The barbaric cultural practice of election pronouncements
A steady throb of anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be running through the current campaign
There's a low-frequency thrumming in the background of this election campaign – the political equivalent of the tension track used in movies to provoke anxiety and foreboding.
If this election was indeed a movie, we would probably now be watching monochrome images of bewildered Canadians clutching their children while some sinister, shifting shape takes form in the near distance – foreign eyes staring malevolently from beneath slit veils or religious zealots mutilating their helpless daughters and forcing them into marital servitude.
I can think of no better narration than Rod Serling's dire intonation at the beginning of each Twilight Zone episode: "It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge."
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Instead of economic issues and the timeless election slogan of jobs, jobs, jobs, the drumbeat today seems to be Muslims, Muslims, Muslims.
It's not quite that explicit, of course. Using that sort of language wouldn't be "politically correct," to borrow a Conservative attack phrase.
Rather, the language is more suggestive.
Just last week, we were reminded by the immigration minister, standing beside the minister responsible for the status of women, that Canada now has something called the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, and that if re-elected, the government would establish an RCMP task force, and a "tip line" for Canadians who wish to call the Mounties to denounce someone, a neighbour, it was suggested, for engaging in a barbaric cultural practice.
This fearsomely titled law is actually just a few amendments to the Immigration Act and Criminal code that outlaw a few things that are mostly already against the law in Canada — polygamy, forcing children into arranged marriages, and so-called honour killings, otherwise known as murder.
But the phrase "barbaric cultural practices" invokes so much more, especially as "barbaric" is not a legal descriptor, it's an emotive.
The mind of the beholder
Barbarism, of course, is in the mind of the beholder.
To some people, it is barbaric to pierce a baby's ears or slice off the skin on the end of an infant's penis, or even what the Christian ritual of communion symbolizes.
Almost certainly, though, the title of this new law was designed to invoke other, more foreign horrors: female genital mutilation, or all the stoning, flogging, amputating and executing contained in the ferociously harsh interpretations of religious law now associated in the public mind with Islam.
What's more, at the same time as the government was reminding Canadians of its new barbarity law, it was also stripping citizenship from people convicted of extremism. All, so far, have been Muslims.
The government says stripping of citizenship will be restricted to "terrorists and traitors." But then both those words are just as pliable as "barbaric."
There have been no reports that the government is considering stripping citizenship from the Sikh bomb-maker convicted in the 1985 Air India bombing — the worst act of political violence in Canadian history — or any of the surviving FLQ members convicted after the October Crisis.
None of the above is a Muslim.
Even when the government has responded to public pressure to allow in more of the miserable wretches streaming out of Syria, Stephen Harper has repeatedly emphasized that they are coming from a "terrorist war zone," and that Canada must select "the most vulnerable" refugees, which has widely been taken as code for "Christians."
Then of course there are the two Muslim women who, alone in all of modern Canadian history, insisted on taking a citizenship oath while wearing a niqab (a word most Canadians had probably never heard of before this election).
The Federal Court of Appeal says they were within their rights. And yet, in the nativist ether of this particular election, Canadians are effectively being asked to decide if they are a threat to our way of life.
Muslim, Muslim, Muslim ...
A corollary to all this is the suggestion that there are two sorts of Canadians: those who stand consistently and unswervingly with Israel, and those who stand against the Jewish state, most probably with its (Muslim) enemies.
Harper has suggested that criticism of Israel is a mask for anti-Semitism.
And just last week, a Conservative candidate in Winnipeg, Joyce Bateman, chose to answer a question on the economy by listing Liberal candidates whose support for Israel she deemed insufficient.
She ticked off names, arriving finally at Andrew Leslie, a decorated former Canadian lieutenant-general who commanded the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
She was booed, but remained unapologetic for rhyming off her party's talking points.
"It is a choice between standing up for Canadian values in a dangerous world, or returning to the days of going along to get along," she said.
Political journalists, working under the stricter dictates of moral equivalence imposed during election campaigns, refer to this kind of talk as "identity politics."
Being under the same strictures myself, I can't really go much further. But it does sound an awful lot like the Barack-Obama-is-a-Muslim-who-hates-Israel stuff I heard so much when I covered American campaigns.
Just out of curiosity, I called the RCMP's media relations department to ask about this new task force and what sort of barbaric cultural practices would merit a call to the Mounties.
The officer who answered said that if, say, an honour killing is taking place next door, it'd be best to dial 911 and tell the local police.
Otherwise, the force said in an email about 20 minutes later: "It would be inappropriate for the RCMP to comment on a political announcement."
"A political announcement." What a dry, refreshing description.