Sunday, October 10, 2010

Discrimination and the State

Two stories today, of discrimination and the state's response to it. One of the principled use of force to protect civil society and the rights of an embattled minority and the other a complete capitulation by the state and in fact complicity in the state sponsored support of discrimination.

One of the most affecting moments from the riots by far right Serbian groups against marchers in Belgrade's Gay Pride Day, is this picture of a civilian, either a bystander or one of the marchers helping an injured police officer.

For progressive Canadians right now, it's hard to visualize the police as defenders of a dissenting civil society or any kind of progressive movement like that of gay rights rather than persecutors.

And that's a shame, isn't it?

I honestly don't think it reflects the wishes of the majority of Canadian police.  I know a Canadian police officer who was at the G20 protests in Toronto, and was disturbed by some of the things he saw and the behavior of some of the officers involved.  I still believe that the majority of police officers became police because of a sincere desire to serve and protect the public.  It would be willful blindness though, to ignore that some were power tripping thugs looking for a job that would give their thuggery license and some started out with good intentions and were coarsened by a job that understandably can carry a heavy psychic toll.

The problem is a government that treats accusations of police misconduct as something to be defended and justified and accusers attacked rather than treating such incidents with the oversight they call for.

The other story is Israel's cabinet agreeing to a 'loyalty oath' requiring citizens to swear fealty to the majority religion of the state or be considered traitors.

Even within the cabinet the decision has been criticized with language so harsh, here in Canada repeating it probably risks being accused of antisemitism:

Minister Shalom Simhon (Labor) also skipped the meeting, as he was abroad on a business trip.  Herzog told Haaretz late Saturday that the resounding support for such an amendment showed that "fascism was devouring the margins of society."
"We are on a most dangerous slippery slope," he warned.
Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned on Sunday the cabinet's approval of a controversial proposal requiring non-Jews seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
"What we have seen today is politics at its worst. The sensitive issue of Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state has become subject to political horse-trading.
Writing in today's Haaretz, liberal commentator Gideon Levy said: "Remember this day. It's the day Israel changes its character ... From now on, we will be living in a new, officially approved, ethnocratic, theocratic, nationalistic and racist country."
Even some members of the hard line Likud Party opposed the law as dangerous and counter-productive.

So one state struggling against its own bigoted fringe and the other capitulating utterly to the most hateful and exclusionary urges of its far right wing.  One that the whole world united against in the last decade and came out if it striving to regain a role in the community of nations, and the other that has been enabled, excused and defended against its own interests and given every reason to believe that even such an odious piece of racism by the state will continue to be enabled, excused and defended.

The state is either the defender of civil society and inalienable rights against any who would attack them or is itself complicit in those attacks.

There is no middle ground.

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