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Mallick

Gwen Stefani's Frock Coat


Everywhere you look, irony's in the fire

By HEATHER MALLICK
Saturday, February 19, 2005 - Page F2

Let's shoot irony in a barrel. It's easier than fish. For it appears that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has had a thought.

First-generation immigrants to Canada can be pretty much counted on to vote Liberal. They may get injections at the border or be given Little Liberal Pills, I don't know, but they sense that Liberals are fond of them and they repay that faith. You see, Canada isn't perfect. First-generation immigrants tend to be short of friends here until yer basic Canadian tries one of their ethnic-type restaurants and weeps at how good the food is.

But we're a good country, at least until Mr. Harper, thinking he might suddenly have an in with ethnics, stirs the pot. As The Globe and Mail presciently reported last Saturday, his polls told him that immigrants might well deplore same-sex marriage. It may be the same reason some straights are against it -- gay sex is said to be scarily good -- or it may be more complicated, but the fact is that he thinks opposing gay marriage may lure new Canadians into the arms of the Conservatives.

The irony is that he has long seen immigrants differently than the Liberals do. "You've got to remember," he said in 2001, "that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from Eastern Canada: People who live in ghettos and who are not integrated into Western Canadian society." I don't know what he means either. Chinese-Canadian grandmas and Newfoundlanders is my best guess.

The Globe then ventured out and talked to these "ghetto" types. It turns out that they come in different ethnic groups, and furthermore, don't necessarily think as a bloc even within their group. Older voters in some groups may or may not be against same-sex marriage; their kids and grandkids don't have a problem with it.

But in Parliament this week, Mr. Harper did the most disgraceful thing I have ever seen a Canadian politician do. While deploring gay marriage himself, he attacked the Liberals as anti-human-rights, citing a) The War Measures Act, and their being in power 60 years ago when b) Japanese Canadians were interned and c) Jews fleeing Hitler weren't welcomed to Canada. He then attempted to portray Liberals as intolerant of new immigrants' opinions, which he says are anti-gay. So Liberals, not Conservatives, are racist. Yes, the Conservatives are trying to lure ethnic voters with a new kind of bigotry, against gays.

In our beautiful country famed for its decency and courtesy, Stephen Harper is trying to divide ethnic voters while deploring gay ones and thus indirectly pitting enlightened straight whites against anti-gay-marriage-ethnics.

It is indeed hard to follow. The worm of intolerance is curly. It wriggles around, like your best friend in kindergarten. I don't like you, but neither of us like them, so maybe we can be friends, sort of.

The same political manoeuvring is going on in Britain, but it is even more toe-curling. Tory Leader Michael Howard bases his election campaign on shutting out immigrants as well as refugee claimants fleeing torture and political persecution. He says Britain has too many of these types.

Those who study history remember how Germany's Jews were kept out of England. The Observer's Nick Cohen notes that Hitler tried to help British fascism by nurturing the idea that Britain had a "Jewish problem," thus encouraging it to tighten up on Jews fleeing annihilation.

But Mr. Howard had a secret, just revealed by biographer Michael Crick. It turns out that his father, Bernat Hecht, lied to authorities when he fled to Britain from Germany in the 1930s (he became a citizen in 1947). He said his parents had died in Romania. In fact, his father was in Britain already and his mother had died in Auschwitz.

It is not clear whether Mr. Howard's father would have been allowed to stay under the tough new immigration rules Mr. Howard is himself proposing. Prime Minister Tony Blair is anti-immigrant as well; the appalled Mr. Cohen calls it a "macabre contest" between an ingrate and an opportunist.

The air is definitely thick with one thing: hypocrisy. There's a poem about that, written in 1939, called Refugee Blues:

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;

"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread."

He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;

It was Hitler over Europe saying, "They must die;"

We were in his mind, my dear, we were in his mind.

So wrote W. H. Auden. And he hadn't even met Mr. Howard.

And then I read that the Talon News "reporter" given White House press credentials to lob easy questions at the President, to the disgust of the only slightly less craven pack, was a Republican plant.

No, that's not the irony I'm shooting for. Too easy. It turns out he was not just a fake reporter with a fake name working for a fake news service. He's a gay escort. Isn't that hypocritical of the gay-loathing Republicans? Isn't that ironic?

Thanks to politicians such as Stephen Harper, Michael Howard, the Bushlet and that grinning Mr. Blair, we are plastered with muck. Politicians live behind multiple layers of hypocrisy, of irony, of dishonesty. We Canadians should remember this at election time, rather than shrugging and loading up at the hypocrites' all-you-can-eat buffet.

At this point, I'm not shooting irony in a barrel, I'm bobbing for it.

hmallick@globeandmail.ca
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