Anti-Semitic Firebombings in Montreal: Really Combating Racism.

- by Macdonald Stainsby

Prime Minister Paul Martin, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and others have stepped out of their usual role of slashing social spending, giving insurance salesman smiles and cutting ribbons on new stretches of pavement to instead deliver an impassioned denunciation of recent anti-Semitic firebombings in Montreal. And it's a good thing to see. I can't help but wonder, however, is it a sign of their own racism that they didn't do this when hate crimes swept every corner of the state north of the 49th parallel? Is it only political opportunism in response to a powerful Zionist lobby, rather than any real condemnation of anti-Semitism or concern for Jewish people living in Montreal?

Where was the just outrage when, in the wake of 9-11-01, many North American racists burned down everything ignorance could associate with 'vengeance' for the Twin Towers? Less than ten days after September 11, racist attacks had occurred on Mosques in St Catherines and Oshawa, while a Hindu Samaj Temple in Hamilton was firebombed in a display of a frightening combination of xenophobia and fanaticism? While the frenzied hatred that came out of the mosaic of 'multi-culturalism' that we so carefully constructed might have died down, the reaffirmation of white supremacy remains. When the continent as a whole became engulfed, did politicians then state, as Martin has, that the firebombings were " act of violence directed at all Canadians and one to which we must all collectively respond"?

I am seldom in agreement with Paul Martin on anything, but on this I partially concur. However, what is problematic is what is clearly the identification of "Canadian".

Immediately following the attacks of 9-11, regardless of the passport and 'official' status the persons might maintain, 'dark-skinned' people could be attacked and lynched with pretty much impunity. When people want to rationalize this wave of attacks, they immediately think how 'it makes sense' in the context of the plane attacks on New York and Washington, and how revenge attacks, even on false targets, makes some form of rational sense. However, let me assure all that this too contains a seed of racism: what, if not a far greater human tragedy, have the Arab and Muslim population lived the last 30 plus years?

The implicit assumption that is to be made over the last week, in the tone of Canadian political officialdom, has been to 'identify' with the targets of hatred. And we must. But the form of identification is itself racist-- by being so very vigilant about these attacks, and speaking nary a word over attacks of the same variety on different 'Canadians'. This in itself reinforces the definition of Canadian as one collection of peoples, from white Europe or associated with various settler colonies, and then 'others' from Chinese 'boat people' to Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other mere tolerated guests. Even swearing loyalty to the British Queen and taking citizenship doesn't get you 'in the club' in Canada, you are born with it or you don't get it. So it is of no real comfort to me that Jewish people have been given honorary membership in the white supremacist settler colony.

The brave voices after the towers collapsed were few among us, and they were not among the leaders or politicians. But some of us did ask "what might have caused any to do this?" and the answer was never pretty. Such an asking is not a matter of justification, it is part of a quest for answers and ultimately a way out. Such a question must now also be asked but not in order to merely rout one particularly vile form of inhumanity in anti-Semitism, but in order to deal hammer blows to the concept of racism itself, in all of the cultural and structural forms.

Structural racism is one of the most visible, if one has not been trained to not see it. It leads to and props up all of the cultural norms that are only symptomatic. While people have given much space to the problems of murderous force coming from the Israeli state in the form of housing demolitions, live ammunition to break up demonstrations or extra-judicial murder of resistance leaders among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, one tends to forget that the population of Palestinians is over two-thirds refugees. The reason this bears repeating is not in the moral suasion realm, though it certainly could be. The reason is that this refugee 'problem', this result of ethnic cleansing, is the strongest foundation (but not the only perpetuation) of the entire racist dynamic engulfing Muslims, Arabs and Jews. When 80% of the population of a region are denied their full humanity, and not allowed the same rights as afforded, on paper at least, every other peoples in the world then that racism creates a counter supremacy. In the case of Israel, structurally that has created an internal Jewish supremacy. International law is clear on the treatment of refugees:they have the full right of return to their homes and so do their descendants, and this right is non-representative nor collective but individually based.

The state of Israel understands the problems of legal equality and as such can not write a proper constitution. For in modern law, a constitution would render Israel non-existent, as the equality of all humans before the law would dissolve the Jewish State concept.

Zionism, like all political forms that elevate the status of one peoples at the expense of the basic individual human rights of others, will cease being acceptable or else one can not realistically combat the anti-Semitism now sweeping much of 'Canada' and elsewhere; Zionism has institutionalized both anti-Semitism and Jewish supremacy structurally. That is simply because anti-Semitism must be de-politicized; we do not respond with revulsion against anti-Semitism in the one-sided and implicitly racist way that political leaders did in and around Montreal this week: It wasn't an attack on 'our values', and we shouldn't identify with the target because it was directed against Jews, but because it was the lowest form of vulgar racism period. It isn't because Israel and Canada share the same fate that we should reject hatred, though such a statement is true, however. Both Canada and Israel live on a pillar of racism, from the structural definitions of who is and who is not a citizen to the theft of resources from indigenous populations. The most important link we must make is the link between a fight against anti-Semitism and a struggle against all forms of racists. This will include both a struggle for the rights of Palestinians in North America and a struggle to divest from and isolate Israeli Apartheid, before that failed national experiment in structural racism drowns all in a typhoon of reaction.

One government statement included the note that this was a "racist hate crime". Good to hear, if only they understood what that meant, but of course that's not really possible within the confines of this settler state. Racism is constantly on display, one only need look at who is being deported from 'Canada'. One could look to Guantanamo Bay, or to prisons on both sides of the 49th holding refugees, and one could look to laws that have made it illegal for people with a Canadian Passport to have Arab language television beamed into their homes.

Paul Martin was at his oratorial best the other day as he denounced the acts of anti-Semitism in play burning at Montreals United Talmud Torah elementary. He declared "that there are perils to silence and consequences to indifference." That's definitely something I can agree with him about. However, his most oft-quoted statement after the fires raged in the school was the headline of the Globe and Mail's front page. It read "This is not our Canada". Oh, but it is Paul, it is as Canadian as the reservation system, immigration quotas and colonialism itself.

Macdonald Stainsby is a young freelance writer and social justice activist based in Vacouver. He can be reached at

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