Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Salute Too Far

My most recent post for the Faithblender blog
I open the newspaper, and there it is; a picture of student protesters in downtown Montreal saluting the Hitlergruss, the Nazi salute.
No, these are not aspiring Nazis; these are students locked in a political battle with the Quebec government, who are sarcastically saluting like Nazis. Their sneering Hitlergruss is meant to mock the police and government they oppose.
To the students, this is mere act of street theatre, a way of demonstrating against the “fascist” Charest government.  But as they “Seig Heil” their way through downtown Montreal, the students will be poisoning the foundations of civil society.
It should not be forgotten that the mere sight of Hitlergruss sends shivers up the spines of Holocaust survivors; and there are still thousands of survivors living in Montreal. At the very least, the use of this salute as a dramatic prop is insensitive.
But even more critical is political rhetoric gone wild. Essentially, these students are calling the Charest government and the Montreal police Nazis. It goes without saying that the comparison is absurd; haven't these students studied enough history to know something about the actual horrors the Nazis perpetrated?
The problem with inflammatory rhetoric is that it undermines civil society. The Bible constantly reminds us of the power of words and the power of gestures; in narrative after narrative, the Bible illustrates how defamatory rhetoric and even simple gossip can damage friendships and destroy lives.   And using a Hitlergruss to express your dismay with your government is an awful example of overheated rhetoric.
For politicians and communal leaders, rhetoric is often seen as our servants; we use emotionally charged words to inspire and lead. We forget that rhetoric can become our master as well, and that the passions our words release can have unforeseen consequences, and incite hatred and violence. Without a doubt, demonstrators that call their political opponents Nazis will never sit down to negotiate, and may instead turn to vandalism. In the end, civil society, our ability to live together amicably despite differing views, will end up getting buried under a truckload of angry exaggerations.
Western democracies depend on a healthy dose of mutual respect to survive. In politics, there will always be arguments and losers and winners. But in the end, we all need to work together, and to disagree without being disagreeable. Sadly, in this current conflict, the line of respectful debate has been crossed far too many times.
Global News has reported that Amir Khadir, an opposition Quebec MNA, has a poster in his apartment depicting (among other things) a dead, half naked Jean Charest, lying at the feet of a “bananarchiste” and other student demonstrators. It is shocking that an elected member of our National Assembly, sworn to uphold and protect our democracy, could have such a despicable display in his home.  Sadly, what this poster actually represents is the death of mutual respect, the foundation of democracy.

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