I’ve begun this post about a dozen times, before inevitably turning back with the knowledge that the response from the internet’s lowest-hanging knuckles would be too loud to make the post worthwhile.
In a recent missive on his website, Ezra Levant chastises the Canadian Jewish Congress and CEO Bernie Farber, in particular, for not embracing those elements of the intolerant right – Kate McMillan, Kathy Shaidle, et al – who he describes as “Jew-loving Christian Zionists.” I felt compelled to respond.
The litmus test for intolerance is rather straightforward for most people, including myself. If you suggest that “A-rabs” are “violent retards” or refer to the poor as “stupids and parasitical” as Shaidle has, for example; or if you’re someone who draws numbers on their arm to look like a concentration camp tattoo as a “prank” as McMillan did, you should expect to be branded intolerant.
Intolerance is no longer measured in this country by which groups you are intolerant towards. It was not that long ago that discrimination against Jews was acceptable; more recently that one could discriminate against Aboriginals; and we are only finally emerging as a nation in which it is no longer socially acceptable to refer to people as fags and queers. Too many Conservatives in this country seem convinced that so long as they rationalize their intolerance – against Muslims by claiming defence of human rights or opposition to terrorism; against Quebecers on the basis of the attention they receive from the federal government; against homosexuals on the basis of biblical teachings; or even against the poor by rationalizing that their situation is of their own making – it is a principled position and not bigotry.
For most Jews, racism is not the abstract concept that it is for many. Growing up, we were taught about the Holocaust, Russian pogroms, the Christian Crusades and countless other organized acts of mass anti-Semitism. My classmates and I were regularly subject to swastikas painted on our school, on our places of worship, our cemeteries and occasionally our homes. We received bomb threats in those same places. We have statistically gravitated towards liberal political parties because of the belief – as a community that has been targeted or ignored by its government on numerous occasions – that cultural relativism (the notion that all cultures are equally valid) is our best hope for security and prosperity.
At the same time, many (if not most) Conservatives reject the notion of cultural relativism/multiculturalism. They point to multiculturalism as a primary cause of moral decay and – arguing the logical extreme – suggest that cultural relativism is dangerous because it would imply that totalitarian regimes like the Taliban or Nazi Germany are equal to modern Western culture. Now this is obviously not the case, but by arguing the logical extreme it is easy to discredit any philosophy. There is certainly room within cultural relativism to argue that any culture that would seek to bring another to an end must be stopped.
For minority communities for whom the threat of discrimination is real, cultural relativism is more than a belief, it is an imperative. As soon as we grant license to people to rank religions or cultures, there is no reason to believe that we won’t end up the loser.
Now to get back to Ezra’s suggestion that the CJC should embrace “Jew-loving Christian Zionists” like McMillan and Shaidle… Over the last decade, Christian Zionist organizations in North America have grown louder and stronger. They are amongst the most vehement supporters of Israeli government policies, and Kate and Kathy are no exception to that rule. They are embraced by many elements of the Jewish community as a necessary coalition. Though I certainly count myself as a supporter of Israel, I have personally never been comfortable embracing these organizations as I am largely suspect of their support for Zionism.
There are many Christian Zionists who I hold in the highest regard and whose support I am proud and grateful to have. I would count Warren Kinsella as one of the more vocal and public members of this group, there are simply too many to name. I am proud to have their support because I don’t believe there are any strings attached to their support. I cannot speak to the motivation behind Shaidle’s support or McMillan’s. What I can say is that significant elements of the Christian Zionist movement support Israel based on the belief that in order to achieve the Second Coming of Jesus, it is necessary to unify Jewry in Israel. What seldom gets mentioned is that in the End of Days that they are working towards achieving, non-believers (which includes Jews) will not be spared.
I am also fearful that many of those on the right that offer their unconditional, blind support for Israel do so out of a hatred for Arabs and Muslims more that a respect for Israeli sovereignty and security. I suspect that the basis for their support is based primarily on their view of Islam as an inherently radical theology that is at war with western society.
Islamophobia is generally masked by its practitioners behind a guise of a rejection of Islam’s totalitarian nature. They argue that Muslims are on a jihad and will not be satisfied until the whole world accepts Shariah Law. I will not argue that there aren’t elements of Islam that feel that way, or even that there aren’t Muslim Canadians that feel that way. Whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or atheist, there are many people in this country who support radical doctrines that are anathema to modern Canadian sensibilities.
There are those in this country that are engaged in a clear jihad. They have admitted boldly and frankly that they are opposed to the liberal sensibilities of western society, which in their opinion, have led to the corruption of our moral fibre. They believe that our society should be governed more closely according to ancient biblical law and seek to limit the freedoms and liberties of many groups – including a woman’s right to choose and the right of gays to marry. They see modern society as being under siege by “militant secularism” and see it as their job to fight back. Of course this is the predominantly Christian right that has expressed these views, not radical Islam. I don’t know that there’s a better way to describe this than a holy war.
I would like to stress that I know there to be Canadians of all faiths – the majority of religious Canadians, in fact – who have found a way to express their faith in a positive and constructive way (in charity, in living righteously) that do not believe it is their place to force their religious views on me or anyone else. They understand that the choices they have made are for what is right for them, and everyone must have the right to make the choice for themselves. That is the essence of cultural relativism – the notion that your decision to devoutly practice Catholicism or Lutheranism or Hinduism is no more or less valid than someone else’s decision to live an entirely secular life.
Just for the record, I do believe in God – insofar as we define God as being some sort of order to the universe – though I am not especially observant. I believe that we each find our own way to express our belief, be that through going to church every week or in some other way.
To welcome the endorsement of folks like Kathy Shaidle and Kate McMillan is to endorse their beliefs. Frankly, they preach the same hatred that radical Islam preaches without the radical violence. The hatred is the problem, the violence only a manifestation of it. My goal as a Jew, as a Liberal and as a cultural relativist is to support an environment that allows each of us to celebrate believe and live as we do without fear of persecution. Shaidle and McMillan are preaching an intolerance that makes that impossible.
UPDATE: I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I am to learn that blazingcatfur thinks I’m an idiot. My feelings are hurt, but I’ll trudge on.
Filed under: Oh, Canada