Jennifer looks nervously at the strangers around the table and says she is almost afraid to tell them what she is thinking.Let's cut to the chase, shall we? This edifice is built on and devoted to political correctness. Which means that if you're a fetus, there's no way you're getting anywhere close to this building. (And depending on the decibel level of the Turkish outcry, you may not make the cut if you're Armenian.)
The teacher in her early 30s, who works with students with learning disabilities at an all-girls school (she requested The Globe and Mail withhold her last name), is one of more than 100 people who have come to a Toronto convention centre this evening to talk about what they want – and don't want – from the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights when it opens in 2012.
She's sitting with a trio of refugees from Guatemala, a retired teacher whose family was once interned in Austrian-controlled Ukraine and a museum-sciences student who is a former Oxfam volunteer.
She musters her courage and tells them that although she considers herself a feminist, she disagrees with giving women the right to have abortions. “I think the voice of someone like myself often gets shut out,” she says.
To Jennifer, a fetus is a person, with his or her own human rights – and she is hoping the new museum will provide a serious forum to discuss them.
So far, abortion isn't high on the CMHR's tentative topic list. But what is already pencilled in is nearly as contentious, from the abuse of aboriginal children in residential schools and the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians to violence against women.
In principle, there's no reason abortion should be left out: What is the argument about if not who has what rights and how to protect them? But imagine the outcry that might arise if even a corner of a government-sponsored museum were devoted to exploring that question.
More plausibly, what will happen when it addresses what happened to Armenians under the Ottoman Empire?
Canada and 19 other nations, along with many international scholarly associations, officially recognize the campaign of forced marches, massacres and abuse that began in 1915 as amounting to genocide. The Republic of Turkey and many Turkish expatriates, including in Canada, strenuously disagree. Every newspaper editor knows that stories on the subject lead to onslaughts of enraged letters. Memorials are met by protests and counter-protests.
That's the challenge facing a museum whose mandate is to grapple almost entirely with the world's touchiest subjects.
“It is a museum of ideas. And ideas, of course, are never static,” says Yude Henteleff, the chair of the museum's Content Advisory Committee.
If human rights are a human construction, a set of collective ideas, then the public view of them will be forever shifting, amorphous and vulnerable to attack. And a museum that tries to document that process on its walls promises to have its combustible moments.
Some groups of people will feel shut out if their causes are not included. Others are sure to accuse the museum of imbalance in the exhibitions it does mount...
Saturday, December 12, 2009
All "Victim" Stories are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others
An article in the Globe and Mail about Canada's "human rights" mausoleum has the temerity to point out its basic (and fatal) design flaw--how it privileges the "human rights" of some over others: