An “I” on Things: Virginia's battle is our own

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Heather Heyer, 32, was killed on Aug. 12 protesting a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The rally amassed hundreds of people self-identifying as white supremacists, fascists and Nazis. They brazenly wore swastika armbands, symbols of white power and Ku Klux Klan hoods.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had strong words to say about this particular brand of ne’er-do-wells.

“Go home,” McAuliffe said. “You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you.”

The president of the United States, however, used weaker language to condemn the rally attendees than he’s used to decry Nordstrom and Saturday Night Live.

In lieu, Donald Trump decried “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

When one side of people are identifying themselves as literal Nazis and the others are protesting and fighting against them, it seems obvious to me which one we should be focused on condemning.

Others, however, have taken a devil’s advocate position. I’ve read many comments and heard a dozen statements to the effect that — as deplorable as they are — Nazis and white supremacists have the same rights to free speech as others.

I disagree.

There are opinions that are unpopular and there are positions that may anger others or be considered controversial. Ideas such as economic conservatism, social welfare and corporate tax breaks may incite heated arguments and terse discussion.

Then, there is the opinion that other races are biologically inferior and the western world would be better off with an ethnic cleansing.

There is a world of difference between advocating strongly for a defensible opinion you hold and advocating for the genocide and discrimination of others.

Austrian philosopher Karl Popper discussed this very idea in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies.

Here he described what he called “The Paradox of Tolerance.”

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance,” Popper wrote. “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant — if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant — then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

To summarize, if we allow ourselves to be tolerant of the intolerant, then the intolerant will win at bat every single time.

It’s no surprise that Popper wrote this document in 1945 in the waning days of WW2. It’s even less surprising that Popper was a Jewish Austrian.

The fight against fascism and Nazism in the Second World War can be considered one of the few extremely just conflicts of the 20th century.

Nations the world over banded together to defeat leaders who held and spread the same vitriol we saw spewed by hundreds at the Charlottesville rally.

I don’t think you’d find a single standing member at the local legion who would condemn this conflict as “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

There are many Canadians and American veterans who can still remember the horrors and strife caused by the Second World War and the rise of fascism. It should be easy for Canadians to denounce the men and women at this rally as enemies of freedom and tolerance.

What might be harder is confronting the racism and white supremacy within our own borders.

As much as some Canadians might pride themselves on being more tolerant than our southern neighbours, we are by no means unaffected by the recent rise in fascist and racist ideologies.

A study published in the journal “Studies in Conflict and Terrorism” identified at least 100 right-wing extremist groups in Canada, whose membership ranges from “three-man wrecking crews” to dozens-strong.

They are allegedly concentrated in Quebec, western Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.

The number of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims jumped by 60 per cent from 2014 to 2015 according to Statistics Canada.

And on Jan. 29 of this year, a mass shooting after evening prayers killed six and injured 19 others at a mosque in Quebec City.

While I can’t — and won’t — pin the blame entirely on the president, I would not be the first to insinuate his rhetoric about race and religion during the 2016 presidential campaign galvanized those with racist ideologies.

We should look to our own politicians and their rhetoric to ensure our own leaders don’t follow the same path.

The newly formed United Conservative Party will almost assuredly defeat the NDP in the next election. But who do we want as a leader of this province?

Do we want a leader who attempted to install a niqab ban in Canada during his time as immigration minister? A ban which cost the federal government more than $400,000 as they fought it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and a ban which was eventually defeated.

Or do we want a leader who made an inappropriate joke about beating current Premier Rachel Notley?

One might be able to dismiss these as either past mistakes since rectified, or a misguided attempt at humour.

But every time we sing our national anthem, we state we are standing on guard for our country — a nation not founded on white Christianity but rather ideals of equality and fairness.

Like those who fought against Nazis in Charlottesville, we need to be on guard against the potential rise of hateful rhetoric in our home as well.




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