They are new and different enemies, these Paris shooters. Militarily trained, they are murderous religious zealots, with all the benefits of modern technology, the internet, and a vast but almost invisible support system. Their attack was clearly a military action, stirred by irrational, enflamed religious views, motivated by other factors: perhaps an underlying sense of powerlessness; perhaps poverty; or violent family life. And so what?
As I reflect on the horrible events in Paris*— it slowly dawns on me that this is a new religious war. Seriously. I’m reminded of The Crusades. But this new enemy can’t be dealt with by conventional methods. Not bombs, not tanks, not drones. Well-equipped and severely conditioned, they function like sophisticated robots. And they could live next door or in the next town. But they are neighbours we don’t understand. We need to sharpen up, leave behind our assumptions, naïveté, and political correctness. We need to be learning about all of it, and openly debating about it. What are we dealing with here?
Much of English Canada avoids this kind of conversation because of discomfort, defensiveness, fear. Often they simply don’t know how, which I attribute to our somewhat authoritarian culture, with its judgmental tendency to discourage argument. So we have some learning to do. Could we start with an introduction to the art of discussion — in grade six?
If I may generalize, les Quebecois are different. And this difference between the two cultures appears once again in the media coverage of the Paris massacre. Eleven French-language newspapers all published a cartoon with a half-hidden, grimacing face of the Prophet Muhammad, saying, “It’s tough to be loved by idiots.” But not Quebec’s English-language Gazette — nor the rest of English Canada.
Denise Bombardier, a columnist for Journal de Montréal: “I’m sad that the Gazette refused to do this, because I think that this is the war of the 21st century, and if we don’t react the way we did in our newspapers this morning, and in many newspapers around the world and in Europe, then this war is lost.” I think she’s right.
Patrick Lagacé of La Presse said concern for political correctness is much stronger in English-speaking countries, such as Canada and the United States, compared to French-language media in Quebec or France. He thinks English Canadians “are prisoners to political correctness” While I agree with this perspective, I feel the cartoon is only the beginning of what needs to happen.
Publishing ‘offensive’ cartoons is a little like thumbing our noses at someone. Of course we shouldn’t be killed or even threatened for this. But much more than this, we really need to talk. We need to welcome debate — with a willingness to be changed by it. I didn’t learn this until my early twenties, with Quebecois friends, on subjects like Quebec sovereignty. It took a few years for me to understand the issues, and to have my point of view changed. And in the process, I came to value healthy debate as an essential element in democracy.
The purpose of argument is not to put down your opponent or to rigidly defend an opinion; it’s to learn, and to share and to grow. All Canadians need to be able to do this, regardless of religious persuasion or ethnicity.
Religion scares me. The Paris event illustrates why. As I see it, what happened in Paris is merely one extreme end of a religious spectrum. The spectrum begins with the willingness to believe in something for which there is no evidence. And if it’s rigid enough, the other end of the spectrum could mean living a perpetual nightmare of violence and terror. So, let’s talk.
*(the killing of 10 people connected to the satirical Charlie Hebdo)
Food for thought: