MacLean’s: Mark Steyn’s take on the Montreal Polytechnique Massacre

It’s always interesting to read something that expands your horizons. I love seeing other points of views, even if they end up giving me a bit of a headache. What can I say – brain expansion can be painful business.

On December 6th 1989, a young man entered Montreal’s Polytechnique School and shot 14 women dead. The shooter, Marc Lépine, was looking to kill women. He separated the men from the women in the first class he entered, asked the men to leave the room and shot at the women.

This is often where narratives go on to talk about their outrage at violence against women, and rightfully so. Violence, in any shape or form, against any group of people, is an unacceptable way to express feelings of anger and resentement.

However, as Mark Steyn explains in his article, we often forget about one very significant aspect of the story, and excuse the men who ran away. While it might be argued that these were all young students, probably between the ages of 20 and 23, who were frightened and in shock, it can also be argued, as Mark Steyn does, that this is a reflection of the passivity typical to Canada and Canadians.

I think this argument is both harsh and soft; harsh in that there are many Canadians who are anything by passive, and soft in that there are many people around the world who are passive. It just so happens that in Canada, the institutions representing us have been permeated by passivity, which makes it easy to generalise the syndrome as inherent to all Canadians.

But passivity seems to have become somewhat of a norm; however, the reasons behind it vary from country to country. While someone from a middle to upper class background might be passive because they are stifled by their own comfort, others in absolute poverty are so intent on survival that they don’t wish to antagonize any form of help they might get.

This goes back to arguments I have been putting forth in previous articles about how most people on this planet are good people, but that they just haven’t been acting. For various reasons, they are in situations that don’t permit them to act. Even the middle to upper class, which I am often a little too eager to critisize, is probably scared of falling into the same poverty that numbs so many millions into passiveness.

Why don’t you read Mark Steyn’s article for yourself and let me know what you think?

Excusing the men who ran away

The new film ‘Polytechnique’ sidesteps the old norm of ‘women and children first’

By Mark Steyn

On the annual commemoration of the “Montreal Massacre,” the Quebec broadcaster Marie-France Bazzo remarked how strange it was that, after all these years, nobody had made a work of art about what happened that day at the École Polytechnique.

I wonder, in the two decades since Dec. 6, 1989, how many novelists, playwrights, film directors have tried, and found themselves stumped at the first question: what is this story about?

To those who succeeded in imposing the official narrative, Marc Lépine embodies the murderous misogynist rage that is inherent in all men, and which all must acknowledge.

For a smaller number of us, the story has quite the opposite meaning: M Lépine was born Gamil Gharbi, the son of an Algerian Muslim wife-beater. And, as I always say, no, I’m not suggesting he’s typical of Muslim men or North African men: my point is that he’s not typical of anything, least of all, his pure laine moniker notwithstanding, what we might call (if you’ll forgive the expression) Canadian manhood. As I wrote in this space three years ago:

“The defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lépine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate—an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The ‘men’ stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone.”

(…)When another Canadian director, James Cameron, filmed Titanic, what most titillated him were the alleged betrayals of convention. It’s supposed to be “women and children first,” but he was obsessed with toffs cutting in line, cowardly men elbowing the womenfolk out of the way and scrambling for the lifeboats, etc. In fact, all the historical evidence is that the evacuation was very orderly. In reality, First Officer William Murdoch threw deck chairs down to passengers drowning in the water to give them something to cling to, and then he went down with the ship—the dull, decent thing, all very British, with no fuss. In Cameron’s movie, Murdoch takes a bribe and murders a third-class passenger. (The director subsequently apologized to the first officer’s hometown in Scotland and offered 5,000 pounds toward a memorial. Gee, thanks.) Pace Cameron, the male passengers gave their lives for the women, and would never have considered doing otherwise. “An alien landed” on the deck of a luxury liner—and men had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats and sail off without them. The social norm of “women and children first” held up under pressure.

At the École Polytechnique, there was no social norm. And in practical terms it’s easier for a Hollywood opportunist like Cameron to trash the memory of William Murdoch than for a Quebec filmmaker to impose redeeming qualities on a plot where none exist. In Polytechnique, all but one of the “men” walk out of that classroom and out of the story. Only Jean-François acts, after a fashion. He hears the shots . . . and rushes back to save the girl he’s sweet on? No, he does the responsible Canadian thing: he runs down nine miles of windowless corridor to the security man on duty and tells him all hell’s broken loose. So the security guard rushes back to tackle the nut? No, he too does the responsible Canadian thing: he calls the police. More passivity. Polytechnique’s aesthetic is strangely oppressive—not just the “male lead” who can’t lead, but a short film with huge amounts of gunfire yet no adrenalin.

(…)I prefer the word passivity—a terrible, corrosive, enervating passivity. Even if I’m wetting my panties, it’s better to have the social norm of the Titanic and fail to live up to it than to have the social norm of the Polytechnique and sink with it. M Villeneuve dedicates his film not just to the 14 women who died that day but also to Sarto Blais, a young man at the Polytechnique who hanged himself eight months later. Consciously or not, the director understands what the heart of this story is: not the choice of one man, deformed and freakish, but the choice of all the others, the nice and normal ones. He shows us the men walking out twice—first, in real time, as it were; later, Rashômon-style, from the point of view of the women, in the final moments of their lives.

Read the full article here. And take out that Tylenol, while you’re at it. You might come to need it sooner that you’d expect.

The Baha’i International Community sends a letter to the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The situations of the Baha’is in Iran is unfortunately not getting any better, however many people have been joining in to protest their plight. And so, the Baha’i International Community sent on, two days ago, a letter to the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Baha’i World News Service explains: “The letter comes after a series of statements from Ayatollah Najafabadi quoted in the Iranian news media leveling charges at the Baha’is and stating that the ad hoc arrangements that tend to the spiritual and social affairs of the Baha’i community of Iran are illegal.”

I’m a little biased about this, so please do not hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong; but this letter is absolutely amazing in that while respectful and polite, it doesn’t hesitate to broach, openly and honestly, the very sensitive yet important topic at hand.

For example, the letter neither hides the fact that the Baha’i community in Iran exists nor that it has been trying for the last thirty years to manage its spiritual and social life within the laws set by the Government of Iran: “The steps that have been taken to formulate the response of the Iranian Bahá’í community to your announcement have surely been communicated to you. The Yaran and the Khademin, the small groups that have been attending to the spiritual and social needs of the several hundred thousand Bahá’ís of Iran, the former at the national level and the latter at the local, have expressed their willingness to bring to a close their collective functioning. This decision has been made for no other reason than to demonstrate yet again the goodwill that the Bahá’ís have consistently shown to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the past thirty years.”

It needs to be explained that in other countries in the world, the Baha’i community is administered by an elected National Spiritual Assembly at the national level and by elected Local Spiritual Assemblies at the local level. In 1983, the Prosecutor General of Iran called for the dismantling of the Baha’i administrative structure in Iran; in response, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran dissolved itself and the rest of the administrative apparatus in Iran.

It might have been devious of the Baha’is to hide the existence of their ad hoc groups that kept tending to the spiritual and social needs of their community; however, as the letter explains: “For some twenty years, government agencies had regular contact with the Yaran and the Khademin — some times friendly and other times in the form of unreasonably long and aggressive interrogations — consulted with their members and were entirely aware of their activities. The possibility of some degree of dialogue between the Bahá’ís and government agencies seemed to be emerging.” So the Government of Iran has always been fully aware of these ad hoc groups they are now denouncing as illegal.

When considering the past in light of the above facts, it seems clear that, as it is happening now, were the Prosecutor General to ask the Baha’is to dismantle these committees, they would have done so without hesitation. The Baha’i International Community isn’t asking for the Governement of Iran’s mercy in regards to these ad hoc groups, which are already being dismantled, but rather it is asking for fairness in the Prosecutor General’s assessment of the situation.

The Baha’is, in Iran and everywhere around the world, have always striven to maintain an open and honest dialog with their governments. The value given to the point of view of Baha’is by such governments can be demonstrated by two simple facts: the Baha’i International Community’s Office at the United Nations in New York is often asked to release statements, and the National Baha’i Communities of many countries such as Canada are also often asked for such statements.

Further reflection of such honesty is evident in the letter; for example, it clearly states that the Baha’i International Community doesn’t hide that it trusts that the Baha’is in Iran, steadfast in their faith in Baha’u’llah, will yet again figure out a way of catering to its spiritual needs while fully obeying the Government of Iran: “The Universal House of Justice has assured us that the disruption in the functioning of these groups need not be seen as a cause for concern. There is no doubt in the minds of millions of Bahá’ís residing in virtually every country around the world — nor in the minds of many others who are watching these events with impartiality and who are aware of the historical development of the Faith—that the Bahá’ís in Iran will find ways of managing the spiritual life of their community, as they have done for generations over the past one hundred and sixty-five years of persecution.” Even faced with groundless and unfair accusations, the Baha’i International Community is therefore continuing it’s policy of honesty and openness by stating what the future holds for the Baha’i Community in Iran: figuring out a legal way of catering to its spiritual needs.

Hardly seems like a crime, does it?

This mix of obedience to the government and steadfastness is probably what has prompted the Government of Iran to accuse Baha’is of various crimes they are not guilty of. Unfortunately, these false accusations do nothing to find a peaceful, amicable and human way for the Baha’is to live in Iran while contributing to the development of Iran, and I sincerely hope that the letter from the Baha’i International Community will clarify any misconception or miscommunication to clear the way for an open and honest discussion between the two.

The most powerful paragraph of this letter in my opinion is the following: “In light of these well-established facts, Your Honor, it is difficult to understand how words such as “manipulative” and “deceitful,” “dangerous” and “threatening,” can be applied to Bahá’í activity in Iran. Do you consider dangerous the efforts of a group of young people who, out of a sense of obligation to their fellow citizens, work with youngsters from families of little means to improve their mathematics and language skills and to develop their abilities to play a constructive part in the progress of their nation? Is it a threat to society for Bahá’ís to discuss with their neighbors noble and high-minded ideals, reinforcing the conviction that the betterment of the world is to be achieved through pure and goodly deeds and through commendable and seemly conduct? In what way is it manipulative for a couple to speak in the privacy of their home with a few friends confused by the portrayal of Bahá’ís in the mass media and to share with them the true nature of their beliefs, which revolve around such fundamental verities as the oneness of God and the oneness of humankind? What duplicity is there if a child at school, after listening to offensive language about the Founder of her Faith Whom she so loves, politely raises her hand and requests permission to explain to her classmates some of the teachings she follows? What deceit is there if a young person, committed to the acquisition of knowledge and learning, seeks the right from the authorities to enter university without having to lie about his faith? What harm is done if several families gather together periodically for communal worship and for the discussion of matters of concern to them all? Given that the human soul has no sex, is it so alarming for someone to express the view that men and women are equal in the sight of God and should be able to work shoulder to shoulder in all fields of human endeavor? And is it so unreasonable for a small group of people, in the absence of the administrative structures prescribed in their teachings, to facilitate the marriage of young couples, the education of children and the burial of the dead in conformity with the tenets of their Faith?

I could go on and one about this amazing letter, but perhaps, after almost 1’500 words, I should practice the art of moderation and let you read it for yourself here. You can also read the report of the Baha’i World News Service here.