Twenty five years ago a lone gunman walked into the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal, ordered the men to leave, and shot fourteen women. It was a traumatic experience, not just for the victims and their families, but for all of Canadian society.
Two and a half decades later, we still look back in astonishment, trying to understand how such a thing happened. We try to make it into a teaching experience, so that at least we’ve gained the ability to avoid repeating the tragedy. Intellectuals, editorialists point to our society’s misogyny, and the lack of gun control as the prime lessons.
We’ve made progress in combating misogyny. Our society expresses revulsion at allegations of hatred and violence towards women. Even a disproof of such allegations is greeted with hostility. A lie, if it advances the cause, is more important than the truth.
The other Canadian battlefront declared by intellectuals and editorialists has not done as well. The Conservative government cancelled the long-gun registry created in the aftermath of the Polytechnique massacre. Many of the essays marking the Polytechnique anniversary bemoan this failure.
“In New Guinea, in a remote native school taught by a local teacher, I watched a class carefully copy an arithmetic lesson from the blackboard. The teacher had written:
The students copied both his beautifully formed numerals & his errors. They were graded on their success in exact reproduction. The difficulty, of course, wasn’t merely that the memorized lessons lacked coherency & use, but that one couldn’t go beyond them & improvise. When I speak of my 5-times table, I don’t mean mine to do with as I like, but mine as long as I am obedient to it.”
The lessons of the Polytechnique massacre are also copied and memorized, from editorial to journalist, from advocate to academic. Those fourteen women were killed, the bad lessons say, as a result of our misogynist, woman-hating society, as a consequence of the easy availability of guns. No mention is made of the real name of the murderer, of his influences, of his ancestry. That would be disobedient.
Marc Lepine was born Gamil Gharbi, son of an Algerian father, and a Quebecois mother. He was thirteen when he abandoned his birth name. Although his parents separated when he was eight years old, he experienced first-hand the violence and contempt towards women borne of North African Muslim culture. He experienced first-hand the violence towards children borne of that culture. Gharbi abandoned his father’s name, but could not abandon his lessons.
Canadian intellectual society has learned that it must cleanse itself of misogyny, get rid of guns if it wants to avoid tragedies like the Polytechnique massacre. Those are bad lessons, like teaching 4+1=7. If we want to avoid such violence in the future, Canada must ensure that all those who want to make Canada their home are willing to abandon the cultural or religious values that promote or excuse violence against women, or against people who believe differently from them. We must concede that Marc Lepine was Gamil Gharbi. Not all cultures are equal. Not all religions are worthy of respect. As long as we keep our eyes closed, as long as we continue to memorize the politically correct bad lessons, the violence will continue.