On this day 15 years ago, a monstrous act of terrorism was carried out by 19 members of Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden and motivated a bastardized interpretation of Islam not shared by the vast majority of the Muslim world. The result was the death of 2,977 innocent human beings and a world forever changed…. at least for the western world unaccustomed to these sorts of horrible events since the end of World War II.
Days after the attacks occurred many politicians came together and in an example of non-partisanship that, since then have become increasingly rare, proclaimed in unison that these attacks would not change our fundamental nature as a society or our commitment to liberal democratic values which included freedom, pluralism, and tolerance.
But of course our fundamental nature and commitment to those values did change.
In the years since September 11, 2001, we’ve allowed governments to pass laws which violated our civil liberties — the PATRIOT Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, Loi Renseignement — because of fear.
Hate groups have used social media to effectively disseminate propaganda targeting immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, and those who subscribe to progressive political positions. Some of these groups, such as PEGIDA which originated in Germany and the Soldiers of Odin which originated in Finland have created chapters in other countries, including Canada (and which have lately been prominently featured on this blog) and have moved off of social media and onto the streets of the country. Incidents of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim vandalism, arson, death threats, and assaults are not unusual occurrences and are often celebrated by people who support anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim groups, some of whom (such as these posts on III% Canada) actually desire the genocide of a people:
We’ve witnessed the demonization of an entire faith group because of the actions of a few leading to attacks against members of the Muslim faith as well as the passing of illiberal laws in ostensibly liberal democracies.
Demagogues have arisen and attempt to gain power in their respective countries through identity politics. In the United States Donald Trump has closed the the gap between himself and Hilary Clinton running on an overtly racist campaign targeting immigrants and Muslims among others while promising “law and order” to oppose what he claims as increased lawlessness in a country where crime has actually been in decline for two decades. In Europe, the AfD finished ahead of the Christian Democrats in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania on a single-issue platform: no refugees. Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen of France, Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Norbert Hofer’s Freedom Party in Austria, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the governing party of Poland, and Sweden Democrats among other individuals and far-right parties who have been able to ride a wave of anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim sentiments and either form national governments or have a serious chance of doing so. Even old relics like Pauline Hanson of Australia, once consigned to the dustbin of history, have re-emerged and now holds the balance of power along with three other members of One Nation in the Australian senate.
Canada isn’t immune from this same demagoguery and identity politics.
During the last federal election and in what turned out to be a failed Hail Mary pass by the former Prime Minister, the Conservative Party floated the idea of creating a hotline in which Canadian citizens could call in to report suspicions that their neighbors were engaging in “barbaric cultural practices.” Aside from the fact that most people are able to call 911 when a crime is being committed, there might be a bit of irony in a conservative political party suggesting a Stasi-style program in which neighbors are asked to inform on each other. Though the Conservative Party denied it the proposed program, which came hot on the heels of the court ruling allowing a woman to take the Oath of Citizenship while wearing a niqab, was targeted towards a specific cultural group. And though ultimately unsuccessful as a means of turning the election in the Conservative’s favor, the genie was let out of the bottle giving rise to a significant Conservative constituency who not only don’t believe Muslim citizens share the values of other Canadians, but who often subscribe to the belief there is a vast conspiracy to enact Islamic Sharia law by the Muslim Brotherhood who have infiltrated our government. It’s not unusual to see people claim that Justin Trudeau himself is a Muslim bent on destroying Canada and paving the way for an Islamic caliphate.
To most Canadians, even those who aren’t happy with the Liberal victory last October, these sentiments are the ridiculous conspiracies of fearful and gullible people. To others though, it constitutes a political constituency.
Kellie Leitch was Mr. Harper’s point person on the barbaric cultural practices tip line proposal during the election. At the time she stated that the Conservative Party was, “not afraid to defend Canadian values” though she never quite spelled out what those values actually were. After the election, Ms. Leitch seemed to apologize (sort of) for her role in the proposed tip line:
Leitch, who is also a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, said her intention was to ensure that if women and children needed to “pick up the phone” to call for help that someone would answer, but admits that “the message was lost.”
“We weren’t talking about race, we were talking about kids … but that message was completely overtaken and I regret that, and I regret that it occurred, and it shouldn’t have been done,” she said.
Now as a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party however, Ms. Leitch has decided that identity politics is a reasonable policy position once again:
Kellie Leitch defends ‘anti-Canadian values’ survey questionHer campaign asks if immigrants should be screened to determine their values
By Catharine Tunney, CBC News Posted: Sep 02, 2016 3:42 PM ET Last Updated: Sep 02, 2016 5:12 PM ETConservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is defending a contentious survey question from her campaign team that asked supporters what they think about vetting would-be immigrants and refugees for “anti-Canadian values.”
“Canadians can expect to hear more, not less from me, on this topic in the coming months,” Leitch wrote in an emailed statement….
Ms. Leitch this time provided a vague understanding of what she believes to be Canadian values:
“Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel very strongly about.”
Besides the claim that “economic freedoms” constitute a Canadian value (social democrats might not agree with a Conservative Party member over exactly what this value constitutes for example), one has to wonder how many of the Conservative base would pass the tests themselves, at least the, “intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour” part of it.
Because, you see, while Ms. Leitch argues her proposed values test has nothing to do with identity politics and that comparing her to Donald Trump “isn’t fair,” those who’s ears are tuned to dog whistles will hear exactly what she wants that particular constituency to hear:
For example the reaction by members of both Canadians Against Justin Trudeau and PEGIDA Canada were both generally favorable to Ms. Leitch’s position, other than those who believe Muslims would lie and thus support a blanket ban on Muslim immigration. From Canadians Against Justin Trudeau….