Monday, September 30, 2013

Calgary Sun Plays The Racist Card ...

It's never been a big secret that lurking just underneath the surface of Canada's right wing politics is a religiously-inspired vein of racism.  It reared its head back in the late 1980s when the debate over turbans in the RCMP was at full volume, and the Reform Party voted to ban turbans as part of the RCMP uniform, and frankly has never really gone away.

More or less, the reasoning in the column seems to be that the world community is being "silent" about these attacks, and is somehow being hypocritical about it.

A church is bombed in Pakistan and 85 people are killed while more than 140 more are maimed. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. 
Violence and civil unrest rocks Damascus and Aleppo, forcing Syrian churches to close their doors, possibly forever. 
Thousands of elite Philippine troops battle Muslim guerrillas of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who raze churches before they occupy the key port of Zamboanga. 
Christians in the southern Egyptian town of Dalga are forced to watch as a Muslim mob set fire to an ancient monastery and steal its contents. 
All played out against the backdrop of a shopping mall terror attack in Kenya where Muslims are asked to leave before hostages are taken.
The implicit message underlying all of this is that Islam is a "violent religion" bent on erasing Christianity from the face of the earth ... and why, oh why, isn't the world's political leadership speaking out on this?

According to the column's writer, it's because they are afraid of the Muslims:
As long as our ruling elites remain terrified of offending Islam, the self-proclaimed religion of peace that claims sole ownership of the term ‘persecuted minority,’ the fundamentalists will do as they please.
But, it is not so simple as that in reality.  Yes, as the article points out Canada has spoken out on such matters.  What the article fails to recognize is that such statements will have no effect whatsoever.  The radicals which carry out these acts are not themselves governments, and do not care one whit what governments have to say about it.

The only "threat" that we can make to them is a full scale invasion to eradicate the extremists.  Except that anyone with their head out of the sand will have long ago recognized that such approaches don't work.  Western powers have spent the last decade and a bit cleaning up the mess made in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as many had predicted prior to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002, the radicals had simply gone to ground at the height of the hostilities, and are now quietly re-emerging from the shadows to assert their claims to power again.

But, underlying the column is the usual line of xenophobia about a religion and culture that frankly most people in the western countries simply do not understand.  We're supposed to be afraid of these people because of their religion, instead of the fact that they have organized themselves into what amount to paramilitary gangs like al-Shabab.

Canada is a uniquely peaceable country.  I'm not sure what it would take to provoke the kind of rioting that we have witnessed in Egypt, nor do I particularly want to find out.   That makes it all the more puzzling when we see the kinds of rioting on TV news that has resulted in churches being burned down.  We have space here - lots of it.  What provokes a mob to attack a monastery?  Who knows - perhaps when this land has been occupied by competing powers for a few millennia we will have a more direct understanding.  Many of those religious sites in the Middle East have belonged to different faith communities multiple times, and there are competing claims for the same location.

So ... why is the Sun publishing columns which simply repeat tired, old arguments about the "evils" of a particular faith?  Largely because they can.  It's easy, and it plays to the fears that the Reform/Alliance/Conservative parties have used to build up their base.  There's no secret that the Sun has become the unofficial mouthpiece of the CPC in Canada, saying the things which the base wants to hear, but that Harper doesn't dare allow to be uttered by his politicians.  There is a good reason for this. Fear is a powerful weapon in politics.  Bush II demonstrated that in spades.  The poorly understood, like cultures in far off lands, are prime targets for "othering" - painting in a particular light that seems reasonable until you start asking prickly questions about things.

Why now?   That's a bit more of a puzzle.  It's not like there's anything going on in Canada that justifies this kind of ignorance based attack ... or is there?  In Calgary right now, we are in the throes of a municipal election, and the incumbent mayor is a Muslim.  Make no mistake about it, the Sun and their far right power masters, have been supremely angry ever since Naheed Nenshi was elected in 2010.  They have made no secret of their desire to get rid of him.  If they can chisel away at his support a little bit by calling into question him by way of their characterization of his faith, they will.

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