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Remembrance Day as empty signifier

Every year I find it harder and harder to feel a part of the Remembrance Day ceremonies, and this year was no exception. I've been asking myself why this should be -- perhaps "interrogate" is a better term. After all, my father was a veteran of World War Two, certainly a war that needed to be fought and won; and to some extent (emphasis on the word "some") I do believe that those who forget history are condemned to relive it.

Then the revolting Ezra Levant happened by to explain it all to me.

In yet another Toronto Sun article that might have been worthy of Völkischer Beobachter back in the day, and a video at the Sun News Network, Levant targeted Muslims and "disloyal Canadians" in a trademark rant about the Greater Essex County District School Board.

The GEDSB's sin? It sent around a memorandum (reproduced here) exempting some students from taking part in Remembrance Day ceremonies. The memo is straightforward enough: it speaks to the fear that some parents might have had about their children attending public remembrance ceremonies after the murders of two soldiers last month. It suggests alternative activities to honour the day, and it provides links.

From this, Levant manages to extract the following: that the "cowardly," "unCanadian" GEDSB is knuckling under to Muslim "separatists" and Muslim families who have allegedly been "objecting to Remembrance Day."

In fact, as anyone can see for themselves, the memorandum provides links, not only to a story about the first Muslim soldier to wear a hijab in Canada’s armed forces, but to stories about African Canadian and Aboriginal soldiers as well. According to the GEDSB's spokesperson Scott Scantlebury, "The links were there to provide a reflection of the diversity of our armed forces."

Given the full picture, which is public and documented, one can see precisely how vile Levant's tirade is. It seems entirely of a piece with a racist foamfest defaming the Roma people for which he was later forced to apologize. Seriously, folks, what does this all remind you of?

No apologies. Godwin be damned. This is obviously (one might have thought) the kind of thing our soldiers went off to fight. Bigotry. Hatred. Lies. Levant has a petition up, too, called "Canada, love it or leave." He'll get lots of signatures, is my bet, from the cretins who comment at the on-line Toronto SUN and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Muslim Canadians have been honouring the dead like most others.

But, as the years roll on, I myself can no longer bring to mind what that means. For Stephen Harper, Remembrance Day is a day to glorify war. For Ezra Levant, it's an excuse to vomit the same foul rhetoric that our enemies in World War Two made infamous. For many others, it's a duty to the dead, who don't care one way or the other. For some, it's a reminder that war is humanity's worst invention. For still others, it's a time to remember those in one’s own family who served, who were wounded, who died.

But appalling memories by themselves mean nothing without action: failing that, our yearly collective memorial is just a form of self-indulgence. "Remember the dead -- Fight for the living!" says organized labour every April 28, another day of remembrance, for workers killed or injured on the job. Soldiers are workers, and the same maxim should apply. But the government that glorifies the War of 1812 and makes a show of November 11 has been slashing benefits to veterans, closing offices that provided much-needed services to them, forcing veterans to go to court to get what is rightfully theirs, and treating them with disdain and contempt.

What, exactly, are we remembering, why are we doing so, and what is to come of it? There's just too much confusion, too many mixed messages, too much contentless glurge. Instead of remembering, we're reliving. And so I stay home, thinking of my father in his mid-twenties under American bombardment in the Falaise Gap, wondering what the hell that must have been like, and reading crap in the Toronto SUN that hollows the very notion of remembrance into an empty shell.

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