Wednesday, March 15, 2017
The Rebel, The Walrus, and how Gavin McInnes is a crappy comedian, but that's not quite the same as being a Nazi
As far as I'm aware, my friend Michael Coren and I are two of only three people to be published by both The Rebel and The Walrus, which are close to being at opposite ends of the Canadian political spectrum. Indeed you can go further right or left, but that would take you, respectively, dangerously close to the insanity of James "Dimitri the Lover" Sears' Nazi-leaning Your Ward News or the demented neo-Marxist website, rabble.ca.
I'm acquainted with both The Rebel's founder Ezra Levant and The Walrus' Editor-in-Chief, Jonathan Kay, who have an odd public 'frenemy' relationship. I find them both to be charming, clever, and in their own ways, devoted to improving public discourse regarding the most important political issues facing the country.
The Rebel and The Walrus are both frustratingly biased in their overall coverage, and yet are important contributors to Canada's media landscape in that they delve into areas most mainstream media neglects. Although it's been a long time since I've bothered to submit anything to either, that's why I continue to read both often and feel both a sense of pride and embarrassment at having my name in some small way associated with them. This week, insofar as The Rebel is concerned, the embarrassment is significant.
Rebel contributor Gavin McInnes made some comments on another website that, on their surface, sound borderline Nazi-like. I've followed McInnes' material to some extent and I don't believe he is a Nazi or genuinely antisemitic. McInnes clearly sees himself as a comedian who offers social commentary. The problem is that, while he sometimes hits the mark, for the most part he's neither very good at comedy nor shows vast insight in his social commentary.
The first piece I wrote for The Rebel was titled Should Comedy Have Boundaries? At the risk of giving away the gist of the article, the answer is a qualified No. But at the time, I wrote that a particular problem that can occur: "when a comedian keeps making the same type of unfunny joke over and over, is that it can lead the casual observer to the natural conclusion that it's not actually a joke, and the joker is just an asshole. "
McInnes' frequent forays into White Identity Politics are often as shallow as the Identity Politics one hears from anyone else, and which have done nothing but divide people in the name of equity. By doing it as comedy, it doesn't make his insights any more poignant, but I suppose it gives him some deniability as to his intent.
McInnes' controversial comments indicate he thinks that the Holocaust isn't unique among 20th Century genocides. He's wrong. While all genocides are deplorable, the Holocaust is unique in that Germany singled out Jews alone for their religious identity and waged war with the intent to exterminate all of them them. Mao and Pol Pot's 's murders of millions of their countrymen was monstrous, but those were not attempts to eradicate an entire ethnic group. They were political acts of violence. Even Stalin's murder of millions of Ukrainians was not designed to annihilate a whole people but to force a nationality of people under his control into submission. It was, at its core, political terrorism.
Even in regard to the shameful history of religious persecution in history, the Holocaust remains unique. The Spanish Inquisition persecuted Jews, to be sure (although unbelievers, 'heretics,' and Muslims were treated far worse by the Inquisition). But in that regard, Jews could avoid the Inquisition by leaving Spain or converting to Christianity. In contrast, the Nazis didn't care if a Jew practiced Judaism or Christianity. Merely having one Jewish grandparent was enough to qualify someone for Hitler's Jewish extermination policy in any country the Nazis conquered. Even in the waning days of the Second World War, Hitler and Himmler diverted resources that could have gone to the German war effort into rounding up and murdering Jews. It was a pathological, deranged, yet systematic attempt to kill off any trace of a whole group of people. The world has seen nothing like it before or since.
Saying stupid things meant to be taken ironically doesn't necessarily make someone a Nazi. McInnes has said that the comments he made were taken out of context, and to his credit, he has denounced actual Nazis and White Nationalists like the odious David Duke and Richard Spencer. In no uncertain terms, McInnes made it clear he supports Israel and that the antisemitic tropes he joked about were not true. An actual Nazi would have stood by them. Again, McInnes' flaw is not that he's a Jew-hater, which he most certainly is not. It's that he's not great at comedy. Maybe he should see if he can find a Jew to help him with that. I understand there are some good comedians among the Chosen People.
On the other side of the scale, Jon Kay suggested that if McInnes were a Muslim who said the sort of things he did at a mosque, the right-leaning media would be all over him. That comment suggests a distinct lack of perspective. McInnes did a terrible job of comedy on his own website. Yet even assuming he was serious about what he said, being an Internet comedian babbling online is a very different proposition than issuing religious edicts to hate and kill people in the name of Allah. Someone as smart as Jon Kay surely should understand the moral, if not the actual difference between the two.
So far, I've heard very little from The Rebel to indicate that they are interested in clarifying this controversy. That's probably a mistake as Conservatives like Chris Alexander are rushing to distance themselves from The Rebel. Leaving matters with only slight clarification creates the damaging impression for Ezra Levant's media creation that it enjoys flirting with the 'alt-right' while trying not to skate over the line into being part of it.
If that really is the case, I'm going to have to continue to be embarrassed by my Rebel past while still secretly being glad they're exposing the more flagrant and awful aspects of left-wing extremism and Islamism that have insinuated themselves into Canada's political establishment.
Of course, if I'm embarrassed, imagine how poor Jon Kay must feel. Barbara Kay, one of Canada's premier journalists, and Jon's mother, is that third person who was published by both The Walrus and The Rebel, where she remains a regular contributor.
UPDATE (March 18): Ezra Levant and The Rebel respond: