Love, courage not enough in fight­ing hate

Rhetoric and ac­tion needs those, plus alarm and con­cern to ef­fect change

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FORUM - WAEL HADDARA Wael Haddara is a Lon­don physi­cian and ed­u­ca­tor.

“No ma’am, he’s a de­cent fam­ily man and cit­i­zen.”

That was Sen. John McCain’s re­sponse dur­ing the 2008 pres­i­den­tial con­test to a woman who told him she can’t trust Barack Obama be­cause “he’ an Arab.”

McCain was clearly be­com­ing un­com­fort­able with the ex­trem­ism and hate em­a­nat­ing from his sup­posed sup­port­ers at a town hall meet­ing. He at­tempted to re­cap­ture the ci­vil­ity of ear­lier pres­i­den­tial con­tests and re­as­sure the crowd they have noth­ing to fear of a pres­i­dency un­der Obama.

And he did so by as­sert­ing that Obama is not Arab (or Mus­lim), but rather a “de­cent fam­ily man.”

That ex­change led Colin Pow­ell to break rank with his party and state the ob­vi­ous: “What if he (Obama) is a Mus­lim? Is there some­thing wrong with be­ing a Mus­lim in this coun­try? The an­swer: No, that’s not Amer­ica.”

Fast for­ward nine years and Jag­meet Singh, a can­di­date for the fed­eral NDP lead­er­ship, had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. His re­sponse, how­ever, was noth­ing like McCain’s.

At a town hall meet­ing with Singh, cheek­ily called “Jag­meet and Greet,” a woman jumped to the front and made a spec­ta­cle. She ac­cused Singh of want­ing to bring in Sharia law into Canada and be­ing associated with ex­trem­ism.

The video of Singh’s han­dling of the in­ci­dent has become an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion and his re­sponse was praised in­ter­na­tion­ally. CNN’s Dean Obei­dal­lah cut to the chase with the head­line, “The Canadian politi­cian who could teach Amer­i­cans a les­son in love.”

Singh’s re­sponse was no­table not only for the calm and poise with which he re­acted to a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, but also for the sub­stance of the mes­sage he chose to send.

Singh, as most know, is not Mus­lim, but Sikh – vis­i­bly so. He is the first rec­og­niz­ably Sikh politi­cian cam­paign­ing for the lead­er­ship of a ma­jor Canadian po­lit­i­cal party, and in­stead of sim­ply telling the woman that he is not Mus­lim and hence not par­tic­u­larly in­vested in Sharia, he fo­cused on a mes­sage that hate is not ac­cept­able. Pe­riod.

In fol­lowup in­ter­views, Singh specif­i­cally ad­dressed why he had cho­sen not to cor­rect the mis­per­cep­tion of the heck­ler that he is Mus­lim.

“My re­sponse to Is­lam­o­pho­bia has never been ‘I’m not Mus­lim.’ It has al­ways been and will be that hate is wrong.”

Is it hate­ful to be con­cerned about Sharia law? Yes, most peo­ple who claim to be wor­ried about Sharia (an Ara­bic word that sim­ply means law) have re­mark­ably shal­low un­der­stand­ing of what it is.

In some ways, Sharia in the 21st cen­tury is now like pop­ery, the pe­jo­ra­tive term used for Ro­man Catholi­cism in the 18th cen­tury when the satirist Daniel De­foe ob­served that warn­ings about pop­ery could bring “forty thou­sand stout fel­lows” to the streets “ready to fight to the death pop­ery, with­out know­ing whether pop­ery was a man or a horse.”

As it hap­pens, the woman at the Singh rally has pre­dictably been outed as a mem­ber of ex­trem­ist right-wing groups in Canada that have been or­ga­niz­ing hate ral­lies and pro­mot­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia. The re­sult of such hate­ful ac­tiv­ity and rhetoric has been seen in deadly vi­o­lence in Que­bec City and in Char­lottesville.

I dis­agree with Singh that “love and courage” are the ways to deal with hate. Both are nec­es­sary, but not suf­fi­cient. There is rhetoric and ac­tion that crosses a line and should be man­aged with the ap­pro­pri­ate level of alarm and con­cern.

While free­dom of speech should re­main sacro­sanct, we have seen how cer­tain type of speech is cross­ing the line into vi­o­lence. A 2016 study spon­sored by Pub­lic Safety Canada iden­ti­fied more than 100 right-wing ex­trem­ist groups in Canada. The cur­rent law en­force­ment and le­gal frame­works seem ill-pre­pared and in­ad­e­quate for the chal­lenge. There have been only a hand­ful of pros­e­cu­tions to date.

Be­yond law en­force­ment and courts, the lan­guage of hate, oth­er­ing and ex­clu­sion has found a home in some me­dia out­lets, such as the Rebel, that was nur­tured and sup­ported by main­stream politicians in the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Singh is right about one thing though, “hate doesn’t pick and choose.” The stud­ies of rightwing ex­trem­ism show the tar­gets of vi­o­lence are myr­iad. In the strug­gle against hate and ex­clu­sion, we must in­deed all “hang to­gether.” The al­ter­na­tive is fright­en­ing.


Jag­meet Singh ap­plauds and laughs as Char­lie An­gus sings dur­ing a mi­cro­phone check be­fore the fi­nal fed­eral NDP lead­er­ship de­bate in Vancouver, B.C., on Sept. 1.

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