Monday, 23 March 2015

MP should go further than his apology

I was brought up short by Monica Lewinsky this week.

That’s a name from history.

You remember her. In 1998 she was the twenty four year old White House intern who former President Bill Clinton called “that woman”.

Today, older and wiser, she spoke in a recent TED talk about her own public shaming. She contends that the scandal was “the first to be brought to you by the digital revolution”. Now, she said, we call it cyberbullying and online harassment.

As I read the story, I recalled a parallel between that experience and the media frenzy we have experienced in the past week in Grey Bruce.

You know the story. In talking about Muslim women choosing to cover their faces, our MP was quoted as saying, “Frankly, if you're not willing to show your face in a ceremony that you're joining the best country in the world, then frankly, if you don't like that or don't want to do that, stay the hell where you came from, and I think most Canadians feel the same.”

He apologized for his words. He still backed the position of the government, which is opposed to a recent decision of the Federal Court which permitted face coverings during citizenship ceremonies.

What connected Ms. Lewinsky’s TED Talk to Mr. Miller’s remarks was a deep memory from my childhood.

I spent part of my youth in a very multi-cultural, immigrant dominated part of Toronto. It was not unusual to hear kids on the school ground calling each other racial slurs. Often it was in their mother tongue, which was not English. I learned those words, and some good swear words, in those languages, too.

One of the worst insults you could say to someone, even in public school, was to call someone a racial or ethnic slur and cap it off with “You don’t belong here. Go back to the country you came from.”

It was cutting, hurtful and mean. Today we call it bullying.

That’s what ran through my mind when I heard Mr. Miller’s words.

Then the media got hold of the story and within a very short time it was all across social media.

What was worse was the defense. “A lot of people feel the same”.

People may feel that way, but they are wrong. It’s bullying. I would even go so far as to call it racism.

I took the time to read the Federal Court decision. It was well written and well reasoned. It made clear that ministerial policy can never trump the law of the land. Thank goodness. And it affirmed that the safeguards in place to identify those who wish to wear a face covering during a citizenship ceremony are more than adequate.

The government is also entirely within its rights to appeal the decision, but I wonder why it would waste taxpayer’s money.

Unfortunately, an ugly side of our community has been exposed this week. I found myself trying to explain our MP’s comments (not defend, because I could not do that) to church people who were trying to make sense of it all.

I have also heard of people from Owen Sound who work in multicultural settings, including with Muslims, who were deeply embarrassed by Mr. Miller’s remarks.

As I said, Mr. Miller has apologized, as he should. But I wish he and those who agree with him would go a step further and think carefully about the words they use. Bullying is bullying and bullying is wrong.

Monica Lewinsky said it well.

“Showing empathy to others benefits us all," she said. "Just imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline."

Imagine.