I’m sure that it was not more than the sweet serendipity of happen-stance, but I do enjoy thinking that it was really more than that when I changed my TV channel today.
Since the U.S. went ahead and maybe-elected its first “reality show” TV star as President, I have found it difficult to watch the news. I used to be a news junkie of sorts. I had the news on TV more often than not. But since the morning of November 9, 2016, I have been listening to classical music as my mainstay entertainment stream. I pick up the news every now and then, and even though the specific content is not predictable, the tenor, the tone, the “golly-gee who’d have thought the wrestler might have jumped on his opponent after climbing the corner turn-buckle?” amazement of U.S. news is always there. It is always playing out its predictable, ringside role.
So it was on this day at noon, Wednesday, April 12, that I switched the channel from CNN’s five way presentation of how Trump was about to fire Bannon and why and what that might mean, yadda, yadda, yadda… to the CBC News Now, 24-hour news channel.
Suddenly, Trump was gone. All the tortured faces were gone. All the smug faces were gone. Instead, Malala Yousafzai was in Ottawa, being escorted through the Parliamentary Rotunda to the Parliamentary Library where she was to be presented with honourary, Canadian citizenship. She is only the sixth person in Canadian history to be so honoured.
Malala was, at the time of this writing, 19 years-old. She had stood up to the Taliban in Pakistan. She has continued to courageously champion the cause of educating people in general and girls in particular. Her message to children on this day was that they should not wait to become leaders. That children had the capacity to lead in causes of justice without having to be adults and without having been elected to power. Do the right thing, with courage and determination and others will follow. That is true leadership.
The contrasts between what was happening in Canada and what was happening in my old country were stark. To be sure, I do still love my old country, but I wish that it weren’t so easily led astray by fear and ignorance. Fear and ignorance are almost always the precursors to violence. In a country armed to the teeth, that noxious blend produces horrific results with great regularity.
At this point, those who practice misleading arguments by citing exceptions can have their field-day by citing any number of noteworthy exceptions, but the murder statistics will bear out the truth of what I am saying, despite the exceptions. Canadians are less apt to embrace violence as a path to conflict resolution, or as an expression of anger or fear.
It may well be true that understanding movements like ISIL (Daiesh), Boko-Haram, and their fundamentalist ilk may only lead us to the conclusion that violence is the only way to suppress them. But the peaceful tenets of true Islam, though different in specifics from other faiths, are not fundamentally different in their aims than those of most peace-loving religions. Wouldn’t you want all those folks with you, rather than against you?
Power-mongers like Trump think they can build themselves up by putting others down. They think they can control populations by dividing them against each other. “Throw them out ” bellows Trump. “I’ll pay the legal bills of anyone who takes him out ” yells Trump. Yet his supporters fail to see the connection between Trump and Hitler’s brown shirt gangs who did exactly the same thing. Trump has found easy targets for scape-goating, (as did his 1930s era, Nazi, teacher) but this time around it is mainly immigrants and Muslims who are targeted. (Relax bigots, you can still hate Jews and African-Americans too, you just can’t do it overtly.)
But here’s the thing – I have met and spoken politely with people from all of these groups. Once I get to know them, once they are included within my circle of friends, I find that they want the same things I want. Like me, they want peace, a degree of prosperity, education for their children, food, shelter, the possibility of happiness. Is this something I should fear? Like any other population at all, they vary by individual. There is no population that is “all alike.”
It all starts with the smile of inclusion, which can be followed by mutual learning, which is then often followed by tolerance and sometimes even true friendship. Try to make your hackles (fittingly only one letter short of ‘shackles’) not so easy to raise as small differences become apparent. Just as there are many roads to Ottawa, there are many routes to peaceful deliverance. Like Malala in her message to Canada and the world, I maintain that education is the best route, but if you find it by faith, by friendship, by dedication to peaceful causes, I hope to see you there at the crossroads of peace.
“The world needs leadership based on serving humanity — not based on how many weapons you have. Canada can take that lead.” – Malala Yousafzai, Ottawa, 2017.