We defend ourselves and our loved ones, but there is a special ferocity that comes out when our community, our culture, our tribe, is threatened — and appropriately so. We bind our morals to our community; it illuminates our path to goodness; it gives us a broader identity. We were outraged when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas, when ISIS destroyed the temples, when American conservatives offered gay civil union but withheld marriage, not despite the fact that these were symbolic acts, but because they were symbolic acts. These acts spoke: “I am not killing you. I am killing your cultural and social identity. I am erasing the memories and dreams you share with your ancestors, your loved ones.”
But what is a threat? I love Canada deeply, for two things: its natural beauty, and its broad societal tenet that one’s culture is not threatened by another culture’s merely existing. I knew that some broken subcultures lashed out against those unlike themselves, but I grew up, Canadian, knowing that bigotry is a barbaric practice. This is my community: a culture of cultures.
And so, Stephen Harper is trying to kill my community, the dreams I share with my loved ones. He has wounded Canadian tolerance. But worse, he has singled out Muslims, directly attacking their culture. He is crying that a woman whose culture dictates special modesty should lose respect and opportunities, should she cover her face. Her act is symbolic, an assertion of her community; his act is equally symbolic, a denial of her community. Despite his pretenses, his act is purely symbolic. In the modern world, a woman’s identity can be established in many ways other than by peering at her nose, cheeks and mouth. And should there be concern that the choice was not her own, directing the denial toward her is an inappropriate response if it wasn’t her choice, more so if it was.
All of us are against barbaric cultural practices. Let us start by confronting the practices of the biosphere razors, the financial tricksters, and the bigots.