October 10, 2018
Open letter to:
Naylor and Associates
400 Logan Avenue
Toronto, ON M4M 2N9
By email: [email protected]
To the Directors of the Aurea Foundation and the Advisors of the Munk Debates:
The Urban Alliance on Race Relations, together with our supporters at the Toronto Labour Council, Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Canadian Council of Muslim Women, JSpaceCanada, The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom–Toronto, and the East End United Regional Ministry, are contacting the Directors of the Munk Debates and the Aurea Foundation to express our grave concerns regarding the upcoming Munk Debate. On November 2, Steve Bannon and David Frum will be debating the rise of populism: “Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist, not liberal…” As beneficiaries of a liberal society, we encourage all public debate including those on controversial topics. Such dialogues are a welcome indicator of a democratic society. However, we believe that Mr. Bannon’s participation is inconsistent with the purpose of such debates and indeed, that it diverges from the principles of democratic and civil society.
We are requesting that the debate be cancelled just as The New Yorker Magazine rescinded its invitation to Bannon at its annual festival. As reported on CBC (Sept 25, 2018), “Within hours of making the announcement, New Yorker editor David Remnick decided to cancel the interview, saying he did not want Bannon to ‘propel further the ideas of white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism and illiberalism.’ ”
Our objections to Bannon are based on his record a partial list of which includes:
- The Munk Debate website quotes Bannon as stating, “I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Many critics describe Bannon’s political orientation as consistent with fascism. At the very least, it expedites what we observe as the rise of authoritarian regimes internationally.
- The Times (May 28, 2018) quotes Bannon: “People only use words like fascist or racist when they can’t debate the facts. I wear it with pride when they call me a racist. I go, ‘You know why you’re doing that? Because you don’t want to talk about economic nationalism.’ ”
- As former Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, he once described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right.” The Southern Poverty Law Centre describes this movement as “a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces…”
- Breitbart News has featured “violent, sexist, extremist and radical political content, ”according to one corporation that joined over 2,000 organizations and companies in pulling its ads off the platform.
Bannon’s populism and “economic nationalism” antagonizes divisions between groups and is intended to recruit ultra-right extremists. It confers legitimacy on discriminatory actions against Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Indigenous peoples, racialized persons, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ persons, women, trade unionists, and those who support diverse political views. It threatens our sense of belongingness to society, and undermines the mutual trust on which the sharing of public space rests. It threatens the enjoyment of our Charter rights to freedom of religion, speech, assembly and association.
While the Munk Debates and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy share only a funding agency, it is important to note that Bannon contradicts the activities of the latter institution. The Munk School’s 2017-18 Strategic Plan describes public engagement in areas such as “rising threats to open society”: “Suspicion of outsiders. Resentment of elites. Intolerance of differentness. Silencing of dissent. Around the world, populist leaders and authoritarian regimes magnify supposed threats while promising a better future—or a return to a mythical past. There’s a willingness to abandon long-held givens of the social contract, to break presumed ‘rules’ that are in fact mere conventions. Groups who feel forgotten want order imposed on uncertainty, often at the expense of tolerance and due process. Others fear for the future of open society, and even for their lives.” p. 20). In his current work as an advisor to ultra-conservative parties and governments in Europe, Steve Bannon clearly and publicly embraces populist leadership and support for authoritarianism. Fear of its consequences is real.
The line between respectful debate representing diverse views and providing a platform for views that are violent in their intent can be a fine one. Bannon seeks to dismantle the very principles that enabled his participation in this debate. By offering him the space to articulate his outlook, the Munk Debates imply their legitimacy. It confers respectability on them. Bannon’s remarks and influence have real consequences for us, for all Torontonians, and for the majority of people around the world. Indeed, these consequences are concrete for countless groups and individuals every day.
Whether directly or indirectly, Bannon encourages extremist groups like the Canadian Combat Coalition, La Meute, Soldiers of Odin, and the Proud Boys that we are hearing all
too much about. Followers of these groups are responsible for far more terrorism than any fabricated racialized enemy that they wish to blame for these acts. In Toronto, three far-right leaders—all of whom have publicly called for white nationalism and all of whom romanticize Nazism—are so emboldened that they came forward as Toronto mayoral candidates. Suddenly, what was inconceivable is not only possible but normal.
We will be contacting the media in our urgent request that you intervene to stop this debate as a director of the Aurea Foundation and an advisor to the Munk Debates. We hope you agree with us that the November 2 Munk Debate in which Steve Bannon appears is an offence to these organizations, to democratic principles, and to all Canadians.
Nigel Barriffe, President, Urban Alliance on Race Relations
John Cartwright, President, Toronto and York Region Labour Council
Nour Alideeb, Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario
Nuzhat Jafri, Director, Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Dr. Karen Mock, C.M., President, J-SpaceCanada
Rev. Sarah Miller, East End United Regional Ministry
Dr. Cynthia Levine-Rasky and Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, Coordinators, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom–Toronto