Friday, April 15, 2011

Demonizing the other

     You have no doubt learned already how human beings who are at war tend to demonize each other. Demonization is as old as the human species. The reason is simple: you cannot intentionally kill someone that you do not already hate. Hate lies at the root of the biblical commandment not to kill, as Jesus makes very clear. In warfare, killing is difficult, unless you first demonize the other. Why should I kill someone on the battlefield whom I do not know? If I knew him well, I might, instead, want to have a cup of coffee or share a beer with him. So I need to be told that he is a demon--someone evil, who wants to destroy everything I have and believe in, and, moreover, is not fully human. I don't want to discuss the psychology of demonization any further. Those who are experts in this area are better qualified to do that.
     My concern is how this phenomenon is playing out in our world today. Today there is a long list of potential candidates for demonization, and an even longer list of those who have been demonized in the past. Osama bin Laden might top the current list. Most of us are probably prepared to add a name or two ourselves. It is bad enough that we demonize someone who is now holed up in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus Western nations have, to varying degrees, supported the war against al-Qaeda and and the Taliban. Are these efforts justified? I believe not.
     But what is even more reprehensible is when this demonization takes place of the leaders in our own countries. In this case, we know the people involved, not necessarily personally, but we see them regularly on TV. Barak Obama is a an example. The "birthers" in the US who deny that the president was born in the USA and, moreover, insist that he is a Muslim, are practicing the dark art of demonization. They hate the president and will do anything to destroy him. Unfortunately, there are many other people in the US who hate the president as well, for many reasons, including racism.
     Canada is not free of demonization either. Witness the current election campaign, where the leaders of the major parties attack each other not only in terms of policies but also personalities. The Conservative ads that questioned Michael Ignatieff''s loyalty to Canada are a prime example here. These ads started even before the  campaign kicked off officially. The Liberals, in turn, have attacked Stephen Harper, but with less vehemence and effect, since Harper is a known quantity, while Ignatieff is still largely unfamiliar to the average Canadian. In both cases, there are attempts at demonizing opponents. This is done not merely to encourage voters to vote against their opponents but even more to enlist supporters to come out and fight the enemies of the party.
    I would like to see the elimination of any ads that attack personalities. Policies are fair game, but let's practice charity rather than demonization. In a democracy, there is no place for the latter. Let us demonstrate that in this election by voting for parties that reject demonization in any form, whether at home or abroad. In politics or foreign affairs, let us love our neighbor. To use a slogan from the sixties, "Make love, not war."

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