The Monopoly of Truth
Posted Thu, May 12, 2011

The killing of Osama Bin Laden provided the occasion for Barack Obama to make his first official visit to Ground Zero in New York. By laying a wreath there after the successful raid on the compound in Abbottabad, the President provided symbolic closure almost a decade after the horrific World Trade Center attacks. “Justice was done”, he intoned, although everyone surely knew that nothing done to Bin Laden could possibly be commensurate with the evil he unleashed on that bright, beautiful September morning. The death of the madman of Tora Bora will always be an unmatched bookend to the 3,000 stolen souls of 9/11.


What I found encouraging about the President’s pilgrimage was to see that some progress has been made recently in the grand scheme to repair the skyline of lower Manhattan with a fitting memorial to the attacks. On September 11, 2001, Mayor Rudy Guiliani vowed, “We will rebuild. We’re going to come out of this stronger than before, politically stronger, economically stronger. The skyline will be made whole again.” In a letter to Guiliani shortly after the planes hit, CJC told the Mayor that, “We stand with you in this darkest hour and hope that the legendary resilience of New Yorkers will somehow rise to the fore in the days and weeks ahead in coping with this unprecedented tragedy.” It looks like New Yorkers have come to grips with the trauma over the years, and it’s good to see that the site of the unspeakable tragedy is no longer just Ground and Zero else.

The collapse of the World Trade towers was both a tactical objective and a strategic metaphor. Many in the West were shaken from their complacency and forced to confront some very harsh and uncomfortable truths about the threats not only to personal and collective safety, but also to a way of life and world-view. A commemorative phoenix would rise from the ashes of the Twin Towers it was promised if only to proclaim to the world, in the phrasing of 2001, that “the terrorists haven’t won”.

Much time was lost in the years after 9/11, it seems, as victims’ families struggled to conceive of a plan that was respectful to the unbidden gravesite of their lost loved ones and planners searched for an appropriate design to comfort a damaged and grieving nation. The grand renewal was ultimately entrusted to renowned architect Daniel Libeskind who said in discussing his plans, “We have to be able to enter this hallowed, sacred ground while creating a quiet, meditative and spiritual space.” When completed the project should provide a fitting tribute and represent a spirit of hope.

I think about this process as I ponder the future of a Holocaust monument that the Government of Canada will begin establishing in Ottawa in the coming months.

A private member’s bill, Bill C-442, mandates the government to provide land through the National Capital Commission to establish a Holocaust monument in Ottawa. Both houses of parliament unanimously passed the bill last month and it was among the pieces of legislation that received royal assent just before parliament dissolved.

Canada is virtually the only country among the western allies not to have a state-sponsored monument to the Holocaust and this odd anomaly will soon be rectified.

Appearing before the Senate, Canadian Jewish Congress said that the monument would accomplish a number of important objectives.

It will, we argued: provide a fitting tribute to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust; honour the tremendous sacrifice of Canada’s military role in World War II and its contribution to the defeat of Nazism; and preserve the sacred memory of the “righteous among the nations,” those heroic individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during the war.

A Holocaust monument in the national capital region will serve to remind all Canadians and tourists alike of the need to combat racism, antisemitism and discrimination in all of its manifestations. Such education is critical to promoting core Canadian values of respect for diversity, social justice and equality and to inculcating in our young people the importance of human rights and human dignity.

I hope that future visitors to both the Ground Zero restoration and the Ottawa Holocaust Memorial will reflect on these essential concepts and pledge themselves to work toward a world of peace and justice.

I also hope that they take a moment to think about what the British philosopher Bertrand Russell observed in his essay, “Ideas that Have Harmed Mankind”:

“Most of the greatest evil that man has inflicted upon man comes through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false. To know the truth is more difficult than most men suppose, and to act with ruthless determination in the belief that truth is the monopoly of their party is to invite disaster.”

Eric Vernon is the Director of Government Relations and International Affairs for Canadian Jewish Congress in Ottawa (evernon@cjc.ca)

BERNIE M. FARBER CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER CANADIAN JEWISH CONGRESS
ABOUT THIS EXPERT
One of Canada's leading experts on antisemitism and human rights, Bernie M. Farber is the National Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).

Mr. Farber has spent more than 20 years with CJC, battling hatred and racism and strengthening relationships with police services, government and other ethnic and faith communities across the country.

The recipient of countless awards, Mr. Farber is an associate member of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, and was recently selected by the Ontario government to serve as a member of the Hate Crimes Community Working Group. He also serves with the city of Vaughan Mayor's Task Force on Community Safety and Security and the York Regional Police Community Crime Prevention Advisory Council.

Mr. Farber is a published author and has contributed numerous articles on the Jewish political scene, human rights issues, the Holocaust, hate crime and white supremacy to newspapers and periodicals including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, and many others.



ERIC VERNON

ABOUT THIS EXPERT
Eric Vernon was born in Toronto in 1953. He was educated at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Ohio State University, in history and political science.

For over twenty years, Mr. Vernon has been the principal lobbyist in Ottawa of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the lead advocacy organization for Canada's Jewish communities and UJA Federations.

In 1987, he established the Ottawa Advocacy Office of Canadian Jewish Congress and is currently the Director of Government Relations for CJC. In these capacities he has written numerous briefs, op-eds, position papers and correspondence on national legislation, public policy, and international issues affecting Canada and its Jewish community, including antisemitism, Israel and Holocaust commemoration.

Mr. Vernon has performed a wide range of advocacy duties with federal Members of Parliament and Senators, senior public servants, government agencies, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of other non-governmental organizations. In conjunction with these duties he has staffed several Congress committees, represented CJC at inter-faith tables, organized conferences and been involved in legislative and social policy development for CJC on a variety of domestic and international issues.
 

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