September 13, 2002
Open Mouth, Insert Foot...
Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jean Chretien
have in common?
(Is this a joke? Not exactly.)
They all publicly stated that perceived failings within western society helped bring on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The two American right-wing leaders mentioned above spoke out on TV shortly after the attacks, blaming "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and lesbians".
Jean Chretien, Canadian Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, waited until the one year anniversary.
In an interview for a CBC documentary that aired Wednesday night, Chretien said:
"You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others"... "And that is what the Western world – not only the Americans, the Western world – has to realize. Because they are human beings, too."
The prime minister also said that if the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, there will be "long-term consequences" within a few decades.
"And necessarily, we're looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. And the 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more."
Of course the Prime Minister's Office has issued a statement saying that the remarks were misinterpreted.
I don't think so.
It is a fact that poverty is, and has always been, a force that results in revolutions and topples empires.
It is also a fact that the United States, the rest of western society, and of course throw in the Jews, are bitterly hated in many parts of the world and in many cultures.
But for a Prime Minister to imply that this in any way excuses or even explains Sept. 11 is shocking, irresponsible, and, frankly, incredible.
To follow a statement about perceived western greed with the reflection that Sept. 11 makes him even more aware of this, is a pretty clear indication of the association between the two in his mind.
Blaming the victim is nothing new, of course.
We usually hear about it in terms of domestic violence.
Men say "she asked for it" after beating their wives.
The wives, in turn, often implicitly assume the blame too, by vowing to try harder.
This misguided logic also applies as an excuse for date rape.
Say I dress up in a miniskirt, halter top, and lots of makeup.
(Also say I have the body for it, which I don't but that's beside the point.)
I go to my boyfriend's apartment where we are alone.
I relax, accept some drinks and listen to music.
But when THE TIME comes, for whatever reason, I say no -
either verbally or with body language.
It happens anyway, by force.
I am guilty of mixed signals. I may even be considered a "tease",
not a nice person, a bitch, whatever.
The fact remains, my mythical boyfriend is guilty of rape. Just as guilty as if he'd attacked a stranger at gun point.
I believe in free speech. I believe that the most outrageous views should be heard, if only to then be open to debate and rebuttal.
But this isn't some guy on the street or some personal web site.
This is the PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA, speaking on the record in an interview intended to be aired as part of the anniversary programming of 9-11.
Does he reflect his country's sentiments?
Probably more than I'd like to admit, judging from the official reaction to the remarks so far.
Only ONE of the four main opposition parties has expressed outrage - that being the "Canadian Alliance" - the farthest right of the group.
(Yes, Canada is bass-ackwards. We knew that.)
The "Progressive Conservative" party leader agreed with the Prime Minister (first time ever) and said the remarks were misinterpreted.
The leftist "New Democratic" party spokesman said the Prime Minister couldn't possibly have meant it.
This support is all the more surprising to me given the recent political events here. Prime Minister Chretien has outworn his welcome even in his own party, a substantial segment of which has mounted a serious effort to replace him as leader.
In response, Chretien recently resigned - effective 2004.
That's right, 2004.
So I expect he thinks he can say what he likes between now and then.
Tempting as it is, I won't dignify the substance of his remarks by taking historical issue with them. I think that would be clouding the issue.
No matter what evils the west embraces, none of it justifies what happened a year ago. It doesn't explain it or excuse it. Furthermore, if the West is to clean up its act it should be for humanitarian reasons, not solely in order to prevent more terrorists from teaching us a lesson.
What about American reaction to its neighbour's comments?
I haven't heard of any... yet.
I saw a Washington-based reporter for the CBC say that the comments were lost in all of Thursday's news about Iraq and the speeches at the U.N.
CNN's website has the story hidden deep in its bowels but with little editorialization.
One article suggested that:
"Americans won't be offended because they're used to political leaders who garble their messages", said Chris Sand of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
"The wonderful thing about Canada and the United States is we probably have two of the most inarticulate leaders in the western world, so figuring out what either of them is trying to say is a challenge," he said.
I'd be surprised if many Americans besides those in political or journalistic circles even heard any reports about the Prime Minister's interview.
Many a time have I bemoaned the lack of news coverage of things Canadian on the other side of the border; in this case it's probably just as well.
For the first time in my life, I'm embarrassed to be a Canadian.
Linque Du Jour:   More on the Topic
Further domestic reaction.
An article from a British paper, written shortly after the attacks, that examines the issue of blaming America.
Graphics courtesy of