I did not want to interrupt my series of post on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I must.
We have been in the United States for 3 weeks now and I find this magnificent country incomprehensible. Mainly because some of the people who live here. Not all, but many.
Yesterday we learned of another Mass killing. We have not yet got all the news of the mass killing that happened a few ays ago in California. Now we have one more mass killing to consider. Last week the murderer in California killed 11 people. The number was upsized today when one of the victims who had been in the hospital died. Yesterday as were told “at least 7 died” of gunshot wounds.
Forget about the guns, let’s just consider why do so many Americans want to kill other Americans they don’t even know personally? Why do so many Americans want to kill complete strangers? To me that seems incomprehensible.
We also learned that in another killing that might not qualify as a “mass killing” 2 students were shot and killed and another is in critical condition in the hospital. How can CNN keep up with the killings? I have a hard time telling them apart. One mass killing melts into the next one.
Yesterday State Senator Josh Becker said the community where this happened was “a close-knit community” and they will be in shock. Is that what close knit now means?
CNN reported that there have been 38 mass killings in the 3 weeks we have been in the US. Laura Coates a CNN commentator and TV host said “now the front-line is everywhere.”
Later she said, if the front line is everywhere “we are all stakeholders.” That can’t be anything but true. But does it matter? Who cares? After all it’s just one more killing.
Here is the real question? Where is all this hate coming from? And it arises even in “close-knit” communities. How is that possible? What does that mean?
When European settlers came to Canada, they brought with them a lot of lies. They packed lies you might say. One of the big ones was the doctrine of discovery.
As Tanya Talaga said on the CBC documentary Spirt to Soar,
“When the settlers came to our lands they brought with them many stories of falsehoods. The most harmful being the doctrine of discovery-–terra nullius. With lands belonging to no one, this justified the theft and discover of our homelands. But the land belonged to someone. We were here. We are still here.”
This reminded me of a recent television series I watched called The English. In that series the villains included a group of Mennonites who had come to settle Kansa in 1800s. The English woman in the series asked the Mennonites why they were there? “Do you not realized people live here”, she asked. The Mennonites were shocked. How could their good intentions be questioned? The replied, “God sent us.” That was all they said. They never considered that they might be trespassing on land of others. Such an idea never entered their minds.
I actually think there was another doctrine–at least as harmful as the Doctrine of Discovery and closely related to it. That was the doctrine of white supremacy. It held that whites were superior to all other races. All other races are inferior. This reminded me, obliquely, of my inferior tour. It was inferior not just in the sense of being puny, but also in the sense of any lingering sense of superiority I might have. I have been trying to oust this pernicious doctrine from my soul. It is not easy. The doctrine of white supremacy is entirely irrational, but that does not make it any less real. Anyone who benefits from doctrine must renounce it. Justice, fairness, and reason all demand it.
Both doctrines were lies—very big lies.
According to Jody Porter, CBC reporter in the film, Spirit to Soar, “there is a sense in this town [Thunder Bay] that you don’t have to account for these things.” That is what privilege is all about. That is what makes Thunder Bay the Hate capital of Canada. Those who have white supremacy deep in their souls often do not recognize that it is there. They are blind to it. They accept the benefits of privilege and look down on its victims, if they notice them at all. That is the spirit that does not soar. That is the spirit that leads to hate.
I blogged earlier about the Hate Capital of Canada. As I returned on my jaunt to Thunder Bay I want to return to that subject as well.
There is a story in Thunder Bay that if you die in the water you deserve that kind of death. 7 indigenous teens had gone missing in Thunder Bay from 2000 to 2011. The indigenous community was deeply disturbed by what happened. Canadian society not so much. 5 of the teens were later found dead in rivers in and around Thunder Bay. Did any of them deserve that fate? I could not fathom such a thought. As Tanya Talaga who wrote a book about this series of events called 7 Fallen Feathers, and producer of the show Spirit to Soar, said this, ‘our youth must come alone to Thunder Bay just to go to school in a city where First Nations people have faced racism. Racism that kills.” That is often a traumatic experience for young children. They come to a city where as many have said racism was rampant and are there alone without their families because they want to go to school. The lovely city of Thunder Bay has been called the hate crime capital of Canada! Imagine if your grade nine indigenous student daughter [or son] flew in from up north all by herself. Would you be terrified?
Yet hundreds of indigenous youth make that trip each year. It made me think about the crocodiles that travel each year to the Mara Mara River in Africa to meet, greet, and eat wildebeests and zebras. The poor beasts must face a horrifying number of deadly predators, yet they plunge into the river in a desperate effort to get across the river and join the herd on a search for spring grasses. Is that how it is with these young indigenous children who want to get an education so badly they are willing to go to the Hate Capital of Canada to get it. And inevitably they go alone leaving protective families far behind.
First Nations communities repeatedly called for investigations into the deaths of these 7 fallen feathers. The Chief of the local First Nation asked Talaga why she was not writing a story about Jordan Wabasse the 7th of the missing students.
Talaga did write a book about those events and then discussed some of the issues again in the 2018 CBC Massey Lectures.
The deaths are part of the colonial history of Canada which our political leaders have denied. And this is not ancient history. This is recent history. It is ongoing.
According to Talaga each death was investigated and pronounced accidental or undetermined. She says the investigations were inadequate. No one was ever charged for any of those crimes.
This also reminded me of the fate of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. It goes on an on. Predators find the vulnerable victims. Often, like the zebras and wildebeest in Africa come to the crocodiles, the women prey come to the predators. When will this ever end? It will come to an end only when Canadian society takes this problem seriously. Only when Canadians look at themselves critically and say, ‘enough is enough.’ This must stop.
One of the things Chris and I learned about Vivian, the indigenous person we met at the Reconciliation event at the Pat Porter Active Living Centre, while eating a traditional indigenous meal of bison stew, Bannock, wild rice and ice cream with mixed summer berries, was the remarkable lack of resentment Vivian had. She seemed entirely free of it. How could that be, after all she was violently ripped away from her mother and father at the age of 5 by Canadian authorities in order to be civilized and brought to a completely strange school a long way from home? Who was civilized? Yet she was not filled with hate! She was filled with love and told us many stories about her family. Not all survivors of residential schools were as fortunate as she was.
At the Pat Porter centre in Steinbach, we were shown a short emotional video with comments from survivors of residential schools. Audrey Desvents, one of the survivors wisely said this, “By forgiving the Church and by and forgiving the abusers and not carrying all of that garbage with us wherever we go we invest in our own healing.” Another survivor, Ted Fontaine said people asked him what he hoped to achieve by railing against the residential schools? His answer was “freedom. I am free.” He did it to free himself from hate!
People who can live without hate are lucky people.
Hannah Arendt looked closely at the supporters of totalitarian movements of the 1930s and 1940s and many of the things she learned are applicable to the current authoritarian movements. She found that the enthusiasm of the true believers was stunning. This is what she said about the totalitarians of the 1930s and following decades:
“They shared with Lawrence of Arabia the yearning for “losing their selves in violent disgust with all existing standards, with every power that be. They all remembered the “golden age of security,” they also remembered how they had hated it and how real their enthusiasm had been at the outbreak of the first World War. Not only Hitler and not only the failures, thanked God on their knees when mobilization swept Europe in 1914. They did not even have to reproach themselves with having been an easy prey for chauvinist propaganda or lying explanations about the purely defensive character of the war. The elite went to war with an exultant hope that everything they knew, the whole culture and texture of life, might go down in its “storms of steel” (Ernst Jünger) In the carefully chosen words of Thomas Mann, war was “chastisement” and “purification”; “war in itself,” rather than victories, inspired the poet.” Or in the words of a student of the time, “what counts is always the readiness to make a sacrifice, not the object for which the sacrifice is made”; or in the words of a young worker, “it doesn’t matter whether one lives a few years longer or not. One would like to have something to show for one’s life.”
The true believers were truly zealots. And note the religious significance here. Sacrifice is of course a fundamental religious concept in virtually every religion. It is no accident that the words “sacred” and “sacrifice” come from the same root. You only have to look at that wonderful series, A History of Religious Ideas, in 3 volumes by the Master Mircea Eliade to see the similarities.
Arendt also pointed out how
“the “front generation” in marked contrast to their own chosen spiritual fathers, were completely absorbed by their desire to see the ruin of this whole world of fake security, fake culture, and fake life. This desire was so great it outweighed in impact and articulateness all earlier attempts of a “transformation of values,” such as Nietzsche had attempted…Destruction without mitigation, chaos and ruin, as such assumed the dignity of supreme values.”
Arendt also pointed out in her book The Origins of Totalitariainism that willingness to go to war for the cause was in itself insufficient. This attitude had to survive the war, no matter how horrific it was:
“The genuineness of these feelings can be seen in the fact that very few of this generation were cured of their war enthusiasm by actual experience of its horrors. The survivors of the trenches did not become pacifists. They cherished an experience which, they thought, might serve to separate the definitively from the hated surroundings of respectability. They clung to their memories of four years of life in the trenches as though they constituted an objective criterion for the establishment of a new elite.”
So it is hardly surprising that Trumpsters were not done after the storming of the Capitol. They wanted more. I believe it is likely that. They want to follow their leader into the next battle.
Hannah Arendt said this about the totalitarian believers of Europe:
“This generation remembered the war as the great prelude to the breakdown of classes and their transformation into masses. War, with its constant murderous arbitrariness, became the symbol for death, the “great equalizer” and therefore the true father of a new world order. The passion for equality and justice, the longing to transcend narrow and meaningless class lines, to abandon stupid privileges and prejudices, seemed to find in war a way out of the old condescending attitudes of pity for the oppressed and disinherited. In times of growing misery and individual helplessness, it seems as difficult to resist pity when it grows into an all-devouring passion as it is not to resent its very boundlessness, which seems to kill human dignity with more deadly certainty than misery itself.”
Will the same be true of Trumpsters? We have no way of knowing. None of this is pre-ordained. I am not suggesting Arendt was a prophet. I am just saying her remarks about true believers of the totalitarians makes one look at the modern variants with deep trepidation. At the very least we have little justification for easy optimism or over confidence. We should not be quick to believe the troubles are over. It is more likely that they are just beginning. That is not a comforting thought.
To me it is a fundamental position that Christians should not hate. They should love. Yet often that is not true. Often they hate.
In the United States far right groups traditionally attack racial minorities, but those are large groups. If you want support from non-whites you have to attack smaller groups such as trans-gender Americans. That is what the current far right is doing in America. Many of those are of course Christians. Take almost any hated group and away you can go. It does not take much for Americans to join an anti-racial parade. Vilify a small group and soon you will have wide-spread support for your cause.
If you attack a tiny group you can gather a large group against them. This is what Americans have been doing. Then you can gather a lot of people to join our hateful attacks on very small minorities. Unfortunately, there are often many Americans who want to do exactly that.
As Jason Stanley an American philosopher and expert on fascism said,
“In the United States the audience includes white nationalists who very prominently want to return to a white state that prioritizes white Christianity. So they say they have black Americans who join them in their antipathy against LGBT citizens. It is always about gathering a larger coalition by ever greater vilification of a small minority while winking to the large part of the coalition that this is really helping. In the case of the United States that would be white Christianity.”
One should never underestimate the power of hate among small groups. Smart politicians know how to enlist such power and amplify it. Often such tactics are used to enhance the interests of white Christianity. Hence we get what Timothy Snyder referred to as Christian fascism which often attacks small sexual groups that are easy to dominate and quick to catch the attention of haters.
There was a recent piece in the New York Times by Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham that reported on The growing religious fervour in the American right. They call it a Jesus movement.” The far-right movement is increasingly drawing in devout Christians.
As Stanley said,
“That’s because the global fascist movement presents itself as a defender of traditional values. And this is not new. This is textbook fascist politics. If you look at Joseph Goebbels’s speech, “Communism with the masks off,” in 1935, Goebbels says that Jewish Bolshevism is threatening religious faith in Christianity and that the only protection is National Socialism.”
Once more, this is Christian fascism. So what Putin is doing is reviving these themes. He is saying liberalism is a threat to tradition. Of course liberalism is not a threat. Liberalism says my Orthodox Jewish brothers may live as they want and other people who aren’t religious can also live however they want. Tolerance for other views is the bedrock of liberalism. However, Christian fascism says Judaism is a threat to its hegemony and must be resisted.
Of course, this is not about truth. This is about creating fear among people who chose to live traditionally that they are under attack and this approach in the US, Russia and many other places has been very successful. As Stanley said,
This is about persuading people that other people’s choices threaten them and in particular, threaten their children, and then they say to them, ‘Look they are going after your children. You need us to protect you.”
This is a very effective strategy and has been used by authoritarians and fascists many times. It is so effective because it is so easy for us to fear our children are in danger. In its most extreme and absurd recent incarnation this has been the strategy of QAnon followers. They get people to believe their children are in danger of pedophiles. That is guaranteed to arouse quick and hostile response especially in countries where such fears are rampant such as the United States and Russia. Sexual insecurity adds an existential edge to such fears. It is so effective people are quick to believe totally absurd claims.
In both countries conservative members of society are easily convinced that their children are in danger because traditional values have been undermined by liberals. As a result, traditionalist are quick to abandon democracy in favour of the protection of a strong autocratic leader.
This is what Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted on April 6, 2022: “Democrats are the party of killing babies, grooming and transitioning children, and pro-pedophilia politics.” It doesn’t matter that it is absurd. It matters that it triggers fear.
Hari Sreenivasan who interviewed Jason Stanley on PBS quoted this: “In a recent poll 49% of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings.”
These are now going viral in conservative Christian circles in particular in the US and elsewhere. This is not a small group of people in the US. Congresswomen are part of it. This is widespread hair-brained thinking.
As Stanley reminded us, QAnon is clearly descended from “blood libel” and the “protocols of the elders of Zion”, the conspiracy theories that Jews were stealing Christian babies for their religious rituals. It is a conspiracy theory that there is a global cabal of elites and they are seeking to conquer institutions to get at your children.
To these conspiracy theorist if “their men” cannot stand up to this they are not real men because they are going after women and children and all real men must stand up to defend them. As Stanley said, “It is that level of fear and paranoia that has seeped into…and permeated much of American politics.”
American Christian fascism, the ugly American twin of Russian Christian fascism.
West Side Story is a remake of a classic film that I had never seen before. Let me confess, I have never been very keen on musicals. Is that actually pretty dumb? I admit I enjoyed this film a lot.
I found it interesting that this film is not unlike Belfast. Both films deal with hate of one group against another coupled with demands from zealots in the group to amplify hatred rather than finding a resolution. Some people don’t want to find solutions; they want to fight. both films have a boy and girl from each group attracted to each other. Both have outstanding production values.
The West side story is really an ancient oft repeated story, but it is no less important for that. It is a crucially important theme. Many times we have learned that we have not learned enough about it because we keep creating a trap for young lovers and others. The background to the film is is the enmity between 2 gangs in New York and the lovers caught in the melee.
The first line from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliette, which explores the same theme, makes a very important point in its opening paragraph:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
And that is the point—two groups that are actually very similar hate each other and draw blood, making unclean hands. And for what purpose? Very often as Shakespeare said, the two groups are alike. Sometimes the more alike the more vicious the fighting.
In that play it was the Montagues and the Capulets and the dynamite created when a young girl from one family and a boy from the other fell in love with each other. The issue was the same as the issue in this film. Can the hatred keep the lovers apart? What is more powerful , love or hate? In this film it was the Jets against the Sharks, but it could just as well be the Catholics and the Protestants as in the other film nominated for best film, Belfast. It could just as well be the Conservatives and Liberals, Republicans and Democrats, Russians and Ukrainians, Hutus and Tutsis, or Mennonites from Winker versus Mennonites from Steinbach, or vaxxers against anti-vaxxers. All groups can come to hate the “other.” It is easy to fall into hatred. Getting out is not so easy.
After Steven Spielberg announced that he was interesting in renewing this old musical he explained why he wanted to do that. This is what he said:
“Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself. … And the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today. It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, things widened, which I think in a sense, sadly, made the story of those racial divides – not just territorial divides – more relevant to today’s audience than perhaps it even was in 1957.”
The film has a lot going for it. Great art design, excellent music with familiar tunes, well sung by beautiful young people, and one old person who starred as a younger person in the earlier version. Everyone should see this film and make up their own mind. I am just not entirely convinced that a musical with stylized violence is the best way to deal with such classic themes. But that’s OK. Every film does not have to be best in its class.
The film Belfast opens with a scene of pure joy. Young children playing on the street. Catholics and Protestant children playing with no thought of such distinctions. At least not to the children. After all they were “coming down to joy” as Van Morrison’s exuberant song plays in the background song. The only way you can tell the Catholics from the Protestants is by their names, and even that is a far from perfect tool.
It is was August 15, 1969 when this idyll was disrupted suddenly by a gang of belligerent Protest rioters walking together ominously in a group towards Buddy, the nine-year old protagonist. He is clearly mystified and has no idea what is going on. Suddenly torches are flung at houses by some of the mob. A rag is inserted into the gas tank of a vehicle, lit, and the car pushed down the street until it explodes in flames. Bricks are thrown thrown through some windows. Kids screaming in terrors having no idea what is going on. Buddy begs his mother to tell him what is happening. She does not have time to explain, even if she knew. obscene calls are heard demanding that Catholics get off the street. Buddy’s mum gasps : “Holy God.” It turns out peaceful Catholics were targeted by the mob. Why? What was going on?
The film is entirely shot in black and white. Perhaps because the issues seemed so black and white, when they were much more complex than that.
There are many snippets of films or news shows interspersed through the film. Some of those are in colour. They paint an alternate reality to the homes and the streets of Belfast.
Buddy’s family is Protestant, but Buddy’s mother and grandmother don’t understand what is happening. After all they get along well with their Catholic neighbours. Why is she supposed to hate them? They are “the same, except they kick with their left leg.” Why would Protestant neighbours attack them?
Buddy’s sister asks “how the hell are we supposed to know (who is Catholic and who is Protestant)? What a great question. and if you can’t tell the difference why would you hate them?
Buddy wants to know if that was “our side” or “their side on the street.” His father explains that “there is no our side or their side on their street. At least there never used to be.” Buddy says “I’ve had too much God for one day.” But his mother tells him, “your granny says you can never have too much God.” His father says, “I’ve got nothing against Catholics but it is a religion of fear.” The next scene is of the Protestant church with a hell fire and brim stone sermon guaranteed to put the fear of God into a 9-year old child with eyes wide open. Then he asks for money.
One of the Protestants in the gang says, “We’re looking to cleanse the community.” The he asks his father, “will it be cash or commitment?” Pa offers neither. He says, “We’re living in a civil war.” Billy Clanton the resentful leader of the Protestant gang says to Pa, “You think you’re better than the rest of us.” Pa replies, “The problem is you know you’re not.”
In the film scenes from the classic American western High Noon are shown. The hero, played by Gary Cooper, feels duty demands he stay to confront the gang of killers though his wife wants him to leave the town with her. The song rings out: “I must face the man who hates me.” Pa is in the same position. So is his family.
Buddy’s grandfather tries to help Buddy do better in math so he can sit with the girl he prizes. He suggests that he fudge the answers so that if he is wrong the alternative might be right and his teacher might not know which one he meant. Buddy asks if that is cheating and then says, “but there’s only one answer.” To that Grandfather offers a wise response: “If that were true people wouldn’t be blowing themselves up all the time.”
Buddy’s dad wants the family to move to London where he has a better job with a house. His mother wants to stay. “This is our home,” she says. After all, “we can’t all leave, there’d be nothing left but nutters.” She also tells Buddy, “Remember you’re Buddy from Belfast 15, where everybody looks after you.”
One lovely summer day, kids are playing with their fathers as Buddy’s mum and a friend are talking as they watch the play. Her friend says, “The bloody Irish are born for leaving. Otherwise, the rest of the world would have no pubs. It just needs half of us to stay so the other half can get sentimental about the ones that left. All the Irish need to survive is a Guinness, and a phone and the sheet music to ‘Danny Boy.’ ”
Buddy’s granny and grandfather share a wee drink at their window that nicely frames them. She says “they have to move on,’ presumably referring to her son and family. He replies with an Irish quote: ‘Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.” Who said that? She asks “what is it?” He replies, “Yeah well you don’t usually buy your wisdom with a walk in the park. Your heart has to explode.” “Mr. philosopher,” she says to him. “When did your heart ever explode?” “That time I saw you in those brown stockings,” he says. She replies, “Holy God, I remember that.” And he, “Aye, I remember that. They both chuckle. He says, “When you’re old people think your heart never skipped.” “Did yours ever skip?” “Aye. I danced a bloody jig every time you walked in the room. She says, “you were full of it then, you’re full of it now.” Neither has lost any love for the other, even though both are getting old. He is going to the hospital tomorrow. She insists she will walk him there and out again. But she is wrong.
Another day a riot broke out in Belfast and a mob broke into a store. Buddy joined in. He grabbed a box of detergent and the reason he gave his mother was, “it was biologic.” He thought that meant it was good and he should take it as others took other things. Why do protests so often spill over into looting? It happened in Minneapolis after people protested the death of George Floyd when a white police officer kneeled on his neck until he suffocated. His mother was wildly upset when she saw what her son had done. She dragged him back to the store, right into the danger where the riot was ongoing and tried to make him give it back, but was interrupted by Billy Clanton, the Protestant gang leader who said, “We don’t give things back.” You don’t give anything back when you are consumed by hate.
After Buddy’s Grandfather dies Buddy and his father share memories of him. Buddy says he used to help him with his math. He taught him how to cheat. Buddy says a lot of people came to see him at the funeral. Yeah, says, Pa, “he was very popular and he owed half of them money. He was a very deep thinker.” Full of blarney I guess.
Buddy asks his father. about his young girl friend “Pa do you think me and that wee girl have a future?” “Why the heck not,” his father asks. “Do you know she’s Catholic.” His father squats down low, looks Buddy in the eyes and quietly and calmly replies, “That we girl can be a practicing Hindu, or a Southern Baptist, or a vegetarian antichrist, but if she’s kind and she’s fair, and you two respect each other, she and her people are welcome in our house any day of the week.” Then he asks Buddy if this means they have to go to confession. Buddy says, “probably.” “Then we two are in trouble,” his father says.
Even though I have been to Belfast, I think it was very helpful for me to hear Kenneth Branagh who wrote, directed and produced the film Belfast explain the background to the film when interviewed on the Bill Maher show. Instead of shot from the film I include some of my own photos of Belfast taken in 2009 when Christiane and I made a wonderful trip to the wonder country of Ireland.
This photo is one of many I took of murals in Belfast that celebrate heroes of the Troubles. This one felt threatening. The rile held by masked man “followed” us by a the trick of an optical illusion.
The film Belfast has been nominated for Best Picture and it is a sad love story about the love of a Kenneth Branagh for his hometown which he had to leave a 9 year old boy. That was the same age as Buddy in the film. Just like the family in the film, his family lived on a street in Belfast. His family was Protestant but there were many Catholics as well on the street.
In southern Ireland the Catholics are in a majority, but in Northern Ireland which was part of the United Kingdom the Catholics were in the minority at about 40% of the population. Yet they got along well, at least until they didn’t.
This writing on the wall expresses the spirit of Branagh’s family.
Maher asked Branagh to explain the history of what happened in Belfast during the troubles. The troubles began in 1968 because the Catholics were dissatisfied that they were not getting the same economic and social benefits as the Protestants in Northern Ireland. It was not really a religious dispute, but religion helped to fan the flames of hate as so often happens. The Protestants were dominant in the north, and the Catholics there thought they were not getting a fair shake. From the mid-1960s there was a civil rights movement in Ireland as there was in the United States and Canada. People started to speak up for their rights and that can lead to trouble, or in this case, to the Troubles.
The film opens up on August 15, 1969 when the grievances suddenly spilled out into street violence. Until then the Protestant majority in the north got along well with the Catholic minority. They had the same kinds of jobs and the same kinds of homes. But in one fell swoop a Protestant mob came down the street where Buddy, the 9-year old protagonist in the film was playing with his friends, both Catholics and Protestants. This is exactly what Branagh experienced as a young boy in Belfast at that time. The story is also the story of his life in fictional form. The Protestants marked the houses of the Catholics with stones, and broke the windows on their houses. The message was clear, “We know where you live. It’s time for you to get out.” As Billy Clanton one of the leaders of the Protestant gang I the film said, “We want to cleanse the city.” Ominious words in the 20th century.
1969 in the US was the summer of love, but in Belfast it was the summer of hate. There was the greatest displacement of people in Europe since the second World War, up to that time. Thousands of Catholics were forced to leave and a dark period in Ireland began. It lasted for 30 years.
Branagh’s family was Protestant but they did not join in the violence against the Catholics. They were opposed to violence against their friends with whom they got along. Some of the Protestants did not like that. The Protestant leaders came to visit Branagh’s father and told him, “You’re either with us or against us. There is no middle ground.” Again these are ominous words, later adopted by George W. Bush after 9/11. Branagh’s father tried to stand up against the mob, but that was hard. As Branagh said,
“It was a really difficult thing to do to disagree fundamentally with someone, but not to translate that into hating them. Or rejecting them. But the even more difficult thing of actually trying to understand them. That was the example he set.”
That is difficult everywhere. It is difficult in the United States and it is difficult in the bible belt of southern Manitoba. Bill Maher claimed that this is what he tries to show on his television show. He always wants to show that he thinks for himself, not a tribe. “Im not with either tribe,” Maher said. His father said, “I’m not going to join you to hate the Catholics for reasons I don’t share. A 9-year old must be taught that.”
The walls, still standing in 2009, had to be built very high to stop people from throwing rocks and more dangerous things over it.
As Branagh said, a 9-year old can be simple and open in the stand off, but people forget that the effects may last for decades when violence rears its ugly head. The situation can be quickly polarized with ordinary people caught in the maw. Branagh said, when he grew up it was a beautiful day in the neighbourhood everyday. He did not understand why one day a man came and told him that he and his friend Paddy, who was a Catholic, could no longer play together. Why? He said it was buried in his mind for 50 years. That is why he wrote the story of the film.
3,700 people died in Ireland during the Troubles. Yet the world over people have showed that tribal pressure can be overcome by talking to each other no matter how hard it is. The same things happens everywhere. It happens in Iran, Palestine, Ukraine, Congo, and southern Manitoba. Every where there is a trouble spot. The good stuff of family, laughter, music, dancing, and partying can help. Insisting that we are always right and they are always wrong does not help. Religions though encourage such attitudes, at least when they are least religious.
This is the way the house still looked in 2009. First a barrier on top of the wall, and then supplemented by screen over the porch. Belfast was a hard place to live.
Belfast really is a lot like so many places around the world. From Ireland to Winkler, from Croatia to Rwanda. From Iran to the Middle East. Neighbours fighting neighbours. Neighbours hating neighbours. For no good reason. It just happens when we gather in tribes and it becomes us against them. It can be in the name of religion, or politics or creed whenever we try hard not to understand each other. And troubles can arise as quickly as prairie fire.
All of this is background for the film Belfast I want to talk about next.
The Freedom Convoy in support of truckers went through Winnipeg on the way to Ottawa. I wish I had gone to see it, but Christiane and I are staying close to home in support of our health care workers and Manitobans who have not been able to get vital health care procedures or surgeries because our hospitals are filled up with Covid-19 patients and the staff are being relentlessly overworked. We are triple vaxxed so we think we are safe, but don’t want to take a chance right now partly for their sake.
Canada’s truckers don’t support such thinking. They want their freedom. And to them that basically means they don’t want to give in to health restrictions even if that increases danger for others. It’s all about them.
The truckers have also been joined by some unsavoury characters that they are not able to denounce. For example, in Winnipeg Niigaan Sinclair a professor at the University of Manitoba and columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press went to see their “freedom rally” when the convoy stopped in Winnipeg. He took his young daughter with him. She got an education. This is what he reported seeing:
“We saw swastikas. We also saw dozens of signs chanting homophobic and Islamophobic slurs, threats against politicians, and near-endless messages about “freedom.”
I saw lots of sign-less people alongside children and elders.
I hope everyone I saw realizes that there’s no point chanting “freedom” when you stand beside someone calling for violence.
No one credits someone with a “differing opinion” while watching violence. The watcher is as complicit as the doer. Ask the German people if you want to know what I mean.
So, two days after International Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan. 27), Nazi symbols were brandished openly in downtown Winnipeg — and nobody stopped it.”
Frankly, I never thought Swastikas would be brandished in downtown Winnipeg. Some of the truckers or their supporters were carrying yellow Star of David’s with wording that suggested vaccine mandates were equivalent to persecution by Nazis.
This “freedom convoy” has been planned for nearly a year. Sinclair believes the date chosen for the event was significant. It was the day set for Canada’s National Day of Remembrance of the brutal and hateful attack on a Quebec City Mosque. It should have been about that event, not some phony “freedom rally.” There was a hero 5 years ago during that attack. He was not a trucker. He was Azzedine Soufiane, a 57-year-old grocery store owner, who was killed while opposing the gunman for long enough for others to join him and stop the shooting. That took bravery. Driving a big rig across the country does not take any courage. As Sinclair said, Saturday should have been about Soufiane.” It should have been about a real hero.
Instead of supporting a cause that needs our support, this convoy stood up for racism and zeonphobia. As Sinclair said, “No, Saturday was about people who used frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic to spread hate, sow division, and try to intimidate people they disagree with.”
I am not saying all the participants in the convoy are scum. But there were plenty of them, and I did not hear many words of dissent from the truckers or the non-truckers that organized the event. They were too busy ‘shouting hooray for our side,” to quote Neil Young. The denunciations should have come through loud and clear. My own Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, had gone to the Manitoba/US border to show his support for the truckers earlier in the week. I did not hear him denouncing the hate.
Sinclair said he had not seen anyone standing up at the Winnipeg Rally to denounce the racism and hate. Sinclair summed it up well,
“Truth be told, I don’t know if anyone during Saturday’s rally in Winnipeg or Ottawa had the courage to speak up against those waving swastikas. I’d like to hope there were a few… It takes courage to stand up for what one believes in. It takes much more courage though to stand up for what’s right.”
I would like to see some more truckers and politicians standing up against hate. That’s what freedom is really about. Standing up against hate. That takes guts. Something notable by its absence at the Freedom Convoy.