Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Sean Speer: Shocking pro-Hamas, anti-Israel rallies lay bare the limits of Canadian pluralism

Commentary

As Palestinian supporters continue to organize themselves in different Canadian cities to effectively demonstrate in favour of Hamas’s abhorrent attacks on the State of Israel, the inherent tensions and limits of pluralism have been laid bare for everyone to see. 

Pluralism is a key part—arguably the key part—of Canada’s conception of itself and our common citizenship. The country’s basic promise is one of peaceful co-existence. Our institutions, norms, and practices are set up to accommodate a multiplicity of viewpoints and persuasions concerning the most fundamental questions about justice, human flourishing, and what constitutes the good life. 

Pluralism is also a key—arguably the key part—of my own worldview. Although, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more comfortable in my own thinking about these questions, I’ve also grown less comfortable with the idea of imposing my answers on others. Our own limitations (what Kant referred to as our “crooked timber”) invariably constrain the individual pursuit of truth. The public square should therefore be a crowded, complicated, and contentious marketplace of ideas. The state must resist imposing a singular conception of truth on the society. 

Yet pluralism cannot be an open-ended promise either. Just because our ability to discern the truth may be imperfect and incomplete doesn’t mean that we should give into an empty relativism. Some ideas are bad and wrong. We cannot permit our pluralistic commitments to provide license for those who reject our society’s basic values or even wish to do it harm. Pluralism cannot be a one-sided surrender to illiberal and reactionary forces. 

We’ve witnessed in recent days these tensions and limits inherent to Canadian pluralism. While most of us mourned and lamented the inhumanity of Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israel, a small minority among us have defended and even celebrated them. These individuals and organizations have relied on Canada’s promise of freedom to countenance and glorify the indiscriminate violence of a group designated as a terrorist organization by our own government. 

There have been pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the country that have effectively affirmed Hamas’s terrorism. The videos from these pro-Hamas rallies in cities such as Mississauga and Montreal have been shocking. It must be said that rallies in support of a terrorist organization that has carried out a systematic campaign of killing women and children are incompatible with Canadian values.

Meanwhile, groups such as the Muslim Association of Canada and National Council of Canadian Muslims (which according to online records have received more than $1.34 million in federal funding between them since 2018) may be more careful in their messaging, but they’re still ultimately equivocal about what the world has witnessed. Their tendency towards “two-sideism” and other prevaricating devices have obscured the extent to which they implicitly affirm Hamas’ narrative. If in the face of overwhelming evidence of brutality and cruelty against Israelis your first instinct is to lament “the tyranny and terrorism of the Zionists” or criticize Israel’s democratic leadership, you’ve for all intents and purposes exposed your true character. 

Which it must be said is fair enough as far as some pluralistic protections go. One can oppose the current Israeli government or even critique the State of Israel itself and of course still find him or herself able to avail Canada’s protections of freedom of conscience or expression. We cannot and should not police one’s thoughts per se. But it certainly doesn’t mean that radical groups are entitled to taxpayer dollars or that individuals who cross the line from reasonable disagreements to the promotion and glorification of violence shouldn’t face sanction. 

These basic observations shouldn’t in and of themselves be controversial. Our commitment to pluralism must be uncompromising up and until it comes to undermine the basic security and stability of our own society. As my former boss Brian Lee Crowley has often said: “[we cannot permit] our list of freedoms to become our suicide note.”

Drawing these lines is of course complicated. Our default assumption must be highly permissive. Just because an idea is controversial or at odds with the majority’s views isn’t a reason to exclude it from the public square. The health of our society is measured in part by our willingness to protect ample space for such views. Imposing parameters around the public square therefore comes with great risk. Those parameters can be misapplied, misread, or even wielded by those whose primary goal is to constrain ideas that don’t match their own preferences. Just because it’s hard, however, doesn’t mean that it’s a task that we should shrink from. 

There are perspectives that should rightly be denounced, marginalized, and precluded from receiving public dollars. Even if one is squeamish about laws and policies that criminalize acts like the glorification of terrorism, there ought to be a minimum agreement that we have a collective responsibility to condemn such behaviour in order to effectively raise its social costs and signal to those inside and outside of our society that our pluralism isn’t a license for depravity or violence. 

Canada has essentially bet its future on pluralism. As our population gets more and more diverse, the multiplicity of views will grow and pluralism will be crucial for managing our diversity. I think it’s a good bet. Unlike some conservatives, I’ve tended to disagree with the instinct to mock Prime Minister Trudeau’s assertion that “diversity is our strength.” I think it’s broadly true. But if our pluralism isn’t principled, if it doesn’t involve some limits, then diversity will cease to be our strength and may eventually become the source of our undoing. 

David Frum: ‘Hamas started the war. Let Israel finish it’

Commentary

Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented surprise attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip early on Saturday morning, killing at least 250 Israelis and wounding at least 1,500 in the deadliest attack on the country in decades.

In response, Israel launched airstrikes in Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that his country is now “at war” and that it will inflict an “unprecedented price” on Hamas.

The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer speaks with leading author, journalist, and thinker David Frum about what happens next in the region and what the response should be in Canada and the rest of the world.

SEAN SPEER: You regularly bring a historical perspective to our bi-weekly conversations. Put this weekend’s events in a historical context. How do they compare to past threats to the state of Israel and how does the ensuing military campaign compare to previous ones?

DAVID FRUM: October 7, 2023 was the deadliest singe day in Israel’s history. The toll of dead, wounded, and abducted far exceeds the worst day of the Yom Kippur war. The Yom Kippur war began as a surprise attack, but was otherwise a conventional military operation, aimed at military targets (if marred by atrocities against Israeli prisoners of war, especially by the Syrian forces). This Hamas massacre by contrast was primarily aimed at civilians, and especially against the most vulnerable: the elderly, children, and women. Sexual assault seems to have been integrated into the attack as deliberate tactic by Hamas. Tactics resemble a Nazi “Aktion” on the eastern front in the summer and fall 1941 more than any kind of military operation. 

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask about Israel’s response to these awful attacks. What do you think it ought to be and what do you think it will be? Is there any gap between the two?

DAVID FRUM: With more than 100 Israelis abducted as hostages, it will be difficult for Israel to resist the urge to send troops to rescue them. This is the action Hamas seems to invite, and in general it’s dangerous to do things the enemy invites one to do. Urban warfare on and under the streets of densely inhabited Gaza seems unlikely to lead to positive results for Israel.

Israel’s strategic goal needs to be the elimination of Hamas as a political force. This goal needs to be pursued by all means, not only—and maybe not even primarily—military means. The Hamas leadership is sheltered by Qatar. If that continues any longer, Qatar should be regarded as a belligerent power, not a neutral. No more Hamas in Qatar, no more Qatari funds to Hamas, or else Qatar becomes a target of retaliation equal to Hamas. 

Western nations that fund Hamas by sending money to UN agencies in Gaza should cut off aid until they feel absolutely confident that none is diverted. Gaza itself needs to be isolated economically by land, sea, and tunnels. Egyptian support will be vital, reminding everyone that this war should not be unilateral by Israel. An informal coalition must be assembled, ideally one that includes Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states too, even if only tacitly. 

Hamas’ principal backer is Iran. It may make more sense to retaliate against available Iranian targets than to act inside Gaza. Israel should be pressing the United States, the European Union, India, and Japan to reimpose the maximum sanctions on Iran that squeezed that country so hard a decade ago. 

Hamas has a huge number of barely literate, sexually frustrated, underemployed young foot soldiers at its disposal. Little is accomplished by directing action against them. My rule of thumb would be: if a response looks impressive on cable news, it’s probably not very useful. If the top hundred Hamas leaders are still alive six months from now, however, that will be a significant failure. 

SEAN SPEER: There’s been a lot of speculation about Iran’s role in inspiring and supporting Hamas in carrying out these attacks. What does it tell us about U.S.-Iran relations and how do you think it will affect American policy vis-a-vis Iran?

DAVID FRUM: The Obama administration’s deal to delay the Iranian nuclear program front-loaded all the benefits to Iran.  The Trump administration canceled the deal but that only meant that Iran got to keep what it had already got. This might have been a valid approach if the Trump team had the ability and interest to reconstitute the international pressure on Iran that produced the Obama deal. Unfortunately, the Trump team couldn’t or wouldn’t. The result was the best of all possible worlds for Iran: they pocketed their winnings, they escaped their obligations, and they paid little price.

The Biden administration returned to Obama-style diplomacy, but under much less favorable conditions. Unsurprisingly, that approach has not worked either. 

A new approach is needed. We need to begin by accepting that the Islamic Republic has no intention of ever being a responsible global partner to anyone. It’s a criminal regime through and through. It needs to be subject to the harshest possible sanction and isolation, not to obtain its signature on a piece of paper, but to reduce its ability to do harm. 

Canada can play an important part here. Canada has given refuge to elite figures from the regime, their children, and their stolen money. That indulgence needs to stop. True refugees from Iran should be welcome. But Canada should not become a retirement community for former Iranian regime collaborators. 

SEAN SPEER: I want to ask about American politics more generally. I didn’t observe some of the same tensions play out over the weekend that we’ve seen when it comes to supporting Ukraine. What do you think the consequences may be for U.S. politics? Will the attacks marginalize isolationist voices? Will it require renewed American focus on the Middle East? How else might these developments manifest themselves in American politics?

DAVID FRUM: I don’t think it’s accurate to describe the anti-Ukraine animus on the US political right as “isolationism.” Reactionary authoritarianism is a truly global movement, every bit as global as support for liberal democracy. The American far right has made an icon of Viktor Orban fully as much as of Donald Trump. Its information diet is traced to Russian sources, not American. Whatever you call this, it’s not “isolated.”

Support for Israel runs deep in US society. The Hamas horror in Israel could and should re-energize American commitment to friends and partners – and ideally should jolt the responsible part of the Republican Party to reclaim foreign-policy leadership from the sinister minority that has wielded too much influence. 

SEAN SPEER: More generally, what should Israel’s allies, including Canada, be doing in light of these attacks and its ensuing military campaign?

DAVID FRUM: No funds to Hamas, even if laundered through UN agencies. No immigration papers for terrorists or their backers in Iran. No scolding at international forums.

Israel will need time to do its work. In the first shock of horror after a Hamas terrorist outrage, Canadians light up their national symbols with blue and white. Then a week passes, and Canadian politicians with an eye on domestic anti-Israel voters get impatient. They condemn violence on “both sides” and interpose to protect the terrorists from the consequences of their own aggression. Let’s not repeat that pattern that only perpetuates violence. Hamas started the war. Let Israel finish it.

Maybe above all: Canada should realize that Canada has become a field of operations for terrorist groups. Authoritarian governments conduct influence operations here. Jewish communities are exposed to intimidation and outright violence by local sympathizers with international terrorist organizations. Canada needs a deeper investment in security, more partnership with the US, UK, EU, Israel, Ukraine—and to reassert a firm commitment that anti-Jewish extremism will not be tolerated or indulged by Canadian society, no matter what excuse is offered to justify or condone.