Dear gentle reader: this post may offend some of you with tender sensibilities, so do not read on if you are sensitive about Italians, Catholics, Afghanis, Muslims, Fascists, Tamils, Tamil Tigers, the War Measures Act, moral equivalency, PC, are Liberal, or liberal, or easily offended in any way. You were warned. And then I ask of the reader some latitude, since I am unsure myself what I think of the situation described below:
First, to get us warmed up, some satire:
ThePublic Citizen, October 21, 2070: Mo Kadr stood beside his father’s name today at the unveiling of the Muslim-Canadian Commemorative Plaque. “My father Omar”, said Mo, “was only interested in the well-being of his people and his religious rights. Along with his father, Ahmed, he fought for justice. He was misunderstood and our family suffered great injustice as a result.” To make up for that misunderstanding, albeit 60 years late, Liberal MPs were present at the unveiling of a commemorative wall that listed several dozen who struggled for their people, who were arrested or imprisoned for “terrorism” back in the early part of the century. Right after their names are an edited list of Canadians who died in Afghanistan in an unjust war. A woman soldier, a journalist, and a male soldier from Newfoundland were selected to symbolize the other Canadians who lost their lives in the struggle for Afghanistan self-determination. Omar, unfortunately, had died just a few weeks before he could see his name publicly rehabilitated; he died at his palatial seaside mansion in Hawaii which he had bought with his $100 million “reconciliation” money belatedly paid by the Federal government… Etc Etc.
Now, back to the present.
Last week, there was an unveiling of a memorial wall to honour interned Italian-Canadians in the 1940’s. I thought the whole thing was the epitome of moral equivalency gone berserk. I found it discomforting then, and still find it discomforting, but I find it difficult to explain just why. Bear with me while I wander through this minefield.
You can read the original Ottawa Citizen article here (I’ll wait until you come back): http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Enemy+aliens+unveil+memorial/5595480/story.html
So what bugs me? Let me count the ways:
- The confusion between someone being interred during a war situation, but not actually charged with treason, and being totally innocent of any activity harmful to Canadians. Who was rounded up from the Italian community? Was it an odd assortment of tile layers and laborers, or was it the cheerleaders for the rise and export of Italian fascism? Is it too much to ask for a reporter who is curious?
- The deliberate equivilenting of civilian internees with soldiers who died fighting for Canada. Sorry folks, the internees did not make a sacrifice anywhere near that of the soldiers. Soldiers who died deserve our respect and remembrance, as do all the Italian-Canadian soldiers who put their lives in danger for Canada (and whose names are curiously omitted from this plaque).
I find it odd to see in the original story a vague gloss of legitimate activities – “helping to build a church”—being put over any hard questions about the previous activities of the internees. After all, the Feds didn’t inter every Italian*. Was the local leadership thoroughly and marvellously apolitical? Or was it expressing strong fascist sympathies?
Is anyone else disturbed by the cutesy overlay in the Citizen article of a little girl trying to save the statue [of a megalomaniac fascist dictator, but hey, who's noticing?] from rampaging Mounties? Sorry folks, either she knew she had to hide the evidence, or was trying to save her family’s fascist hero for seizure, but it is hard to put an acceptable gloss of innocence on this. Is it too harsh to read into that Citizen story … a child corrupted by paternal enthusiasm for a fascist dictator?
I don’t think we do society any favour by varnishing over some of the reality in the Italian colony in 1940’s Ottawa. Lets see, the Italian community in Ottawa was being lead by clergy directly imported from fascist Italy, some members watching fascist movies at the local theatre, cheering on Mussolini’s efforts to “civilize” Ethiopia, spending evenings listening on the home record player to Mussolini praising Herr Hitler, … what’s to question about this??
Definitely we need a commemorative plaque that assures us Italian Canadians participated “fully” in the war effort.
Don’t for a minute think that I believe all Italians in Ottawa were fascist sympathizers ready to sabotage the Canadian democracy or war effort. The vast majority of people simply don’t get involved in politics. Just as I don’t think that Muslims in Ottawa are all sympathetic to the radical intolerant versions of Islam. But a few are. Ergo, surveillance of imams sent from “foreign lands”, infiltration of social and political action groups, and the occasional breaking up of terrorist-related activities, not all the participants of which get charged with serious crimes.
In my view, the continual entanglement of Canadian populations with the war efforts of their former or ancestral homelands is a distressing artifact of an ongoing colonial mentality amongst immigrants who put too much value on where they came from rather than where they are. Whether that group is Canadians of British ancestry rushing to join the Mother Country’s war effort, Tamils funding the Tigers (whether voluntarily or through war taxes levied through threats of intimidation), French Canadians taking their anti-war lead from France’s hopping in bed with the occupying Germans, or Canadians cheering on messianic heroes of the oppressed (eg Osama Bin Laden, Mussolini, the Emperor, or whomever).
Go back to the second pic and re-read the plaque. Methinks it doth protest too hard.
Internees are not the equivalent of our war dead.
The commemorative plaque at Piazza Dante does not edify or expand our knowledge; it corrupts it with a deluded veneer of moral equivalency run amok. I’d much rather see a frank acknowledgement that the community was divided, but after adversity grew stronger.
(above) The earlier war monument in the same Piazza. You can take this inclusiveness of “all soldiers” as being a nice, liberal expression. Or as oblique concealment that some Italians died fighting against Canadians.
Over a pasta and beans dinner (and too much red wine) we once had a long reminiscing retelling by a (now-deceased) Italian neighbor of his war experiences. I was younger then, and confused why I couldn’t get clear just where and when his exploits took place. Finally I asked him which army he was in. It took another Italian neighbour to spell out that some things had to be glossed over. But I don’t think that should be set in granite.
*(that was saved for the Japanese Canadians).