must be returned to Sudan, as the refugees in Dadaab must be returned to Mogadishu, as the refugees running rampant in Europe must be returned to the Middle East and Africa, so must the Hispanic illegals in America be returned to the other side of our southern border. The territory of a nation is a refuge for its citizens and not stressed-out strangers.
9. Drop cement reef balls in the sea to allow marine life to flourish instead of placing a moratorium on fishing and expanding the class of enforcers who are such a burden on the lives of ordinary citizens.
10. Instead of treating natural pride as if it were an allergy and acting akin to forbidding peanut butter in lunch boxes, allow all infants to be exposed to peanuts so they can develop their own immune systems and enlarge their national pride.
11. National pride is not a shameful expression but a shameless exercise in exuberance.
12. Tell Senator Elizabeth Warren or Pocahontas that the option is not denial of past crimes towards the indigenous people of America; the option is not exposition and atonement; the option is not redress. Offering members of indigenous people opportunities to participate in an economically expanding nation is the only option.
13. Unpredictability is as virtuous in playing at international politics as in playing poker or making a real estate deal.
14. Would you rather have a leader trained for thirty years to play in the women’s softball league or a man who has played hardball in the major league of international finance?
15. If you have been disenfranchised, I am uninterested in you; if you feel disenfranchised, vote for me.

On Society and America

1. A society’s strength is not founded on guilt and shame, but on guts and shining a light to illuminate success.
2. Lateral inclusion in the name of vertical inclusion sabotages the latter; lateral exclusion ensures vertical exclusion and the “best” will rise to the top.
3. Sound bites and snap shots are necessary to prick the balloons of the bloated pretentions of the high and mighty.
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour is a dictum for allowing a stranger to become your neighbour.
5. When the measure is neither man nor God and the belief grows that there is no measure, mischief-makers prosper.
6. I like Jews; they pretend to be waiting for the messiah while they get on with the business of life by treating life as a business.
7. Branding is a virtue as a self-regarding short hand signal to expand the self.
8. In this new age, a leader must be the origin of perception for a whole society to once again allow the spirit of a nation to live in our backyards and driveways.
9. America does not stand for equality; it stands for upward mobility – for the “best” of us. The best is defined by my example – climbing upward while giving anyone who wants to follow me a kick-start.
10. If we are to be immersed in who we are and who we can be, amelioration is insufficient.
11. We need a foundational faith in an America that was once great and can be great again based on being born again, but through self-transcendence rather than grace.
12. A country willing to send troops abroad to participate in a pretend peace instead of willing to fight to the death for victory is a country neither to be admired nor respected.
13. America is a country in crisis; I am the coach that can supply the steroids.
14. America is in freefall towards political obscurity; a superman is needed to swoop down and save it from crashing down to earth.
15. America is at a crossroads. Either it proceeds burdened by carrying a cross or it becomes cross and gets rid of the unfair burdens it carries.

On Doctrine, Values and Lifestyle

1. Sidhartha Mitter characterized my doctrine as “a prosperity gospel for white grievance.” Lauren Collins characterized my doctrine as “the prosperity gospel for male grievances.” White grievances and male grievances are genuine, justifiable and mutually reinforcing.
2. We are at the end of our modern Axial Age. The vision of Yahweh when He proclaimed that, “My house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples,” is dead. Universalism based on care and compassion for all will finally be buried. On the mound of its ashes, I will erect a very tall flagpole recognizing me, my followers and the renewed greatness of America.
3. Meat eater or grass cutter, that is the choice.
4. Ezra cast out foreign wives and children. Follow his guidance, otherwise the assimilation of strangers, who include enemies among us, will threaten our survival.
5. The claim that individuals have responsibilities as well as rights justifies denying the latter in order to impose the former.
6. In the age of sound bites rather than sound arguments, victory goes to he who speaks most and says the least rather than to the one who speaks best.
7. Don’t sabotage yourself in search of perfection; serve yourself to avoid abjection and dejection.
8. Have a good time rather than a good conscience.
9. Aspiration is not hope; aspiration is a promise followed by performance.
10. Be in the moment rather than in bondage to bureaucracy. spontaneity trumps preparation every time.
11. Nostalgia is only valuable when it helps pay the bills.
12. Gut instinct is superior to gut wrenching; the latter leads to torturing yourself while the former allows you to torture others.
13. It is better to trust a crook who you know is a crook than one who is a crook but denies it.
14. Mendacity is a virtue in the hands of a spinner of tales.
15. A man beholden to none is responsible to no one.

On My Persona

1. I am not the messiah. He will be anointed by God. I have anointed myself and ask voters to join me in the ritual.
2. Being boastful and bombastic is a cover for really being pontifical and portentous.
3. Would you prefer the vernacular or the effete?
4. I know what it is to seduce naïve wannabees and the nouveau riche with crispy tongues of sea urchins under yuzu sorbet instead of an excellent hamburger.
5. At Mar-a-Logo, we do not offer detailed descriptions of every dish, thus interfering with conversation; we do not offer fact checks to interrupt your pleasure; we do offer intermissions to enhance your joy.
6. I am affable. I am gracious. I am not an ass-licker; I prefer my pleasures to come from the other side.
7. There may be a difference between pomposity and pretension, but I see none.
8. I would rather offer ostentation than pretension.
9. I attract ambition. I attract talent. I expand my palette to offer everyone a chance to move up – as long as I am at the top.
10. I want my broads to be delicious. I want my food to be delicious. I want my politics to be delicious. Life is not a monastery for monks forced to take part in a public world.
11. I inspire rather than trying to make an impression.
12. I refuse to cater to technique at the expense of terrain; technique must be tamed to secure and expand terrain.
13. Hillary and Barack still live in an analog world; I belong to the digital age.
14. Testosterone may make you a bull in a china shop, but that is infinitely better than estrogen used in selling that china.
15. My ambition in life has always been riches and bitches; since politics is a bitch, seduction is required, especially if the latter enhances the pursuit of the former.

Corporeality IIIB: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Identity

Corporeality IIIB: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Identity

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday I wrote about Justin Trudeau’s policies with respect to the war against Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. I tried to show that on the basis of strategic considerations alone, Canada’s plan not to renew the deployment of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft as part of the allied mission in Iraq and Syria, did not make rational sense. At the end I suggested that the account could not be left at the level simply of strategy, but the explanation lay deeper in Trudeau’s conception of the Canadian identity and the way, sometimes erroneously, that he envisions enhancing that identity.

The energy his government has put into resettling the Syrian refugees in Canada is a major expression of the view of the Liberal Party under Trudeau of Canadian identity. Though overwhelmingly cheered on, the initiative has not been without criticism, usually on security grounds rather than humanitarian ones. But some critiques have emerged that argue that we are importing a population which has values diametrically opposed to our own, particularly in the treatment of women. The following op-ed by the brilliant son of two very old (now sadly deceased) friends, David Frum, was published on 16 March 2015 in The National Post:

Trudeau now urges Canada to enable and assist those who define women as inferior — and who require women to wear special identifying badges of their inferiority. In his Toronto speech, Trudeau said: “one of the highest aims of Canadian political leadership is to protect and expand freedom for Canadians.” He is so determined to expand freedom, in fact, that he now proposes to expand it to include the freedom to treat women like chattels. This is not the freedom that Trudeau’s hero Wilfrid Laurier had in mind when he called freedom “Canada’s nationality.” The freedom Justin Trudeau defended in Toronto is the freedom Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee fought for: the freedom to dominate and subordinate.

Canada stands for human rights. Canada stands for freedom. Canada stands for gender equality. It is wrong, the argument goes, for Canada to bring in people who do not share those values. What the Justin Trudeau government is asserting by its initiative is that it is absolutely wrong to label a whole region and the people who live in it as discriminatory against women, let alone a whole religion. For the region contains many people. Yazidis and Chaldeans do not define women as chattels. Neither do most Muslims. Engaging in such labeling is un-Canadian and runs directly counter to Canadian values of tolerance and respect. Of course, among those refugees from Syria there will be some refugees who do not share in our values of gender equality which Canadian immigration officers will be unable to detect, especially given their focus on security issues. Trudeau trusts that Canadian values are so powerful and so winning that, even for those who do not share the Canadian values of gender equality, over one or perhaps two generations, given past history, and given Canada’s excellent multicultural and integration policies, even most of those will incorporate those values into their cultural praidentity, valuesctices.

The lesson about Canadian values encompassing respect for the Other goes even further. I will illustrate this by a story which I hope I have not written about before. When I was in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982 auditing the number of residents made homeless by the war, I was traveling around in a Red Cross vehicle. We came across a woman sobbing in the middle of the road. She was covered in blood and fresh blood was still seeping from her head wounds. The Red Cross vehicle stopped and bundled her into the back. A long interrogation and conversation proceeded in Arabic as her wounds were being treated.

Not understanding Arabic, I presumed that the woman was somehow a casualty of the war that had primarily moved up to the Beirut area. While the woman was being treated in the back, the Red Cross vehicle first drove to one location from which it received directions to another. We arrived at a home with posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme religious leader of Iran after the overthrow of the Shah, plastered all down one wall on the side. [As a total aside, and a bit of the good news coming out of Iran, his reform-minded grandson, who was initially vetoed by the Supreme Religious Council in Iran, has had his candidacy reinstated.]

No one explained to me why we were not at a hospital. I presumed we were at the home of a Hezbollah leader given the posters. I had to move over in the front seat and a gentleman joined us and chatted with the driver and with the woman and her attendant in the back as we drove to another village. There at a house we dropped off the woman and the man we had so recently picked up after a brief discussion with the Red Cross driver before we proceeded on our way. The driver then explained what had happened.

The woman had been beaten up by her husband. We had gone first to the home of the local religious leader who delegated one of his acolytes both to warn the husband never to repeat the beating of his wife and to live with the family for 30 days to protect the wife, to give daily lessons to the husband and to report back to the Imam on the treatment of the wife over a month. When I heard this I had to admit to myself that although I still regarded Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and as a religious organization that supported the doctrine of the superiority of males over females, when it comes to responding to domestic violence, the organization seemed to have a social system of protection of women light years ahead of our own.

The lesson: do not be complacent and simply dogmatically believe that your practices of instantiating gender equality are by definition not only the best, but had nothing to learn from other practices. Ironically, other practices, from sources one would least suspect, can be superior to your own.

I tell this story because two Canadian values complementary to gender equality are tolerance and respect. They are best taught by example. The intolerant comments of the writer critical of the Canadian Syrian refugee program above in defense of Canadian values, reveals him or herself to be subversive of those values. Further, the writer revealed profound ignorance as well as negative exaggerations about peoples and religion in insisting that the niqab is a “symbol of oppression: the garment’s purpose, after all, is to deprive women of their individuality; to render them invisible in public space.” The writer was. I believe, obviously thinking of the burka rather than the niqab. With respect to the niqab, in my own studies of the controversy in France over its being worn by Muslim girls in the French schools, I learned that it was worn for many different reasons – to protect privacy, as a style statement, as an identifier with one’s tradition, as a religious identifier, as a means of diverting the male gaze away from them, and by two school girls whose last name was Levy and who had a Jewish father and a Muslim mother, as a political statement of rebellion against the arbitrary edicts of the French government in its efforts to ban the wearing of the niqab.

One reproach to Justin Trudeau took place in the context of his comments on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trudeau said:

“On this day, we pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance… The Holocaust is a stark reminder of the dangers and risks of allowing hate, prejudice, and discrimination to spread unchallenged. It also reminds us that silence must never be an option when humanity is threatened… As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.”

Many took umbrage at the statement – not for what it said, but for what it left out. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not Human Rights Day. Holocaust Day is specifically intended to commemorate the deliberate murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime during WWII. Yet there was not one mention of Jews in the speech. Instead, Trudeau said that, “We honour [all] those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime.” The day was reinterpreted as a day of remembrance for all victims of the Nazis.

Further, the statement took place just a few days after Stéphan Dion, our Foreign Minister, said that Canada, as a steadfast ally of and friend to Israel, “calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table.” This was said in the context of the intifada of the knives. Though very occasionally Jewish extremists have killed innocent Palestinian civilians deliberately, those rare occurrences have been deplored by political authorities in Israel. In contrast, the now almost daily terrorist attacks against civilians by Palestinian extremists may be criticized as an inappropriate tactic by Mahmoud Abbas, but at the same time, the perpetrators are celebrated as heroes. Further, the various practices of the IDF as an occupying army of a civilian population antithetical to that occupation, such as demolishing a number of Palestinian homes “illegally” erected on land reserved for the IDF for military practice, may be deplored, but there is no equivalence whatsoever between the deliberate attempts of Palestinians to murder Israeli civilians and the unacceptable and deplorable practices of the Netanyahu government.

Since Justin Trudeau misspoke about the Holocaust in leaving out any reference to Jews that followed Stéphan Dion’s mistaken equation of Palestinian violence and Israeli political practices which may separately be worthy of extensive criticism, the government received a number of criticisms from various quarters, especially Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), but Fogel also noted that in each case the government issued an immediate apology and corrections. Dion made an explicit clarification which pointed at the exclusive responsibility for the intifada of the knives on Palestinians themselves and pointing to the ways in which they followed incitement by Palestinian leaders. Trudeau addressed the issue of the connection between the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

There are two lessons here. The first arises from the pattern and propensity to make such mistakes. Secondly, there is the willingness to immediately apologize and correct the errors. The first is not just a case of being careless, thoughtless and insensitive. In Otherwise than Being, Emmanuel Levinas dedicated it, “To the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the Nazi Socialists, and the millions on millions of all confessions and all nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-Semitism” (my italics) Though Levinas did not make the same error of simply putting a generic face on the singularity of the Shoah by omitting that the Nazis targeted Jews most specifically, he also wanted to universalize the lesson to all cases of racist thought. This, I believe, is what lay behind Trudeau’s misstep. The error was not in the effort to draw universal lessons, but in the omission of reference to the specific victims from which the lesson was being drawn. This is also true of the erroneous equivalence – the tendency to universalize, to apply to all patterns of injustice, but at the expense of forging false equivalences.

The willingness to correct the errors, the way they were corrected and the speed with which the corrections were made speaks to the strengths of the Trudeau government value system and its willingness to amend whenever it gives way to sacrificing the particular and significant differences to convey a universal message. What has this got to do with the Canadian decision to not to renew the deployment of the CF-18 Hornet fighter planes in the Middle East? I know analogical reasoning is the weakest form of argument and in many quarters is unacceptable, but it is my belief that this young government has a proclivity in general to such errors. In its desire to enunciate and give witness to universal values, there is a propensity to get the particulars wrong.

The government should, and I believe it might, demonstrate that it recognizes that it cannot combat evil only with giving witness to universal values. It can, and, in my mind, should continue to insist that upholding those values is the best bulwark against creating conditions for homegrown terrorism to flourish and grow. THIS MUST BE THE FIRST PRIORITY OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE BATTLE AGAINST TERRORISM. It is well exemplified in Canadian policies to take in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. It is well exemplified in the unwillingness to target Islam as a religion because of the small number of terrorists that are spawned in part from that religion. But first priorities are not to the exclusion of other priorities down the line. The Canadian government must also engage with and combat that evil on the ground and in the air that is flourishing in the Middle East and even Africa.

What do I expect the government to do?

  1. Announce that it has not had enough time to reconsider its overall policies and plans for combatting Daesh (ISIS);
  2. Until it completes that reconsideration and review, it will extend the mission of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft for another six months;
  3. Nearing the two-thirds mark in that extension, the government will announce that, out of consideration for its responsibilities to the mission and its allies, out of consideration of the continuing threat posed by Daesh, the deployment of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter planes will be renewed for a further six months;
  4. That the government will enhance its contribution to the fight against evil in a number of ways, including going beyond a combat role and offering advice to the Iraqi government on how to implement multicultural practices that uphold the values of rights, respect for others and minorities and reinforcement of democratic institutions;
  5. That, in the meanwhile, Canada will continue to take in more refugees and to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve, thereby offering the most important lesson through witnessing in combating terrorism.

Will the Canadian government do what I expect? “Expect” is an equivocal term. On the one hand it means setting standards for a party to live up to. On the other hand, it is a prognostication for the future. I leave it to the reader to decide whether I mean the first or the second or possibly both.

With the help of Alex Zisman