Saturday, January 15, 2011

How quickly we forget

This is a "reflective" weekend on my calendar – the time leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States (Jan 17). King had the courage to tell the red necks of the world and especially the United States to smarten up and for that, he died in a pool of blood from an assassin’s bullet on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968 at the age of 39. Dr. King was the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination. His message was one of non-violence. How far we have moved from Dr. King’s vision.

Violence seems to be the benchmark of just about every protest in the world today. Masked, black-shirted anarchist-thugs think that hiding their face and throwing molotov cocktails is a legitimate means of dissension. Destruction seems to be the only language they speak. Others take up arms with horrifying consequences.

The attempted murder of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a devastating example of how violence has permeated our North American society, fuelled by uncontrolled right-wing rhetoric. Six people were killed in the shooting and a dozen or more wounded.

Congresswoman Giffords had been marked with a gun sight on US rabid right-wing politican Sarah Palin's targeted-district list. Giffords had endured threats and she expressed concern about her safety. Then she was shot.

Sarah Palin’s response? No acknowledgement of the gun-sight map, no acknowledgement of her own irresponsible rhetoric that fires up the rage of those who can’t deal with reality … only this: “journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.” There is some reasonable question as to whether Palin even understands the meaning of those words.

The extreme right-wing politics flooding the USA find its basis in hatred. It’s what fuels the Rush Limbaughs and the Glen Becks of the world – who are multi-millionaires because they speak to those who often can’t think for themselves. Wrapping themselves, as Palin routinely does, in god and country, is see to be some sort of justification.

My worry, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States approaches, is that we’re heading in the same direction, albeit at a slower speed here in Canada. When I listen to the extreme right-wing talk across this country, I hear the same sort of intolerance, prejudice and in some cases, blatant racism. And, for not the first time, it’s starting to be wrapped in some sort of pseudo-patriotism. More importantly and more frightening, some of the leading lights of this movement are starting to get elected to influential political office. That should worry all of us.

Final word goes to Captain Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Giffords: "Many of you have asked how you can help and how you can honor the memory of those who were wounded or lost their lives. What united the victims of the tragedy on Saturday was service — they volunteered in church or at soup kitchens, worked in government, and tended to their communities. On behalf of Gabby and our family, I ask that you consider honoring their commitment to service by dedicating a few hours on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this Monday, January 17th, to volunteer in your community."

(Tabatha Southey has an interesting column in today’s Globe & Mail. If you have a spare minute, you can read it here.)

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