Sunday, July 14, 2024

Much ado about not much

If creatures from another planet were to come to Earth for a visit, they would have to conclude we humans have lost our minds. Among the abundance of evidence for such a view would be our tendency to make such a big deal out of vanishingly small differences between segments of the population.
Many of we Earthlings spent decades believing the differences between Catholics and Protestants living in Ireland were enormously significant. From an alien’s perspective, the adherents to two variants of the Christian religion, living side by side on a fairly small island and speaking the same language would surely seem to be virtually indistinguishable.
The more alike we are, the greater the effort to point out those differences seems to be.
It is hard to imagine two more similar languages in the world than English and French. Originating in neighbouring countries separated by a body of water which, in places, is no wider than the distance from Shawville to Renfrew, they are languages based on the same alphabet that have evolved through a thoroughly intertwined history, resulting in a vocabulary so similar that an alien would have to conclude they were two dialects of the same language. Yet much is made of the small differences.
Here in Quebec, these small differences revolve around things as trivial as whether you greet someone with ‘bonjour’ or ‘hi’, yet have been amplified for political purposes and used to drive wedges between English and French communities, bringing into question whether English people will have access to health care in their own language, or be able to communicate with the government in their own language, whether English universities will continue to be viable, and whether it remains possible for anglophones to exist in this province at all.
Maintaining a fear of English as a threat to the viability of the French language plays a big role in justifying the existence of nationalist parties. That it is driven by politics is made clear by the fact that when the PQ starts making political gains, the CAQ counters with even more strident anti-"other" policies. It's gotten to the point that leaders in the current provincial government are quoted saying such things as “there is too much English spoken on the streets of Montreal.” And it’s not just anglophones, but also people of various minority religious faiths who are branded as too different from the mainstream to be fully welcomed within Quebec society.
Palestinians and Jews originate in the same patch of the planet, share the Abrahamic origin story, and speak the closely-related Semitic languages of Arabic and Hebrew. Yet, for generations, if not centuries, the mutual fear of “the other” has helped sustain tensions between the two communities and the current violence, misery and death being suffered largely by civilian populations on both sides.
People wonder what the solution could ever be. In the Middle East, will there have to be two states, one for each group so that they can govern themselves however they wish, without fear of discrimination by the other?
Separation is a question still very much alive in Quebec. While the current provincial government does not describe itself as sovereigntist, separation is the fairly obvious destination to which its policies are driving. There will be a line crossed at some point that is unacceptable to any self-respecting federalist, from which the ensuing dispute will be branded a provocation and used to ignite another push for separation, whether it is CAQ, the PQ or other political party at the helm at the time.
Our visiting alien might well wonder why on Earth we would continue to subdivide populations and countries into smaller and smaller pieces. It seems antithetical to the tide of history in which the fate of the human race is becoming increasingly intertwined culturally, economically and environmentally.
An alternative would be to realize we have vastly more in common as human beings than some of our politicians would have us believe. That peace in our time is sitting right there in front of us, ready for us to enjoy, as John Lennon sang ‘war is over if we want it’.
It starts with rejecting the nonsense that the small differences between humans are a threat against which we must defend ourselves, and embrace those who see the diversity to be found within humanity as a gift and the source of our strength.

Charles Dickson


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