In a week that marks the fourth anniversary of the Syrian uprising — that most pivotal of events during the most critical juncture of what we all heralded at the time as the Arab Spring — it is stirring to see the passion for liberty that welled up in the breasts of millions of Arabs back then now being summoned from the stout patriotic hearts of Canadians. It’s because of that speech about liberty that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau delivered in Toronto on Monday. Liberty, if you don’t mind.
You have to admit it took some serious campaign-strategy cunning to ensure that the counterrevolutionary terror of Islamist barbarism that went on to immolate the Arabs’ dreams of liberty, even though it was the dark anti-subject of much of Trudeau’s meticulously constructed manifesto, was at the same time entirely unmentioned.
The word “Islamism” doesn’t appear once. The word “terrorism” appears only in the form “terrorist,” but only by way of mocking what some Conservative may or may not have insinuated in reference to the sympathies of not one, but two NDP leaders, and also in this construction: “Ultimately, my friends, the antidote to repression is liberty. It is this idea that will defeat terrorism and totalitarianism in the long run. It always has. The lethal enemies of terrorists and dictators are societies that are open, thriving and free — not just on paper, but in the streets.”
This is narcissism on methamphetamines. To flatter ourselves as being among the “lethal enemies of terrorists and dictators,” we would have to be prepared, as a country, to accept the sacrifices demanded by the duties of liberty and freedom, and to put our backs into it. These are things Justin Trudeau isn’t even prepared to talk about.
The Conservatives are up to it in only the most token fashion: six warplanes and about 600 ground crew along with perhaps 70 special forces soldiers and they’re all prohibited from entering Syria without the permission of the tyrant and mass murderer Bashar Al-Assad. Trudeau’s Liberals were against going even that far, and the NDP insists that some sort of conspiracy is going on, that the Conservatives have been lying about what our soldiers are really up to. They might even be engaged in (horrors) occasional “combat” with the rapists, slave merchants, mass executioners and crucifiers of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State.
It is quite true that Conservative campaign strategists are making absurdly florid uses of the very real menace of Islamist crackpottery at home and abroad. Only the week before Trudeau’s address in Toronto, the Conservatives mounted a fundraising appeal via Facebook that cannot be read except in this way: Jihadists from Al Shabab are on their way from Somalia to blow up the West Edmonton Mall. Be afraid. Vote Conservative.
For his part, Justin Trudeau would prefer we substitute Al Shabab with a Conservative bogeyman straight out of the shameful injustices visited upon the Japanese, the Greeks, the country’s indigenous peoples, the Irish, the Chinese and so on. “Leading this country should mean you bring Canadians together. You do not divide them against one another,” Trudeau said, and then proceeded to do precisely that, in words that cannot be read except in this way: Stephen Harper is being unspeakably beastly with the Muslims, and it’s going to get worse. Be afraid. Vote Liberal.
“To me, pluralism means diversity,” Trudeau said. Except that it doesn’t. Pluralism requires a constant, vigorous muddling-through of the challenges that arise from diversity. Without a fierce and unbridled exchange of values and ideas, diversity degenerates into a myriad of competing voting-bloc identity banlieues. That was one of the legacies of the uses Liberal governments made of multiculturalism, and it’s been at times deeply corrosive to the cause of liberty that Trudeau now hopes to reclaim as a Liberal standard.
Also unmentioned was his dad’s invocation of the War Measures Act in 1970, unless that was what Trudeau meant by his oblique reference to those times when we must “moderate our freedoms in order to ensure we maintain them in the long run.” Or maybe that was meant to account for the supine posture he’s adopted in response to Bill C-51, perhaps the most brazen trespass on liberty in the nearly half-century that has passed since the War Measures Act itself.
What seems certain is that Trudeau’s manifesto shouldn’t be taken as an encouraging sign of maturity in this country’s debates about the menace of Islamist terrorism at home or abroad, which tend to be encumbered by either insinuations about or eruptions of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, or pearl-clutching whimpers of nostalgia for the good old days, before the warmongering Stephen Harper came along, back when we were all Swiss.
This brings us straight to Trudeau’s refusal to allow that people might reasonably disagree about the propriety of new citizens claiming an Islamic prerogative to swear their oaths while shrouded in niqabs (to test the limits of the argument, is it also unreasonable to disapprove of lunatics in Klansmen’s hoods being sworn in on the basis of the claim, as that sort invariably makes, to be Christian?).
“We all know what is going on here,” Trudeau said. “It is nothing less than an attempt to play on people’s fears and foster prejudice, directly toward the Muslim faith.” Except it’s no such thing, and neither is the expectation that oath-taking new Canadians should show their faces an offence against liberty comparable, as Trudeau so weirdly claimed, to the cruelty inflicted upon 900 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis in 1939, when Canadian authorities turned away their ship, the St. Louis.
That episode does invite a modest present-day analogy that Trudeau might have drawn, however.
Over the past four years, for having risen up in the cause of liberty, nearly 250,000 Syrians have been slaughtered, their cities have been demolished by barrel bombs and roughly half the country’s population of 22-million people is living in refugee tents and ruined buildings. They cower in fear of Baathist death squads to one side and rampaging Islamic terrorists on the other.
Without exaggeration, you could say it’s a bit like Poland in the late 1930s, during the savagery of the Third Reich. Just like back then, Canada’s political class has been mostly content to look away, to concoct self-aggrandizing excuses for the obscenity of its indifference and to have us all slapping ourselves on the back for what plucky champions of liberty we all are.