Quebec attacks: What Donald Trump must learn
One of them shot and stabbed to death, Jo Cox. Another massacred nine churchgoers in Charleston. Then six Canadians were gunned down at evening prayers in Québec City.
It’s long past time to recognise the mortal threats within our own borders. Donald Trump can ban all the Muslims he wants; Justin Trudeau can welcome all the refugees he likes.
But the truth is that white nationalist terrorists are as much of a threat to civilised society as their radical Islamist counterparts.
Thomas Mair murdered Cox as she was campaigning to stay inside the European Union. “Britain first,” said the Nazi-loving white supremacist, as he brutally attacked the British MP and mother of two.
Dylann Roof hoped to incite a race war when he fired more than 70 bullets into a Bible study group that had welcomed him into the fellowship hall of Emanuel AME Church.
Alexandre Bissonnette, charged with six counts of murder in a Québec City mosque, is said to be well known to refugee groups for his frequent online insults about immigration and his admiration for Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National.
Mair and Roof both found their sick inspiration in online communities of hatred and violence. It may be that Bissonnette did too.
The great Primo Levi would recognise what connects these men and what is happening to our culture. “The plague is over but the infection spreads: it would be foolish to deny it,” he wrote, more than two decades after he left the Nazi concentration camps.
The scientist survivor was clear about the source of the infection he observed in such clinical detail: “Mainly, at the root of it all, a tide of cowardice, an abysmal cowardice, masked as warrior virtue, love of country, and loyalty to an idea.”
It may be too much to ask the Trump White House to see Primo Levi’s point. After all, Trump’s staff could barely understand the point of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It takes real determination to fumble a simple statement attesting to the extraordinary Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. Saying you’re very sad about the Shoah, or accusing your critics of being pathetic, merely serves to spread the infection.
What does real leadership look like? If you’re courageous enough to say the words “radical Islamic terrorism”, you could at least muster the strength to condemn its white nationalist copy. You could avoid hiring publishers who peddle far-right conspiracies, like Steve Bannon, to your inner circle. You might even think twice about installing them as permanent members of your national security council.
The neo-Nazi cult of death is no different from the jihadi cult of death. If we want to defeat those who kill in the name of religion and race, we should have the good sense and self-discipline to resist joining their religious and racial wars.
And if you really want to defeat Isis, you might find it useful to keep the highest-ranking military commander close by. Someone like the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff might prove to be a cooler head on questions of war and peace than the chairman of a website that is beloved by neo-Nazis.
This is no time to be stoking the fires of intolerance, as the premier of Québec, Philippe Couillard, explained. “We live in a world where people tend to divide themselves rather than unite. Our country, Canada and Québec, has to remain a beacon of tolerance.”
That beacon of tolerance is still shining at the grassroots in the United States. After its mosque was mysteriously burned to the ground over the weekend, a small Muslim community in Victoria, Texas, has raised more than $900,000 online for its reconstruction. The founder of the mosque said local churches and a synagogue had offered space for the community to continue its prayers.
These are the people Donald Trump should be listening to, much like the protesters who are filling the streets of America’s cities, large and small.
But if he won’t listen to the people, he might as well listen to his most obvious predecessor. Because there is a model for his own redemption, and his name was George Wallace.
Trump may have campaigned by vilifying Mexicans and Muslims, and he may have started his presidency the same way. But George Wallace campaigned with a similar tone and substance, and late in life, he renounced segregation and asked for forgiveness from African Americans.
Trump could grow into his presidency by leading the far-right away from violence, condemning his KKK supporters and denouncing racist murderers. He could seek forgiveness from Muslim Americans by personally apologising to the Iraqi interpreter who was detained for 19 hours at JFK airport despite having risked his life working for the 101st airborne division for a decade.
But of course, he won’t. Donald Trump is too weak, too foolish and too chaotic to see beyond the immediate crises he has created.
How foolish is he? On Sunday night he issued a press statement insisting “this is not a Muslim ban” and that he has “tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria”.
By the next morning, he was tweeting something completely different. “This was a big part of my campaign,” he explained, quite possibly on his unsecured Android phone. “If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!”
Taken at his infantile word, Trump literally makes no sense: having campaigned on a Muslim ban, Trump now believes he has taken all those bad dudes by surprise with the same ban.
As written by a nine-year-old boy, in an imaginary game of Ruler of the Free World, this might be mildly entertaining. But we’re actually talking about a 70-year-old commander-in-chief, who is willing to fire dissenting officials, such as his acting attorney general, for defending the constitution instead of the Muslim ban.
After just one week of the Trump presidency, this is the source of the infection that is rapidly spreading: an abysmal cowardice masked as warrior virtue, love of country and loyalty to an idea.