Thursday, September 13, 2012

Godwin's law, Pauline Marois, and comparisons gone bad

Godwin's Law
According to this report, the Quebec provincial police are investigating who posted to a website and Facebook a photoshopped image of Quebec premier-elect Pauline Marois in Nazi garb with a Hitler moustache, etc. You can see the image at the link.

I've read the article several time and looked at the picture and I sincerely hope the newspaper got it wrong and that the police are not involved. If they are, we have bigger problems in Quebec than whether one can wear a crucifix or headscarf to work.

I get that the police want to make sure that the premier-elect is safe. But comparing her to Adolf Hitler is stupid, not illegal.

Every politician is compared, eventually, to Adolf Hitler. In arguments, this even has a name: Godwin's law, which states that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches." Critics of President Bush in a supreme act of laziness gave the 43rd president of the United States the nickname "Bushitler" to make their point and posters of Bush with a Hitler moustache were shown at all demonstrations against him. Ever during the student unrest last summer in Quebec, protesters had posters with Premier Jean Charest sporting a hand-drawn Hitler moustache. Some students even raised their hands in mock Nazi salute as a way to compare the police to the Nazis.

So why do people continue to compare modern leaders to the Nazis? Because the Nazis are famous in a way that, say, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (Turkmenistan) or Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) are not. People are lazy so if you oppose violations of civil rights you use the only example you know and/or the only one your audience will know.

I find offensive the statements and proposals made by the Parti Québécois during the campaign to limit who can run for public office and the continuous vilification of the English language--and therefore the people who speak it--as something that needs to be contained and prevented from spreading. This offensive rhetoric has been going on for so long that the people who say it don't realize it is offensive. But while I loathe this kind rhetoric, it is not anywhere close to the things the Nazis said. And more importantly, no one is arrested in Quebec for being English, as the Nazis arrested and murdered people who were gay, Jewish, Gypsie, communist or anything else.

People looking to compare premier-elect Marois might consider former Alabama Governor George Wallace who the Encyclopedia Britannica says was a populist who "seized on issues that appealed to the majority of his white constituents", such as segregation. Replace race politics with language politics and you now have a comparison that is, at least, in the same ballpark.

Wallace didn't murder anyone. He just made a part of his society feel bad, tried to limit access to public schools, and blamed everything on the federal government.

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