by Crow Qu’appelle
(Originally published on Montreal Counter Info, Winter 2021)
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
(Link to video of orthodox Jewish gathering being broken up in Montreal – https://twitter.com/i/status/1352813893039648768)
At this very moment, on Wednesday Feb 17, 2021, a pastor is in jail for holding worship services. This is a milestone in Canada’s slide into authoritarianism. Canada is now jailing dissidents. Christians are now a persecuted religious minority. So are Jews. Multiple gatherings of orthodox Jews have been broken up by police in Montreal over the last month. Not only is a clear example of oppression against a historically oppressed group, it is always telling about the times that we are living in. I don’t think that most people realize what this means. It means that we don’t have rights anymore.
Religious freedom is very clearly featured in the Charter of Rights and Freedom, which is supposedly the highest law in the land. Yet, at this very moment, a Christian pastor is sitting in jail because he continued to hold worship services when the state ordered him to stop. If this doesn’t concern you, it should. If Christians don’t have the right to assemble, it means neither do you. It means you don’t have a right to go to pow wows, or punk shows, or wherever it is that you find your community. If you are not free to do what you want to do if you had the choice, it means that you are not free. And, clearly, Canada is not a free country.
The state has now made it clear that it means business. Civil disobedience, even when very clearly protected by constitutional rights, will not be tolerated. What happens next depends on how people react to this. Will people realize that our rights are being trampled upon and stand up against this injustice, or are have people been too lulled into complacency to care?
If you have a heart in your chest that beats, and lungs that breathe and blood that pulses through you, you should realize now that you’ve got do something to stand up to this insanity. The existence of a virus does not justify prohibiting basic human activities like coming together to sing, to pray, and to affirm and cultivate community bonds. Whether or not you’re a Christian, whether or not you like Christians, it should consider you deeply when people are being prevented from practicing their religion. Need I even draw the parallels to the persecution of religious minorities in every totalitarian regime?
If you are not sympathetic to Christians for political reasons, please consider the following: this past Summer there was a Sun Dance which the police tried to break up. The Sun Dance Chief refused to back down, and the police left. Then Trudeau specifically said that indigenous ceremonies would be allowed to continue. Of course, indigenous ceremonies were outlawed for much of Canada’s history as part of a deliberate campaign of cultural genocide. That is a line that should not be crossed. To do so would to make absolutely clear that the Canadian colonial project is still genocidal. If the state is jailing Christians, historically privileged in Canada, from gathering, are we to trust they won’t also jail indigenous ceremonial leaders for refusing to cancel ceremonies?
If this is happening to Christians, it can happen to other religious groups as well. Would the injustice be more obvious if it was happening to people of colour instead of white people? Well, it may not be long before it that occurs, because there are certainly devoutly religious people of colour who feel very strongly that they have the right to worship, and will continue to hold services.
We as anarchists must stand against the forceful imposition of a police state upon us. True, anarchists have often been at odds with Christians, but there is also a strong tradition of Christian anarchists, such as Leo Tolstoy, Jacques Ellul, Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennessy.
I think that we would also do well to remember the words of Amon Hennessey said: You’re born free. Then you wait for someone to take that freedom away from you. The degree to which you resist are the degree to which you are free.
It is time for us to prove exactly how free we are. We must resist, we must raise our spirits up out of this damned lethargy and express our solidarity with our fellow people. Just think; what if the shoe were on the other foot, and it was anarchists who were being jailed for their organizing activities?
One thing that the system seems to have done really well is divide people into Left and Right, terms that no longer possess the descriptive power they once did. If most liberals are now for universal restriction of movement, then the term liberal has come to mean the exact opposite of its original meaning, and the word is useless. The new political divide is really between people who are pro-totalitarianism, and people that are contra. If this is the divide, then anarchists are on the same side as the Christians and Jews who are asserting their right to gather. If we are looking to build a revolutionary movement across cultural lines, it will involve respect for the spiritual beliefs and practices of other peoples. If we want a powerful movement to emerge, we must practice solidarity with other people.
So far, most Leftists have remained silent on the matter of religious freedom. Across the country, churches have been fighting for their rights to hold worship services. Yet anarchists have remained silent on this issue. Are people not able to see this injustice?
It is important that the Left see this as what it is. It is a fundamental human right violation to jail people just for practicing their religion. I worry that many Leftists have ceased to believe in the universal principles that classical liberalism is based upon, but to those true liberals, you cannot stay true to your beliefs and tolerate this. This is persecution. Please understand that Christians deserve the same freedom to practice their cultural practices that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and everyone else does. The pandemic is no excuse for this, and we must make a stand for what we believe in, if we are to say that we believe in basic human rights. And may we never have to lament a variation on the following:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
— Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out
— Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.