Capitalism: Now Failing “Old-Stock” Canadians?
After the government’s announcement in mid-January that it would require truckers returning to Canada by land to be vaccinated, the country has been thrown into a political crisis.
Both the Canadian and US government had previously carved out an exemption for truckers to not require vaccination, to address supply chain issues. At this stage, with the vast majority of truckers vaccinated, this exemption was allowed to expire, both in Canada and the US.
This has provoked a fissure in Canadian politics, where many groups who are against pandemic restrictions have converged to support the “Freedom Convoy”. Thousands of Canadians from across Canada joined this convoy, with the largest convergence point being Ottawa.
The police have been slow in responding, taking a long time to formulate any strategy to contain the protesters, who have allegedly engaged in repeated honking in residential areas, and assaults against members of the local community. Only recently has there been some measures taken to restrict the ability of the truckers to sustain their protest.
What does this convoy reveal to us about the workings of Canadian politics? What does it indicate about the state of Canadian society, and what can we learn from it?
A Double Standard
It is clear that protests of this nature, if employed by other ethnic and religious groups, would not have been met with such restraint by the police. When indigenous chiefs and elders blockaded the access to pipeline development in Wet’suwet’en territory, government documents revealed that the RCMP was willing to shoot protesters, and actually did arrest and raid their blockade.
When pro-Palestinian protests were taking off across the country, the police and the Premier condemned the protesters when they defended themselves against physical altercations initiated by the Zionist Jewish Defense League.
Yet when these truckers jammed a city to protest policies that were successfully campaigned on by the Federal government in the last election, and made themselves as obtrusive as possible, the police are investing in hiring a public relations firm named Navigator, to manage their protest messaging, and the mayor is asking for mediation.
The deeper question is what these protests tell us, when the people whose needs are most considered by this system are the ones who are this disgruntled.
A System that Works Only for the Elite
The political and economic elite in Canada have designed a system that benefits them. In order to keep this system running, they need to cater to the anxieties and demands of the majority, just enough to win their loyalty. This white majority is afforded relative privileges and decorum that minorities do not have, which gives them a bigger stake into the system.
So, when members of this majority converge in the thousands to protest the way they are being treated, this is not something the system can ignore. It is sufficient for the system to dismiss black, indigenous, or Muslim protestors as people who are inherently angry, violent, uncivilized, or greedy. But what about these white protestors; they are not so easy to dismiss. The mere fact that they are out on the street indicates the failure of this system.
It is unable to engender trust, create harmony or address the needs of Canadians, even when they are privileged, relatively speaking, by the system.
The reality is that this pandemic from its beginning has put the spotlight on the inability of the Capitalist system to manage the affairs of the people competently. The emergence and spread of a virus similar to COVID was something that was predicted ever since the outbreak of SARS in the 2000’s. It was written about by epidemiologists and public health groups.
Dr. Mike Osterholm, a world-renowned and respected infectious disease expert, laid out in his book published in 2017, a hypothetical scenario where an asymptomatic disease could spread from Shanghai, China to the rest of the world via air travel.
Yet even after all this forewarning, governments did not stockpile the supply of personal protective equipment that they had been recommended to. They did not have the public infrastructure to engage in mass testing and contact tracing, forcing them to rely on lockdowns and then eventually health mandates. They let the already poorly managed private retirement and long-term care homes turn into sites of mass death and misery for the elderly, to the extent that the army had to be deployed at some point to help alleviate the crisis.
Regardless of the relative privileges afforded to any group of Canadians, being aggrieved towards the government is a natural response.
A Diseased Ideology
Canadians are aware that governments’ investment in public health is lacking. They have noticed the lack of paid sick days for so much of this pandemic, and the lack of testing, contact tracing and supplies.
Canadians are also aware that their governments cannot be trusted to respect their stated values and commitments.
They are aware that the needs of the many are ignored for the benefits and luxuries of the elite. This was exemplified by the Prime Minister bullying his own indigenous Justice minister for the benefit of a corrupt major company, SNC Lavalin, and by the many MP’s who went vacationing overseas, while advising Canadians to stay at home.
This lack of care and trust is what makes it impossible for the government to combat divisions, unify the country and gain the public’s trust. Yet this is not a problem that is limited to any particular party, or prime minister. Rather, it is a consistent feature of the Capitalist ideology.
Capitalism is an ideology that embraces and engenders hyper individualism, where the rights of individuals are all that is looked after, without considering the right of the society in which these individuals are raised, shaped, and allowed to flourish. This means that those who are born with the most wealth, connections or talent can rise to the top, and only concern themselves with their own self-interest, without any consideration for the way their actions will impact the larger society.
Such an ideology discourages investment in public health or wellbeing.
The Deception of Freedom
The tragedy of the “Freedom” convoy is the inability of its participants to diagnose the cause of their suffering. In the time of a pandemic, an event that should draw attention to the way our actions impact each other, the protesters are primarily interested in arguing for individual freedoms.
Rather than recognizing the need for holding the government accountable for its lackluster management of this pandemic, and its use of lockdowns and mandates to shift the responsibility to the citizens instead, and to cover its own mistakes, the protestors have made the case for unrestricted freedom at the expense of public health.
More broadly, the bleak economic situation is a result of the concentration of wealth caused by the freedom of ownership. The river of money flows from the average person and family into the coffers of the select few. As a consequence, most Canadians are saddled with a mortgage and have no assets to fall back on during hard times.
As Muslims, we gain nothing from taking a partisan approach to this issue. We should not become apologists for the government line just because the convoy includes xenophobic elements. We should not hope for a harsh response to the protestors from the same police and security apparatus that routinely harass, humiliate, and destroy the lives of Muslims.
Rather, we should use this as an opportunity to communicate the unique vision for society revealed to us by our Creator to the broader Canadian public. We should emphasize the need for a system that is not built upon the biases and interest of a political elite but is built upon the guidance of the Most Wise and Merciful (swt).
A system that does not allow pharmaceutical companies to accumulate large amounts of wealth and monopolize entire markets. A system that is built upon fulfilling human needs, not the vain fantasies of the economic elite. A system that takes care of the sick, immunocompromised, and elderly, and does not ignore or discard them. Imagine an interest-free system that would have enabled the majority to own their own homes, instead of owning a debt!
Sharing this vision requires clarity and knowledge on our part, and the need to work collectively. The pandemic has left many of us disconnected from our communities, and less familiar with our masajid and Islamic spaces. It is time for us to rekindle our commitment to the learning and sharing of this vision, which cures the social ills that are plaguing this country.
“O mankind, there has come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. Say, “In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice; it is better than what they accumulate.” [TMQ 10:57-58]