The plumes of smoke rising from Boston Monday afternoon were yet another reminder of the damage that human hate can inflict. We don’t know as this is written who was responsible, but we can be safe in assuming that the motivation was hatred. Whether it is hatred for U.S. policies in the Middle East, the domestic debate over gun control or any of 100 other “hot-button” issues, the only thing that is certain is that anger fuelled the explosions just as much as whatever chemicals were used in the bombs.
In a society reliant on the cooperation of human beings to feed, clothe, house, transport and care for each other and the planet, hatred is a cancer that destroys the bonds that make us truly human. It attacks our empathy, compassion and understanding. It can blind us to the richness of entire cultures, races, languages and religions. It turns us away from growing and building and sharing in order to destroy, demolish and steal.
Hatred kills from within.
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I was performing at a comedy event in the West Island last week, talking about the horrific events of last Sept. 4. “No, not the election of the Parti Québécois,” I joked, “but what happened afterward at Club Metropolis. As security guards rushed premier Marois off the stage and the TV announcer reported there had been gunshots and a fire had been lit behind the club,” I told the crowd, “I had the reaction that I think a lot of anglophones had that night.”
I paused as many in the audienced nodded. Then a woman shouted out from the bar, “Too bad he missed!”
I was a little stunned, to tell you the truth. Dealing with hecklers is part of the job, but it really hadn’t occurred to me that someone would think that the assassination of Pauline Marois was desirable — or even remotely funny.
“I forgot I was in the West Island,” I would later joke to friends. But inside, I was struggling to think of a way to defuse that hate bomb if it comes up again.
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Unfortunately, there are lots of little incendiary devices sprinkled all over the Internet these days. Here’s one from a Facebook site page (sic) Put Canadian Flag Back In Quebec Assembly.
Elisabetta Tartaglia: “The point is that a person should have the FREEDOM of choice on where their kids go to school and in Montreal we speak ENGLISH and french so a person has the RIGHT to choose what language they do their schooling in. That’s a personal choice.. and it isn’t up to that Nazi Marois to decide this!!!”
Then there’s I Hate Pauline Marois (Anti-PQ and against separation).
Tyler Anez: (really sic) “Id love to have a bombfire with quebec flags – even though im in quebec – this is the biggest shit hole and most racist place in north america.”
Or the ambitious 100 000 against the Party Quebecois / 100 000 contre le Parti québécois, which, when this column was written, had the support of 126 Facebook members.
These breeding grounds for hatred and extremism are fed by one-sided polemics such as this piece on Time magazine’s web site: Quebec’s War on English: Language Politics Intensify in Canadian Province. Although presented as journalism, it’s a thinly veiled attack on the Parti Québécois and its language policies that conveniently forgets to mention that most of those same policies were in place during 18 years of Liberal rule, including the last nine years under Charest.
After several hours of perusing Facebook comments on the above-mentioned pages, as well as comments on the Time article, I was forced to concede one fact.
The English language is indeed in danger: Many of its most ardent defenders are apparently illiterate.
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I’m not ignoring the fact that there are equally offensive hate-baiters on the other side of the linguistic fence. Nor do I want anyone to draw the conclusion that these opinions are typical of anglo quebecers, because I know that’s a far cry from the truth.
But the rest of us — those who see the beauty of this place, who enjoy the ebb and flow of a society where languages can change mid-sentence and who know how rarely we have experienced linguistic “racism” in our lives here — have a responsibility to look inward as well as out. Raising our voices against intolerance directed against us is the easy part. We also need to look deep within our own communities and challenge those who preach hatred for the “enemy.”
As the comic strip Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” ■
Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every second Tuesday in this space. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.