Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Never again? We'll see...

  The 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is as good a time as any and a better time than most to consider the unsettling resurgence of global anti-Semitism.
   It seems unthinkable that within the lifetime of some Holocaust survivors, Jews are once again under siege on the same continent where they were targeted for highly-organized and systematic genocide.  Modern day anti-Semitism is not unique to Europe, but that the beast has reawakened where it took its deadliest toll is disquieting, with gusts up to ominous.   
   Much 21st century anti-Semitism is thinly disguised as anti-Zionism.  You can be against Israel, the logic goes, without being against Jews.  It's faulty logic, considering that Israel is by definition a Jewish state, but far be it from the champions of Palestine to let semantics get in the way of Jew-bashing.  It's curious that in a world rife with minority persecution on every continent, Israel gets a disproportionate share of the attention for its supposed mistreatment of Palestineans.  It's actually fashionable among the professional activist set to embrace the Palestinean cause.  At least, I assume it's de rigueur, because otherwise there wouldn't be a logical explanation for how much time and attention is spent on condemning Israel - unless it were fueled by anti-Semitism.
   Most puzzling to me are the self-loathing Jews who take white liberal guilt to the next level by piling on whenever they perceive some wrongdoing on Israel's part.  So-called "journalists" like Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen would have made fine "kapos" in the Jewish ghettos and concentration camps, where subservience as a sort of police functionary for the German authorities earned a few extra bread rations until it was the kapos' turn to die in the gas chambers.  Activists like Blumenthal and Cohen (and note to both: you can't be a journalist and an activist - you're one or the other) either didn't grow up at the knee of a Holocaust survivor or they're shameless attention seekers more interested in their own public profile than they are in the legacy of Jewish suffering.
   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn't have been more clear or more correct when he said "If the Arabs were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war.  If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel."  In the face of direct and lethal physical threats to the Jewish state and the sinister reawakening of widespread anti-Semitism, "never again" is much more than a platitude.  It's a call to action for Jews and non-Jews alike who remember the not-so-distant past.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Al Jolson lives

  I can't speak for the black community because I'm not a member, but I suspect it's bemusing to watch white people argue over what constitutes racism.
   Duelling columns in the Globe and Mail this week tackled the relative cultural merits of a prominent Quebec theatre company's use of blackface in a portrayal of Canadiens defenceman PK Subban.  On the one hand, you have the earnestly progressive Toronto commentator tut-tutting about how the shameful history of blackface renders it inappropriate in any modern scenario.  On the other hand, there's the defiant Quebec scribe defending the skit as entirely acceptable within the francophone cultural context.  Interestingly, that I'm aware of no one has asked PK Subban what he thinks, and he's probably happy they haven't, because he's got enough on his plate without being drawn into a controversy over racism.
   On the heels of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the consensus on free speech standards has - temporarily, at least - broadened to the point where offensive expression falls under the banner of free expression.  That's not to say there can't be consequences, but that's part of the risk of bring provocative, and in a free society the right to offend is a superior alternative to arbitrary censorship.  Better that we make our own judgments than have them made for us by smug progressives or backwards apologists.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Leafs go next level ludicrous

   It doesn't rank up there with killing someone over a cartoon, but fining disgruntled hockey fans for throwing the home team's jersey on the ice smacks of the same kind of fundamentalist intolerance.
   Three Toronto Maple Leafs fans were escorted from the Air Canada Center and banned from the building for a year after throwing Leafs jerseys onto the ice during a 4-1 loss to Carolina.  Ejection from the game and a ban from the building are reasonable consequences, but the malefactors were additionally charged with "engaging in prohibited activity" under an Ontario law called the Trespass to Property Act - an offence that carries a fine in the neighborhood of 125 dollars.
   Really, Toronto?  Arresting people for mocking the hapless outfit that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment trots out there under the guise of professional athletics?  Taking into account that you're probably paying minimum 200 dollars a seat to be close enough to throw a jersey on the ice and that replica Leafs jerseys start at 170 dollars before tax and shipping on, the perpetrators were probably already out of pocket to the tune of at least 400 dollars before they got ticketed for being a public nuisance.  Is that not punishment enough?
   If it's about respecting the brand, it's too late.  The Leafs brand is in tatters, thanks to decades of mismanagement.  And spare me the argument that throwing a jersey on the ice creates a dangerous situation for the players.  Even a Leaf can skate around a stationary object.
   Can't he?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

To market, to market to buy a fat goat (and other halal nursery rhymes)

   There's a surprising amount of misconception over a major publishing company's directive discouraging authors of children's books from writing about pigs or pork consumption to avoid offending Muslims or Jews.  The knee-jerk reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre has been to accuse Oxford University Press of kowtowing to religious hardliners at the expense of free speech.
   Kowtowing they are, but it's got nothing to do with free speech.  As Oxford has patiently tried to explain over the hysterical din, they export books to nearly 200 countries, and if the material isn't culturally acceptable, the books won't sell.  What's important to understand - and it's something I failed to adequately explain in the original version of this post - is that Oxford is being sensitive about books it exports to Muslim countries.  The no-pigs-or-pork directive doesn't apply to books sold in countries where it's not an issue.  That's just smart business on Oxford's part.  In the same way that Muslims consider the prophet Mohammed infallible, western corporate interests worship the almighty dollar, and anything that infringes on profit margins or compromises the share price is tantamount to blasphemy.  It's just business.
   Of course, while religious sensitivities are assuaged and capitalist interests are served, millions of children lose because they're stuck with cheap imitation literature like the Three Little Goats, Pearls Before Bovine and This Little Mole Rat Went to Market.  And the day they come up with a pig-free version of  George Orwell's classic Animal Farm is the day camels fly.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

You've Got a Nerve, Friend

   It was like a bad Saturday Night live skit, and symbolized everything that's wrong with the hapless left wing political establishment at a critical time in human history.
   With head-chopping, women-stoning, cartoonist-murdering Islamic jihadists representing the greatest threat to global security since the end of the Cold War, the most powerful nation on Earth trotted out an aging folk singer to reassure the civilized world that they've got our back.    
   To be fair, most Americans are probably mortified by the spectacle that unfolded on their behalf yesterday in Paris, where US Secretary of State John Kerry had James Taylor perform "You've Got a Friend" in symbolic apology for the American leadership's conspicuous absence at the unity rally in Paris last Sunday.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time  - if the time was 1972.  But the feel-good, peacenik sentiment from a former military dissenter and an old hippie warbler in a city still reeling from a bloody, multi-pronged terrorist attack was absurdly inappropriate.  What's next?  Dispatching Dick van Dyke to Nigeria to sing "Put on a Happy Face" for Boko Haram victims?  
   All is not lost, however.  There's an opportunity here to take out the combined leadership of ISIS and Al Qaeda in one fell swoop.  All the CIA needs to do is lure the bad guys to a joint screening of the Kerry and Taylor show, and let nature take its course as the terrorist leaders die laughing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Free speech includes the right to self-censorship

   In the freedom of speech debate dominating the aftermath of last week's terrorism bloodbath in Paris, it's useful to remember that the principle of free speech includes the right to censor one's self.  
   Calling media outlets who chose not  to run the cartoons at the root of the Charlie Hebdo massacre cowards is a red herring driven by an agenda.  Journalists have a professional responsibility to exercise editorial discretion.  No one in the free speech camp disputes Charlie Hebdo's right to print offensive material, but neither is there an obligation for other media to re-print the material, even if it's relevant to the story.  The images are easy enough to find on the internet, and the story can be reported in full without exacerbating tensions by gratuitously re-publishing something specifically intended to offend a large group of people.
   In a civilized society, free speech is not a license to be provocative, outrageous and insulting at will as much as it's protection against doing so without being killed for it.  Charlie Hebdo's cartoonists didn't deserve to die for drawing "blasphemous" caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, but to accuse other media of cowardice for not re-printing the material completely misses the point of free expression, and demonstrates a profound ignorance of journalistic standards and ethics.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bravo à la France

   If you're going to Hell in a handbasket, you might as well stop in Paris along the way, and human decency made a detour to the City of Lights yesterday to collectively condemn last week's terrorism that took 17 innocent French lives.
   It was inspiring and reassuring to see people of all ethnic and political stripes march together in solidarity in what's being described as the largest crowd in France's history.  It says something about French unity and resolve that more people showed up for Sunday's event than took to the streets for the Revolution or Liberation.  What's especially gratifying is that there were no reports of confrontation despite a significant Muslim presence at the rally.  Far from being treated as interlopers, Muslims marchers were applauded and embraced as they carried signs saying "Not in my name" and "Je suis Juif" - exactly the loud and clear message the broader population needs to hear from the moderate Muslim community if it wants to distance and differentiate itself from violent Islamic extremism.
   There was also political hypocrisy at play, as among the 40 world leaders who marched arm-in-arm were representatives of countries that actively suppress freedom of speech.  But yesterday was less about free speech than it was about the right to publish offensive cartoons without being murdered for it, and nitpicking for its own sake is missing the point.  Any day that people from disparate ideological backgrounds come together to denounce a common scourge that threatens us all is a good day and something the civilized world can build on.