Sunday, March 18, 2018

The CBC’s Sliming of Jagmeet Singh

The CBC is on a crusade to smear Jagmeet Singh and it is loathesome, contemptible, and wholly on brand for a network which regularly platforms white-supremacists while limiting working class and marginalized voices to the fringes.

On Thursday last week the CBC’s David Cochrane interviewed NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and repeated the same questions on Sikh nationalism and the dispaying of images of Talwinder Singh Parmar at Sikh events as had the CBC’s Terry Milewski previously. This was followed by a CBC News story entitled “Jagmeet Singh now rejects glorification of Air India bombing mastermind,” implying, disingenuously of course, that Singh had erstwhile approved of the glorification of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which is false and libelous.

In the interview with Milewski Singh repeatedly tried to clarify that the narrative of an irreconcilable conflict between Sikhs and Hindus is a false narrative, but Milewski was only interested in having Singh condemn those who display Parmar’s image. Jagmeet clearly and unequivocally condemned the bombing of Air India in the strongest of terms:

"It is unacceptable that the violence that was committed, the heinous massacre that was committed, is something that Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus all denounce, and I regularly denounce it on the anniversary. Its something that we are all collectively opposed to, there is no question about this, it is completely unacceptable, it needs to be denounced as a terrorist act."

This, however, wasn’t enough for Milewski, because Milewski didn’t care about Singh denouncing the Air India bombing, he wanted Jagmeet Singh to denounce *those members of the Sikh community who display Parmar’s image.* This is a very different thing. Milewski was in effect demanding that Singh police the sentiment of the Sikh community. On Thursday, Cochrane again wanted exactly the same thing – not merely a denunciation of the Air India bombing, but a condemnation of a particular sentiment within some part of the Sikh community. To this Singh responded:

“Because of the history, the ongoing violence, the genocide, the persecution and descrimination. There are some in the community that don't accept the official record. I will still attend events to reach out and speak to people. 
Personally I think the displaying of a picture of Mr. Parmar is something that re-traumatizes and hurts and injures people who are suffering so much in terms of that loss in their lives, and I don't think it's appropriate. So I don't think it should be done, but if someone else is doing it an event I still think it's important for me to reach out and speak to people and talk about my journey, how I felt that same pain and that same trauma of knowing that people who looked just like me were singled out and killed, targeted and murdered. I think its important to talk to people about what we can do to transform that pain into something positive."

Hysterically insisting that Singh must answer for and condemn ambivalence towards the Air-India bombing isn’t ‘journalism,’ it’s parochial race-baiting and dogwhistling. Dogwhistling is when one phrases things so that a certain, almost invariably white, community will be alerted to a racist or prejudiced subtext. In this case, Milewski and his fellow race-baiters are attempting to paint Jagmeet Singh as somehow vaguely connected to a horrible tragedy which evokes fear, suspicion, and xenophobia. As AndrewMitrovica writes, “this hysterical pile-on is intended to paint a simplistic caricature of Singh as first and foremost a Sikh, not a Canadian, born and raised in Canada.”

There is much to criticize about Jagmeet Singh. He is young, inexperienced, and vague, his sloganeering is orange-liberal bafflegab, and he obtained his position by soliciting the support and party machinery of the NDP chauvinists like Brad Lavigne and Hélène Laverdière who are chiefly culpable for reactionary positions on economics and foreign policy. It is unwarranted, however, and illegitimate in the extreme to try to portray him as answerable for Sikh nationalism and terrorist sympathies in the Sikh community.

Milewski’s only response to this charge is that Cochrane also put the question to Justin Trudeau as well - so clearly, he argues, it must have nothing to do with Jagmeet being Sikh. This is ludicrous, disingenuous, and lowbrow. Why is this issue being pressed now? It is because a Sikh is a leader of a federal party. Asking Justin Trudeau to condemn those who valorize Talwinder Singh Parmar isn’t analogous, but asking him to condemn those who valorize genocidal war criminal Winston Churchill for starving 3 million Bengals to death might be. On the one hand violence is prismatic, and different communities view different historical violences differently, and on the other Jagmeet Singh is no more answerable for those who admire Parmar than Trudeau is for those who admire Churchill. That many white people consider Churchill a hero doesn’t negate or undo his demonstrable legacy of barbarism, white-supremacism, and genocide, and Milewski wouldn’t expect any white politician to reconcile the two and be answerable for it. So why try to make Singh responsible and answerable for Parmar and the some segment of the Sikh community’s views on him?

The Laurentian elite is threatened by a charismatic social democrat who threatens their largess, the wealth of their gated communities, and their favorite neoliberal fraud, Justin Trudeau. The political angle of focusing on his Sikh heritage, and whatever convenient smears they can glean from it, is deployed cynically, as a cudgel to dissuade middle-class voters from throwing their lot in with working class and marginalized peoples.

I had thought and hoped that this kind of banal race-baiting was beneath an otherwise venerable reporter like Terry Milewski, but alas, it seems it is not. It is disappointing and sad that this, playing to the racist peanut-gallery, is how Milewski deigns to spend his ‘semi-retirement’ years.  Make no mistake, the crusade Milewski and his associates like Cochrane are on is not even in the slightest journalism, it is slime.

If Jagmeet Singh’s electoral hopes were to be impinged upon because a few racist pundits promulgated lies, smears, and disinformation, that would be a great loss for Canada. Singh is a fresh face, and deserves scrutiny from both the press, and his party base, for the content of his platform and the function of his party, for his vision for Canada politically and economically. These questions are relevant, these questions are legitimate, and one can only hope he rises to the occasion. The kind of third-rate parochial smears than Milewski and Cochrane are pushing, however, deserve universal condemnation.

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