The politicians went ballistic: was Mr Trudeau suggesting that when Indians or Afghans kill women for "family honor" this was not barbaric? Were they just venting some sort of ethnic tic, not to be so harshly stigmatized by us white people? Within hours of his statement, Trudeau had backed down and issued an apology for his remarks.
Justin Trudeau is the son of ex-prime-minister Pierre Trudeau. P. E. Trudeau governed in the 1970s and 198s, but is still a hero to the left and centre-left in Canada. Correspondingly, he's a villain to the right and centre-right. Trudeau was responsible for inserting a personal-rights philosophy into Canadian law that had not existed previously. His new Charter of Rights now supersedes the body of precedent law that is more typical of British-style democracies. On the basis of it, all sorts of good has been done, but also some questionables and some evil. For example, the unreasonable accommodation of private or group complaint has emerged as a powerful principle of law. That means that you'd better step lightly when you editorialize about a person's ethnicity and what it urges you do do.
Justin is the son who went into politics. He was the one who delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral, a State event held in Montreal in 2000 that was attended by an old soul-mate of Trudeau's, Fidel Castro (Trudeau was not a communist, just an open sympathiser of Castro and Castro's Cuba). At this event, Justin got up and delivered a weepy, poetic, histrionic, and altogether preposterous encomium to Pierre the Father. It went beyond sobriety or sincerity, to reach the limits of grand-standing. Sure enough, it was that speech which attracted fans, and which eventually got him into politics.
And now here he is, defending the culture of honor-killings because we don't have the right to call it "barbaric." Call it "an unfortunate choice of options," or some-such.
The Tories have made great music over this, calling for disavowal but also trying to smear the Liberals. They've not accepted Trudeau's apology; they want the issue to stand and spread -- help them into an elusive majority government. This too is not unreasonable; in fact, public outrage over Trudeau's gaffe has been palpable, and the Tory gambit might work.
On the other side stands the Liberal Party and the liberal establishment, especially in the press, and that's small-l liberal as well as Liberal. In Ottawa, a Liberal media writer satirized the Tory attitude and tried to convey its dishonest flavor:
How utterly typical. You don't love Canada. You don't support the troops. You sympathize with terrorists. You don't care about victims of crime. For the [Conservative] prime minister ... there is no such thing as honest and honourable disagreement...[E]nemies must be defeated by any means necessary.
Unhappily, both sides are missing the point. The Liberals do not appreciate how corrupt and deeply decadent Mr Trudeau's views are -- and yes, we're talking about his views, not just his "vocabulary." The Conservatives have attacked the statement and the man, period. What they haven't queried are the Why's and Wherefores. What led Mr. Trudeau to say what he said? After all, he seems to be a nice, well-read citizen. Is it true that he doesn't consider it "barbaric" to kill your sister for going out with the wrong sort of boyfriend?
In fact, were Conservatives to plumb this issue, they'd find it much deeper, much darker than perhaps even they care to admit. Mr. Trudeau's gaffe was a culturally programmed response from his own culture; it wasn't from some disorganized heap of verbal errors, as he claims.
Mr. Trudeau was educated at a university English department and then went on to do studies at a Faculty of Education. That's his culture, not the ambient values of general society. His education is what he knows and thinks, and his education is what he was expressing that day. His university training is the prompt for his words.
The education Mr. Trudeau received (and swallowed) suggests that there's no such thing as higher, more civilized cultures, and cultures that are less civilized, even unto being barbaric. Everything is "relative." The ways of a woman-beating Afghan must be "understood," not condemned. It's imperialistic to suggest otherwise.
Why, not even a feminist is supposed to disagree with that. A Western feminist who condemns a third-world practice might be accused of Western thinking and imposing her thoughts upon an alien group: bad form. Skeptics of this approach call it moral relativism and condemn it appropriately.
It's also part of what's called "progressive" or "feminist" epistemology. Literally, that means "there's a progressive (gender-defined) way of knowing the world," and an un-progressive way, two competing truths; therefore there is no consensus on any matter; therefore there is no consensus for civic or moral value.
One feminist I knew related the story of a thesis defense at a Canadian university. This was the late 1980s-1990s, when feminism in the Academy was hardening its epistemology; minting new degrees; and inventing new disciplines. The thesis being defended, for a Ph. D. degree, was about women on the Indian sub-continent. It explored the ways in which females in that Asian country coped with male chauvinism; more significantly for us, the thesis author was rationalising that society in ways that justified it to Western observers.
Her committee was composed of an Indian professor of gender studies -- the candidate's mentor -- and two other faculty, including a woman from outside gender studies.
The latter took the mike to ask her question: The analysis was interesting, she said. But was the candidate taking into consideration such things as dowry burnings and honor killings?
Instantly, the Indian professor was on his feet: How dare you, a White woman, raise that question! You have no right -- you are part of an oppressor/alien culture. It is your duty to listen and learn.
Privately, I heard this story with deepening horror. Could we possibly be granting degrees to such people? could they possibly be sheltered from scrutiny by the bully rant of a South-Asian? And this committee member: could her questions be so egregiously silenced?
I looked at my feminist friend; she was smiling at the memory of this event.
Justin's gaffe was not a gaffe, it was a reflex sprung from the strands of feminism he must have had scrawled on his grey matter. The gaffe explains the man, because that's who he is: a re-genderized, cultural relativist who can never understand why Canada is a civilization, not a base camp for immigrants.
As for the Conservatives, one wishes for more penetration, more depth. Get beyond the jostle for power. Understand that philosophical toxins stick around. Notwithstanding that campuses are autonomous-- as they must be! -- the Tories need to be alert as to what a faculty of Education actually turns out.