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Caroline Elliott: It’s not racist ‘denialism’ to appreciate Canada’s tolerance, despite what the B.C. NDP may say

Commentary

British Columbia’s NDP government recently introduced their Anti-Racism Act, which sounds well-intentioned enough. After all, racism is an ugly reality that must be countered in Canada, as in all countries.

However, a closer look at the documentation supporting the Act reveals it is based on a divisive ideology that cynically characterizes as “naïve denialism” the idea that we ought to try to reduce racial tensions by building relationships across our differences.

Under the legislation, B.C.’s public bodies (ministries, hospitals, schools and so on) must set race-based hiring and advancement targets based on a regressive worldview that defines people by their identity instead of their ideas, by their appearance instead of their abilities, and by the colour of their skin instead of the content of their character.

The report on a public questionnaire conducted to inform the legislation dismisses any answers that didn’t fit its premise as “denialist,” even when those views were submitted by those identifying as “Indigenous, Black or people of colour” (54 percent of respondents self-identified as “IBPOC,” and 37 percent as “white”).

What’s more, these non-conforming views are seen as something to be taken apart and fixed. As the report notes, “denial of systemic racism was found across ethnicities, suggesting the need for a closer look at foundational drivers of culture, how those persist, and what can dismantle it.”

The report goes on to claim that, in response to the question: “What could the Province do to address systemic racism?” respondents were split between three actions: anti-racism training for public servants, resources for people harmed by systemic racism, and creating a provincial anti-racism strategy (each receiving 18 percent).

However, the actual top response is something ominously labelled “denialism.” Of respondents, 33 percent “demonstrated through their responses denial that racism existed,” far more than the number supporting any one of the top three actions identified. The report acknowledges that “there was a consistent theme of denial of systemic racism and racial trauma across all demographic groups.”

How the government defines such “denialism” is especially troubling. 

One respondent suggested that “…what reduces racial tension and increases interpersonal harmony is promoting openness and people spending time with people who are different from themselves.” This is coded by the report’s authors as “denialism,” and sub-categorized as “naivete.”

Another stated “We are a multicultural society, with diverse populations, where everyone is celebrated. B.C. should focus on preventing and supporting people on the streets with real problems, and not made-up problems like systemic racism.” This is coded as “denialism,” sub-category: “anti-diversity.”

One immigrant’s perspective that “Racism is not an issue in Canada; I have experienced more discrimination in my country of origin than here” is coded as “general denialism.”

The vilification of views that emphasize togetherness, celebrate diversity, and see Canada as a relatively tolerant nation, is indicative of a pernicious cynicism on the part of this government that is already well-established across B.C.’s institutions.

As an example, one needn’t look further than the Vancouver Police Department’s race-based handcuff policy, according to which officers should consider a person’s “ethnicity, or whether they are part of other equity deserving groups” before applying handcuffs.

Many B.C. universities have hiring policies that entirely exclude applicants based on race, and race-segregated spaces have become common. SFU’s Black Student Centre is justified based on calls from students for “different spaces for students who are not white.” 

My own child’s elementary school is plastered with government-produced posters offering “anti-racism reminders,” admonishing kindergartners that “If you are unaware of your privilege, you might be privileged,” and darkly warning that “Racism sometimes hides in politeness.”

And now, B.C.’s Anti-Racism Act will require all public bodies to set race-based recruitment and advancement targets to ensure “racialized individuals” are hired and promoted to senior levels. This is despite studies showing that, when it comes to income, education, occupations and test scores, several racialized groups are doing better than the white population.

A woman holds a sign reading “White Silence =Violence” as thousands of people gather for a peaceful demonstration in support of George Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet and protest against racism, injustice and police brutality, in Vancouver, on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press.

While there are certainly populations that are doing worse than others and are thus deserving of special attention, many of the racialized groups targeted by these policies are already seeing well-earned success on their own merit. The legislation ignores this, dividing the British Columbians into oppressors (white people) and the oppressed (everyone else), regardless of real disparities within those groups.

(Interestingly, the government does not define the word “racialized” in the legislation, but UBC’s Equity and Inclusion Glossary defines “racialized people” as, essentially, anyone who is not white.

It’s not politically easy to oppose a carefully-labelled Anti-Racism Act. But, despite its nice-sounding title, it is grounded in a radical perspective that vilifies hope for harmony as naïve, the celebration of all cultures as anti-diversity, and appreciation of Canada’s tolerance as denialism.

If it’s serious about combatting hate, the B.C. government should stop trying to find it in bona fide sentiments like these and instead condemn the blatant hatred regularly spewed against the Jewish community in its own capital. (It won’t, though, because this issue doesn’t neatly fit its oppressor/oppressed binary).

Inclusion will never be achieved through exclusion, nor cohesion through segregation, nor harmony through resentment. With further entrenchment of this insidious ideology, we’ll be left more divided than ever.

Jack Cunningham: Israeli retaliation against Iran was necessary

Commentary

Following Israel’s April 18 limited strike on Isfahan, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asked that “calm heads” prevail and that all parties avoid “significant escalation.” Israel’s action is in fact the best way to avoid further escalation and restore the deterrence of Iranian attacks on Israel that prevents it.

The war in Gaza is as much about Iran’s regional ambitions as about the plight of the Palestinians. Tehran’s pursuit of regional hegemony in recent years, including its nuclear program, has stimulated closer relations between Israel and a growing number of Arab states with a shared interest in containing Iran. The 2020 Abraham Accords and subsequent discreet Arab-Israeli security cooperation recognized this. But two parties were threatened, Iran and the Palestinians, who lost the ability to hold regional settlements hostage to their demands. 

It was inevitable that Iran and its Palestinian proxy Hamas would try to provoke an Arab-Israeli clash to fracture the incipient coalition. The October 7 attacks, which would not have occurred without Iranian approval, were the result.

For years Israel and Iran have conducted a shadow war in which each would strike at the other through proxies, in third countries, or using means, such as cyberattacks, providing some deniability. That pattern held in the early months of the current conflict. Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen’s Houthis, conducted attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and daily rocket strikes on Northern Israel. Israel struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon and Iranian supply lines in Syria, and, on April 1, at architects of October 7 who were in the Iranian consulate in Damascus. The last gave Tehran the pretext for a direct attack on Israel.

Mishandling of Israeli-U.S. relations on both sides had strengthened the temptation for Iran to escalate. Prime Minister Netanyahu had unwisely drawn attention to disagreements with Washington which more deft diplomacy would have minimized, not least by cancelling and then restoring a planned visit by Israeli officials to Washington. President Biden’s repeated calls for Israeli “restraint” in Gaza, unwisely made in public, reinforced the impression of daylight between Israel and the U.S. 

That Israel foolishly struck Damascus without informing the U.S., despite the danger of subsequent retaliation against U.S. forces, and that the U.S. made this public, further magnified the apparent gap. 

Finally, Biden’s warnings to Tehran not to attack Israel pledged help in Israel’s defence but stopped short of threatening American cooperation in any retaliatory action. Tehran could now risk an attack on Israel without fear of U.S. reprisals.

Of course, Iran took steps to reduce the consequences of its attack. It was telegraphed in advance, enabling Israeli air defences, with assistance from traditional allies and discreet cooperation with Arab states, to down almost all Iranian drones and missiles with minimal damage to Israel. 

Attention was diverted from Gaza, where the unavoidable civilian casualties, cynically exploited by Hamas, had turned much international opinion against Israel. But Iran was now diplomatically isolated and the coalition against it was visibly stronger. Biden’s advice to Netanyahu to “take this win” and not retaliate and risk further escalation was not groundless.

President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in an expanded bilateral meeting with Israeli and U.S. government officials, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. Evan Vucci/AP Photo.

There were grounds for seeing the Iranian attack as “symbolic” or “performative.” And Iran has engaged in “symbolic” retaliation before, responding to the 2020 U.S. assassination of an Iranian general with a retaliatory strike on U.S. forces that killed nobody. Many military actions are symbolic in the sense that they convey a political message to the enemy or to third parties. But part of the symbolism of Iran’s attack is that it set a precedent of direct attack on Israeli soil. 

Iran could have attacked from Lebanon with Hezbollah’s rockets, with shorter flight times, and against which air defences would have been less effective. But that would not have made the essential political point.

So far, Iran has enjoyed immunity from direct Israeli retaliation as long as it refrained from direct attack itself. Extending that immunity from retaliation to direct attack below a certain threshold, would in itself be a substantial escalation. Tehran’s public statements after the attack that it saw the matter as “concluded” were also intended to discourage Israeli retaliation and generate international opposition to it. 

Unwisely public, pressure on Israel from its allies and others to do nothing could only encourage Tehran to think that calibrated attacks could continue, with international pressure preventing Israeli reprisals. Successful pressure along these lines would not be unprecedented. During the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush persuaded Israel not to retaliate against Iraqi Scud attacks lest this fracture the coalition for repelling Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. 

But it is unclear whether Iran would necessarily calculate correctly. The success of air defences on April 13 was unprecedented, and even a marginal reduction in their effectiveness would have entailed substantial loss of Israeli lives. Accepting the possibility of a repetition that might be more destructive was inevitably unacceptable to Israel.

So, Israeli retaliation was not just permissible but necessary. That the attack on Isfahan was limited mattered, with Tehran given little provocation to respond. Moreover, limited retaliation avoided playing into Tehran’s hands by creating tensions within the anti-Iran coalition, a coalition of increasing significance to Israeli security. But Israel’s restoration of deterrence against direct Iranian attack actually limits the current conflict. Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony and its proximity to a useable nuclear capability means that a military reckoning with Tehran may be inevitable. But Israel has probably managed to defer that to a more propitious moment.