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Jack's Canada vs. today's 'other' Canada

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What an exit! What a classy way to go out. Canada will not soon forget the last words in his very last public communication: "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear."

Would such sentiments even have occurred to any other politician as their last will and testament? Would any other politician have been taken seriously had they written such words? Jack Layton's final letter, I'm sure, will find its way into history books for decades to come -- a sense of what Canada could be at its very best.

What a Canada he wanted us to become -- a dominion of love and hope, of justice and equity, of inclusiveness and tolerance, of fairness and peace. On every issue he was on the side of the little guy, the underdog, and they knew they could always count on him.

Our bon Jack, un vrai mensch.

But today's Canada does not seem to be living up to Jack's expectations. It may well be moving in the opposite direction in a Stephen Harper-led culture war committed to "conservative" values that put individual self-interest ahead of community, divisive politics ahead of the common good, and the whims of charity ahead of the commitment to solidarity.

One sad manifestation of that other Canada came home to me again only in the past few days. How disappointed Jack would have been had he seen the flood of ugly comments that last week's column provoked, messages motivated by irrational fear and rage and driven by myth and invented reality.

I wrote about Canadian media outlets like Maclean's and the Sun chain that give so much sympathetic coverage to strident voices who lump all Muslims together as crazed terrorists menacing "our" way of life. I wondered about the motives of these powerful media, and what they hoped to accomplish by enabling the dissemination of such repulsive and provocative views -- exactly the kind of views Jack spent his life repudiating.

To my surprise, the column elicited over 1,000 online comments from readers, far more than my usual numbers. I could've done nicely without them. Overwhelmingly, they were nasty, bigoted, hateful, rude and insulting, although after hundreds of these abusive messages, some more thoughtful ones finally arrived, maybe in reaction.

Like most media outlets, The Globe and Mail doesn't allow all readers' comments to be published. It has a policy that forbids what it calls "personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations." A Globe employee, somewhere, makes these decisions, and the comment board for last week's column has a slew of these: "This comment has violated our Terms and Conditions, and has been removed."

Despite these constraints, the usual tired personal attacks managed to get through, as they always do. I must say I'm almost used to it by now and I learned early on not to scrutinize comments too closely. So I'm "a stupidly ignorant lightweight," "a moron from the go," The Globe's "foaming at the mouth village idiot." I'm even accused of "unadulterated appeasement to Islam, on behalf of the G&M crack pot liberal pin heads!" (I wonder how The Globe feels about being vilified as liberal.)

But what's really sinister and can't be ignored is the way Muslims are described, mostly by writers who choose to hide behind pseudonyms, which for some reason most media outlets allow. I offer a tiny sampling of the culture war in action:

"Demonizing Muslims: To what end? Till they get it, en masse ! Whether they are moderates or hard core nuts, there will be no letting up. Got that Caplan?"

"The 'moderate' muslims are rarely heard from, likely because they are out having fun with the moderate Hell's Angels."

"Every day all around Toronto, there are muslim evangelists on the streets, handing out their books, and looking for converts. Its an aggressive religion."
"Even now, some [sic] Imams are getting busted for sexual abuse of children."

"Spread the word my fellow white citizens: Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white."

"If you think islam is not under the control of Satan, you need your head read...you godless, left wing heathen!"

"Gerald Caplan is the most dangerous Zionist in Canada..."

"The brain addled progressives ..... are blind to Islamic supremacism in Canada."

"Muslims are everywhere in Canada, in every block, at every street corner, under people's beds, in disguise, trying to take over, this is so scary, God help us."

"You are still and always will be a Zionist...Perhaps an Anti-Semitic Zionist like Finkelstein. However you still try to frame the Zionist Narrative around an issue that still leaves blood on your hands. You are 'allowed' to write what you write because you are a Zionist."

Frankly, unlike Jack, I have no idea how to deal with this sick and hateful onslaught. I probably shouldn't be giving space at all to the kind of people who write such scurrilous nonsense. I probably should ignore someone like Christie Blatchford, who, for reasons best known to herself, has found fit to malign Jack even in death.

And yet there is much that's positive, after all, to concentrate on. There's the Muslim group who found comfort in the column, whose website highlights its solidarity with a defaced Montreal synagogue. There's the commenter who believes that "If the same sort of propaganda was put out against the Jews, the writers would end up in jail." And the reader who made the interesting point that "Caplan might have gone further and included in his analysis [of the media] the Globe and Mail, which provides a refuge for anonymous, cowardly Muslim-haters on its comment boards."

We need not just another powerful voice to remind us of the just Canada we once hoped we could forge, although we do need that. We need a million Canadian voices, and this week we found them. Perhaps the most remarkable of the many extraordinary and spontaneous tributes to Jack across the country have been the countless thousands of personal testimonials chalked by ordinary citizens on every square inch of Nathan Phillips Square, outside City Hall, in Toronto. One reads: "We will not lose hope and we will not shut up."

This article was first published in The Globe and Mail.

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