Full Comment: Barbara Kay on the Montreal Gazette unflagging cultural relativism(National Post January 6, 2008)

Full Comment

Barbara Kay on the Montreal Gazette's unflagging cultural relativism

It’s like the old song says (paraphrased a bit): Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and for the last few years, the Montreal Gazette’s gotta  insist all cultures are equal, or they'll die.

The glory of multiculturalism has become the Gazette’s raison d’etre. There isn’t a scwharma tasting, a lace yarmulkes for ladies start-up in a Cote St Luc basement, a Caribbean drum session on Mount Royal, or an authentic Hindu wedding going on in Montreal, but it’s guaranteed to make the front page of the “Gazoo,” as the Gazette is known locally.

If only it were all about ethnic cuisine, lace yarmulkes, joyful reggae dancing in the park, and Bollywood antics all the time. But then, darn it, just when we’re all feeling the glow, along comes an embarrassing incident - say, a firebombing of a Jewish school, or an honour killing – that just sucks all the fun out of the whole multicultural party.

Then the editors at the Gazette all sit around a table with glum faces ( as I imagine them), and wring out the obligatory editorial on how such incidents are not in any way representative of the cultural community these angry folks happen to belong to, and how we must keep the dialogue going between communities to make sure these unrepresentative actions don’t happen again.

It’s bad enough when the editors write this stuff. They can read between their own lines, so they’re careful how they phrase things. But what is really embarrassing is when they let amateur writers from the community under scrutiny take up the task. The editors do these “moderate” amateurs no favour, for in the course of what these well-intentioned ambassadors believe is an even-handed overview, they often (naively to be sure) reveal an instinctive tendency to shift the blame on to others. They speak softly, but carry a big stick with which to beat “society.” However gently and sweetly, they refuse to indict their own culture for outcomes that nothing else will explain.

A case in point was published in the Opinion section of Friday January 4th’s Gazoo, entitled “Why I Share the Guilt of Aqsa’s Death,” by one Ehab Lotayef, a Muslim IT engineer at McGill University.

By “Aqsa,” Lotayef refers to Aqsa Parvez, the teenage Muslim girl from Mississauga who was allegedly strangled last month by her father with her brother’s complicity for her refusal to wear the hijab. From the title, and from one or two lines in the 700-word op ed that follows, Mr Loyatef presents most admirably as a moderate Muslim facing up in public to the thorny issue of fundamentalist Muslim and anti-Zionist attitudes as they play out in extremist behaviour.

For example, he begins by saying that “every time there is mention of violence in the news, I cringe and hope it was not committed by a Muslim…” and  three-quarters of the way through the op ed he remarks, “If I had played a more active role in my community to assert the right of youngsters to question…or if I were more vocal in criticizing the overemphasis placed on head-covering, maybe the tide would have shifted….”

But trust me, these boilerplate, chest-thumping pieties do not reflect Mr Lotayef 's real feelings. For like so many “apologias” one sees in the media these days, the overwhelming bulk of the op ed is dedicated to mitigating the guilt of violent Muslims by leveling the problematic playing field and assigning equal blame to perpetrators and victims.

In the case of the Jewish school that was firebombed a few years ago by anti-Zionist Arabs, Lotayef says that “The teenager involved in the firebombing might have felt frustration toward the indifference of society to the death and suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli army…” If only he had been “offered” a “forum to express his frustration or a productive way to influence that indifference…,” he might never have thrown that bomb.

Forum? This boy had no tongue? Could not write a letter to the editor or picket the Israeli embassy, or join a political action group, or react in any of the hundred other ways in which Canadians protest political situations they disagree with? In a democratic society, one is not “offered” a forum, one is living in a forum. One simply speaks out when one has something to say. Nobody in Canadian “society” ever told that boy throwing firebombs was an acceptable way to express political frustration.

As to the suffering of Palestinians, one would hardly objectively say that “indifference” is the order of the day. The opposite, in fact. Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombers are far less likely to attract public sympathy in our left-leaning media than Palestinian victims.  Is Mr Latoyef implying that Jewish students might consider firebombing a mosque a justifiable response to public “indifference” to the suffering of Israeli innocents? Surely not, and yet that is where his curious strain of logic leads.

It is apparently also “society’s” fault that Aqsa was strangled: “Society at large is responsible. Society encourages Aqsa and her peers to disobey their parents and makes parents feel they will not get any support if they try to implement their values and beliefs in their homes.” Well, if you agree that Canadian society believes that women have the right not to wear a hijab if they don’t want to, then I guess you could say that society is “responsible,” but in fact the very idea that “we” must take responsibility for Aqsa’s death is as crazy and insulting as the idea that “we” must take responsibility for school firebombings.

The firebombings and Aqsa’s death, let’s be very clear, are the product of attitudes brought to this country from places whose values Canadians have no use for. “We” are not responsible for either of these crimes. If Mr Latoyef is representative of the “moderate” voice in the Muslim community, I find that a very discouraging proposition, for his motivation in writing this op ed is clearly to ex-culpate his own community as far as possible by sharing out blame amongst the rest of us. Arguably more discouraging is the fact that the Gazette editorial board is so obsessively committed to the discredited notion of cultural relativism that they considered this self-serving and offensive “apologia” worthy of inclusion in Montreal’s only Anglophone daily newspaper.