News Commentary by GARY ZATZMAN*
HALIFAX (15 April, 2004) -- There is a wave of provocations
under way against the unity of the Canadian people, against what tends
to draw them together. The latest occasion has been the recent wave of
incidents against both Jewish and Muslim communities. A number of vandalising
desecrations -- of gravesites, private religious schools and community
centres in both communities -- began in the greater Toronto area two weekends
ago. The timing coincided with Jewish community's commemoration of the
deportation of more than 800 000 Jewish residents of Hungary to the Nazi
death camp at Auschwitz 60 years ago. Last weekend, just before the start
of the Jewish Passover, the second most sacred period in that religion's
calendar, a United Talmud Torah school in Montreal, one of the oldest
Jewish religious schools in Canada, was firebombed.
Prime Minister Paul Martin, Quebec Premier Jean Charest,
Montreal-area MP and federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and numerous
community and national organizations from the Jewish, Arab and Muslim
communities in various parts of Canada joined in denouncing both the latest
firebombing as well as the earlier incidents in the Toronto area. Everyone
acknowledged the undeniably provocative character of these actions and
urged expeditious action by the proper authorities to detect, arrest,
try and convict the person(s) responsible.
But it turns out there is provocation within the provocation.
Rex Murphy's egregious commentary on April 6, on national television,
truly exemplifies this situation of "provocation squared." Denouncing
the latest fire-bombing by singling out the pain of Jewish community,
and going so far as to assert that Prime Minister Paul Martin's remark
that this pain was shared by all Canadians amounted to devaluing and minimizing
that community's particular pain (!), the CBC's star national commentator
acknowledged expressions of sympathy from Muslim and Arab community groups,
but only for the purpose of carrying out his own drive-by shooting of
the truth. Somehow, he failed to mention that similar hate crimes had
been carried out in the same period against Muslim community property
in Toronto. Somehow also he did not fail to connect the anti-semitic messages
and graffiti found at the Jewish targets with those who -- according to
him -- use the Israel-Palestine conflict and U.S. conflict with the Muslim
world as a "cover" for committing hate crimes.
Of course the unstated implication of such "logic"
is that if the Arab and Muslim communities suffer similar indignities,
it will only be payback, just desserts, etc.
Giving such thinking a national platform amounts to an
open provocation against the basic unity of the Canadian people, who have
never accepted and will never accept such outrages as either natural,
tolerable or acceptable under any circumstances. The CBC should be condemned
for permitting such a provocation to proceed under the guise of freedom
of speech. Regardless of how ignorant, narrow, bigoted, eloquent or well-paid
the speaker, freedom of speech does not and can never include freedom
to yell "Fire!" in a country of more than 170 different nationalities
and literally dozens of religious faiths.
Even if operating at so-called arm's length from government
authority, the CBC is a conscious organization and part of the Canadian
state. The experience here reconfirms the Canadian people's rich experience
time and time again: racist and fascist attacks are indeed state-organized.
Some of these acts may turn out to be committed by gangs of backward hooligans,
but they neither originate in, stem from, nor begin and end with such
groups. Whatever form it takes, the essence of the method of these state-organized
attacks is always the same. There is the method of throwing the stone
but hiding the hand that threw it. There is the method of exposing whomever
threw the stone to police scrutiny and the courts while hiding who financed
the activity. And there is the method of using the occasion of denouncing
what everyone is already condemning as hate crime in order to single out
the suffering of a particular immediate victim in such a way that the
effort to strengthen of the unity of the people -- so that the spread
of such activities can actually be checked -- is completely obstructed.
Then, the attacks can escalate against the most vulnerable sections of
the working people and the oppressed, particularly among the national
Those who would exploit these recent incidents for the
purpose of launching a provocation within a provocation are like the man
who lifted a rock only to drop it on his own feet. The necessity to build
the united front of the Canadian people has never been clearer. It is
the only path on which the ethnic, national and religious minorities can
isolate the politics of elite accommodation carried on behind their back
and affirm their collective right-to-be.