Those who make the decisions do so much more. They set the tone. Trump said ban people of a certain faith seeking refuge and ban all entrants from seven specific countries. But what you hear is gunfire in a place of worship on a quiet night. Hitler said ‘we will rise’ and the sound you heard was smashed glass and Jewish families being attacked.
Your exhausted patience with this comparison does not alter its validity, not one bit. The United States is Germany in 1933 and we here in Canada are not in utopia, we are Hungary in 1933. We are never far from the same dangerous demagogues who preach of principles but lust only for power.
But this didn't start with Trump’s primary campaign or the attack in Quebec City. It started with us, we were willing to be divided. We were willing to believe that some of us are always to blame.
When I was younger, I met several people who had done a lot of terrible things, from former child soldiers to former gang members. I saw in them the humanity we all need somebody to see in us. This taught me that no man, no human, is pure evil. Like Mary Wollstonecraft said “no man ever set out to find evil, he only mistook it for the happiness he needs.” I learned then that we are not monsters or angels, but we — as in each and every single one of us — is capable of doing monstrous things or angelic acts. Hitler is not an alien compared to us, he is a human like us; and this very prospect is positively chilling. Yet Mother Teresa is also, like us, a human being. And that is inspiring. This became my truth. I do not believe in evil people. The holocaust was an evil thing committed by normal people. Civil Rights in the US were not fought for by Angels but people working their hardest.
If no people are pure evil then no people are pure innocence. No German alive back then can wash their hands of the horrors of the holocaust. No Turk can wash their hands of the Armenian Genocide. Then again, no American or Canadian or Brit or Frenchman can wash their hands of the holocaust either. How can we in this country wash our hands when our Prime Minster William Lyon Mackenzie King said of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler “none is too many”. Or what about the discrimination faced by Jewish people from ordinary Dutch or French or Ukrainian or Russian citizens?
When we are afraid, we seek to blame. But the truth is we are all to blame. Every single American is to blame for Trump and the divisiveness of the current political and cultural atmosphere; for thinking it was a joke or being apathetic to the warning signs. Every single Canadian is to blame for Quebec City; for looking away when someone said something racist or laughing like they were only kidding. So what does that get us? Where does the blame take us? Nowhere. Does it get rid of the fear? No, it does not.
So why write all this? Why put you through this clumsily written ordeal? Because now, for the first time since you experienced fear, you are looking forward. Fear asks us how we got here. Blame gets us to hate. But the futility of blame and destructive nature of hate will leads us no further in our history. So now, we look to the future. And do what? We choose.
Choose who we want to be, not just every four years, and not let the political leaders decide. Choose who we want to be every single day; will we let fascism roll over us today? Choose, do we want to remain silent or will be heard? Choose whether we retaliate with an old adage that leaves everyone blind or do we try to acknowledge the humanity in one another.
I cannot — and will not — tell you what to choose, or dictate the terms of the choice to you. I will not phrase it as though it is simple, it is not. I will not present you with choices that circumstance may have taken from you. Instead I will tell you of my choice.
I choose to reject violence. I choose to reject hatred. I choose to reject blame. But rejection is not enough for me. I choose to accept a peace where I acknowledge the powerlessness of humanity living on a rock spinning around a star in one galaxy of millions. A peace where I meet every person with an open hand and not a fist, regardless of how many times I get decked in the face or burnt by this principle. I choose a peace where as a powerless person, I acknowledge that I will always have the power to help others in need. I choose to engage and not isolate myself. I choose to define ‘the right to disagree’ as not including who is or is not human enough. I choose to love and to forgive, not because anyone deserves it or they have earned it. But because peace is to be loving regardless of what you get back. I choose to be unafraid because it is a synonym for freedom. I choose to be unafraid not due to a lack of frightful things happening in this world but in the face of all those frightful things.
I also choose to never appease a tyrant. I choose to be defiant, needlessly if I must. I choose to resist, futile as it may be (and it never is). I choose to be loud even if I am not heard. I choose to be resolute in my will and to be steadfast even when there is nothing to be gained. I choose not to be broken. Because Trump or racists or anti-semites or fascists or misogynists or homophobes or xenophobes or madmen or killers or bigots can choose many things that affect me but they cannot choose when I am broken. Only I can choose that. I may be powerless but I, above all else, have the power not to break. That does not mean I do not hurt or mourn or have my beliefs shaken to their core. It does not mean I am unbreakable or superior or important. It means the hits will come but I will refuse to break.
So if I have anything worthwhile to say to my fellow humans let it be this: speak loudly as silence has run its course; stand up proudly for those who are in need and never turn your back on them; engage and protest; re-energize and don’t quit when you’re tired; never let a wrong go just because it doesn’t affect you; look for alternatives, not blame; and never ever be broken by others, because they don’t deserve to break you. So to President Trump and his team of talking heads with talking points, you will not break me, sirs. Instead, I hope you will find in me an unrelenting challenge. And I shall not be overcome.