PHYLLIS CARTER'S JOURNAL
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
I found my essay, DISTINCTLY WHAT? on the World Wide Web via Google in 2008 at http://www.uni.ca/threads/d13.html.
It was published once many years earlier in The NDG Monitor, Montreal, by permission.
I never sold this article and I maintain my copyright.
I copy it here on PHYLLIS CARTER'S JOURNAL for the edification of caring people everywhere.
Phyllis Mass Carter.
April 11, 2010
April 11, 2010
DISTINCTLY WHAT ?
Long before there was the Meech Lake Disagreement or the Charlottetown Discord, I watched the Premier of Quebec, Jean Lesage, as he mouthed, for the first time on the public stage, the divisive chant, "Maitre Chez Nous!" And I knew that he was not including me or my kinfolk in that deal. The Premier almost had an attack of apoplexy when I went over to the dais and asked him if what he had said - in French only - would also be good for English-speaking Quebecers. His face turned fire-red and he lost his balance. Standing near the dais, my sister raised her arms and saved him from falling to the floor.
"Distinct Society"? What is that? What does it mean? Who is included in it and under what conditions, and for how long? Who is excluded? And why? Are there privileges for those who are inside? Are there restrictions or boundaries for them? Will they have to trade in their Canadian passports for Quebec documents? Or would that come at a later stage?
Are there penalties for those who are excluded or who refuse "distinct" status. Would we have to carry I.D.'s? (Shades of Star of David epaulets!) And at what point does "distinct" come to mean "independent"? And why would any rational person who is a free citizen of Quebec and of Canada choose to have a label affixed to him or her and give up a whole country for a piece of it?
Some people like slogans and labels: " Pure Laine" - That's a label often used in Quebec. It serves to exclude a whole lot of nice people, some of whose ancestors came to Quebec a hundred or more years ago. These citizens recall fathers and brothers and uncles who fought and many who were wounded or died so that people here and in Europe - including France - could live and be safe and free.
Some bought our freedom with their limbs, their eyes and their blood. Others earned our freedom with their sweat. They built families and companies and farms, contributing enormously to the prosperity of an entire country blessed with all kinds of human beings. They manned fishing vessels, dug in coal mines, served in little grocery stores seven days a week, sold newspapers while standing in the snow on street corners so that everyone would know what great events had occurred that day. They sweated, cutting, sewing and pressing pants and coats to suit the community. They built hospitals and synagogues and churches and community centres and clinics and homes. And they planted gardens with trees, believing- trusting- that there was to be a wonderful future for their children and their grandchildren in this land of peace, plenty and equal opportunity. But some folks now think that Quebec should be a "distinct society".
"Distinct Society" The concept seems vague. It could be interpreted so as to facilitate or accelerate different agendas.
There are many different kinds of "distinct societies" in the world. The Protestant Christians and the Roman Catholic Christians in Northern Ireland each consider themselves to be distinct societies. Thus Irish Catholics sing poignantly, "For the strangers came and tried to teach us their way. They scorned us just for bein' what we are..." And the hatred and the killing go on and on, children killing children, because these Christians refuse to acknowledge their shared humanity - their sameness. They insist on nursing their bitter memories and they insist on seeing themselves as distinct societies.
The Hutu People and the Tutsie People of Africa also have distinct societies. A lot of those who are in their graves might still be alive if their societies had been a little less distinct.
India still has many distinct societies. Some of them are known as "castes" and the people of one of these castes are known as "Untouchables" - Untouchables!
In the Holy Land, Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Ultra-Orthodox Muslims - both the descendants of Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael, each have their own distinct societies and so they continue the three to four thousand-year-old slaughter of each other's children. To what end? Who can win such a war? What is it all about, really? Land? Power? Religion? The maimed can't till the soil. The dead can't rule. Neither can they sit with their grandchildren and worship their God. But, yes, they can be "distinct".
Adolph Hitler developed a "distinct society". And he had his own formula for deciding who was "Pure Laine" and who was not. I believe it was this: If you were one-sixteenth-part Jewish, you were too tainted to be considered a human being, and you certainly couldn't be a German. Hitler's society was distinctly abominable.
Labels like "Distinct" and "Pure Laine" divide neighbours and tear apart families. What does "unique society" mean? Aren't we all unique - every one of us? Isn't every cultural group special and different in some way? It's racist to designate one particular group "pure" or "distinct" or "unique". It implies that a specific group of people is more or less valuable than all the others. If one group is deemed to be exceptional, it allows that everyone else is inferior and leaves the way open for abuses.
Labels fit human beings into categories and into computer memory banks and dossiers so that, one day - we never know when - some people who have enough power may sort them out for their own purposes. Labels can be dangerous. What would it take for you to turn in your neighbour who is different? Not withstanding what some people say, we don't need any more tag words to separate us. What we do need is maturity, good will, and ideas that can help us recognize and appreciate what we have in common.
Actually, we already have a "distinct society" in Quebec. Is there any other democracy on the face of the earth today, that has an Office of Language Police - agents of the government who are free to enter your office, (even if it is in your own home?) and search for evidence that you may have committed the "Unspeakable Crime" of using the forbidden language? Isn't that scary? But it's true. It is actually the Law in the Province of Quebec in Canada today, on the brink of the 21st Century. That certainly makes Quebec a society distinct from any other democracy that I know of.
Language restrictions can be a serious threat to democratic rights and freedoms. Throughout all of history, conquerors have subdued their victims, in part, by depriving them of their religious freedoms and their native languages. In recent years, we have heard how North America's Indigenous Peoples were forbidden to use their own languages. Well, they're mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore!
French is a beautiful language. But the issue isn't about the French language. It's about politics, and it's about racism. It's about old wounds and about fear and greed. It's about vengeance and it's about power.
The people of Quebec are Canadian, and Canadians have always taken their freedom for granted. We are used to it and we love it terribly! We will not accept being treated as members of a caste system. Nor do we accept that anyone anywhere should be treated in such a fashion. It goes against the grain. It's like that feeling you get when someone scrapes the chalk across the blackboard. No one has laid a hand on you, but it hurts!
English, French and all other hyphenated - Canadians who live in the Quebec part of Canada want to enjoy peace, freedom, good health and security. All of us are human. But there will always be some individuals who are obsessed with grievances and lust for power - people who are driven to tear down and to destroy. Obsessed people would destroy the Temple, with their own children in it. Look at history.
When confronted by would-be adventurers and aspiring emperors, do we bow to their demands and feed their egos? Do we nourish their grandiose fantasies? Anything for a little peace and quiet. Anything to end the neverendums . At what cost? Appeasement has a bad reputation. It doesn't work.
May God and those who love Him protect all of Canada and ensure peace and liberty for all her people, whatever languages they choose to speak - the more, the merrier - whatever faiths their hearts embrace, whatever colours the Creator has decided to tint their bodies.
We are the most fortunate heirs to this entire lovely land of Canada. It belongs to all Canadians and to all our descendants - All of it for all of us!
Canadians are distinct in that we are among the very few nations in the world that are mature and civilized enough to accept people who are different from ourselves as our neighbours. And if we haven't grown-up enough to love our neighbours as ourselves, at least we can try to be kind and we can respect them for what they are, sentient beings, like us and - distinctly - God's children. Now that's distinction!