Sunday, November 26, 2006

The national question

I've been spending the last few days thinking about the nature of the Canadian nation and wondering what to make of - whether to take seriously - the symbol trading in Ottawa that has led to the parliamentary resolution that the Quebecois are a nation within a united Canada. I will have an essay up before too long on this question.

In the meantime, give some thought to Liberal leadership candidate, Michael Ignatieff, whose campaign co-chair, Denis Coderre, made a fool of himself attending a pro-Hezbollah rally in Montreal this summer [1], a move that was not publicly criticised by Ignatieff who went on to accuse Israel of war crimes at Qana, while giving no realistic account of how a nation like Israel might defend itself. I would ask Ignatieff, what principle of national self-rule and self-defense applies when one is, like Israel, surrounded by neighbors bent on your total destruction and using, among other things, civilians as shields and sacrificial victims for display by the world media - as part of a larger war against nation-states? To this Ignatieff so far seemingly has no good answer but offers only the fantasy theory of "proportional response" under "international law", which is of course a recipe to endlessly prolong wars, not end them. And yet - and I offer this by way of juxtapostion, without yet attempting to define the logical (or not) relationship between the two - when it comes to Quebec, Ignatieff is quick to assert its right to assert its nationood. It seems Ignatieff likes nations, as long as they don't threaten some larger principle of order or rule. But what can rule over nations but a code of nationhood that flows from respect for the ultimate rule of nations in the first place? These are tricky questions I will leave for later. Suffice to say, it is not yet apparent to me that the man who wants to be our Prime Minister has a clear idea what nations are for.

As I will explain in my next post, I tend to agree that the Quebecois are a nation, which is not to say that they aren't also members of a Canadian nation. The problem all this raises is that the purpose of a nation is to engender a degree of self-rule among its people. If we accord the Quebecois the status of a self-ruling people, it must be that we expect either that they will separate from Canada, or that they willing share as our co-citizens in a self-ruling Canadian nation in which there can be no restrictions on migration across provincial boundaries. Canadian national self-rule need not come into conflict with Quebecois self-rule as long as the latter defers, in certain domains, to the former because it acknowledges the benefits of its full membership in the larger nation, and as long as the Quebecois nation does not seek for the province of Quebec jurisdictional powers much different from those of the other Canadian provinces.

Anyway, if one is to embrace the principle of national self-rule in the case of Quebec, why does someone like Ignatieff - and I dare say a majority of Quebecois themselves - not have more sympathy for Israel as an exemplar of self-ruling nationality in its conflict with the Islamist imperialism of Hezbollah? Why do they cringe when they see Isael attempting to impose, by the primitive but true and honest methods of violent retaliation and deterrence, an order of reciprocity (at first, a necessarily minimal form of violent reciprocity) on its neighbors that they might recognize the right of nation-states like Israel to exist? In the Middle East, the school of Ignatieff defers to a form of Islamic-Arab-Iranian imperialism; in Canada, they apparently have some problem with some putative form of Canadian imperialism that does not fully recognize Quebecois nationhood.

Is this simply a case of strait-jacketed thinking from within a victimary paradigm in which the militarily, economically, or otherwise weaker party is always favored by that academic-jouralist-politico class of westerners who make their living by identifying and decrying the victimary component supposedly to be found in any and every form of human relationship? Or is it also a sign of an unwillingness fully to grapple with the implications of their support for national self-rule, given the kind of utopian internationalism that so many of them also wish to avow?

I just came across a blog article that is a good place for thinking about this question. It looks at the antisemitism and aristocratic snobbery of the French elites, a subject we have been talking about at our Covenant Zone Thursday night meetings. As Richard Landes writes:
The French government pursues policies — foreign and domestic — that essentially encourage the Jews — 1% of their population that provides 20% of their cultural elites — to leave, and encourages the Muslim immigrant population — 10% of their population that provides a hefty majority of their prison population and their school dropouts — to act out and make themselves at home in their own peculiar way. And, informed exactly wrong by their media, the French people neither know about it, nor realize that in their ignorance, anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, (and cowardice) they contribute mightily to this disastrous trend.
This will be France’s downfall. In her rivalry with natural allies who outstrip her in the pacific arts (economic development, cultural influence, global leadership), she makes “allies” with belligerent regressive forces that do not share her democratic commitments. Indeed what France and her “allies” have in common is a politics of resentment and envy on the one hand, and a readiness to betray allies whenever it suits their purposes, on the other.

"Our politicians should show some reserve: Marching with Hezbollah supporters indicates a lack of judgment"
Montreal Gazette
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Page: B7
Section: Editorial / Op-Ed
Don Macpherson

Okay, he's convinced me: Gilles Duceppe is not a supporter of terrorism.

Not that I ever thought the leader of the Bloc Quebecois supports the terrorist organization Hezbollah. Or that Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair or Liberal MP Denis Coderre does, either.

I don't know how many Hezbollah sympathizers there were among the 15,000 participants in the Aug. 6 Lebanon peace march in Montreal.

I suspect it's more than the "just a few" who carried Hezbollah flags. There were certainly enough to be heard when they booed Duceppe as well as Coderre (as I was the first to report) for calling in their speeches for Hezbollah to be disarmed.

And for what it's worth, in response to that column, I've heard from more self-described marchers who defended Hezbollah (and who dismissed me as nothing more than the servant of my "Jewish masters") than who said they did not support it.

I'm sure, however, that Duceppe, Boisclair and Coderre weren't among the Hezbollah sympathizers. In addition to Duceppe's and Coderre's calls for the disarming of Hezbollah, Boisclair in his speech deplored unspecified "excesses" in slogans and on placards.

But as the entire province, led by its premier, hastens to circle the wagons against the attacks of a lone, obscure columnist for a Toronto newspaper, let's not be too hasty in letting the politicians off the hook.

I also remained convinced that when prominent, mainstream politicians allow themselves to be associated with supporters of terrorism, they make support for terrorism respectable.

They and their defenders, including Premier Jean Charest, have said it's impossible to prevent extremists from joining a demonstration. Precisely. Which is why political leaders, known as control freaks, usually have the good sense to stay away from demonstrations.

In this case, however, it was to be expected that supporters of Hezbollah would show up, partly as a result of the actions of the politicians.

In their pre-electoral eagerness to identify with a popular cause and campaign for the votes of Montreal's fast-growing Arab and Muslim communities, the politicians had signed a one-sided, anti-Israel invitation to the march.

"Ooh, look, a crowd," they said to themselves. "Let's get in front of it."

That was their big mistake. Duceppe has said that at the march, he tried to have demonstration marshals prevent marchers from bringing Hezbollah flags. But by then it was too late.

Some other would-be participants, appalled at the hijacking of what they thought would be a peace march, left. The politicians could not do so without alienating the very voters they were there to court. So they stayed to lead the march.

Only on Wednesday did Duceppe finally get around to issuing a statement weakly and belatedly defending himself against criticism over the march. It took extraordinary public criticism by Israel's ambassador to Canada to smoke him out. As long as the politicians were being criticized by Quebec columnists and editorialists, they were prepared to ride it out in silence.

Some columnists matter more than others, however. The criticism of the politicians was drowned out by howls of outrage over the insult of a columnist for the National Post who, commenting on the march, predicted sovereignty would make this province a pro-terrorist, anti-Semitic "Quebecistan."

No doubt to provide an example in restraint, a Le Devoir editorialist, after pointing out the columnist is a Jewish Montrealer, warned English-speaking Jews in general against defaming Quebec nationalism. Somewhere, Mordecai Richler felt vindicated.

But there would have been no pretext for Quebec-bashing had this province not acquired the dubious distinction of becoming the first place in Canada where prominent politicians have marched ahead of terrorist sympathizers.

Would it be too much to ask our politicians that they spare us further embarrassment by refraining from doing so again in future?

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