Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On the social contract

Christie Blatchford, on the Tamil protests that committed the unforgivable sin of delaying motorists on a Sunday:
Are the Tamils merely exercising their rights or have they somehow breached the covenant, unwritten but understood, they have or ought to have made with their new country?...

I looked out upon the crowd and counted a single Canadian flag and 29 of the large, red flags of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the separatist Tamil organization deemed a terrorist group by dozens of countries, including the United States, Australia, the nations of the European Union and, oh yes, this one, too.

I couldn't begin to count the number of tiny, red paper flags or the Tiger T-shirts I saw, though I did note that one of the chants had the person at the megaphone yelling, "Tamil Tigers!" and the crowd answering, "Freedom Fighters!" This struck me as not very respectful of the Canadian Parliament and the elected representatives who decided, in their wisdom, to put the Tigers on the terror watch list.

The Tigers aren't there because of some dippy mistake, by the by, and they have long had tentacles into the Tamil community here, raising money for the cause fair and square or by extortion and threats....
Okay, maybe that's enough of that. We've got shady brown people, breaching Blatchford's expectations of what brown people ought to do, including sinister "tentacles" of a terrorist organization. (And the LTTE will get no support from this corner.) Oh, and for good measure she calls in the Taliban as rhetorical support.

Say what you will about these Tamil protests, but a) it's clear that a lot of Tamils are dying, b) I wouldn't expect them to take it quietly, and c) shutting down the Gardiner was the most effective thing they've done so far. In fact, I think they gave up to soon -- a "commitment" from an Ignatieff staffer that he'll bring it up with Harper, plus 50 cents, will get you a phone call.

Seriously, Canadians are objecting about the politics of a distant war and its effects on a vocal, morally ambiguous, and numerous minority? Have they never heard of NORAID? Support for Irish Republicanism was, if anything, more objectionable than support for the LTTE, because the last time an armed force invaded Canada and killed Canadians it was, you guessed it, Irish Republicans.

There's a lot of great things about living in Canada. But there's a cost too. Our Consitution's main guidance on the structure of our government was, for generations, that we have "a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom". Our Queen reigns from 3000 kilometers away. Her representative was born in another country and came here to escape a horrible dictatorship, but it's worth noting that Michaelle Jean is just one of many Governors-General we've had who were not born here: it tooks us almost a century to get a GG who'd had the luck to be born here.

Our military is currently serving in a war under an American commander. Nothing really new there. The European Union's decisions on our exports basically decide if the seal trade lives or dies. Washington's verdict on how polluting the tar sands are will, undoubtedly, be more important than anything our own government does. Our government's explicit position on matters ranging from climate change to fiscal stimulus is: wait and see what other people do.

My point, to go on a bit, is that being a 21st century Canadian means our politics are tied up in all sorts of ways with the politics of other countries. In matters both symbolic and substantial, the world's business is very much our business. Screeching about how unfair it is that the Tamils are annoying us with their pesky insistence on being heard, and listened to, is basically a demand that the world stop turning. They wouldn't be Canadian if they weren't pissing off other Canadians with their own individual concerns about living in an interconnected world -- now they get to be part of the same club as Maritime fishers, Quebec nationalists, Ontario autoworkers, Prairie farmers, Albertan oilmen, and the rare person in BC with a complaint about where they live.

Of course, unlike the rest of us, Tamils in Sri Lanka are actually dying in large numbers. So maybe, just maybe, we can let them get in the way of the Mother's Day dinner you didn't want to go to anyway, this once?


Mike said...

Can I assume that Chrisie would be upset with construction workers then? Cuz when I lived in Toronto back in the 90s, I was delayed by those guys every day and every weekend when driving.

It is an unforgivable sin, after all.

Flocons said...

I am having trouble supporting the protests because it seems so interwoven with supporting the Tamil Tigers. They have Tamil Tiger flags and posters. They chant Tamil Tiger slogans. I am not one to support genocide... but does supporting the protesters mean that I also support suicide bombers and child soldiers? The protesters seem insistent on mixing in LTTE imagery with their protests, so until that stops I'm staying neutral on this.

john said...

"I am having trouble supporting the protests because it seems so interwoven with supporting the Tamil Tigers."

I get that, and agree that it's unsettling. My only input would be to say that I didn't agree with the people organizing the antiwar protests in 2002 or 2003, nor did I have any particular brief for the Iraqi state, but I still agreed that the war was wrong, so I still marched. I suspect that basic calculation is going on in a lot of Tamil minds lately.

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